Archive for April 2019

April 30th   Leave a comment

The black-tailed godwit is still about the rocky shore north of Balcomie beach and this evening there was also a bar-tailed godwit with it. Since the two bar-tailed godwits that used to winter on the beach have moved on (or passed on), they have been hard to find and I didn’t have a single Crail bar-tailed godwit last year. This one was still in winter plumage, and although they are late breeders, I don’t think this one will breed this year. A bar-tailed godwit in full summer plumage is worth seeing – a bright brick red underneath and speckled black and silver grey above. But after a couple of years any bar-tailed godwit around Crail is worth seeing, and a two godwit night especially so. As well as the godwits, there were over 10 whimbrels, a couple of curlews and 5 or so northern wheatears; passing at sea there were a few flocks of common scoter.

Bar-tailed godwit still in winter plumage (JA)

Posted April 30, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 28th   2 comments

Some of the week’s migrants left last night. The wood warbler is still in Denburn and one or two lesser whitethroats are still around Kilminning. The most obvious migrants today were whimbrels at Fife Ness. I counted over ten in an hour from Balcomie Beach this afternoon. The black-tailed godwit of yesterday was still here hanging around with the whimbrels. And the moorhen was still about the caravans at Fife Ness. I got a message that it was first seen on the 19thso it is not the newly arrived migrant I thought it was, but instead a temporary, caravan loving resident. Moorhens can be quite terrestrial but they need some freshwater to breed in, so I still think it is a passage migrant. Moorhens in Finland, for example, are almost entirely migratory so this could be a moorhen blown off course, and taking its time refuelling.

Whimbrel (JA)

Female eiders are now scarce as most are on eggs somewhere like the May Island leaving lots of males with not much to do. One of the females remaining at Balcomie was surrounded by four ardent male admirers, all stretching their necks up in display and making their “phoar phoar” calls. It was a relatively gentle affair with the males behaving themselves – not the gang affairs of male mallards around a lone female at this time of year.

The female eider at Balcomie this afternoon with her four suitors (WC)

Posted April 28, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 27th   2 comments

Despite the rain of last night there was nothing new in last night. Looking at the wind map it is not surprising. Although the wind is from the south-east, it is circling around the UK anti-clockwise, rather than blowing from Europe. But the conditions weren’t good for departure either so everything around yesterday was still here. The wood warbler still singing in Denburn, lesser whitethroats and a pied flycatcher at Kilminning and wheatears at Balcomie. I watched the pied flycatcher catch a huge caterpillar on the ground. It had fallen from a tree above the tarmac and was easy to spot as it tried to get to cover. It was so big that it slowed the pied flycatcher down. It spent a couple of minutes bashing it against a branch before swallowing it with great difficulty. It then sat and looked decidedly sick before starting off foraging again. A few more like that will power the flycatcher to its final destination tonight.

The pied flycatcher struggling with the giant caterpillar (JA)

Balcomie Beach was almost empty of shorebirds, except for a black-tailed godwit, flying up to resume its journey northward as a walker disturbed it. Black-tailed godwits are rare here except in July. There were also three turnstone and a couple of whimbrel on the rocks closer to Fife Ness. Out at sea there was a steady passage of auks and kittiwakes from the May Island, including my first puffins of the year. Pairs of sandwich terns were passing very few minutes and out with a feeding kittiwake flock, my first common tern of the year.

Black-tailed godwit in summer plumage (JA)

As I left Fife Ness, I noticed a moorhen scuttling out from behind the caravans. They might be common elsewhere but this is my first ever for Fife Ness. They got excited on the May Island a couple of weeks ago when a moorhen also turned up there – the first recorded for many years – and I wonder if this is the same bird, fed up with the island life.

