August 28th   Leave a comment

I put in an hour and a half out at Fife Ness and Balcomie this morning before reluctantly coming back to Crail to start work. A very strong north-easterly had me hiding between the block house and the hide, but even so it was a bit eye-watering. The seawatching wasn’t as good as yesterday but it was still well worth it. More sooty shearwaters, at one point a group of three passing, much closer than yesterday. I had seven past in an hour and small er numbers of manx shearwaters. There were little gulls passing. At one point I was following the only skua of the session – a pale phase arctic, powering past with the wind behind it and looking chunky compared to the long-tails of the day before – when it started chasing one of the little gulls. Not a fair fight. Little gulls really are small and next to an arctic skua, look tiny.

Arctic skua (JA)

There was a lot of tern passage again, but this morning almost all arctic terns with only a handful of common terns. It was such a contrast to yesterday afternoon that it had me doubting my identification. So I spent half an hour properly scrutinising every arctic or common tern, every adult and juvenile (and two first summers as well), close and far, that came past. Adult commons are very obvious at this time of year with a dark wedge of inner primaries, even if you don’t get their more gull like, bigger headed, bulky shape. Only one arctic had a dark wedge, although this was more a thickening of the black along the trailing edge of the primaries. And the juveniles were all as they should be too, looking slight with no necks, with clean black leading edges to the forewings and pure white trailing edges. Yesterday there were only a handful of the hundred or so juvenile commons that passed me that lacked a clay brownish tinge to the blackish forewing, and with clear white hindwings without a dark trailing edge, and two of those were clear first summer birds – perhaps they all were. I like these periods of self-doubt because they make you a better birder. They stop you from assuming and really make you look at everything properly.

Arctic tern juvenile – no neck, short bill (and legs although that’s no good in flight) and neat two tone wing (JA)
Common tern juvenile – dirtier looking wing with a dark trailing edge, longer bill, obvious neck. Both the terns are August birds so a good match to the ones passing Fife Ness just now (JA)

The gannets were coming by within a few meters of the rocks and with them two juveniles. I saw my first fledged gannet three days ago, then two more yesterday. In the strong wind they were flying as easily as the adults. They are much heavier as the fledge with a lot of fat to sustain them as they learn to fish, and usually you can tell a juvenile by the depth of its wing beats. But it was a free ride today as their airspeed kept them in the air with minimal effort. This evening as the wind died down I saw a couple more new fledglings and then their labouring flight was obvious as they headed past Crail for their first time, out into the North Sea.

A newly fledged gannet passing Fife Ness today. John was practically sitting out in the waves this morning, never mind the wind and rain. But worth it. This is an absolutely brilliant photograph. (JA)

There were more apparently confused pale-bellied brent geese passing. One flock of ten milled around Fife Ness flying north and then south for a while as a squall blew in. They are very powerful geese, even though small. They fly fast and easily I think, like whimbrels. Enough mass to fly forever, but not so much they aren’t fast and manoeuvrable. But this flock looked lost and not very capable for a while before seeming to pull themselves together and heading determinedly south.

The pale-bellied brent geese passing Fife Ness this morning just before the squall stopped them (JA)

Yesterday Balcomie Beach was covered in seaweed from the storms of the last couple of days. It was ankle deep, making a walk across the beach very wet. Today most of it had washed out with last night’s tide. In its place more waders including six knot, as tame as the ringed plover of a few days ago. There were three little gull taking a break on the beach. I spotted them too late as they flew up and over the bay. A close up little gull is always a treat.

One of the knot amongst the remains of the washed in seaweed on Balcomie Beach

Posted August 28, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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