June 8th   Leave a comment

I was on Balcomie Beach this morning counting sanderlings. I got to over 80 before they flew up and reassorted. I tried again but they were very restless: over 100 before the same thing happened, lots of sanderlings anyway. The most I have seen at Balcomie and all but two in summer plumage. I then got distracted by a text – a quail singing at Wormiston Farm: the first for Crail for several years. I settled for “a lot of sanderlings” and headed along the shore to Wormiston. In my haste I nearly ignored a dark looking mallard flying along the shore. It was a gadwall. Rarer than a quail in Crail. Apart from one on Carnbee Reservoir, always a quick flyby heading from somewhere with freshwater to somewhere else with some. I felt my luck was probably used up for the day, but ten minutes later I was by the wheat field between Wormiston Farm and the Yellow House listening to a quail calling twenty meters away. Two great unexpected birds at once and the Crail year list now nearly two months ahead of the record.

16 of the 100 or so sanderling on Balcomie Beach today (WC)
And one in close up (JA)

Quail are fairly exceptional birds. First you need to know that they are never seen. I occasionally flush them up from fallow fields in Africa and they shoot away like tiny rugby balls in a second. But I have never seen one of the 10 or so I have heard around Crail. They sit in the middle of dense wheat fields calling invisibly, if you try to approach them they just keep pace ahead. And that is the secret of their success generally, just keeping ahead. Quail have a rolling breeding season that may well start in Sub-Saharan Africa, and certainly North Africa in March. They produce lots of chicks that look after themselves like all gamebirds do and then they head off further north to breed keeping pace as spring and summer advances. Some years are better than others and quails reach northern Europe – like Scotland – mid-summer to get another brood off. Some individuals may get three broods out and there is even a suggestion that the young of the first broods may end up breeding at the end of the summer as well. A lot of quail. Which is a good job considering that a lot of things eat them and huge numbers get hunted by people on migration.

The day ended strangely in the hide at Fife Ness waiting for a white-billed diver to pass. One had been seen passing up the Northumberland coast in the morning and we estimated that it would pass Fife Ness at about three in the afternoon (with one or two assumptions, the main one being that it was actually going to fly past Fife Ness at all). Perhaps not surprising that my luck for the day had run out with the quail. But I saw a bonxie and 42 manx shearwaters, and of course hundreds of gannets and puffins, passing in the two hours I watched for it.

A puffin (because clearly there will never be a photo of a Crail quail…) (JA)

Posted June 8, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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