October 1st   4 comments

I have been putting off writing anything because I wanted to be able to write about seeing a Siberian thrush at Kilminning. But not yet. Nevertheless today has been a great day on the Crail patch, and even without a Siberian thrush there is a lot to tell. Yesterday was a very wet day, with heavy rain only tailing off by the afternoon. I stayed at home to catch up on work rather than going to Kilminning first thing. This was a mistake. A common rosefinch was refound and then much, much rarer, a Siberian thrush. The finder, Ken Shaw, had spent nearly 6 hours in his car, in the rain, staring at a particular bush which the rosefinch was frequenting. Virtue brings it rewards. There are only a handful of records of Siberian thrush from Scotland, and they are a very difficult species to see when they are here. Ken put the news out. I’m afraid I was distracted during my tutorial session by the news scrolling across my phone: it was a tutorial for biologists so I’m sure they understood. Anyway, I stayed at my post for the next three hours, as more and more news came in and every birder in the vicinity got moving down to Kilminning. I had to ignore phone calls and people tapping at my window. Five o’clock eventually came and I jumped onto my bike with two hours of light left to play with. It was a long shot and there were no definite sightings late afternoon. I had a heart stopping moment of getting onto the head of a redwing before seeing the body. I thought I had got it, but no, just a redwing. Nice to see and the first of the winter but not quite what I was hoping for.

I was up at six this morning and back out at Kilminning before seven. I took the decision to skulk at the back of the bushes where it had been seen the day before rather than joining the drive-in cinema at the front. The weather was poor and the bird shy so birders watching from their cars was a sensible idea. And of course, Kilminning is perfectly designed for drive in bird watching with its acres of tarmac (although its tarmac days are numbered). But not great for someone on a bike. The thrush appeared first about 8:20, about 25 meters from me, but on the other side of a bank. There were a few brief sightings during the morning but I was never in the right place at the right time. By mid-morning there were about 60 people there and the staying in car discipline had broken down. I don’t think it mattered, the Siberian thrush appeared when it wanted to when changing locations – briefly visible in flight to a low bush, a pause for a couple of seconds and then back down into cover. They are notable skulkers and run a lot on the ground rather than perching up in bushes where they can be seen. I suspect I spent several hours in the close company of a Siberian thrush, and I bet it got me on its list. Anyway enough of the thrush – it is still at Kilminning and I will try again tomorrow until teaching obligations drag me away again.

Today was an excellent day. Four new birds for the patch year list including my third common rosefinch, and only my second hawfinch for the overall Crail list. The first brambling of the winter and a brilliant short-eared owl were also excellent and these two alone would have made the birding trip. Common rosefinches turn up at Kilminning about once every two years but they are wary birds. Usually only seen by the finder and they don’t seem to stay more than an hour. Today’s bird was the complete opposite. On day three and turning up in front of the crowds of birders every twenty minutes or so to snack on elderberries in full view for ten minutes each time. Many of the crowd today that didn’t see the thrush were greatly consoled by the rosefinch. It was a shame this bird turned up when it did – John and I and the other locals there would have greatly appreciated its confiding nature, and we would have had some great photos to share. As it was there was no going closer so as not to spoil the main attraction. I enjoyed it from afar, nonetheless. They are not very glamorous birds, but they are hard won. As I left Kilminning a short-eared owl appeared, again the first of the autumn, and I was able to watch its strange buoyant flight as it gained height above Kilminning coast before continuing its migration. Birding should never not be enjoyable, and I had two good birds this morning. I cycled back into Crail with a bit of regret, but happy enough.

More teaching and then the phone kicked off again. The thrush had been reseen, and then two hawfinches. Hawfinches are great Crail birds, and great birds to see full stop: mega finches with mega bills and outrageously dandy curled wing feathers. We have one every four years or so, and I have only connected with one in 18 years here. So more explaining to the students about my distraction: I’m looking forward to the course feedback at the end of the year “was often distracted during teaching by rare birds…” I think it makes me a proper biologist so I don’t mind, especially as I was teaching statistics this afternoon. Again, five o’clock came round and I was back on my bike as fast I could back to Kilminning. Rare birds make me fit as well as make me happy. The crowds had thinned. Only about 20 people and after a quick walk around lower Kilminning I picked up a juvenile (probably female) hawfinch in appropriately enough, a hawthorn. It was cramming in berries as fast as it could. A tired migrant probably from Scandinavia. A sparrowhawk came through the trees and the finch retreated deeper into the bush. I saw the sparrowhawk a minute or two later carrying prey, but I think it was more goldfinch sized than hawfinch size. I hope the hawfinches hang on until tomorrow. Like the rosefinch there was no real opportunity for John to get any pictures. It has been a dark and gloomy day and with Kilminning not ours to enjoy on our own terms. A hawfinch and a rosefinch deserve proper attention.

I left Kilminning at six – I will be back again tomorrow morning. It’s a probability thing and the more hours you spend the more chance you have. And things are still coming in and with the weather for migrants getting really good on Saturday I am hopeful that this is just the start of a good week, not the end. The final good bird of the day was a brambling, or a couple of brambling, doing their wheezy creaking call from the whitebeams at the entrance to Kilminning. Ring ouzels and woodcock to come.

A short-eared owl (JA). Top bird regardless of the supporting cast or not. I would love to have posted rosefinch or hawfinch but hopefully tomorrow will give better light and conditions. I have some from today but I’ll spare John the pain.

Posted October 1, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

4 responses to “October 1st

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  1. I would say don’t be surprised if the poor siberian thrush turns up dead, it was literally being chased through the bushes yesterday afternoon in an attempt to flush it out for the hordes of twitchers to see. I left quickly and continued on my walk. Nothing was getting a chance to feed and rest.

    • I’ll write about this, this evening. At the moment I can report the Siberian Thrush alive and very well, fossicking inside a dense rose bush directly in front of about 30 cars and fifty people. Despite some disturbance, it returns to feed in the same place and although few have seen it, everyone has been in its presence. The chasing looks bad but in terms of a daily energy budget is not a big deal on a warm, autumn day with lots of food about.This morning everyone was perfectly behaved at least until 9 am when I left.

  2. Brilliant insightful blog. I always thought my research area was insanely frantic. (Christine, Bank House)

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