Archive for February 2020

February 17th   Leave a comment

Robin box

It’s national nestbox week. This afternoon I helped put up three nestboxes in Denburn in anticipation of the nesting season starting in three weeks if the mild weather continues. I put up two robin boxes – they have open fronts. One on an ivy covered tree with a few strands falling across the front, and another quite low down on a tree by the burn. You can see it on the right: the plan is that although it is obvious now, it will be behind a screen of leaves by April when the robins start nesting. Robins like a low down nest site and I have found a couple of nests in previous years in the ivy covered bank directly behind the tree where I put the box. In the old days – well forty years ago – you might get a spotted flycatcher using this kind of box (although they like them higher than robins). Pied wagtails like an open nest box too. I put up a third box (below) – a traditional small hole tit box for a coal tit or blue tit. As I put the nest box up I could hear a coal tit getting excited above me. A coincidence I am sure, although there is a shortage of natural nest holes in most British woodland because there are few decaying trees left standing. In Crail a lot of the tits resort to nesting in holes in the stone dykes. Anyway, I wish the new boxes luck.

Tit box

Posted February 17, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 14th   Leave a comment

There was a flock of 25 corn buntings on the wires at Saucehope. There are still two stubble fields there and the numbers have been building up again. It’s a good sign for the next breeding season’s numbers. There is a similar sized flock around another of their hotspots at Kilrenny – again a late stubble field the epicentre. Two months and we will be recording their territories again, although they will be occupying them and singing long before then. Probably right after this run of storms plays out in a couple of weeks.

25 corn buntings at Saucehope this afternoon (WC)

Further up the stubble field at Saucehope I then saw a female merlin making a hunt. It flushed up a skylark and started chasing. It was a classic “ringing” hunt, with the skylark trying to sing a bit as it gained height, but not enough to convince the merlin of its vigour, and so a series of climbs and stoops resulted, with the merlin getting closer and closer each time. I lost them half a kilometer away over the airfield as a second merlin joined the chase. I shouldn’t think that skylark got away. 

The wind got up again later in the afternoon, but it was sheltered and relatively mild in Denburn. The last few days of it being only one or two degrees in the morning has not really made things hard for small birds. There were chaffinches and coal tits in a little line along the Denburn having a relaxed bath, and nothing was foraging very hard. There was a constant background sound of goldfinches twittering in partial song as they sat in a big, loose flock in the canopy, taking it easy, waiting to roost.

A chaffinch in the Denburn (WC)

Posted February 14, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 13th   Leave a comment

The bad weather has continued this week and a couple of days have even felt cold enough to be winter. It used to get chilly on the east coast in November, now it takes until February. And we are nearly back into spring. You will have noticed that there is a lot more bird song in the morning – robin and blackbird particularly. The blue tits have even started to sing a bit around the Kirkyard which is quite early. I have been enjoying the song thrushes particularly. They seem to sing more in bad rainy weather. Cutting their losses perhaps – they might as well sing as do anything else. Their song is very loud, varied and melodic, with each short phrase repeated twice, so quite distinctive.

Song thrush (JA)

Posted February 13, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 9th   Leave a comment

After last Sunday morning’s bad luck hitting the rain, I timed it perfectly on Kingsbarn’s Beach. The gales had shifted to the south-west this morning so the beach was sheltered, and there was a sunny gap in the heavy rain showers late morning. It was such a small gap that I had the beach to myself for thirty minutes – on Sunday morning that’s unheard of. Only a few locals made it out there for their dog walks, come what may, a bit later. There was a lot of rain overnight reflected in the big streams cutting the beach off, again keeping people away. But a little wading was all that was needed. The fields could not be more saturated and again the water was streaming off, with pools everywhere. The fan of silt coming out of the Kenly Burn extended out nearly a kilometer into the sea – it looked like the famous meeting of the waters in the Amazon where the clear water of the Rio Solimoes meets the dark waters of the Rio Negro and they run side by side for kilometers before mixing. A spectacular sight in Fife but not so good in terms of the tons of top soil being washed out of any recently ploughed field.

