Archive for May 2019

May 29th   Leave a comment

The spring is slipping away. The starlings will be fledging chicks any day soon and there was a pair of stonechats down at the big gate to the SWT reserve at Kilminning with four newly fledged chicks. Stonechats are common again all along the coastal path after the run of relatively mild winters (the beast from the East last year notwithstanding). Stonechats are always conspicuous as they perch on fence posts and chack at you when you come near. But they get particularly noisy and flighty when they have young chicks just out of the nest. The young are brown and streaky like robins (and many other young chats like wheatears or bluethroats). The ones today were perched out in the open and dopey looking – the next week will be a testing time for them to avoid the local sparrowhawks before they get a bit more worldly wise. The sparrowhawks have their own chicks to feed of course.

Juvenile stonechat (JA)
Grey Heron down at Fife Ness today (WC)

Posted May 29, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 27th   Leave a comment

There are eider chicks down at Roome Bay now. At least three females with week old ducklings this evening. The crossing from the May Island can’t have been very good for them yesterday in the strong winds but I suspect these have been here a few days. In the background, out over the now calm sea there was a steady passage of manx shearwaters passing to the east. I counted about 20 in 30 minutes. They are a bird of summer, sunlit evenings, flying past us as they circle around the UK on their long feeding trips. They might be from Rhum or they might be from Skomer.

New eider chicks (JA)

Posted May 27, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 26th   Leave a comment

I was surveying corn buntings just north of Kingsbarns this morning. It was very rainy but it didn’t keep the corn buntings down. There were at least 5-6 territories in the fields adjacent to the golf course – last year it was 7. It is one of the highest density areas for corn bunting in the East Neuk. There were lots of whitethroats, yellowhammers and reed buntings wherever there was a bush or gorse patch left between the fields. I watched a pair of oystercatchers making a scrape in a newly sown bare earth field. At this time of year you see oystercatchers apparently just sitting out in the middle of bare earth fields – they might look too conspicuous to be actually on a nest but they probably are. Oystercatchers are aggressive nest defenders so rely less on having a hidden nest.

Male reed bunting on a sunnier day (JA)

This evening I came across what I thought initially was a really small bumble bee. On a closer look it turned out to be a fly mimicking a bumblebee – a narcissus fly. It is a really good mimic and I expect I have overlooked it in the past. Its larvae are major pests on daffodil and bluebell bulbs so I suspect it will be pretty common around Crail. Once you learn to recognise a new species you suddenly see it everywhere so I expect this will be the first of many this summer.

Narcissus fly (WC)

Posted May 26, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 25th   Leave a comment

Quite a contrast to last Saturday. Prevailing westerly winds for most of this week meant that there was only a small chance of anything unusual turning up. And so it was. Kilminning was very quiet, with only the now resident whitethroats and sedge warblers about. Balcomie Beach continues to have a large flock of sanderling, dunlin and ringed plover, all now in nice summer plumage and ready for their final flight up to the high Arctic to start breeding in a week or two. But best thing today was the appearance of a 10 shelduck chicks with the pair just to the north of the beach. The pair further north at the end of the golf course, and the pair at the east end of Saucehope caravan park haven’t got anywhere this year – either lost their eggs to a fox or didn’t even get started for lack of a suitable burrow. But at least one of our local pairs has made it to the chick stage. Once shelduck chicks get out onto the shore they are much safer. A pair of shelducks make formidable guardians, so as long as the chicks stay close to their parents most will probably make it. And further down the coast, my first eider chicks of the year. A creche of 12 with a couple of females, surrounded by a flotilla of males that were still trying their luck.

The shelduck chicks… (WC)
And the eider chicks at Balcomie this morning (WC)

This afternoon, I checked on the yellow wagtails at Barnsmuir Farm. I didn’t find any sign of them in their usual fields even though that was there the male was singing a month ago. But I did find a male and two females behaving in that agitated manner of birds with an active nest nearby about 2 kilometers away. Still breeding in Fife, but probably for the best a little bit more out of the way.

One of the local yellow wagtails (JA)
Thrift at Fife Ness

Posted May 25, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 19th   Leave a comment

A much better day weather wise for finding birds – and there are now 14 bluethroats on the May. So more hopeful searching. No bluethroats here again but hardly fruitless. I found two lesser whitethroat, a whinchat, two garden warblers and three spotted flycatchers between Wormiston, upper Kilminning and the Patch at Fife Ness, and saw a pied flycatcher, another garden warbler and whinchat, and a wood warbler that were found by others at lower Kilminning. There were a couple of northern wheatears and 50+ arctic terns on the rocks at Balcomie, and the mixed flock of sanderling, ringed plover and dunlin on the beach. So a great mid-May day, with the best part of migrant May still to come. It was really nice to see garden warblers again after missing them entirely around Crail last year. The one at lower Kilminning gave really nice views so I could really appreciate how chunky they are, with stout bills for a warbler – almost like a vireo. They are a very subtle warbler – really no characteristic features at all, but ensemble somehow very distinctive. The other highlight were the whinchats. I don’t get to see nice bright males in breeding plumage on the wintering ground in Africa.

Spotted Flycatcher in the Patch today (WC)
Garden Warbler lower Kilminning (WC)
Male Whinchat no. 1 lower Kilminning (WC)
Whinchat no. 2 on the edge of the field between Kilminning and Balcomie Castle (WC)

I say this every year, but it seems to always be true. There are more common whitethroats breeding around Crail this year than last. Whitethroat numbers were halved in the 1960s due to the drought in the Sahel where they refuel before crossing the Sahara in spring. Their populations have been recovering gradually ever since as they have changed their wintering grounds and the Sahel moved to a wetter phase in the 1990s. The upshot of this is that there are whitethroats breeding right in the middle of Crail this year – one now has a territory from the sheep field over to the restored doocote and yesterday I had my first common whitethroat in my back garden. I put it down as a migrant, but today it was singing a bit so it may be a hopeful breeder too.

Common whitethroat (JA)

Posted May 19, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 18th   Leave a comment

A few of us were out at Fife Ness and its surrounds this morning with high hopes. Last night seven bluethroats turned up on the May Island. Surely at least one more will have also made it to us around Crail? If it did we didn’t find it. They can be skulkers, although once located they can usually be seen well. But it’s the locating that’s the problem. We have just too many bushes, hedges, ditches whereas the May Island has about three of each. And more birders, although today we did manage nearly double figures. Bluethroats are like robins but with a blue throat (obviously), red on the tail and a more striped head – well worth seeing. And I haven’t seen one yet for the Crail list. Consequently I was working hard today despite the rain. I found a spotted flycatcher at Kilminning and another at The Patch at Fife Ness. Good finds on any normal day and firsts for the year, but my expectations were high.

A soggy sparrowhawk in the walled garden at Balcomie when I checked it for bluethroats this morning (WC)

Posted May 18, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 16th   Leave a comment

The easterly winds are back with some rain forecast for the weekend. But nothing was happening yet except at Fife Ness and Balcomie. A flock of at least 100 arctic terns were feeding about a kilometre out with another 40 or so on the rocks to the north of the beach. It was the first day this year that there were arctic, common and sandwich terns present. There were manx shearwater too. A great northern diver passed heading north looking like a cormorant but with huge feet trailing behind.

A great northern diver heading north past Fife Ness – equally credible if you imagine it flying backwards because of its huge feet, a really useful feature at a distance (JA)

Posted May 17, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings