January 19th   Leave a comment

I walked from Boarhills to Cambo, down along the Kenly Burn and then along the coastal path before heading back up through the woods by the burn. It was a great walk, starting with two dippers singing along Kenly Water. You normally never hear dippers sing very well because they sing from rocks surrounded by rushing water, but it was exceptionally quiet today. No wind at all and a slight mist damping every distant sound. There has barely been any rain for the last 6 weeks so the burns are all running slowly, and stretches of the Kenly are a series of pools. I could hear the dippers singing from a long way off as I walked down the side of the burn. There was one bird near to Boarhills and a second further down at the metal bridge. It’s easy to map dipper territories because they fly away from you until they reach the end of their territory when they suddenly change direction and fly back and past you. I always thought there was only one territory along the burn there, but it’s good habitat with several areas where there are small rocky cliffs overhanging the water, where they prefer to site their nests. Both birds were singing beside such cliffs so probably the centre of their territories and where they intend to nest. Dippers are quite early nesters, getting going in March in lowland territories like Kenly.

Dipper – they forage like thrushes except underwater and in usually fast flowing streams, extracting aquatic insects like caddis flies

I continued down to the mouth of the Kenly. It was high tide and as I turned the corner to head towards Kingsbarns I saw a small bird fly off the rocks, flying very low and fast with a whirring flight. I got on to it as it landed further on – bright orange and shining blue. A kingfisher! My first on the patch since 2015 when I had one at Fife Ness. Kingfishers are quite happy foraging in rock pools or in a calm sea during the winter, although they always breed on fresh water streams, lakes or river, which is why they are scarce around Crail. I heard the kingfisher calling a bit later as I walked down Kingsbarns Beach, although I am glad I saw it earlier because it was just the one whistle and I wouldn’t have been sure otherwise.

Kingfisher – everyone can identify a kingfisher on a good view, but most don’t expect to see them on the sea shore

I sat down to have a cup of coffee to celebrate the kingfisher. As I did I saw a very small seal swimming between skerries, close in. I glanced away thinking that it really was a very small seal and a bit close in. The penny dropped and I quickly scanned with my binoculars to see an otter swimming strongly along the shore. It was brief view, but an ottery head and the long fat tail is unmistakeable. My second live otter on the patch! It reached the rocks and then disappeared behind them. I have only seen a live otter here once before, crossing the St Andrews Road just outside of Crail on May 5th2016, and I found a road kill female otter in more or less the same place in October 2013. There are otters regularly seen at St Andrews and at Levenmouth but they are very elusive here. As I have written before – I think there have been otters regularly about Crail for the last decade because that was when the very common and visible mink which they outcompete became very hard to find. But we never see them. Like the badgers – even though they are much, much more common than otters – because they are strictly nocturnal you might not see one, from one year to the next. It’s a shame, it is hard to describe the feeling of seeing a wild otter and even in places like Shetland where this might happen every day, it brings such joy to your day. I am still smiling at the thought of such a wild, charismatic mammal swimming past my doorstep.

Nothing was going to top the otter, but there was a greenshank on the beach just north of Kingsbarns and I flushed my first woodcock of the year from the woods at Cambo. It is not a very good woodcock year, this year. They seem scarce, probably because it has been so mild so they haven’t been forced to the frost free coast in any numbers this year.


Posted January 19, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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