Archive for July 2020

July 31st   Leave a comment

The national heatwave eluded Crail today – we only hit a maximum of 16 degrees – mainly because of the strong south-easterly this afternoon. It was great for seabirds though. Perfect conditions and everything flying out of the Forth was pushed close inshore and so was passing close enough to be appreciated. There was a steady passage of manx shearwaters all afternoon: about 150 an hour at 4 pm, and up to nearly 300 an hour by early evening. The best place to see them was at Sauchope, where they were passing about 100 meters out. By the time they got to Fife Ness they were several hundred meters away from the shore. I sat right at the tip of Fife Ness for a while, at the level of the waves, and it made the shearwaters easier to see as they broke the horizon. From the slightly more elevated level of outside the hide they were much less visible with the sea as background. The gannets were also very close, with fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins, guillemots and sandwich terns also passing. And the first great skua of the year, cruising past Kilminning coast.

Manx shearwaters passing Sauchope this evening with the May Island in the background

Posted July 31, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 30th   Leave a comment

There was a cory’s shearwater flying past Crail and Anstruther this morning at about six – reported by the warden on the May Island; yesterday, one – presumably the same bird – was in the inner Forth. Great excitement for the local birders. Cory’s shearwaters are rare in Scotland, and I have only seen them around Crail on one occasion in early September in 2005. Now a very long time ago. So I bought a lottery ticket and sat at Fife Ness for about an hour mid-afternoon with my telescope in the light rain. I didn’t have a real hope but there were enough manx shearwaters and fulmars passing to keep it hopeful, and I had my first little gull of the year passing, an adult without much of its hood left. My telescope eventually got too wet and I headed for Kilminning. The oat field had a spectacular 7 whinchats in it, probably more because they were hard to see. As I arrived I had a group of five close together and then another two, possibly three, at the other side of the field. So a good minimum count. I still think we are having a passage of whinchats, with the numbers changing daily as birds arrive and leave – perhaps with a couple of the juveniles that have been here for nearly three weeks now.

Adult little gull – taken in early August (JA)

Posted July 30, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 28th   Leave a comment

Yesterday was literally a washout – 15 mm of rain during the day. I did have a go at Kilminning at lunchtime but even the dog got just wet and depressed. This morning was much better, although the wind has been climbing up all day. At Balcomie there were nearly equal numbers of sanderling and dunlin – about 15 of each, and three, probably four common sandpipers between the beach and Fife Ness. I also picked up an early purple sandpiper flying up with the redshank from the roost at Fife Ness. Only a single whimbrel, and that was down at Kilminning coast. At sea it was mostly puffins passing, a few manx shearwaters and an increasing number of sandwich terns and their noisy chasing juveniles. On my way back to Crail I enjoyed the swallows flying low and close to avoid the wind. But some were using it to practically hover over the vegetation to pick off insects, their legs dangling like storm petrels to give a bit extra stability.

A barn swallow making use of the wind to pick insects off vegetation (JA)

Posted July 28, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 25th   Leave a comment

The swifts have upped the ante again. This morning with ten minutes of playback below my swift boxes I had a pair visiting below and around the boxes frequently, often with a third bird, and then two occasions of a bird landing at a nest box hole, hanging on and having a good look inside. Again fantastically optimistic. Next time a swift in the box maybe. I realise I have forgotten to update re the swift fledgling of last Sunday. On Monday there was no sign of the bird either inside or below the box, and we haven’t found a body in the garden in the days since. The evidence is that it fledged. I hope it made it.

Swifts properly checking out one of the nest boxes today – a composite from two visits

I was at Balcomie at full low tide so the waders were dispersed over the rocky shore apart from a handful of dunlin and ringed plover on the beach. At Fife Ness there were three knot with some turnstone, all in summer plumage – there should be some here for next few weeks as they start returning from the Arctic. At sea everything was far out apart from the gannets. A greylag goose flying south was unusual for the time of year. There are still whinchats at Kilminning; 2-3 birds today, at least two juveniles along the reserve fence, and possibly an adult, distantly in the oat field.

