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

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