Archive for December 2018

December 31st 2018   Leave a comment

It’s the end of the year again. Time to take stock. 154 species within my 10km radius of Crail – 151 last year, and 161 in 2016, my record year. Not too bad; only missing bar-tailed godwit and garden warbler as regulars, and adding three new species – buff-breasted sandpiper, little bunting and my favourite of the year, bearded tit. The overall Crail list is up to 227 (228 if we count Bean Goose as two species – and they have been split again…). The complete list is below in sighting order. In bold – species not seen every year for the last 3 years, and * the three new species.

Pink-footed Goose no. 37

Stonechat no. 55

Black Redstart no. 97

Barn Owl No. 99

1 Blackbird Jan 1
2 Carrion Crow Jan 1
3 Grey Heron Jan 1
4 Robin Jan 1
5 Dunnock Jan 1
6 Wren Jan 1
7 Grey Partridge Jan 1
8 Skylark Jan 1
9 Woodpigeon Jan 1
10 Redwing Jan 1
11 Water Rail Jan 1
12 Great Black-backed Gull Jan 1
13 Pheasant Jan 1
14 Cormorant Jan 1
15 Herring Gull Jan 1
16 Black-headed Gull Jan 1
17 Eider Jan 1
18 Linnet Jan 1
19 Curlew Jan 1
20 Rock Pipit Jan 1
21 Goldcrest Jan 1
22 Teal Jan 1
23 Oystercatcher Jan 1
24 Mallard Jan 1
25 Reed Bunting Jan 1
26 Jackdaw Jan 1
27 Yellowhammer Jan 1
28 Meadow Pipit Jan 1
29 Common Gull Jan 1
30 Wigeon Jan 1
31 Goldfinch Jan 1
32 Blue Tit Jan 1
33 Chaffinch Jan 1
34 Great Tit Jan 1
35 Treecreeper Jan 1
36 Rook Jan 1
37 Pink-footed Gose Jan 1
38 Bullfinch Jan 1
39 Long-tailed Tit Jan 1
40 Coal Tit Jan 1
41 Woodcock Jan 1
42 Common Buzzard Jan 1
43 Dipper Jan 1
44 Fieldfare Jan 1
45 Collared Dove Jan 1
46 Starling Jan 1
47 House Sparrow Jan 1
48 Song Thrush Jan 1
49 Feral Pigeon Jan 1
50 Tree Sparrow Jan 1
51 Corn Bunting Jan 1
52 Magpie Jan 1
53 Redshank Jan 1
54 Red-throated Diver Jan 1
55 Stonechat Jan 1
56 Purple Sandpiper Jan 1
57 Shag Jan 1
58 Guillemot Jan 1
59 Kittiwake Jan 1
60 Red-breasted Merganser Jan 1
61 Turnstone Jan 1
62 Sparrowhawk Jan 1
63 Razorbill Jan 1
64 Fulmar Jan 1
65 Long-tailed Duck Jan 1
66 Gannet Jan 1
67 Mistle Thrush Jan 1
68 Kestrel Jan 1
69 Stock Dove Jan 1
70 Greylag Goose Jan 1
71 Coot Jan 1
72 Whooper Swan Jan 1
73 Mute Swan Jan 1
74 Tufted Duck Jan 1
75 Moorhen Jan 1
76 Goldeneye Jan 1
77 Little Grebe Jan 1
78 Golden Plover Jan 1
79 Lapwing Jan 1
80 Pied Wagtail Jan 1
81 Sanderling Jan 1
82 Dunlin Jan 1
83 Twite Jan 1
84 Lapland Bunting Jan 1
85 Grey Wagtail Jan 1
86 Goosander Jan 21
87 Snipe Jan 21
88 Merlin Jan 21
89 Ringed Plover Jan 21
90 Grey Plover Jan 21
91 Great Spotted Woodpecker Jan 26
92 Greenfinch Jan 27
93 Peregrine Feb 12
94 Lesser Black-backed Gull Feb 17
95 Shelduck Mar 3
96 Northern Wheatear Apr 1
97 Black Redstart Apr 1
98 Chiff-chaff Apr 2
99 Barn Owl Apr 4
100 Sandwich Tern Apr 7
101 Common Scoter Apr 7
102 Yellow Wagtail Apr 22
103 House Martin Apr 22
104 Barn Swallow Apr 23
105 Whimbrel Apr 28
106 Willow Warbler Apr 28
107 Common Whitethroat Apr 30
108 Sand Martin May 3
109 Common Cuckoo May 3
110 Grasshopper Warbler May 3
111 Blackcap May 3
112 Common Swift May 5
113 Sedge Warbler May 5
114 Little Gull May 6
115 Marsh Warbler May 12
116 Arctic Tern May 12
117 Puffin May 13
118 Manx Shearwater May 13
119 Great Skua May 13
120 Common Sandpiper May 13
121 Red-backed Shrike May 28
122 Lesser Whitethroat Jun 3
123 Common Tern Aug 5
124 Roseate Tern Aug 5
125 Mediterranean Gull Aug 12
126 Arctic Skua Aug 12
127 Knot Aug 12
128 Marsh Harrier Aug 23
129 Common Redstart Sep 1
130 Common Rosefinch Sep 4
131 Canada Goose Sep 8
132 Buff-breasted Sandpiper* Sep 8
133 Pale-bellied Brent Goose Sep 8
134 Spotted Flycatcher Sep 15
135 Jay Sep 15
136 Ruff Sep 22
137 Pomarine Skua Sep 27
138 Barnacle Goose Sep 27
139 Velvet Scoter Sep 29
140 Sooty Shearwater Oct 6
141 Bearded Tit* Oct 6
142 Little Stint Oct 7
143 Brambling Oct 11
144 Yellow-browed Warbler Oct 11
145 Great Northern Diver Oct 11
146 Ring Ouzel Oct 12
147 Pied flycatcher Oct 12
148 Redpoll Oct 14
149 Little Bunting* Oct 14
150 Siskin Oct 25
151 Black-throated Diver Oct 28
152 Sabine’s Gull Oct 29
153 Red-breasted Flycatcher Oct 31
154 Jack Snipe Nov 11

