December 23rd   Leave a comment

It’s outside of my Crail patch but not that far away – West Sands by St Andrews – and its been a couple of years since I have seen a snow bunting. So I walked up the beach this morning looking foe the small flock that has been there for a month and regularly featuring in the Fife Bird News Whatsapp group. I started off at the Golf Museum scanning the bay and enjoying the hundreds of common and velvet scoters a few hundred meters out. It was flat calm and not very windy so they were easy to see through a telescope. Amongst them were long-tailed ducks and great crested grebes, and maybe a female surf scoter – an American species which, although rare in the UK is often in the bay. Juvenile velvet scoters have a head pattern like a surf scoter, and the real clincher is the bill shape (which I couldn’t see well) and the lack of a wing bar (which I didn’t see, but then you often don’t on a velvet scoter on the water). So perhaps, perhaps not. It occurred to me that female surf scoters are hardly ever reported in the UK and there is no great reason why males should be more vagrant than females, so I suspect a few get overlooked. The males are very showy and obvious – none about today though in the 400 or so scoters I checked. There was also a flock of over 50 scaup, keeping tightly together and separate from the scoters.

Male velvet scoter (JA)

I found the small flock of snow buntings halfway along the beach roughly by the yellow flag. The flock would fly out of the dune edges onto the beach when disturbed by a walker and a dog, and then trot quickly back. It made them easy to find. They are quite a tame species and weren’t flushing until people were about 25 meters away, and then only flying a short distance, showing their wing patches as fluttering white against the dark sky. They are called snow buntings because they breed in the high tops, often by late snow beds, and they often feed on the insects blown onto them (which then get chilled and lethargic making a nice easy meal for all the montane breeding birds). But I hardly ever see them in the mountains. To me they are birds of their wintering grounds – beaches and saltmarshes and dunes. And then I think of them as being called snow buntings because of the way their wings flash white like snow flakes in a gale as they fly up from your feet. I watched them for nearly an hour. They were finding seeds all the time in what seemed to me to be pure sand. Most of the time the dog walkers didn’t disturb them, but occasionally they had to fly up and on to a new patch of beach. Not one of the walkers noticed them, which perhaps suits the snow buntings, unlike me who kept trailing after them.

Snow buntings on West Sands this morning (WC)

I went down to Roome Bay in the last hour of sunshine this afternoon. The black redstart is still in residence, working its way along the upper beach from the base of the cliffs to the first (or last) walkway down to the beach. It doesn’t stay in the same place for very long, probably to avoid the robins, but I sat down midway alongs its patch and saw it within a few minutes. I enjoyed the other species feeding on the seaweed, and particularly the wrens like angry mice, hardly ever flying, scuttling around the rocks and washed up creels.

Roome Bay this afternoon – the black redstart on the fence above the beach and one of the beach wrens (WC)

Posted December 23, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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