December 5th   Leave a comment

With the short days there really isn’t much time to get out. I had a productive morning writing so rewarded myself with an hour and a half walking along the coast at Balcomie and then back through the stubble fields of Balcomie itself. The sanderlings on the beach were very tame, walking up to a few meters from me as they fed in the strong wind. It wasn’t particularly cold this afternoon and the feeding is I think good on the beach, with the remains of the seaweed well rotted down now, but the sanderlings were behaving as if feeding really was their priority. It’s a dangerous strategy – I flushed a sparrowhawk with a newly caught starling at the top of the beach. Any sanderling not paying attention as it races up the strandline is in danger of being tomorrow’s meal. That said, there are many more starlings than sanderlings on Balcomie Beach, and they feed closer to the cover that the sparrowhawks use to conceal their approaches. So the starlings must act as a shield for the sanderlings. But as the winter goes on and the starlings get whittled down, and the wariest remain, then it may work in the opposite direction. The sanderlings may then get targeted by a Balcomie specialist sparrowhawk trained by its daily successful starling hunts. There was a purple sandpiper right down on the strandline that probably has the best strategy – stay well out of the way. Although on a high tide they too will be pushed close to the killing zone. But purple sandpiper kills by sparrowhawks are rare. I have found a few and I am always surprised at just how colourful their feathers are. On a dull day like today, scooting past in the distance they just look dark grey or even blackish, but close up they have a beautiful purple sheen like the head of a mallard.

One of the tame sanderlings on Balcomie Beach this afternoon (WC)
Purple sandpiper (JA)

Posted December 5, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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