August 29th   Leave a comment

I fed my developing sea watching addiction with about four hours at Fife Ness this morning and afternoon. The wind was still a strong north-easterly, there were still lots of birds passing, but there were few skuas today and barely any shearwaters. I had about 10 sooty shearwaters in total, but they were at the horizon apart from one closer flyby and by early afternoon they had completely disappeared. Only one arctic skua and about seven great skuas. There was a good tern passage again, picking up in the late morning. Mostly arctic, then sandwich and then common terns. There were more brent geese incongruously heading north – or the same birds of the last few days still passing back and forth.

Brent geese again passing north at Fife Ness today (JA)

The wind made looking north difficult, so I sat for most of the time looking south-westerly into the Forth, using the hide as shelter. By mid-afternoon there was a line of birders doing the same. It turned out to be a good thing even though the shearwaters were most visible north-easterly. First I picked up a peregrine a couple of kilometers out from the coast flying along the horizon. And not just going somewhere, I could see it doing hunting dashes, accelerating down into the wave troughs before soaring up like a shearwater. At one point I saw a little gull – looking like a little lapwing at the distance – flying up in front of the peregrine and it was briefly tail-chased. I lost the peregrine still apparently hunting even further out to sea. It will have been a long flight back to the May Island or Fife when it caught something. A little later I picked up a grebe flying out of the Forth. Grebes are very rare passing Fife Ness for me – every two or three years. This was a slavonian grebe, showing a white patch on the secondaries (but barely onto the primaries). It had no obvious white forewing which is a character of slavonians but young birds barely have this. I went with the extent of the wing patch – like a velvet scoter, rather than a tufted duck – as the clinching character to make it a slavonian. But I wouldn’t bet my house against it not being a black-necked grebe. Both are equally unlikely (or likely depending on whether you are a glass half full person).

Slavonian grebe – a very rare bird past Fife Ness even though they are quite common at other places along the east coast. Not quite flying but you get the idea about the wing bar extent (JA)

Later in the morning, again looking south towards the May Island, I picked up a tern with very rapid, clockwork wing-beats, it hovered before plunging down in a steep dive to the waters surface, and then straight back up to repeat it all again. A little tern, and a species I have been waiting to add to the Crail list for a while. A few years ago I was looking at my patch list and wrote down a sub-list of “common” species that I was missing: great grey shrike, hawfinch, hobby, water rail, red kite and little tern. Four of these have now fallen – hobby and the shrike to go. Little terns breed a bit to the north of Fife Ness and a bit to the south, but for some reason they never seem to fly by. They must migrate far out to sea. This little tern was a first winter with hints of brown on its mantle and a little helmet of a cap. But the plumage doesn’t really matter, it is its behaviour that identifies it. A tiny tern on speed, or in a Charlie Chaplin movie. My last little terns were in Senegal a few years’ ago, diving down into the waves as they crashed onto a sandy beach. Now I confine my UK birding to the Crail area, more or less, I don’t ever see little terns here. Today’s one was very welcome. And probably I got on to it (apart from the obsessive hours spent sea watching this week) because I have been checking and identifying every single tern in the hope of black terns. This week I have probably checked over 500 passing terns (maybe double that) – with the net haul of one black and one little tern. It would have been worth the effort to get better at splitting juvenile arctics and commons at distance, but these two are the icing on the cake.

Little tern. This one is an adult. Number 232 for the Crail list (JA)

Posted August 29, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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