Mediterranean Gull no. 125

Posted December 31, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 30th   Leave a comment

There were over 30 great black-backed gulls roosting on the rocks by the harbour at high tide today. Great black-backs are much less common than herring gulls in most places but they outnumber them around the harbour. There are about 10 herring gulls for every great black-backed gull in the UK during the winter, with about 70,000 having been counted country-wide. We have about 20,000 pairs breeding which is about 10% of the world population. Numbers have been stable for the last 30 years. They are our biggest gull species and are clearly much bigger and bulkier when standing next to a herring gull. It is probably a very good job that great black-backs don’t favour nesting on rooftops: they are much warier of people than herring gulls but out at sea they are hugely aggressive and powerful, killing and eating most other seabirds. During the summer they also take a lot of herring gull chicks and eggs. Herring gulls may well be taking advantage of the absence of their main predator when they choose to nest in towns. Great black-backed gulls are mostly scavengers though, following the lobster boats out and taking first pick of the discarded bait or the bycatch tossed from the creels. This is the main reason of course why we have so many around Crail harbour.

Great black-backed gull

Posted December 30, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 28th   Leave a comment

I have been out along the coastal path and Crail most days this Christmas. Everything is settled into a mid-winter pattern with little change from day to day. Each day has a small highlight or two – yesterday a snipe in the middle of the stubble behind Pinkerton and six goldeneye diving out at Kilminning Castle, the day before the first gannet I have seen for a couple of weeks heading up the Forth past the May and today a flock of 12 teal amongst the mallards north of Balcomie beach. Each mid-winter is a little bit different. This year there are not many waders at Balcomie, and no bar-tailed godwits at all this year. Instead of tens of sanderlings and dunlins there are only a handful. But there are many more buntings than usual – corn, reed and yellowhammers – in the fields, and more stonechats along the coastal path than the last 15 years. Bird populations fluctuate each year for many reasons so I doubt there is anything too significant about the lower number of waders. Without systematic annual counts on a suitable scale – and for wintering shorebirds that is on a much larger scale than the East Neuk – you just can’t tell. But we do know for sure that the corn buntings are definitely on the up because we have been counting all of the local population for many years. I suspect the other bunting species, and probably the tree sparrows and linnets too, are also doing well because they share the extra space made for the corn buntings.