An uncomfortable and out of place moorhen at Fife Ness today (WC)

Posted April 27, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 26th   Leave a comment

I only had time this morning for an hour in Denburn before heading to work. It was a good choice – I have been neglecting Denburn in favour of Kilminning. Denburn seemed to be full of warblers – willow warblers, chiff-chaffs, blackcaps and probably also a garden warbler but I couldn’t track down the singer to be sure (they have very similar song to blackcaps) – and there was a wood warbler there today. I haven’t seen a wood warbler in Crail since 2015 when one turned up in Kilminning in autumn and one in the Patch at Fife Ness in the spring. Before that it was 2008 and then 2004. So that’s a total of 5 in 16 years, plus maybe a couple I have missed. Not very many for a species that breeds on the west coast of Scotland and in the Highlands. They are usually fairly inconspicuous keeping to the tops of the trees, but the one this morning was singing its shivery little song constantly. I picked it up the moment I got to Denburn although then took a few minutes to find it high up in the canopy. Wood warblers are much cleaner and brighter looking than willow warblers: brighter green and yellow and white, rather than subdued olive and dirtier white. Even though they are more colourful, they are the tones of a sunlit canopy in spring so they disappear amongst the leaves.

The wood warbler in Denburn this morning (JA)

Posted April 26, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 25th   Leave a comment

The easterly and south-easterly winds have continued over the last three days, and we had some rain showers last night. Good conditions for finding migrants although the heavier rain forecast later today and tomorrow night might really make it good. Today’s top migrants were lesser whitethroats. There were two and probably three, at least, at the bottom of Kilminning, foraging in the tree tops with blackcaps and willow warblers, and occasionally giving their rattily song: and I heard another singing as I drove past the old Waid School site in Anstruther this afternoon. Lesser whitethroats are never very common here and usually turn up only in ones or twos, so this represents a mini invasion. 

Lesser whitethroat (JA)

There was also a handsome male pied flycatcher at the bottom of Kilminning. I hardly ever get to see a male in nice summer plumage so I greatly appreciated it. This is a good bird this early in the spring, although in some years in “fall” conditions (right time of year, 3 days of easterlies and then overnight heavy rain…) we can have tens of pied flycatchers around Crail – but almost always in autumn when the males are much duller brown rather than pied.

The male pied flycatcher at Kilminning this morning (WC)

Other migrants in today were a couple of northern wheatears at Balcomie, a yellow wagtail flying over Kilminning (would have been a star bird a few years ago before they started breeding by Crail) and a few common whitethroats. My first of the year and very vigorously singing. Soon every hedgerow and clump of bushes will have a common whitethroat in it.

Common whitethroat (JA)

And last, but not least, there was a short-eared owl between Crail and Caiplie today. I saw it this morning over the fields being mobbed by crows and then later, this evening, it was looking forlorn in the fog perched on a dyke beside the main road. Whether this is also a migrant or the West Braes bird of the winter that hasn’t left yet I don’t know, but probably more likely the former. 

Shoret-eared owl (JA)

Posted April 25, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 21st   Leave a comment

The wheatears and the black redstart had moved on overnight – the potato field at Balcomie just had a few skylarks in it today – but the common redstart was still at Kilminning. It was still using the fence as it main perch to feed from, but now in the south-west corner along the edge of the airfield. I hadn’t checked there yesterday. Once I was looking in the right corner it was obvious, a handsome male, flying down from the fence to pick up insects from the grassy tarmac below. Common redstarts are a bit hit and miss around Crail – there are one or two most springs and autumns but miss one at your peril – it might be the only one for the year. They are one of my favourite chats and seeing one in a mossy, west coast oak forest where its blues, reds and whites really contrast is always a highlight. And the redstart today transformed the decaying fence and crumbling tarmac of the airfield.

How to transform a decaying fence…the male common redstart at Kilminning this morning

Although some of the passage migrants had gone, there were more willow warblers in and more of them singing, and I heard my first sedge warbler at Kilminning. In the afternoon I checked the field outside of Crail where the yellow wagtails have been breeding for the last three years and, sure enough, there was a male perched on a telephone pole. Not quite singing but calling vigorously before disappearing down into a tramline in the low winter wheat quite close to where one of the nests was last year. I let the farmer know and although it is early days, it is a good sign of hopefully another breeding year for the only yellow wagtails in Fife. They breed in a very busy site, next to the main road to Anstruther and with lots of farm workers walking by on their way and back to the Crail co-op. I don’t think they are very susceptible to disturbance but they are probably best left to themselves for the next two weeks until nesting gets established.

