Archive for November 2020

November 30th   Leave a comment

I’ve been off the Crail patch the last two days – I was at Ruddon’s point by Elie looking for a Richard’s pipit. It felt like a major expedition because it is the furthest I have been since March. No luck with the pipit on either day. But Shell Bay is a nice spot, with lots of waders out on the beach including 30 bar-tailed godwit and ten grey plover. I tramped over the saltmarsh a bit and it was full of common snipe and rock pipits, with the occasional skylark. There were a few crossbills to be heard from the pine forest at the back of the caravan park. Today it was squally rain showers and the wind was fairly strong so not the most ideal conditions to find a small bird. Even so, if the Richard’s pipit is still there, it is not spending much of the time in an obvious place. On the way back I stopped at Kilconquhar to look at the loch. Another nice spot. Lots of goldeneye – probably over 40 – and a single male scaup.

Male scaup (JA)

The final stop of the day (the Principal of St Andrews University having given us all St Andrew’s day off) was a walk around the stubble field just adjacent the north-west corner of the golf course. A few Lapland buntings were found there over the weekend. Sure enough, I put up three groups of two birds, one of five and a singleton as I criss-crossed the field. At least 8 in the air at the same time and probably more than 11. The light was great and they often flew low and close around me so I could see their slightly gormless look (honestly it’s is a good id character), and enjoy their calls. There was also a covey of 26 grey partridge and a couple of corn bunting.

Lapland bunting with its characteristic slightly gormless look (JA)

Posted November 30, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 28th   Leave a comment

There was a seal pup at Fife Ness on Thursday. The Iceland gull put it out of my mind that day. But it’s worth mentioning. The grey seals have been giving birth on the May Island this autumn as usual, and some of the pups are now getting large enough to be left to fend for themselves. They load up with milk and huge amounts of fat. Seals are not the slimmest of mammals but the newly weaned pups are almost circular. The rotund seal pup at Fife Ness had hauled itself up onto the rocks by Stinky Pool to continue its moult. It still had its pup white coat but it was surrounded by shed hair and you could see its grey, second coat below. It’s a misconception that these pups need rescuing. They just need time to moult, grow and develop, and to be left in peace. Their mothers have weaned them and although not capable of independent living yet, they have fat reserves enough for weeks while they do learn to be proper seals.

Grey seal pup at Fife Ness on Thursday

I walked through Cambo and along Kingsbarns Beach this morning. The woods had a single very large tit flock in it with double figures of treecreepers and long-tailed tits in it, and a couple of great spotted woodpeckers. Away from this flock the trees were empty. At the mouth of the Kenly Burn there was good sized roost of common and black-headed gulls and about ten goldeneyes. The sea was flat calm to the horizon, with a few red-throated divers, red-breasted mergansers and long -tailed ducks. I picked up four distant whooper swans, far out to sea, heading up the coast. On the way back there were plenty of blackbirds and redwings in the gardens. It’s always a nice winter walk, plenty to see, and the variety of habitats gets you a good list. Cambo must get a lot of rare birds but they get lost in the much bigger area of habitat: it’s all much more concentrated and findable at Fife Ness and Kilminning.

Long-tailed Duck (JA)

Posted November 28, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 27th   Leave a comment