The three knot at Fife Ness

Posted July 25, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 24th   Leave a comment

At high tide this evening on Balcomie there were only a handful of dunlin and no sign of the little stint. But it was a nice evening with some weak sunshine, sandwich terns passing in noisy groups, a northern wheatear and as I was leaving the first Mediterranean gull of the summer. A juvenile, just moulting into first winter plumage, still with some brown tones, but just starting its black mask. It landed on the beach for less than half a minute before heading off to Fife Ness.

Juvenile Mediterranean gull (JA)

Posted July 24, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 23rd   Leave a comment

I have been trying playback at my swift boxes to encourage the late season non-breeders to get to know them ready for next year. It’s been spectacularly successful so far. The first time I played swifts screaming below the nest boxes I had four birds flying closely around the boxes within three minutes. Within five they had landed on the eaves above the nest and within 10 there was an individual trying to get under the roof tiles of the next door house. This evening I had two attempts to enter one of the boxes – a brief hover in front of the hole and a quick scrabble of legs to gain purchase, lasting only a second. There were several occasions when a swift landed on top of the box or scrabbled up the wall under the eaves by the box. It all looks very hopeful.

Swifts prospecting my new nest boxes today in response to playback – the speaker is the round object in the bottom of the picture

Balcomie Beach was busy with waders again today. A greenshank, several whimbrels, six turnstones and two bar-tailed godwits were new in. There were also about 100 dunlin and a few sanderling and ringed plover. I missed a little stint in the evening, but I came down looking for it a couple of hours after high tide and the shorebirds were already dispersed onto the rocky shore. A needle in a haystack. I will try again tomorrow evening at high tide.

A pair of bar-tailed godwits on Balcomie Beach this evening

Posted July 23, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 22nd   Leave a comment

It has been raining most of the day. A proper continuous west coast rain adding another 7 mm to the monthly total that will match June’s. I walked out of Crail towards Anstruther mid afternoon when it began to clear up. The May princess was heading out to the island into the murk: trips have resumed and there are still plenty of seabirds doing their thing there if the numbers shuttling past Crail are anything to go by. But there are also plenty of fledged seabirds around now: this week there have been the first few sandwich terns being chased by their demanding chicks. Their arrival always seems to be the signal for the beginning of the end of the seabird season. And there were three newly fledged herring gull chicks in the harbour today. It is also getting quieter along the coastal path as the songbirds finish breeding. Most of the buntings are still going though and today there was reed bunting song to be heard most of my walk. They can have three broods in a year and at least around the East Neuk seem to be nesting more and more in intensive crop fields. A recipe for success. Their numbers have declined in England but may be increasing slightly in Scotland, and their shift from reedy and damp places to more agricultural habitats must be a part of this. They should perhaps be called field buntings.

Male reed bunting singing along West Braes this afternoon

Posted July 22, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 21st   Leave a comment

There were many fewer dunlins at Balcomie this afternoon, perhaps 60, with just two sanderling. Evidence of things coming and going, even if the species mix is the same. Likewise there were only 2 to 3 whinchats at Kilminning today. More obviously new in was a juvenile marsh harrier, looking black in the strong sunlight apart from its golden head and throat. It was quartering over the wheat between Wormiston and Balcomie, which seems to be a favourite late summer spot for passage birds.

Marsh harrier (JA)

Posted July 21, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 20th   Leave a comment