One of the Crail yellow wagtails back today

Posted April 21, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 20th   Leave a comment

More great migration weather and more great migrants coming in today. A flock of sand martin over Kilminning, my first house martins over Crail, lots of northern wheatears in the bare earth fields around Crail (one at Balcomie had at least 5 in it), barn swallows now everywhere and more willow warblers. No sign of the yellow wagtails back at Barnsmuir this afternoon though – the fields are better habitat than last year, although not so damp, so I’m reasonably hopeful for them breeding again this year, if they return. There was an influx of yellow wagtails in the Lothians today so I think our yellow wagtails will be back tomorrow. Another black redstart was found out at the cottages at Balcomie and I managed to connect with this one in the afternoon. It was feeding in a recently irrigated bit of potato field, using a low stone wall on the edge to fly down for insects on the ground. It was fairly shy and I had to sit in the adjacent sheep field for about an hour before it came relatively close. It was a female type – pretty much all sooty grey apart from its dark red tail. This might be an adult female, or it might be a young male. Some males stay looking like first years even when they breed for the first time. There was also a common redstart found at Kilminning, atypically out in the open, on the wire fence by the SWT sign. I got there too late – I suspect it had retreated into some more typical wooded habitat. Still there is always tomorrow to find it again. The wind is now south westerly for a couple of days but is back easterly on Monday for the rest of the week, with rain showers forecast for Thursday and Friday. So all lining up well for next weekend. But I think there is more to be found this weekend though…

Today’s black redstart at Balcomie cottages
Finally getting a bit closer

Posted April 20, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 19th   Leave a comment

There was a black redstart reported from Kilminning yesterday evening so I was down there early this morning. I wasn’t very optimistic – they can be hard to find down on the rocky shore down there. But it was a perfect spring morning with bright sunshine, no wind and the temperature climbing. And there were three northern wheatears on the rocks and three barn swallows overhead. Today and yesterday were perfect migration conditions: there were more wheatears around the airfield and later, swallows all the way between Crail and St Andrews.

Northern wheatear

Posted April 19, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 18th   Leave a comment

The wind went a little bit more southerly today with the airflow coming up from Europe, rather than just east across the North Sea. The temperature went up by eight degrees and I saw my first swallow of the summer over Kilrenny. In Denburn there were willow warblers singing and my first blackcaps – like the willow warbler of last week, feeding like new arrivals and barely singing. And later, my first whimbrel, flying over my garden calling briefly from the evening sky. I whistled back but it was already on its way north-west, in a hurry. If you are a whimbrel you can really move – it might have been in Iberia yesterday and be in Iceland tomorrow.

Male blackcap – females have brown caps

Posted April 18, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 17th   Leave a comment

I saw a hoopoe on the way to work today. If ever there was a rare bird made to be identified from a moving car, it is a flying hoopoe – a big strikingly patterned butterfly of a bird. We had just passed the kirk at Boarhills and the Balmashie cottages on the corner when a bird flying up from the stone wall or the verge by the road caught my eye. A hoopoe, at eye level as we passed. It banked up and flew briefly beside the car before heading over into the field behind the wall. Only two seconds worth but I can still see it burnished into my mind: Africa, Italy and Cyprus brought to the East Neuk this morning. The hoopoe will be an overshooting migrant that flew a bit further than intended last night. They are common in the south of Europe and they are familiar to anyone who has a summer holiday around the Mediterranean. They are shy but like gardens, parks and orchards so are often seen on the irrigated lawns or golf courses around resort hotels, very noticeable as they fly away like my bird this morning, with their bold black and white stripes. If you get lucky and see one on the ground they are very endearing, picking daintily about with their very long curved bill and frequently flicking up their long crest like a cockatoo. They are pretty rare in Scotland. A few turn up each year and we have had a couple in the Crail area in the last 16 years. I missed them both: April 5th 2014 in a Pinkerton garden, and March 23rd 2011 in a Marketgate garden (only 150m from my house!). They get noticed and identified by non-birders but they don’t hang around. I put mine out on the grapevine immediately and John Anderson was out looking for it within the hour, but it wasn’t seen again today. Still, third time lucky for me and I have it at last for my Crail area list – now up to 228 species. Spring is truly here – swallows and who knows what else tomorrow.

A hoopoe – this one taken by John in Fuertaventura. It is small pigeon sized and even more striking in flight.

Posted April 17, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 14th   Leave a comment

The wind continues from the southeast but without bringing any warmer weather or many more migrants. I had my first willow warbler singing in an unenthusiastic manner in Kilrenny today – perhaps concentrating more on getting its condition back after arriving last night rather than thinking about its territory. As our climate gets warmer and spring gets earlier, there is more of a danger of migrants arriving later than the best time start nesting (so their chicks are being fed at the peak of insect abundance in a few weeks’ time), but I don’t think this will be a problem this spring. Scottish springs are usually slow to get going anyway so this is thought to be more of a problem for English birds.

Willow warbler

Posted April 14, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 13th   Leave a comment

There were lots of sandwich terns passing Balcomie and Fife Ness today. I counted 9 off Balcomie Beach at one point. They have been in Fife for a week but these were my first and today must have been their major arrival. It isn’t the summer without the screech of a sandwich tern. There were also over 20 long-tailed duck out from Balcomie Beach: they will be on their way north soon.

Sandwich Tern

I also had my first shelduck of the year. The usual pair are back in the bays just to the north of Balcomie Beach. I think they are successful breeders there every two or three years so I wish them luck for this year.


Posted April 13, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 11th   Leave a comment

Dunnocks are very common in Crail but often overlooked. Their other name – hedge sparrow – and the phrase “dull as a dunnock” doesn’t lend them much glamour, But they are worth noticing. Greyer and with a finer bill than a sparrow, they creep around on the ground very delicately. Dunnocks are amazingly tolerant of people and the environments we create. There is hardly a garden or field edge or copse in the UK without a dunnock. They are probably more human adapted than even house sparrows. I have one singing away in a rose bush just by my back door and its neat nest will be tucked away nearby, with a clutch of tiny, bright blue eggs.

One of my back garden dunnocks singing this morning

Posted April 11, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 10th   Leave a comment

Curlews are with us all winter so its hard to tell when they are migrating. It’s not like the swifts that are absent one day and then everywhere the next. But the last couple of days there have been flocks of curlews passing over Crail, calling mournfully as they went. There was a flock of about 30 at Kilrenny today, and another between St Monans and Anstruther, feeding in the fields just like wintering birds. But our curlews left a week or so ago, and these flocks were tighter together and just a little bit edgier, transients ready to continue on northwards if things didn’t work out as they stopped with us to refuel.

A curlew on the move

Posted April 10, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 7th   1 comment

I walked from Boarhills to Cambo along the coastal path this afternoon. A single dipper along the Kenly Burn was singing: I bet the other bird was on eggs. There were noticeably fewer waders along the shore, with about a quarter of the usual numbers of oystercatchers, redshanks, turnstones and purple sandpipers. No curlews at all: there are still some about but many must have left already for their breeding grounds. There were still a few long-tailed duck offshore at Kingsbarns. The males looking very handsome in their dark and white chocolate breeding plumage. A singing chiff-chaff greeted me as I walked up through the woods at Cambo. There should be a swallow to join it any day now.


Posted April 7, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 5th   Leave a comment


The wind has been from the east the last couple of days, so we had the haar in making it very dreich. Everywhere was very damp with the rain of the last couple of days, and the pool in the pasture field just west of Ribbonfield (by the B940 and B9171 crossroads) has a good lot of water in it. I am hopeful that it will attract some passage waders, like little ringed plovers in the next week or wood sandpipers at the beginning of May. Visibility out at Fife Ness wasn’t very good, although I could see the gannets, auks and kittiwakes shuttling back and forth indicating the start of another Forth breeding season. No terns yet, but there was an invisible chiff-chaff at the top of Kilminning calling mournfully in the fog. It doesn’t seem like there is an early rush of summer migrants yet, although there were some swallows and house martins reported elsewhere in Fife today, which is fairly early. The only literal bright spot today was a yellowhammer, glowing yellow at Balcomie despite the murk.

Posted April 6, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 4th   Leave a comment

I have been in Antarctica for the last couple of weeks – from an impending winter and stormy seas back to spring. Fife is full of lesser black-backed gulls back from North Africa, scoping out the rooftops, and today at Cambo there was a chiff-chaff singing, back from a balmy winter in Iberia.


Posted April 4, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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