John Anderson was up to his tricks again – finding a good bird (tick) but finding it when I have teaching scheduled (cross). Today it was a long-eared owl, fresh in from the North Sea on a wave of other continental migrants that are arriving now to escape the very cold weather spreading west across Europe. There are woodcocks everywhere in Crail today: I saw one in Denburn and put up 8 at Upper Kilminning. There were also lots of blackbirds, and really noticeable as migrants as they flew up from the strandline at Balcomie. Both classic cold weather migrants, as are long-eared owls. I saw John’s message and sighed – there was no way an owl was going to stay on the beach for the couple of hours I needed to finish my teaching. I headed out afterwards anyway, stopping at Kilminning on the basis that this might well be where a long-eared owl would go after arriving. Luckily, I also phoned John again – “yes the owl is still on the beach although it has just flown around the corner a little further north”. I was straight over, cutting through Balcomie and the golf course to the shore. I picked up the owl just where John had said it probably was, sheltering by some creels on the strandline. A fantastic bird. I usually see long-eared owls slipping away through the trees at the Patch or Kilminning, and views are fleeting and fractured. Not today, an approachable, out in the open bird, for 45 minutes. And a chance to appreciate its long ears. When I found the bird it looked at me with its ear tufts right up, its glowing orange eyes – every inch an owl, as surprised to see me as I was to really find it (after all, getting lucky on two great birds in two consecutive days did seem unlikely). It stayed on the shore, flying a hundred meters when I got too close to perch on a large boulder, again regarding me with that intense, penetrating stare that owls have. I think it was probably staying on the shore until nightfall. Owls are very vulnerable to goshawks when they fly during the day and this one may have been being cautious. Migrants are at their most vulnerable when they arrive in a new place. They have no initial idea of predation risk or where they can hide. It’s one of the reasons that adult migrants tend to go back to the same non-breeding site every year. My theory might not be the best though – the flight feathers in John’s photographs (one below) are worn at the tips suggesting an adult. But maybe it knows more about Fife goshawks than I do. I left it still on the beach with half an hour before dusk. I suspect that it is now far inland and finding some voles to recover after its sea crossing. One of the birds of the year, in a good year too – and 172 for the Crail year list.

The Balcomie beach long-eared owl today. Obviously a long-eared owl by its long “ears” and orange eyes (yellow in short-eared). In flight it’s a bit harder but compare the photo from Oct 1st of this year – no definite black dipped in ink wing tips, darker more uniformly streaked underneath and more orangey tones makes a long-eared owl. Bottom two photos obviously John Andersons.

Posted November 27, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 26th   Leave a comment

I had another lockdown-working-from-home boon today. An Iceland gull as reported from Fife Ness at lunchtime, and unusually it was on the deck rather than flying by. White-winged gulls are rare around Crail – a handful of Iceland and glaucous gulls in my 18 years here – and these are almost invariably flybys, except when one discovers the fish discards in Anstruther harbour or Pittenweem. I cycled down to Fife Ness reasonably fast: 20 minutes rather than the 13 I managed for the Arctic, but then the degree of incentive was higher. All the same an Iceland gull is a good bird, and an id challenge with a couple of leucistic herring gulls being around the area. The key criteria for Iceland and glaucous gulls is their lack of black in the wings, but herring gulls occasionally lack this. So I looked at this bird with caution. It was resting among the gulls on the rocks off Stinky Pool where the shags and cormorants roost. Luckily it was settled in and I was able to watch it closely for an hour before it flew off strongly south, looking like a barn owl because of its mealy brown and white colours. The Iceland gull was a first winter bird, so a dirty, pale brownish over the top of its white plumage, but not in any coherent way as with herring gulls, and lacking any black in the wings. But the main criteria is the head shape: more rounded than a herring gull with a bill heading towards Mediterranean in structure, and a relatively kindly expression. This is the key to gull id: great black-backed gulls look like they will damage you with their evil expressions and giant bills; herring gulls look slightly prone to violence and have a slightly aggressive look, but Iceland gulls are on their way to looking innocent. An open faced look, a normal looking bill and a peaceful demeanour – not cute or gentle like a kittiwake, but clearly further down the continuum compared to a herring gull. It’s really a general impression, and the id is best done straight away from first impression. The longer you look at gull head structure, the more similar the species start looking (it’s the same with raptor wing shape). Every encounter with an unusual species is a birding lesson and I got my money’s worth today, with the Iceland gull moving to stand next to herring gulls and then great black-backed gulls as if posing for a field guide. An ideal lunchtime diversion. And 171 for this year’s record breaking Crail year list.