I had one of my wildlife highlights of the year today. An hour spent just a few meters from a flock of two hundred dunlin. I went down to Fife Ness in search of a little stint reported at lunchtime at Stinky Pool. When I got there, there were only a happy family of rock poolers and obviously no birds. I wasn’t too worried because stints at Fife Ness tend to relocate to Balcomie Beach. My heart fell though when I got to the beach, lots of people, and although there was a big flock of waders, they soon headed to the horizon as another couple of walkers went by. I walked north to the far end as the beach cleared of people and was heartened by a large flock of small waders feeding on the strandline as the shore becomes rocky again. I began a slow approach, staying right up against the dunes and taking my time. After a few minutes I was sat just eight meters away from lots of dunlin, with some sanderling and ringed plover mixed in. The flock was amazingly accepting of me and I felt invisible. I was incredibly privileged to be so close to so many wild birds. Not for long – more walkers of course, and the tide was right up so there was nowhere to walk apart from straight past, between me and the dunlins. All my effort and field craft wasted – or so I thought – the flock barely moved. Some birds flew out to sea for a few meters but returned immediately, and many just remained feeding, although a bit more warily. I needn’t have bothered with my stealth approach. The coastal path was busy today and a steady stream of walkers passed me and the dunlins (some completely oblivious to the birds nearly at their feet), and yet they stayed put. There is something special about being close to animals when they know you are there, but they are clearly not bothered about your presence. Even better when they come to you, which is why garden bird feeders appeal so much. I was so close that I could see the sandhoppers like a tiny blizzard erupting out of the sand at the tideline, and the see birds targeting those that landed on top of the water, temporarily slowing them down enough to be picked up with a quick bill stab. It is wader season at Balcomie – I may have missed the little stint today but the signs are good for more waders to come this year. Yesterday I had two black-tailed godwits, only one hundred dunlin, and no sanderlings. Things are changing every day, although the dunlin fest should continue for a few more days, with high tide, late afternoon the best time to see it.

Dunlins at Balcomie Beach this afternoon

Posted July 20, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 19th   Leave a comment

There was a young cuckoo on the beach at Balcomie this morning. Stopping on its way down to Africa to feed on burnet moth caterpillars on the ragwort at the base of the dunes. It was reluctant to fly and sat on a rock at the top of the beach before moving in short flights along the beach as a couple of walkers disturbed it. Young cuckoos are brownish and barred like a kestrel, and I was struck just how much like a bird of prey they look. As it sat on the beach, the local pied wagtails gathered around it, mobbing it and watching it intently. Either they too thought it looked like a bird of prey (they keep an eye on the kestrels and sparrowhawks that hunt on the shore like this), or it was a response to the real threat that cuckoos represent. Pied wagtails are potential host species for cuckoos so there will have been some natural selection for recognition. Interestingly all of the pied wagtails were local young birds and this will be the first cuckoo they can ever have seen. Between flights the cuckoo lolloped on the sand a bit picking up flies, and it eventually reached the gorse bushes by the golf club house. Hopefully it is snacking on caterpillars there now and refuelling for its long journey ahead.

The young cuckoo at Balcomie this morning
Being mobbed by pied wagtails
And flying to show just how hawk like they look

There were six whinchats at Kilminning a little later. Still clustered around the gravel road that goes up the golf course, past the water treatment shed. As I sat semi-concealed in the grass waiting for them to come closer, my phone kept ringing. And every time I answered and was distracted, the whinchats came their closest. And on one call a fox trotted across the road in front of me! I couldn’t ignore the calls because a neighbour (Catriona Miller) had found an unusual, young bird sheltering in her grandson’s shoe that had been left outside the back door. This time of year there are lots of new fledglings and the best thing is to put them in a quiet, safe place, to get on with it. I suggested this and thought would be the end of it, but then Catriona’s sister, Shona, sent me a photo of the bird they were now keeping in a shoe box. It was a newly fledged swift (not sadly a shoebill). It would definitely not be a good idea to put a swift fledgling under a bush. Swifts find it tricky to take off at the best of times and tend to drop from their nests to gain speed enough to fly. I suspected that this bird has tried to fledge and had botched it up and was now stuck on the ground. Another one of those phone calls ensued, to change the plan, and I cycled back to Crail as fast I could.

