October 12th   Leave a comment

First light at Kilminning didn’t repeat the Pallas’s of yesterday. It was clear last night and it looks like the Pallas’s warbler departed. Where it might be going is uncertain – it is unlikely that it will retrace its steps back to the far east. They are rare vagrants to Africa so it may well head down there, perhaps sharing that unknown corner of West Africa where increasing numbers of yellow-browed warblers must now be wintering in. There were a few disappointed birders at Kilminning today. It’s a classic scenario – the rarity does a flit before the weekend. I was lucky to have it on my doorstep, and to have a job that often allows me to work when it suits me. It seems that a few other of the rare birds left over from Monday went last night as well: there was only one ring ouzel left at lower Kilminning, and fewer chiff-chaffs and goldcrests. The yellow-browed warblers remain though. There were still at least three at upper Kilminning.

One of the remaining chiffchaffs at Kilminning today (JA)

This afternoon a shorelark was seen on the rocks at Fife Ness. Shorelarks are Arctic breeding songbirds that are uncommon winter visitors and we don’t have much suitable habitat for one – but migrants can turn anywhere, and shorelarks like bare open habitats like beaches. This would be a new bird for the Crail list so I spent four hours this afternoon walking along the shore between Fife Ness and the end of Balcomie Golf Course. It was a really nice afternoon, and quite relaxing to be looking for a bird in open habitats rather than having to peer into dense obscuring vegetation without any hope of seeing the bird unless it moved across your field of view. I didn’t find the shorelark; I am becoming a believer in birding luck evening out, and I had my fair share of luck yesterday. But Balcomie Beach and the sea out from the Ness provided plenty to see as usual. The beach now has its own lagoon on the high tide courtesy of a big bank of wrack washed in on the easterlies of the week before last. The now resident waders have been feeding in this and on the wrack bed as it rots and becomes maggot infested. Turnstones, dunlin, redshank, knot, and lots of starlings, all now handsome in spotty winter plumage, even the juveniles. Lots of gulls too of course, sitting in the water behind the wrack bank picking up the maggots washed out by the tide. The sanderling, purple sandpipers and bar-tailed godwits were roosting on the wrack: wading in a shallow lagoon or fossicking through seaweed piles is not their thing.

The new “lagoon” on Balcomie Beach
Turnstones and starlings feeding on seaweed fly maggots – both species specialise on digging holes in rotting vegetation
Turnstone (WC)

My dog found a nice rotted fish skeleton to eat so I had to sit down and wait for her to finish before she would come back to me (she knows well what I would have done with the fish if I could have caught her). Making a virtue of it I sat down and seawatched by Stinky Pool (my prime location for checking for a shore lark anyway). The sea was full of birds right to the horizon. Mostly gulls, gannets and passing auks. But in thirty minutes I had a great northern diver, a great skua, a juvenile pomarine skua and I also picked up a distant short-eared owl, heading in from the sea toward Fife Ness. As it got to within about a kilometre of the land, it changed direction and headed for the Lothians. I bet this was an adult, orientating itself and then heading off to a known wintering area that it used last year. A juvenile, I bet, would have been so relieved to see any land after crossing the North Sea that it would have made landfall as soon as possible. It is always slightly bizarre to see an owl flying over the sea, but they have a light flight action, with frequent glides, that makes it look like they are finding the long crossing easy. The pomarine skua was really far out, but I identified it initially as a great skua until it banked and flashed lots of silvery white on it underwing coverts, almost like a sooty shearwater, resolving it as a pomarine or arctic juvenile, but with the hefty look of a great skua then making it a pomarine. It then helpfully chased a few kittiwakes confirming its large size and hefty look. I wouldn’t bet my house on the id but maybe a few quid. The great northern diver was another good bit of id practice. It was powering along with the wind behind it so it didn’t look exceptionally heavy or big, but the neck mark was really pronounced, like a collar, so the face contrasted bright white, so much so I did a double take and checked the bill just in case (but no banana of a white-billed diver). I checked the guides and this contrasting white face is a good feature on a wintering bird when the structure of the bird is not obvious. John’s photo below gives a good idea of this, but at a distance and in bright sunlight the white of the face contrasted much more.  

Great northern diver passing Fife Ness (JA)

Posted October 12, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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