3 = Iceland Gull; 2 = Herring Gull; 1 = Great Black-backed Gull. Note the mealy, almost orangey brown impression to the plumage, rather than coherently barred, and the white wing tips on the right hand photos. Top left note the expression and bill structure 1 = violent, 2 = aggressive, 3 = moderately peaceful. Bottom right you can also see the shorter legs and smaller headed look compared to a herring gull, giving the Iceland gull a more dumpy appearance.

Posted November 26, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 25th   Leave a comment

A perfect winter’s day today: clear, sunny and enough wind to make the sea interesting without spoiling the birding. I passed a corn bunting singing on the usual fence post just on the right hand side of the road a hundred meters out of Crail as you head to Fife Ness. It was a lovely day, although spring is a long way off. I am looking forward to colour ringing corn buntings when the spring does come and lockdown eases – I bet this is the same bird that bred here this summer, but next year I will know for sure (with just a bit of luck catching it). I then passed a group of roe deer in the stubble of the airfield. It reminded me of the African savanna, but perhaps you had to be there.

Corn bunting singing this morning at the airfield
Crailengetti

It was high tide at Balcomie Beach and I found about 40 purple sandpipers just north of the main beach. The purps were moving from the rocks onto the sandy bits of beach between them, feeding like the redshanks they were with. All waders are very flexible, but it always seems odd when purple sandpipers desert their wave bound rocks. There were, unusually, six female common scoters in the bay, and I had a great northern diver flying south in the background. It was an obvious great northern with its bulky head and bill and big feet. Today I noticed that its bill kept flashing white, glinting in the sun, as it turned its head. It’s been 20 years since I have seen any white-billed divers, but their bills stay pale as they fly by rather than occasionally flashing white. At Fife Ness there were a few guillemots on the sea but no gannets, fulmars or kittiwakes at all. Winter quiet. Except for a big flock of large gulls very far out milling over the surface, so far out I wouldn’t have been able to see the whale if that was the reason for the melee. As I returned, passing the driving range, I waited patiently in a passing place for a golfer to go by. Virtue has its rewards. I heard a Lapland bunting calling as it flew up from the driving range and watched it pass over my head heading towards the Danes Dyke area of the golf course. It’s good to know there is one around.

The crowd funding for the new Kilminning community nature reserve has gone well and we have over £8000 now. Thank you. We are also crowd funding for a small bit of connecting habitat at Pinkerton. Please donate just £10 at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pinkerton-triangle-crail-1/backers#start . When we get £1000 from 30 supporters (and we are up to £800 and 19 supporters), we have a promise of £1500 from M&S Energy; and if we raise another £1500 after that, they have also promised another £1500 to match it. So it’s a good investment of £10. The whitethroats, stonechats, reed buntings and meadow pipits will be grateful.

A meadow pipit breeding in the Pinkerton Triangle (between Roome Bay and Sauchope Caravan Park), the wildlife site we are crowd funding for at the moment

Posted November 25, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 22nd   Leave a comment

There are worst places to sit on a sunny, Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee, than the mouth of the Kenly Burn. A merlin greeted me as I walked down from the main road, jinking over a dyke, leaving a chaos of curlews in the field behind it. Down at the sea, it was high tide. There were about 45 mallard, a few teal and the usual redshank and turnstone. The fields there are still all stubble and there is big strip planted for wild bird food, so there were lots of reed buntings and yellowhammers around, and a flock of noisy tree sparrows. They always seem busy and with somewhere to go to, but somehow just always end up back in the same bush. I sat looking over the shore towards the Aberdeenshire coast and scanned for otters. One was seen at the Kenly mouth last week. I will get lucky eventually, but not this morning.