Now six juvenile whinchats at Kilminning

When I got to Crail I found a beautiful young swift in the shoe box, apparently in good health except perhaps slightly too young to be out of its nest. It was fully feathered but its flight feathers still need a few days to get fully grown. It’s a tricky call – ideally I would put it back into its nest but even though it was found right under the eaves of the house, there was no obvious hole or nest to return it to. Swift chicks accumulate a lot of fat pre-fledging and the adults stop feeding them. The chicks finish their feather growth and slim down a bit before venturing out of the nest. Assuming this was the stage that this bird was in I took the swift home and put it into one of my newly fitted swift nest boxes. If it still has to develop a bit then this will be a safe place to do it, and if it is ready to fly, then this would be a good place to start again from. The swift is currently, as I write, looking out of the nest box hole. It has tried to fledge once but again not succeeded and ending up below the nest. I hope it stays put there for a day or two to get a bit more flying edge. Fingers crossed but there are so many tiny tragedies with young birds at this time of year.

The young swift
And again from the safety of one of my swift boxes where I hope it will be able to fledge again, but this time successfully

Posted July 19, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 18th   Leave a comment

More whinchats are accumulating at Kilminning. Today there were at least five – I saw four juveniles and an adult along the usual fence and then all feeding on the gravel road. They looked beguilingly like a family party but the first two arrived 6 days ago, one more yesterday, and now two more today. They weren’t a very happy family either, displacing and chasing each other as they fed on the ground or in the adjacent field of oats. But if I hadn’t been visiting Kilminning daily since March, looking unsuccessfully for whinchats each time, I would be fairly happy that there had been a successful breeding attempt there on the strength of today’s sightings. There is nothing wrong with Kiminning as a breeding site for whinchats though. In the same way that much of Fife is suitable for spotted flycatchers, cuckoos and common redstarts, but no longer has many of them, whinchats are a scarce breeding species because of the large population declines of migrant birds over the last sixty years. Reduction in habitat quality – mainly insect abundance – is the main cause, because of agricultural intensification. But population processes also are important. We are edge of range, on the northwest edge of Europe, and as populations shrink, they contract to the centre of the range. Populations lost at the edges have fewer opportunities to be re-established than at the centre so even the remaining suitable habitat is likely to stay unoccupied. Anyway, whinchats are at least with us this week and it is a joy to see them feeding well in readiness for their continuing journey to West Africa. And speaking of journeys to West Africa: I heard the first two tree pipits of the season flying over today. Another late summer, rather than autumn migrant. In contrast, the sedge warblers are still singing their hearts out as if they are still in full breeding mode.

One of the five whinchats now at Kilminning – this one is a juvenile

Posted July 18, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 16th   Leave a comment

One advantage of a daily routine, where your walk takes you to the same place day after day, is that you notice things. Particularly when things appear and disappear. Today it was the first rock pipit of the winter at Balcomie. Rock pipits are residents, breeding all along the coast and we have pairs breeding in Crail: Balcomie Beach has lots of rock pipits too, but as I realised today, not during the summer. A rock pipit sitting on a rock on the strandline this afternoon was the first I have seen at Balcomie since May. There have been pipits on the beach every day, and I haven’t paid them much attention, but they have all been meadow pipits, nesting in the rank grass alongside the coastal path and the golf course and foraging amongst the rocks just like rock pipits during the winter. The rock pipit today may well be a migrant from Scandinavia, here already after breeding. We have had 2 or 3 colour-ringed birds from Norway on the shore at Balcomie, so it’s not that unlikely. Later at Kilminning, while trying to work out whether there was a third (adult) whinchat there, I had a really good look at a meadow pipit that was more obliging than the whinchat. I shouldn’t overlook them, or rock pipits.

The first rock pipit of the winter at Balcomie this afternoon
And a meadow pipit at Kilminning

Posted July 16, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 15th   Leave a comment

Just after dawn – and sunrise is at 4:45 at the moment – it was so peaceful I could hear the seals singing from Balcomie. I caught a glimpse of the fox that lives at Kilminning that scurries away the moment I set eyes on it. I had tens of rabbits and at least a dozen hares cross my path. And then three roe deer fawns that have got large enough to venture out of cover. I watched a pair play chasing each other as they followed their mothers across the golf course. Almost uniform brown now, when two weeks ago they were spotted little bambis, hiding in the bracken behind the pink cottage at Fife Ness.  And some birds of course – whitethroats and sedge warblers alarm calling as they fed their fledged chicks; some newly fledged corn buntings; one of the juvenile whinchats still at lower Kilminning being crowded by the resident stonechats, and a couple of whimbrels, whistling as they passed.