Posted December 29, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 24th   Leave a comment

I still recommend a walk north out of Kingsbarns for a couple of kilometres through the stubble fields and then back along the shore. Today the light was perfect on the way out – low sun and crystal clear, with the distant highlands glowing white. And it is still full of birds. At the risk of writing a shopping list: in 6 fields I had 200 skylarks, 150 yellowhammers, 40 corn buntings, 50 reed buntings, 100 linnets with a few twite in with them and 30 tree sparrows. And hundreds of woodpigeons, feral pigeons, jackdaws, rooks and herring gulls. I saw a sparrowhawk attacking the linnet flock and a female peregrine after the woodpigeons. But still no luck with the short-eared owl that continues its residence around the golf course.

Some of the many yellowhammers at Kingsbarns today – there is a tree sparrow in the middle of the flock as well

Posted December 24, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 22nd   Leave a comment

Seaweed flies washed up at Balcomie

One of my recurrent themes is how the sea weed washed up onto the beaches makes much of the local bird world go round. It was really evident today with a strand line of made of seaweed fly maggots at Balcomie today. The high tide had washed out millions from the big rotting wrack deposits lower down the shore and each wave was washing thousands every few meters along the sand of the upper beach. Apart from the gulls and eiders picking them off the surface of the water behind the surf, this feast was being left alone. I can only think that the waders had already eaten their fill and gone to roost.

The high tide bonanza is not without its down side. There are two neat sprays of redshank feathers just at the edge of the marram grass behind Balcomie beach. Both are recent sparrowhawk kills and I saw a (probably the) female sparrowhawk trying its luck again further along the shore later. The redshanks are tempted to feed right at the top of the shore by the seaweed maggots. There have been over 50 on most of my recent visits to Balcomie at high tide. But getting fewer as the winter goes on. A female sparrowhawk can take one redshank every other day and they like to specialise. On a walk between Kingsbarns and Crail following the coastal path I counted 5 redshank and one dunlin kill, all that were probably taken in the last few weeks.

Close up of the sea weed flies – the white maggots and the black pupae

Balcomie Beach with maggoty strandline – the sand is back by the way. Maybe 50% of what was there at its peak, but certainly a lot more than the last 10 months

Posted December 24, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 13th   Leave a comment

I was back out to Kingsbarns this morning and the beach and stubble fields to the north. It’s a nice dog walk and it’s such a bird magnet at the moment. Yesterday there was a hen harrier reported and of course there has been a short-eared owl seen there a few times this winter. But my run of bad luck there continues. Just a couple of common buzzards, bird of prey wise. I did enjoy tens of curlew flying along the coast, their lonely sounding calls matching the open sea behind them. And a grey wagtail flushed up from my feet, as always like a shaft of sunlight against the dark rocks. There were not many skylarks in the stubble field, but among them was a large lark like bunting. It didn’t call but I should think it was likely a lapland bunting: certainly my best candidate for one this winter.

Common buzzard

Posted December 13, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 10th   Leave a comment

The birth (red) and wintering (blue) sites of the black-headed gull – yellow 2BE7 – that I saw at Saucehope on the 4th November 2018

I heard back from the ringer of the other black headed gull that I saw with a colour-ring  (Yellow 2BE7) at Saucehope on the 4th of November. This bird was ringed as a chick in the Forvie Nature Reserve on the Ythan, just north of Aberdeen on the 30th May 2016, and then seen again as a juvenile there 25 days later. It hasn’t been seen since so my record confirms it is still alive and its likely wintering site. Few breed by two years of age so this bird is likely to have its first breeding season next year and it is also likely to breed at it natal colony or nearby, like the Norwegian bird that was with it has done (see November 21st entry). The Aberdeen black-headed gull has only travelled 124 kilometers as the gull flies from where it was born, but it will likely now be a Crail winter resident for the next 30 years if it gets lucky.