Teal (JA)

Posted November 22, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 21st   2 comments

I’ve been out a few times this week but it has been quiet with nothing to really tip me over the edge of writing something. I’m normally in Nigeria during November and I am missing the jolt of African bird excitement, and the reprise of all the summer migrants. There is plenty to see around Crail in November, there is just no real sense of change unless there is a storm. Balcomie Beach has about 40 sanderling, 10 ringed plover and a handful of dunlin in residence now. Sanderlings are real winter birds. Their pale grey and white plumage fits in so well along the surf on a bright winter’s day. No signs of bar-tailed godwits for several weeks now. The rocks have good number of turnstones and purple sandpipers. There are still a few purps at the north end of Balcomie Beach and most days there is a flock of twenty or so at the low tide edge, directly in front of the light at Fife Ness, occasionally with a single knot that seems to also be wintering there. This week there has been a bit of diver passage of all three species, particularly with the northerly winds of the 19th. Mostly red-throated divers as usual. I had a great northern diver lumbering back northwards this morning past Fife Ness.

Sanderling (JA)

At Kilminning there is a party of five bullfinches in the top section, adding a dash of colour to the treetops now most of the berries have gone. There is a flock of 30 fieldfares around the airfield. Otherwise, it mostly tits and goldfinches. Today I noticed two goldeneye back in Roome Bay so some have finally made it here for the winter.

One of the five bullfinches at the top of Kilminning, resident for the last couple of weeks

If you walk through Bow Butts at about 15:45 you will see the Crail starling murmuration. It’s, fair to say, only a mini murmuration and not the spectacle to be seen on the Somerset Levels or autumn watch. But it is local – which is a real plus at the moment – and the 200 starlings occasionally form into a single flock like a giant amoeba and swirl into impressive patterns and loops.

Crail’s lockdown starling murmuration over Bow Butts this week – it might be small but you don’t have to go far to see it

Posted November 21, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 15th   Leave a comment

November has been fairly mild. Nine or ten degrees in Crail most days and a long way from frost. This has been the way of winters for the last decade, with any sustained cold periods moving past Christmas now. I’ve noticed the mild weather by the lack of sea ducks and particularly goldeneyes. Species like long-tailed ducks and goldeneyes can winter in a number of places, and they move westwards as the winter progresses and freezing conditions chase them across Europe. In milder winters fewer reach us because there is no need for them to come here: conditions in the Baltic, for example, might stay perfect all winter. So it seems this year. It can all change very quickly though and huge numbers of waders and waterfowl can move to the UK if a sudden and sustained freeze hits continental Europe. But these events have also been rarer in the last ten years. Today I went up to Carnbee Reservoir and it only had 2 goldeneyes instead of the usual 20. And no coots at all. Another continental visitor when conditions get bad (particularly in the East Neuk). Numbers of wigeon (35) and teal (10) were also very low. Lots of the resident little grebes though. While I was there counting the ducks I tried some playback to lure a water rail out for my year list. I had given up and was heading up the hill to my car when I heard one contact calling. Usually it is blowing a gale up there and hard to hear anything. Today I could hear the relatively quiet, but still grumpy and squeaking call as one moved through the thick vegetation at the head of the reservoir as it probably checked out my playback site to see if the now silent intruder was still about. It was a good lesson. Water rails don’t always respond noisily and patience is a good idea. I missed water rail here in the new year and at the Boarhills pond, so this bird today made 170 for the year list, now two ahead of my best year so far in 2019.

Water rail (JA). Easier to hear than see.

Although there aren’t many goldeneyes in from Europe, there are lots of fieldfares. I had three flocks of over 200 between Crail and Carnbee, and another flock of about 50 up at Sypsies. As I passed the secret bunker a jay flew away from the side of the road into the woods. Another bird I missed on the new year, and good to know that there are one or two still wintering, or resident there.