One of the local roe deer fawns out and about (JA)

Posted July 15, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 14th   Leave a comment

Much can stay the same from day to day in July. Yesterday the two whinchats were still at Kilminning, and the two bar-tailed godwits still on Balcomie Beach. Today there was even little moving out to sea, with the puffins and terns much further out. Only the gannets were close in, passing rapidly in high flocks with the brisk south westerly behind them.

July, at least, is the peak time for swift activity. They are at their busiest every evening above Crail. The numbers of breeders are swelled by first or second year birds that are not breeding and may not have settled on a nest site yet. A lot of the screaming and chasing between pairs now is probably to do with young birds pairing up for next year. They puff out their white throats to each other, looking suddenly white headed from below as they fly in tandem, screaming at each other. You can sometimes see swifts at this time of year flying up repeatedly to holes under the eaves as if prospecting. Swifts are colonial and nesting sites can be in short supply. With this is mind I put up three swift nest boxes over the weekend. It’s a long shot, because swifts like to nest with other swifts, so getting a new colony going may take years. But it has always been an ambition of mine to have nesting swifts in my roof. I will have to use playback – recordings of swift nest noises played in the boxes – to shorten the odds. Swift nest sites are becoming in short supply as modern houses don’t have gaps under the eaves. I don’t think Crail has this problem with its stock of very old houses: my swift nest boxes are fairly deluxe though and would be a good choice for any young swift pair. I hope they are listening – at least to my playback that I will start up in a day or two. Even if they don’t look at my boxes, I can still enjoy them above my garden, and I can dream. The swifts are with us for just another month – summer is passing.

My three new swift boxes – fingers crossed. Let’s hope swifts don’t need them to be straight

Posted July 14, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 12th   Leave a comment

I did the full loop this morning starting at Thirdpart at dawn. A new corn bunting but now no sign of any yellow wagtails there now. It was a morning of young birds. Young corn buntings every so often with an accompanying parent. At least four well grown tufted duck chicks in the pond at Wormiston House: another year’s successful breeding there. There were four juvenile northern wheatears on the beach at the north end of the Balcomie. They are probably different from those of four days ago – I haven’t seen any in the intervening days.

One of the four juvenile northern wheatears feeding in a small, tightly associated, flock on Balcomie Beach this morning

And then there were the first two whinchats of the autumn – again both juveniles – at lower Kilminning in their usual spot along the rank vegetation and fence line at the back of the reserve, next to the golf course. It’s really interesting that migrating groups of juvenile chats turn up together. They either migrate together, which is problematic, because none of them know where they are going, they migrate at night and every individual has different flight capabilities and ranges. Or they migrate separately, but under the same weather conditions that lead them to end up in the same areas, and to accumulate at good sites – a bird will stay where it is good feeding, and move from those that are not. And a bird moving down the coast after arriving somewhere after a night’s migration can do much worse than use the presence of others of the same species to locate good feeding sites. I have tagged a lot of whinchats and in autumn they move more slowly, spending quite a few days sometimes at stop-over sites, so this accumulation is likely in the good sites. I haven’t tagged any whinchats on their first migration (they have much lower survival than adults so it is a poor return per tagged bird) but suspect they would go much more slowly than the adults making the clustering even more likely. It was really nice this morning to see these juvenile whinchats because by the time they get to West Africa where I study them they have moulted out of their streaky juvenile plumage. They really are quite similar to stonechats, and one of the birds barely had an eye stripe visible. The white at the base of the tail sides of course is an instant giveaway. But they are sufficiently similar in look and behaviour that a lone juvenile whinchat along the coastal path would be overlooked as a stonechat without a proper look. Whinchats are early migrants, and these two today are early for whinchats so I think they might be local Scottish birds starting their journey to somewhere like Liberia or Ghana. Most of the whinchats that come through Crail in July and August are adults, often in conjunction with an easterly wind suggesting they are Scandinavian breeders. Many of the whinchats we tagged in Liberia last year breed in Arctic Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, and if you draw a straight line (well, straight when you take into account the curve of the earth) between Liberia and these locations then their route takes them into Western Europe and along the coast – Britain is barely a detour. Anyway, the whinchat season has started and it’s worth checking out any field for them over the next six weeks. They are very conspicuous like stonechats, perching out in the open on a slightly taller bit of vegetation, or the tallest stem in rank, grassy vegetation of less than about a meter in height (or a wheat or rape field).

