May 4th   Leave a comment

Intriguingly today at Barnsmuir Farm there was a male yellow wagtail in the usual field, and then twenty minutes later, 1.5 km away at Third Part on the other side of Barnsmuir, a second male yellow wagtail. The second bird then flew a further 300 meters towards Kilrenny before landing in a wheat field. I hope this means that the yellow wagtails are expanding. No sign of any females yet and this might be the male roving because none have turned up, but I will keep my fingers crossed. They are very inconspicuous despite their bright colour and it is only their flight calls that get them noticed, so I am likely to be missing them.

One of male yellow wagtails (JA)

Kilminning was very quiet this morning but all of the action was down on the shore at Balcomie at high tide this afternoon. I had a white wagtail among the pied wagtails in a feeding frenzy as huge numbers of seaweed flies were emerging. There were a lot of waders: I reliably counted over 20 whimbrels and I think there may well have been between 30 and 40. There was a flock of 12 just on Balcomie Beach with a single curlew standing among them like their big brother. Other waders included 15 purple sandpipers, and small flocks of sanderling, turnstone, dunlin and ringed plover.

Whimbrels on Balcomie Beach today (JA)
The white wagtail, also on Balcomie Beach today (JA)

But the big highlight was a great skua. It’s not unusual at this time of year to have one or two passing by Crail or Fife Ness, but this one was on the rocky shore at Balcomie tucking into a herring gull it had just killed. I put it up as I approached on the coast path, but it landed back on the gull almost immediately. I sat down barely 10 meters from it to watch. My last “great” skuas were in Antarctica, although they are split into a couple of different species there. This one was a mess for identification – extremely worn plumage (it has missed a moult) and extremely, almost uniformly dark, very reminiscent of the brown skuas I was watching last month. It will be a great skua though – I expect they have a dark phase like the other skua species. Great skuas are usually a bit more wary than the one today – except when they are nesting, when they will vigorously mob people that get too close. It is fairly scary having such a big bird flying directly at you at full speed and you get the message very quickly. So this was one of my closest (comfortable) views of a great skua. I sat there for 30 minutes, enjoying it particularly when it flew about a bit, passing over my head at only a few meters. The whimbrels and herring gulls that were also on the shore all flew up every time the skua did: I don’t blame them after watching it hammering into the herring gull corpse like an eagle.

The great skua – unlikely to become a vegan anytime soon (WC)

Posted May 4, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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