Jay (JA)

Posted November 15, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 14th   Leave a comment

After my off patch excursion excitement of Thursday it was back to the relative quietness of a walk around Crail this afternoon. Despite the poor weather, the highlight was a (the) female merlin still in the stubble field next to Pinkerton and behind Sauchope Caravan Park. I picked it up as some starlings and curlews flew up and away from it as it flew low over the field. Starlings should definitely get out of the way, but merlins are no threat to a curlew. But from a curlew’s point of view its not worth taking a chance – and curlews might live tens of years, so they should be cautious. A falcon coming rapidly towards you head on could easily be a peregrine. And male peregrines often adopt a flickering wing (think mistle thrush in flight) action to conceal their approach that merlins also use. The size difference between the two is no good, as Father Ted will tell you: is it large and far way or small and close? So the curlews flew up, only to land immediately with a sheepish air as the merlin passed overhead. The starlings, of course, kept going and the merlin followed them down into Roome Bay. All in all it was a bird of prey walk – there were three separate sparrowhawks and a kestrel also about.

Merlin (JA)

Posted November 14, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 12th   1 comment

I went twitching this morning. Perhaps because lockdown comes back tomorrow, perhaps because it was just on the edge of my local patch and it’s good to hedge your bets. But really because it was a Hudsonian godwit, a rare wader even in North America where it breeds. And I have a soft spot for waders. A Hudsonian godwit turned up on the Eden Estuary at least 12 days ago but was only positively identified after some pictures were posted up a couple of days ago. It is an easy bird to overlook being very similar to a black-tailed godwit, which is quite common at the Eden in winter. When they fly, however, they show a very distinctive black underwing – and the photo captured this. I went out this morning overconfident that it would be easy to spot. But I hadn’t reckoned on the godwits roosting at a distance. There was a flock of 33 black-tailed godwits close to Guardbridge as the tide was rising. I scanned through them – all looked just like black-tailed godwits. One by one the rising water caused them to fly a short distance to dryer mud. I checked 28 underwings – all pure white and so not the Hudsonian. Five shuffled or swam so I wasn’t 100% sure. I cycled down the south shore of the estuary to check for other godwits. I found a single bird with curlews in a flooded field halfway to St Andrews. Another black-tail. I headed back to Guardbridge and had just got there when the Hudsonian godwit was reported flying away with the roosting flock of godwits – I had overlooked it earlier. Luckily the flock came down just below the Edenside stables, where a grassy, saltmarsh area provides a roost even on a high spring tide. I biked down and started working my way through the flock again. I picked up a slightly smaller, more spangly-backed bird in amongst them but felt it was just wishful thinking. Then the flock flew in alarm and it was there – right in the middle – black underwing contrasting and obvious, and the bird a little bit more compact and shorter legged looking as it sped away. The flock circled round and came back to roost. The search began again. Luckily the Hudsonian godwit flicked its wings up and gave itself away. We (now a small group had gathered) could follow the bird as it walked through the flock for a couple of minutes before it resumed roosting. The differences were very slight. A grey mottled panel on the scapulars contrasting with a browner wing, the white of the supercilium more concentrated just in front of the eye and a slightly more peachy buff tone to its plumage generally. Thank goodness for the underwing. My time was up and I headed back to Guardbridge, home and work. Nothing like a twitch with a time limit, as long as you get the bird well in the last few minutes.

Black tailed godwit and hudsonian godwit – tricky (JA)
Hudsonian godwit and black-tailed godwit – easy (JA)

Posted November 12, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 10th   Leave a comment

There was some more fog around this morning. But the stillness made it very quiet at upper Kilminning. I easily picked up the Siberian chiff-chaff calling. I assume it is the same bird as I found on the 15th October, but then it could be another one in on the easterlies. Certainly, there have been a lot of blackbirds and woodcock arriving in the last few days: I flushed a woodcock as I followed the chiff-chaff around to get a good view. In case it was a new bird I had a good look at it and its plumage ticked all the right boxes: it looked very grey today, but this might haver been the fog. The call was great too: a single sad “tseu”, occasionally quite piping like a sad dunnock. I was able to record the call because it was so quiet. Although its very clear, its not very loud. If you go looking for the chiff-chaff over the weekend, when the go karts on the track next door are in action, then you won’t be able to hear it. Today it was very active in the top of the sycamores moving around the entire top of Kilminning, doing a circuit in about 10 minutes. Without the call – and it was calling for periods of about thirty seconds, making 5 or 6 calls in that time, interspersed with about five minutes of silence – it was impossible to keep track off. Otherwise it was redwings and mistle thrushes, and a brief view of a female merlin hunting through the fog at lower Kilminning.