Juvenile whinchats at Kilminning

There was another juvenile bird on the beach at Balcomie. Among the six dunlin was the first juvenile of the year. Young dunlins have a slightly streaked belly whereas the adults at the moment still have their black bellies so it is an easy distinction. It gets harder over the next few weeks as adults lose their bellies, often leaving a few streaks on the way. By September the adults are all paler and greyish with white bellies so it becomes easier again. The appearance of juveniles amongst the shorebirds is always a joy – somewhere in the Arctic a breeding pair has had a good summer, evading the weather, the foxes and the skuas.

Juvenile dunlin (right – with a streaked belly) and adult (with a black belly)

There was a flock of 46 golden plover on the driving range, scattered amongst the golf balls. They were all adults – no sign of juveniles yet. The numbers of golden plover around Crail have been building up over the last week and they have started roosting on the rocks at Sauchope at low tide.

Golden plovers on the driving range at Balcomie – it’s been very busy there this last week but not at 6 on Sunday morning

Posted July 12, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 11th   Leave a comment

I was watching the gannets flying out of the Forth this morning when a brent goose flew past and landed on the sea of Balcomie Beach. A brent goose in July is very unusual – they should be in the Arctic breeding – and we usually get them arriving for the winter during September. Sometimes geese take a summer off and stay on the wintering grounds, to get over an injury or poor condition, saving energy and recuperating for a successful breeding season the following year. It must be a lonely time for such a sociable species. Brent geese are the only British goose species that is a marine specialist, feeding on sea grass and algae, so it should be fine on a rocky shore like Balcomie, if it can cope with the solitude. There were more Arctic visitors on the beach – a couple of bar-tailed godwits. A female and a male, the latter still quite reddy-orange with summer breeding plumage on show but not as handsome as the male two weeks ago. A nearby whimbrel finished off this morning’s Arctic theme.

The brent goose this morning – it’s pale flanks make is a pale-bellied bird so probably from the Spitsbergen population, although perhaps summering in Scotland this year
And the male bar-tailed godwit

Posted July 11, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 9th   Leave a comment

Crail seemed full of swallows today. I watched the house martins hawking over the long grass of Roome Bay, enjoying the lack of cutting. All that sunlight energy that was going to waste in council compost heaps is now powering insects. There will be more house martins next year as they turn them into chicks. It’s a great exchange, more of everything, except neatness and carbon dioxide.

Some of the many young swallows fledging in Crail this week and a proud parent – the lack of grass cutting has boosted the numbers of insects in town and this has bound to have made a positive difference

Posted July 9, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 8th   Leave a comment

It felt like the start of the autumn passage today. There were three juvenile northern wheatears on the rocky shore between Balcomie and Fife Ness, and a fourth one on the airfield at Kilminning. These birds will be on their way, albeit over the next few weeks, to Africa, having bred somewhere further north. To add to the autumn feeling, there was a common sandpiper at Fife Ness. Strictly speaking common sandpipers are mid-summer birds for Crail. They start their passage early and are commonest on the shore in July and August. We should expect the other early migrant species any day soon – whinchats and then tree pipits.

