June 14th   Leave a comment

The last two days may have been miserable in terms of the haar and the damp east wind, but they have been good for bringing in some birds. This morning, as I headed back home at 10:30 I got one of those emails from my neighbours that I love to get – particularly when there is an east wind on. Colin McLachlan and Barbara Mathieson, who live on the edge of Crail had had a strange bird in the garden – they had successfully identified it as a rosy starling and sent me a picture of it on the feeder at 8:30. They were unsure of their identification because rosy starlings are an Eastern European species (well more of a central Asian species) and don’t turn up in Crail. It was certainly a rosy starling – they are very distinctive – a starling which is half bright pink – and although they are very rare vagrants to the UK there is an invasion of them to Western Europe at the moment. A couple of hundred have turned up in the UK over the last two weeks, although in most years the UK gets only a handful. Every few years the species erupts from Central Asia, probably after a couple of very good breeding seasons or a local failure of the food supply (grasshoppers!). They are a colonial species and I once visited a huge colony in Kazakhstan, like a scaled down puffin colony – holes everywhere in bare rocky soil. They are very, very crowded and if the food supply fails then they need to find space to breed elsewhere, and some birds make it as far as Scotland. That said we haven’t had one in the Crail area for 20 years and I saw my last Scottish bird in 1990. As you might expect I accelerated my return back to Crail from Fife Ness and headed to the harbour area to look for it. It took a few minutes but I finally saw it perched on a rooftop close to the entrance to West Braes Crescent. It is a spectacular bird – a starling in a pink dress. The bill is pink too and the head has a loose floppy crest. The starling was commuting between back garden bird feeders, occasionally feeding on lawns along the main road and most often (or at least visible most often) sat on various rooftops and aerials – just like any other starling. It will likely be here for a day or two, and with the current invasion there may be others appearing, so look out for it. I am very grateful to Colin for tipping me off – I had been out since five this morning looking for one – so a very successful day and a new species for my Crail list, taking it up to 231. Please let me know if you see any more.

The rosy starling in Crail this morning. Check out the rooftops by the entrance to West Braes Crescent, or your bird feeders. As you can see from the bottom photo – a half pink starling, but otherwise pretty much like a starling. It’s pinker in real life – the haar wasn’t helping it shine today.

The rosy starling came at the end of an eventful morning. As they say – you wait ages and then three come along at once. I had already dashed down to Fife Ness to see a little egret at stinky pool. I had missed one earlier this spring because of the lockdown rules, so was glad to see this one. They are surprisingly uncommon around Crail – they turn up more often further round the coast and, of course, at the Eden Estuary, but seem just to fly right by us. This one was at least on the rocks for a while, glowing white despite the haar. And as I cycled through the golf course to the egret I heard a common crossbill chipping. Another irruptive species that is fairly rare in Crail except mid-summer, after a good breeding season (and crossbills start breeding in January). I haven’t had any crossbills in Crail for about 10 years when we had a couple of summers of small numbers of birds passing overhead. Crossbills call constantly with a distinctive “chip-chip-chip…” that makes even a high flying group easy to pick up on. This morning’s bird was apparently on its own (they are very sociable) and was on the tallest pine tree in the Patch chipping away to find some friends. I had a crossbill on my right and a little egret on my left – in terms of Crail rarity, about equal. The crossbill won and I chased after that. Luckily, the egret stayed sat on the rocks all the while until I could turn my attention back to it. Later in Crail when I was looking for the rosy starling another two crossbill flew over chipping. I should probably spend the rest of the day in my back garden with a fair chance of adding both species to my garden list.

The little egret at Stinky Pool this morning
And to make John cringe – trust me it is a crossbill, in the haar – luckily they always call

Posted June 14, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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