Siberian chiffchaff at upper Kilminning this morning – here responding strongly to playback of its call

Posted November 10, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 8th   Leave a comment

Although the fog lifted yesterday afternoon, the south-easterly has brought more grey weather. There are still bramblings around Crail and I heard some more at Wormiston as I headed down to the shore this morning. The usual suspects but with more gannets than the last few days passing, some wigeon flocks and a flock of six goldeneyes. Good to see as none of the wintering goldeneyes have appeared yet at Fife Ness and Roome Bay. Two divers flew past, one larger than the other: a black-throated and a red-throated together. A third diver came past – probably another black-throated but you lose your confidence when the second of the much less common species comes past and the usual is always a steady stream of red-throated divers. Of course, events like these are never independent. You see one unusual species, you are more likely to see another, because clearly the conditions are right for it. You need to keep your nerve to identify a distant flying black-throated diver. But if you get the capped look, more bulky head, some darker contrast on the sides of the neck and long feet it is a black-throated. When I went through this checklist then the third bird was a definite black-throated diver.

Goldeneye, male and female (JA)

Posted November 8, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 7th   Leave a comment

The fog rolled in late afternoon yesterday and this morning it was still lingering. I had a walk round Crail – it was not going to be a good morning for birding anywhere. It turned out well though. As I crossed the stubble field at Pinkerton a merlin – probably a female, but everything looks bigger in a fog – flew up from a mound of earth and moved to a fence post. As I continued, I wondered if me putting up the skylarks might lead to a hunt. Merlins frequently chase after birds flushed by people, or dogs, or horses or even vehicles. It is hard for merlins to find a few very cryptic skylarks in a huge field. Sure enough, my dog put up four skylarks and the merlin was off after one in a rapid climb. It disappeared into the fog, still powering up after the skylark.

I came back to Crail past Balcomie Caravan Park. There was a mixed flock of tits and song thrushes that caught my attention in the sycamores along the northern boundary. And then a chiffchaff. Any winter chiffchaff in Crail is worth a lot of attention – of the two last winter, one was a definite, and the other a probable, Siberian chiffchaff. This one fitted the bill for a Siberian chiffchaff, with brownish or whiteish tones throughout apart from greenish on the primaries, brown ear coverts and very black legs. It wouldn’t call though to clinch it. I tried playback and it stopped feeding and flicked its wings, looking around to a Siberian chiffchaff call, but then resumed feeding when I played common chiffchaff call. It might have been an order effect, and I should have played common chiffchaff first. Still another bit of circumstantial evidence. This is the 4th Siberian chiff-chaff this autumn, although this one not quite certain. But I am getting the impression that they are less rare than thought, just overlooked. It helps that we don’t have regular overwintering common chiffchaffs around Crail so any chiffchaff that appears is an unusual bird and I give it a good look.

There were one or two bramblings in another mixed flock in the top of the big sycamores in Beech Walk Park. More song thrushes too. The fog seems to have brought a few things in. All in all, a good doorstep walk.

The likely Siberian chiffchaff in Crail today

Posted November 7, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 6th   Leave a comment