The colour-ringed black-headed gull at Saucehope

Posted December 10, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 9th   Leave a comment

I have been checking stubble fields this weekend, hoping to find a Lapland or a snow bunting. Saturday it was the fields around the airfield and Kilminning, and today the fields east and north of Kingsbarns. I didn’t find anything unusual but it was encouraging walking across the fields and putting up lots of reed buntings, corn buntings and yellowhammers. Probably several hundred in total across both sites, with about 50 being corn buntings. Other birds of the stubble were hundreds of linnets, woodpigeons and tens of starlings, but surprisingly few skylarks and meadow pipits. The big numbers last month have moved inland. In a small patch of flooded field by Kilminning, holding a few small pools after the rain of last week, I flushed 8 common snipe. A really good number for Crail. At Kingsbarns there was also a big flock of herring, common and black-headed gulls, rooks and jackdaws all feeding on the spilt grain among the stubble. There was a flock of tree sparrows closer to the woods by the beach car park road, dashing out to feed in the fields as well before retreating back to the safety of the trees as a dog walker or car went by. Stubble fields really are a great habitat for birds in winter.

Female reed bunting

The sea from Kingsbarns was fairly quiet. Some gulls far out, dipping down like terns to feed from the waters surface, but not kittiwakes as in the autumn. Instead they were all black-headed gulls. There were hardly any other “serious” seabirds – no auks, gannets or fulmars and only a couple of red-throated divers. I scanned the surf breaking on the rocky shore below the car park and found a few purple sandpipers among the redshanks and turnstones. It’s a reliable site for purple sandpipers but as always they were hard to see. Perfectly camouflaged as they ducked between the rocks and the waves.

Purple sandpiper

Posted December 9, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 5th   Leave a comment

The weather and short days hasn’t been very conducive to seeing birds. If it is bad weather on the weekend, that is my opportunity gone. I have been seeing a lot of roe deer though. I take them for granted but probably shouldn’t. It is fantastic to have such a large wild mammal fairly common about Crail. You don’t have to look in more than a few fields before you see one and then it is often a small herd of them. I decided to find out a bit about them and so had a look in the Handbook of Mammals of the World this evening. This multi-volume work is still in progress – when it is finished there will be a detailed article for every species of mammal in the world. Luckily deer are in Volume 2. Roe deer are split into two species – a Western and an Eastern species. They look similar and this probably reflects separation of an ancestral single species into two isolated “refugia” in southern Europe and Asia during the last ice age. Since then the two forms have spread back across all of Europe and Asia to meet at the Ural Mountains, and when they did they had probably evolved sufficiently that they were then incompatible. So speciation goes. Western roe deer are one of Europe’s commonest large mammals with a population estimated at about 9 million animals. Amazingly, nearly 3 million are killed by human hunters each year, yet the species remains widespread and common. It has been overhunted in the past but game protection laws and hunting licences have resulted in a stable population. In the past, wolves and lynxes would have been their main predator – that so many roe deer can be harvested by us without the population declining perhaps indicates how many wolves and lynxes there would have been before we got rid of them. The key to the roe deer’s success is of course its ability to thrive in man altered habitats. It most favours the open areas, scrub and light woodland that humans tend to create, and it is small enough to be able to hide in these habitats. They have particular adaptations to cope with a high tannin diet so can eat pretty much any vegetation. It is estimated that a roe deer needs 2 – 4 kg of vegetation a day. That is not that much greenery really, although on a frosty winter’s day, in competition with the rest of a group, that might be a problem. Roe deer also don’t tend to have much in the way of fat reserves so have to forage much of the day. They are active at night as well. The roe deer around Crail don’t seem to have too much of a hard time. I often see quite large groups (8 or more animals), and often they are lounging or lying on the ground rather than feeding. Another measure is how sensitive they are to disturbance, and Crail deer tend to run away at long distances – hundreds of meters. Animals that are starving take greater risks. Of course, they may feel more threatened, but I don’t think they are shot at too often around here. The greatest danger may well be being hit by cars. I do quite often see road kill roe deer, despite the fact that a freshly hit deer is a good bootful of venison and so is often quickly removed from the scene.

A Crail roe deer – this is a yearling, so born last summer

Posted December 5, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

December 1st   Leave a comment

There are more long-tailed ducks out at Balcomie and they were showing well this morning. After a week of wind and rain, the sea was flat calm with a diffuse grey winter light highlighting the strikingly marked males. There were about 20 long-tailed ducks in total in the bay and more came past Fife Ness later. The number of common scoters at Balcomie is also much higher than usual, with a flock of about 30 still about, although much further out than the long-tails. Both species feed on the same thing – mostly molluscs like mussels, and also crustaceans – so perhaps feeding conditions are better than usual this winter.

Male long-tailed duck

Posted December 1, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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