I was looking for a black guillemot that has been see a couple of times in the last two weeks just off the car park. These are west coast birds although Crail gets one or two past every winter. No luck but the rough sea could have hidden a humpback whale, let alone a guillemot. There were a couple of red-throated divers and long-tailed ducks amongst the eiders and cormorants, but nothing passing further out except a few kittiwakes and a shelduck. It was high tide so at least the usual 20 or so purple sandpipers were there to be enjoyed, close in on the rocks just to the north of the car park. There were a couple of signs of spring: the cormorants getting their white faces and thigh patches and the black-headed gulls getting their hoods – both getting their breeding plumage ready. Again, despite the weekend storms it has been mild. Even the frogs were active in my garden yesterday.

A cormorant coming into summer plumage (JA)

Posted February 9, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 6th   Leave a comment

John Anderson took an exceptional photo of a wren a couple of days ago which made me reappreciate just how special they are. Wrens are everywhere around Crail. Wrens are one of the most abundant birds in the UK and there will be one in every Crail garden. I love seeing them on the beach, fossicking among the washed in creels or in Denburn, creeping through the vegetation like mice. But then their tiny size is contradicted by their feisty, tail cocking ticking if there is a cat about, and most especially by their song. They must have one of the loudest songs for their size of any bird. And it is a supercharged, hundred note to the second trill and warble: even slowed down it sounds in a hurry. Their nests are lovely too, tightly woven domes – they effectively make their own cosy nestbox. The only real drawback of a wren is its susceptibility to cold weather. Being tiny doesn’t lend itself to storing much fat, and they live fast requiring a lot of energy. During long cold winter nights many wrens die – although not this winter and not often in Crail where we have the shore for them to use as a last resort. You can see from the photo how short a wren’s wing is. The outer wing feathers are as short as the inner – on a migrant bird they are much longer. Even so some wrens do make some short distance migratory movements within the UK. Wrens in places like Siberia can be completely migratory to escape the cold and so have longer wings.

Wren – tiny but terrific

Posted February 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 4th   Leave a comment

There has been a spate of barn owl sightings around Fife over the last couple of days and last night was my turn. I saw a white shape hunting along the wall just after the long straight between Boarhills and Kingsbarns, as I came home from work at about 6. Perhaps there is something about this time of year bringing the owls out, like the badgers which have also appeared (although less happily) along the roads between Crail and St Andrews. Or as the evenings get lighter, coming home time from work better coincides with barn owls’ peak just after dark hunting period. That certainly happens with kestrels that like to hunt in the gloaming. They are more noticeable when dusk coincides with commuting time in early spring and late autumn. It is always a pleasure to see a barn owl. Even though we have quite a few in the East Neuk, I only see one or two in a year.

Barn owl (JA)

Posted February 4, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 1st   Leave a comment

I picked the wrong time to go for a walk at Balcomie today. Initially it seemed like a good call: the dark sky and rainbow to the north made for a nice contrast against the sunlit beach. The sanderlings were intense bright sparks as they flew out towards the incoming cloud. But incoming it was and it soon set in to rain for the rest of the walk. There were still plenty of waders to see on the shore – dunlin, ringed plover, curlew, redshank, turnstone and purple sandpiper, with the two resident bar-tailed godwits and a grey plover a couple of bays along to the north by the end of the golf club. But even they looked soggy and like they were waiting for the rain to pass. I cut across the golf course to Balcomie Castle with puddles forming everywhere. The ground is saturated and there are a lot of pools still about (the big one between Caiplie and Cellardyke and another in front of Kingsbarns Distillery, for example). I hope some stay for the spring wader passage. If it was May now we could find wood sandpipers everywhere. A couple of grey partridges flushed from the now ploughed fields at Balcomie. Pairs of partridges are just starting to form now as the overwinter coveys break up for spring breeding. Despite the rain, it was mild today and spring doesn’t seem too far away.

Rain on the way at Balcomie
The two wintering resident bar-tailed godwits at Balcomie (JA)
Grey plover (JA)

Posted February 1, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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