September 6th   Leave a comment

With all the meadow pipits and the white wagtails, perhaps it is not a surprise that there are also some wheatears passing through. I had six at Balcomie and another two on the runway next to Kilminning this afternoon. The juveniles are all now in their first winter plumage, showing oranges and buffs.

First winter wheatear on Balcomie Beach

There were still white wagtails about today. One to three at Balcomie and another two on the east-most beach at Sauchope. I read yesterday that the pattern of moult is a good guide because white wagtails have moulted by August whereas pieds drag on through September. The result is that juvenile pieds look scrappy, messy and even a bit downy, compared to pristine and neat whites. It seemed to work well today, particularly for getting the paler grey backed, and paler greyish flanked juvenile pieds right.

White wagtail at Sauchope

As I watched the wagtails at Sauchope, a female sparrowhawk flew down from the airfield to land on the rocks at the east end of the beach. After the initial alarm and chaos of starlings, wagtails and some of the waders departing as it arrived, a few birds drifted back to the other side of the bay. The sparrowhawk, instead of launching itself directly at the turnstone and redshank about 75 meters away, flew back up to the airfield. I forgot about it and returned my attention to the wagtails that were also now drifting back to the beach. One minute later though the sparrowhawk was back, this time attacking from the west side of the beach, using the chalets as cover. It had clearly been scoping out where everything was on its first visit. Despite a five star rapid and covert second approach it didn’t come close. There were just too many birds on the beach and it was spotted even before it came over the tideline. The sparrowhawk sat on the rocks again afterwards to recover its pride before a couple of carrion crows rapidly saw it off the premises. If the sparrowhawk had caught something it would have had a job holding on to it. There is massive safety in numbers on the rocky shore at the moment. I am seeing sparrowhawks hunting on the shore every time I am out – I watched another series of hunts on dunlins at the north end of Balcomie Beach just an hour earlier (also brought to a close by crows). But I am not seeing any kills.

And the sparrowhawk scoping out the wagtail beach at Sauchope a few minutes later

Posted September 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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