Juvenile wheatear on the shore at Balcomie (JA)

Posted July 8, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 7th   Leave a comment

Crail has changed profoundly over the last few days. The human presence is back and it is tempting to think that wildlife will be in retreat again. I’m not so sure. Even on the busiest parts of the coastal path, there is enough space. People tend to keep to the path and the best bits of sandy beach: the overgrown brambly bits and the rocky corners with smelly rotting seaweed, where the birds really like to go, are avoided. Still, if it’s lockdown peace you want, then there is always the 5am option. There’s no-one to be seen between Balcomie and Crail apart from the greenkeepers at that time and wildlife still holds sway. This morning there were a few nearly fully grown eider chicks, the goosander flock, a whimbrel and a very confiding dunlin – it’s tempting to think it was just in from the Arctic and so not that worried about me after dodging polar bears and arctic foxes for the last couple of months.

The tame dunlin on Balcomie Beach at dawn this morning

Posted July 7, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 5th   Leave a comment

It has been a quiet last few days. Two reasons. It’s now July and we are between the busy periods of spring and autumn migration – there will be some waders and seabirds over the next few weeks but not much else passing through. And the weather has been poor and fairly discouraging. There has been a lot of rain this last week. The total for the end of June for Crail was 38mm. In the first few days of July we have had 17mm which is what we might have in an average East Neuk month. On Friday the 3rd it rained more or less all day. It was only the second day since the lockdown began that I didn’t go out at all.

In a way it is a shame that after the excitement of spring, summer seems quiet when it is the opposite. Our summer residents can put on a good show in July. This morning, for example, at Fife Ness in fifteen minutes of dawn sunshine I probably saw two hundred puffins passing close enough to see the fish they were carrying, half as many gannets, kittiwakes, guillemots and razobills, and perhaps fifty arctic terns. On other days last week, it has been the same from Crail. The flock of goosander were group fishing close in at Balcomie and on the beach there were three newly in dunlin, with black bellies. Over the last few days there have been one or two whimbrel passing Fife Ness, their whistles giving them away. There are more and more curlews back now restoring their calls to the soundscape: there isn’t a month in Crail when we don’t have curlews but they are scarce in May and June. We have had some redshanks passing through but now some of our residents are back, and their distinctive calls are once more part of the comforting local background. Even if you can’t specifically identify a particular shorebird by its call, the odds are that you are familiar with it as part of the seaside sounds that we hear every day. Curlews, redshanks and oystercatchers, like herring gulls, are an unconscious part of everyone’s Crail soundscape.

Three of the best to look out for around Crail in July – goosander, arctic tern and puffin (JA)

Inland many of the breeding songbirds are winding down as the adults become shyer and less showy as they moult. They leave a lot of juveniles though to compensate, like the hundreds of starlings along the coastal path just now. Many species seem to have had a good breeding year. There are lots of fledged stonechats, whitethroats and now sedge warblers. I was at Barnsmuir yesterday and really pleased to finally see one of the yellow wagtails arrive with a beakful of food and a juvenile pop up on to a dyke to receive it. The adult took only a couple of seconds to deliver its food and then both were gone. The adult back into the rows between the wheat and the juvenile back down into cover. There are a lot of hiding places for young wagtails in a July wheat field. I saw another adult carrying food into the middle of different wheat field where I know there wasn’t a nest, suggesting that there are several fledged juveniles (perhaps two broods’ worth) scattered about. The adults call constantly when they are flying and the juveniles just need to fly up to a more conspicuous perch (like a dyke) and call back to get their food delivery. So that’s another successful breeding year for the Crail yellow wagtail colony.

One of the yellow wagtail pairs breeding (successfully!) by Crail this year (JA)

I saw three sand martin down at Room Bay yesterday. It has been hit and miss seeing them there over the last couple of weeks and I didn’t see them go into any of the holes in the sea wall. I think they must have bred – or be breeding – but very inconspicuously, and with a lot of feeding somewhere other than Roome Bay. The house martins, in contrast, are always there and it is cheering to see them doing so well. I watched a pair making a new nest this morning – they can fledge chicks until September. It might be a messy business having a house martin nesting under your eaves, but it is a small price to pay to have these beautiful and irrepressibly cheerful little swallows over your summer garden.

House martin (JA)

Posted July 5, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings