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

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