Archive for September 2018

September 30th   Leave a comment


The winds were less strong today although it was still windy from the west. It was much quieter at Fife Ness. No skuas and barely any kittiwakes. The gannets saved the day as always. It is easy to take them for granted, but really, the sight of 50 or more gannets plunge diving simultaneously into a choppy sea always makes it a good day. I walked the coastal path in a loop from Kilminning to get to Fife Ness and counted at least 15 stonechats on the way – a record. The cold winter must have been offset by a great breeding season and there are stonechats all along the coastal path now.

A male stonechat – one of the many along the coastal path between Crail and Fife Ness at the moment


Posted September 30, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 29th   Leave a comment

The relentless westerlies continue. Today it was too windy to do anything but seawatch, and the barnacle geese seemed to agree. They must be taking a break from migrating today, with only a few flocks battling it up the Forth past Crail in late afternoon, just above the waves. Fife Ness was busy but again all very far out – in an hour I had three great skuas, an arctic skua, a possible pomarine skua, and even a couple of possible sooty shearwaters (right on the horizon and barely above the waves –if they hadn’t been the first of this year I would probably have put them down as definite). There were also a few manx shearwaters, sandwich terns and velvet scoters but otherwise it was wall to wall gannets, kittiwakes and a very large passage of guillemots and razorbills.

More barnacle geese today struggling against the very strong westerlies

Posted September 29, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 27th   Leave a comment

I walked out to Caiplie Caves this morning looking for a black redstart that has been seen there for the last week or so. It was grey and blustery and I know how difficult it can be to find a black redstart in such conditions. They tend to forage under the big rocks of the rocky shore and don’t fly about much. On a sunny still day they sit up on more obvious perches. So perhaps not surprisingly I didn’t find it. There were a lot of other small birds foraging among the rocks though: passage meadow pipits and a couple of wheatears, and resident rock pipits, linnets and starlings. A flock of barnacle geese flew by, struggling against the westerly wind. A few flocks were reported coming in yesterday – the first of the winter – and they should be passing Crail for the next few days. They are distinctively black and white with pale grey upper wings, short necks and a distinctive yapping call as they fly by. Mine today were silent though, probably saving energy because of the adverse winds.

Barnacle geese

Juvenile pomarine skua

The wind went round to the north late afternoon and almost immediately the sea watching got better. In 50 minutes looking from my garden I saw a dark juvenile pomarine skua, a couple of little gulls, a great skua, and flocks of hundreds of kittiwakes spread out all over the Forth.

Posted September 27, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 26th   Leave a comment

After a cold couple of days, this afternoon the temperature was back up to 20 degrees. It was a beautiful evening, and there were at least three fields being ploughed on my way back from St Andrews to Crail, the tractor in each followed by a blizzard of gulls glowing in the late sunshine. One of the gulls caught my eye as particularly clean and pure white as it flew over the road in front of me just north of Kingsbarns – an adult Mediterranean gull. It is always a thrill to see a Mediterranean gull, even if they are not the big rarity they used to be 30 years ago.

An adult Mediterranean gull – easy to spot with no black in its wings at all, a black smudge directly behind the eye and a dark red bill

Posted September 26, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 23rd   Leave a comment

One of the redshank on Balcomie Beach at the moment

The westerly storms have cleared out most of the summer migrants from around Crail. It wasn’t until I got to Kilminning, after Wormiston, Balcomie and the patch at Fife Ness, that I found a couple of willow warblers and a few swallows and a house martin flycatching in the sheltered, sunny corner that had the spotted flycatcher last week. The wheatears and whitethroats have gone, and most of our swallows. From now on any further summer migrants will only appear if we get favourable easterly or south-easterly winds, although we should have a trickle of Scottish swallows passing for the next month regardless of the winds. In contrast, Balcomie Beach was quite busy, with good numbers of dunlin, ringed plovers and redshanks – here now for the winter – and there were still lots of pink-footed geese going over heading south. A flock of four Canada geese also flew over the beach to remind me that they were the commonest goose in the area until the end of last week: they will be outnumbered again as the barnacle geese arrive as well, in the next week or two.

Posted September 23, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 22nd   Leave a comment

Little grebes

I don’t go up to Carnbee Reservoir – beside Kellie Law – often enough, especially considering it is the only lake on my Crail patch. I was hoping for some ducks today, like pintail or gadwall, but it was just teal (about 50) and mallards (about 15). There were a lot of little grebes. They can be elusive in the winter but today there were about 20. They have obviously had a good breeding season. The water level is very low after the hot summer but that means exposed mud for waders along the edge. This is hard to see from the road so I walked all the way round the reservoir. I was rewarded with a ruff flying up. There have been a few passing through Fife in the last week and John had one at Fife Ness briefly a couple of days ago. Ruff are fond of all habitats from ploughed fields, to lakes, to beaches and estuaries, and rocky shores – and in Africa they like rice paddies.


I sea watched from Fife Ness this afternoon hopeful that the strong winds might have brought some grey phalaropes our way. It was more interesting than the last couple of weeks. Great visibility so I could see large flocks of hundreds of kittiwakes out at about 4 kilometers through my telescope. Each flock – and there were about seven I could see – seemed to have one or two, and occasionally three arctic skuas with them. Whole flocks would fly up from the sea and then I could usually see a skua chasing one of the kittiwakes and this would then be joined by another for a frenzied tail chase for a few seconds before the skua(s) descended back to the sea and disappeared from sight, followed by the kittiwakes over the next minute. This was happening more or less constantly for the 90 minutes I was watching and there may well have been up to 20 arctic skuas out there. It was quite exciting, although all very distant. I was sitting next to John who doesn’t use a telescope – the better to be ready with his camera – and he barely saw any skuas. Even further out were lines and lines of pink-footed geese coming relentlessly into the Forth and continuing on to the Lothians. At least there were a couple of knot that joined us on the rocks briefly, at closer quarters.

Arctic skua chasing a kittiwake (they steal food from other seabirds, although the larger skuas sometime kill other seabirds like birds of prey)

Posted September 22, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 20th   Leave a comment

It’s been windy the last couple of days. Last night at sea even the gannets were passing by slightly uncomfortably, being buffeted by the wind as they shot past east or struggling low over the waves west. Gannets like a storm, but coming back to the Bass Rock must have been a real chore yesterday. This afternoon it was much calmer. There were flocks of kittiwakes and guillemots sitting unusually just off Crail. They seemed to be having a break after the storm. Groups of sandwich terns were passing overhead going steadily back west.

A Crail curlew in the storm

Posted September 20, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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