Archive for October 2018

October 31st   Leave a comment

There was a red-breasted flycatcher reported from the Patch at Fife Ness late yesterday afternoon. I was down there just after first light to hopefully catch up with it. I was slightly pessimistic because last night was clear and with light westerly winds so good for a migrant to continue its journey. Luck tends to average out, so my poor luck at the weekend of just missing white-billed divers was evened out again (although arguably that was done with the Sabine’s gull on Monday) with the flycatcher popping up right in front of me within thirty seconds of arriving in the right area. It looked at me, I looked at it – getting the black tail with its white sides and the eye ring and general small flycatcheryness – and then it was gone into the denser cover of the pine trees around the ringing hut. I then spent 40 minutes wandering around the patch looking for it again, wondering if I had imagined it. I should have stayed where I first saw it. When I staked out the area about 20 meters northeast of the ringing hut and just waited for it, I got to see it every few minutes. They really move about, never staying on a perch for more than a few seconds before dropping to the ground to pick something up and then dashing off to the next perch a few meters away. You do get good views but like hummingbirds, the bird has to come to you rather than you chasing the bird. A couple of views were really nice so I could eliminate taiga flycatcher – the very far east Siberian version of the red-breasted flycatcher that has only been recognised as a separate species. Late season red-breasted flycatchers – they usually turn up in September or early October – are more likely to be taiga flycatchers. But the bird this morning lacked a whiter throat patch, had orangey-buff tones (not greyish) on the breast and an almost entirely pale horn coloured bill (rather than mostly blackish). The other clinching character for taiga – the black upper tail coverts was impossible to see and I doubt you can use it in the field unless it the bird is right in front of you, or you can get photos to enlarge later. Anyway, a clear red-breasted flycatcher and about my 8thfor the Crail list. Apart from the flycatcher, the Patch was fairly quiet. A few redwings and a flock of long-tailed tits being slightly out of the ordinary.

Red-breasted flycatcher

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Posted October 31, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 30th   Leave a comment

It is a good mistle thrush year. There are mistle thrushes to be found all around Crail at the moment. Although they look a lot like song thrushes in the bird book they are completely different birds. Much bigger and more robust, with a loud old-fashioned football rattle call when they fly off. They also have white underwings and white outer tail feathers. You will find them anywhere there are berries in a tree – Balcomie caravan park is a good spot and so is the kirkyard – they are usually in pairs or in a small flock which is probably a family group.

Mistle thrush

Posted October 30, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 29th   Leave a comment

I spent some of today guiding a birding friend of a colleague who hadn’t been birding in the UK before. It was great to be with someone who got excited at seeing their first dunnock, reed bunting and meadow pipit. A flock of greenfinches on the beach at West Sands was suddenly not something to be glanced at, but instead something to be properly looked at and appreciated. Greenfinches really are outrageously bright green and yellow, and really interesting to look at as they foraged among the marram grass. A goldfinch on a fence among a flock of linnets is a real star when you haven’t seen one before.  Malcolm is from California – a great birding location – and so it was also interesting being reminded of the similarities and differences between two widely separated parts of the world. Things in common like Slavonian grebes, dunlin, sanderling, a peregrine, red-breasted mergansers, things nearly in common like grey herons and golden plovers, and things that were major rarities to him in his patch like common ringed plovers or long-tailed duck. True to form being with an American we found an American rarity that you wouldn’t look at twice at off any Californian beach – two drake surf scoters in amongst the hundreds of common scoters in St Andrews Bay. As I got excited about picking out these rarities (although there are 1 or 2 in St Andrews Bay most winters) I noticed Malcolm more interested in a pied wagtail at our feet and then a rook on the railing besides us: both of them lifers for him. We finished off at Fife Ness with beautiful late afternoon light and a busy sea with hundreds of kittiwakes passing and a couple of arctic skuas, a great skua and a manx shearwater. And the brilliant highlight of a Sabine’s gull just as we arrived. I have only ever seen 4 Sabine’s gulls before in my life: one in Barrow Alaska, two off Senegal and one flying past Crail into the Forth about a decade ago. Here was another about 50 meters out dipping over the sea like a kittiwake but with its very distinctive brown white and black triangles back pattern. I followed it as it went further out to sea before losing it when it landed on the water. It was a good bird for Malcolm too but his first ever gannets that were nearby were much more attention grabbing. The Sabine’s gull is a great bird to get again for the Crail list, almost like a new bird. Two in 16 years is pretty rare. This autumn is not turning out to be too bad, for a bad autumn. And we are still having good easterlies with some rain forecast overnight: I saw a woodcock as I passed Wormiston on the way to work which is a good sign of things starting to come in.

Woodcock – look out for one in your garden tomorrow

Posted October 29, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 28th   3 comments

The northerly wind straight down from Spitsbergen and along the Norway coast has brought some white-billed divers along the east coast. This high arctic diver is really rare and I haven’t seen one in the UK. Two have passed Fife Ness in the last two days so I have been sea watching with a lot of hope. Today I had a close black-throated diver and some red-throated divers, and yesterday the great northern, but no luck with a white-billed. They are even bigger and bulkier looking than great northerns and their bill is so pale it can look like they have just grabbed a banana. There was plenty to entertain this morning from Fife Ness anyway – a great skua and an arctic skua, lots of kittiwakes passing far out and probably some little gulls in with them, and a steady stream of wildfowl as yesterday, but perhaps more common scoters and fewer long tailed ducks. The wind is now from the east and will be until Wednesday when rain is forecast – a good prospect for a late autumn rarity. Fingers crossed again.

Pale phase arctic skua passing Fife Ness

Posted October 28, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 27th   Leave a comment

It’s starting to feel like autumn might have slipped away. There will be a little bit of easterly on Monday and Tuesday with some rain, but it is getting late. But perhaps not too late for a firecrest or even an eastern wheatear species. Today the northerly wind made it feel raw out at Fife Ness. I sea watched for an hour in the early morning squinting into the glare. There was some passage of ducks – regular small flocks of long-tailed ducks, velvet and common scoters, wigeon and teal and a single goldeneye and red-breasted merganser. One red throated diver going south and a great northern diver heading north. The auks and kittiwakes were passing a long way out and there were no fulmars at all. The main show was out of sight I should think. At Balcomie Beach there was a big mat of newly washed in kelp and a large number of gulls feeding around it. The wind was strong enough that the black-headed gulls, and even a few herring gulls, were kiting over the seaweed in the surf like petrels – literally walking on the water with their wings outstretched.

Herring gull

Posted October 27, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 25th   Leave a comment

Most migration happens at night and out of sight. One day things aren’t here and the next day they are. But today it was obvious. At dawn I had a brambling going over the garden making its grumpy croaking call. And then it was a steady stream of flocks of siskin, linnets, meadow pipits and skylarks, with a few redwings, redpolls and blackbirds mixed in. They come in from the sea at Fife Ness and then continue along the coast, so pass Crail heading towards Anstruther. It’s not quite Gibraltar or Istanbul, but if you sit up on the top of the cliff at West Braes it’s our own migratory watch point as the flocks come past nearly at eye level. The joker in the pack was a flock of about 30 tree sparrows. Or 90 of them if the same flock didn’t come past three times. The tree sparrows are still dashing up and down the coast looking for somewhere to spend the winter as they have been doing since August. There are some signs that they are settling down: there were five on my garden feeder yesterday, hopefully back again for the winter. They have been absent since fledging chicks in June after breeding in one my bird boxes for the first time.

Bottom right…a blackbird coming in to Fife Ness after crossing the north sea the night before

Posted October 25, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

October 24th   Leave a comment

Siskin

I haven’t been trying too hard on the year list having been away from Crail for over two months this year. But this morning I passed the milestone 150 as I heard a siskin flying over the sheep field by Denburn. Like redpolls they pass over Crail in October and if you are not listening for their distinctive calls they go unnoticed. Siskins are more likely to stop and some winters a few stay in Denburn feeding on the alder cones. They also visit bird feeders, where their small finchy size and mixture of green, yellow and brown streaks makes them fairly obvious. There should be a few more species appearing for the year list – notably I am missing bar-tailed godwit which is a winter regular and John had a short-eared owl flying in at Fife Ness yesterday. Any owl seen flying in daylight around the shore just now is likely to be a short-eared owl on migration, coming over to the UK from Scandinavia for the winter.

Posted October 24, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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