August 27th   Leave a comment

A really good seawatch is incredibly addictive. The birds keep coming past you and there is always another one to check, or the horizon to scan to pick up the next one. And the next one may well be something really good. I have about two or three of these every year, when the winds are good and there are birds everywhere. This afternoon was one of them. I spent ninety minutes at Fife Ness but could have spent all day there. The highlight was a flock of nine long-tailed skuas passing well out, but close enough to be identifiable, moving steadily north over a couple of minutes. More long-tailed skuas than I have seen on the Crail patch in the last eighteen years. And long-tailed skuas are one of the top birds you can ever see. There were a couple of adults, with their caps and long tails, at least one pale juvenile and the rest dark juveniles. Long-tails keep in a tight flock when migrating and that also makes them special. Not just one but a whole lot of them when you finally get lucky and see them. About ten minutes earlier I had two distant possible long-tails, but both, if they were long-tails, were dark juveniles so I was unsure: if they had passed after the distinctive flock, I would have been quicker to called them as definites too. More passed closer in a bit later when I away checking Balcomie Beach and letting my very patient dog have some reward for sitting quietly for the previous hour. I also had a juvenile black tern. This one close in and I watched it dipping down to the sea back and forth for a few minutes. There were hundreds of common terns passing mid-afternoon, adults and juveniles, so I had a feeling that there would also be black terns about: in total today, I think 5 black terns were seen from Fife Ness. There were also some arctic terns. The ratio shifted as I watched so late afternoon there were more arctics, although still many more commons. Most of the year it is the other way round. Sandwich terns were also common. I had my first sooty shearwater of the year, powering along distinctively as usual, looking twice as strong and determined than a fulmar and in a completely different class to the few manx shearwaters that also came past. There were a few bonxies passing: I saw seven including two passing right over our heads as they cut the corner at Fife Ness. I had six little gulls, all first winter birds apart from one adult. Not so many kittiwakes, but enough to get you going as more distant ones needed to be checked for Sabine’s gulls. And some other things passing in small numbers to give variety: common scoters, red-throated diver, knot and a whimbrel. I also had three pale-bellied brent geese. Early birds, we expect them a week later. Two were heading unaccountably north, while one cruised by almost within touching distance in a sensible southerly direction. A female sparrowhawk also tried to get in on the act by hunting a couple of time across the rocks in front, putting the oystercatchers into a panic both times. Something to see and check out every few seconds. I finished off the almost frantic seawatch with the contrast of the quietness of The Patch: just a couple of willow warblers and no sign of the pied flycatcher and redstart that also came in with the southerlies and rain. But I couldn’t feel disappointed: they will be around tomorrow and I had had my good luck already for today.

Juvenile long-tailed skua closer in at Balcomie a few years ago. One of the nine was pale like this (JA)

Posted August 27, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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