The geese have been flying over all week while I have been working at home. I had to follow them outside this morning. The sea was flat calm, with only a passing group of six dolphins and the lobster boats to disturb it. A beautiful winter’s day. When I got to Balcomie Beach the flock of sanderling (about 28 in residence now) was in a tight huddle at the tide edge. Flocks of starlings popped up and started spinning in tight balls over the adjacent rocky shore, and a trail of redshanks shrieked along the coastal path. I didn’t see anything but I bet it was a merlin. As I scanned for it, I picked up a carrion crow showing pale grey areas like a hooded crow. Hooded crows are the western Scottish and Irish form of carrion crows. They are considered a separate species, but carrion crows and hooded crows hybridise and there are a lot intermediates along the zone where both “species” meet. Because the zone is narrow and the intermediates are at a disadvantage to either parent form, this strengthens the case that the two forms are distinct species. The support for a split into two species or lump into one has varied through the years but recent genetic evidence shows them to be very, very similar. The jury is still out. If this actually matters of course. Hooded crows and carrion crows are more distinct to look at than many more obvious species, and both live in different areas. They might as well be different species for the purposes of birding. Anyway, my bird today was mostly carrion crow with a touch of hooded crow. Slightly paler grey areas rather than very pale grey, although it was grey in the distinct patches where it was supposed to be ruling out a pale plumaged carrion crow (they often have paler feathers particularly when on a poor diet). I’ll wait for a full, 100% hooded crow on the Crail patch before I decide whether to put a new species on the Crail list. There were a lot of thrushes again at Kilminning.

A carrion crow/hooded crow hybrid at Balcomie this morning

There are a lot fieldfares around this year: there was a big flock up by Kingsbarns Distillery yesterday as I passed. A fieldfare was in the flock of mistle thrushes at the top of Kilminning. Although I know this feature already, I was really struck by the black tail of the fieldfare contrasting with the white belly when the birds flew above me. This compares to a only slightly dark undertail, with much less contrast with the belly in a mistle thrush. Both species always look distinctive from below but this seems to be one of the main reasons.

Fieldfare – showing its black contrasting tail (JA)

Posted November 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 3rd   Leave a comment

It does look a lot like autumn is over. There is a slim chance of something coming in with some south-easterlies at the end of the week but I think we have had our lot this season. It has been an exceptional autumn in terms of some very good birds turning up. The only thing missing was some late October easterly rainstorms to bring in lots of thrushes and woodcocks at once. They seem to have trickled in more this year. At Kilminning this afternoon there were no summer migrants at all – my last one was a barn swallow on the 29th October. That may well be it now until next April. There were still five species of thrush there including quite a few redwings feeding on the hawthorn berries to seal that winter feeling.

Redwing on cotoneaster (JA)

Posted November 3, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

November 1st   Leave a comment

Another very windy day. I stayed around Crail and tried my luck walking through the stubble fields just to the east of Crail. I put up about 40 skylarks, rather than the 400 of a couple of weeks ago and nothing else except some linnets. There was a gull melee in Roome Bay again at high tide. I sat in the grass at the back of the beach and let the waders and gulls come to me as the tide came in.

Oystercatcher in Roome Bay this afternoon

One of my colour-ringed redshanks came close enough for me to get a photo to do it justice. YGSS (yellow green, sky (blue) sky (blue). I caught this bird more or less where it was today in February 2012. It was an adult then, so at least 1.8 years old. You can age redshanks in their first winter but after that, when they moult into adult plumage completely by their first breeding summer at one year old then you only know that they are not juveniles. So this bird is over ten years old, at least. Please say hello to it when you are next down at Roome Bay – it is almost always halfway along the beach, below the toilet block – and its rings, the ones above the knee, that identify it are easy to see without binoculars, the two pale blue ones look like a single whiteish one. Although I have talked about this before, it is worth mentioning it again just in case you are horrified by the number of rings on the bird. Why so many? Because redshanks move across the planet and a lot of redshanks are ringed in different places, so you need a lot of rings to ensure that each one marked has its own unique combination. Surely this harms them in some way? Not as far as we know, and I have studied the issue specifically in redshanks as part my research: I found that there was no effect on their survival at all and I would have been able to detect even just a 1% difference caused by the colour rings. So please enjoy the bird as a recognisable neighbour that has chosen to settle in Crail like many of us have, and as an individual contributing to our knowledge of how important somewhere like Roome Bay is as a habitat for wild birds and how long a bird like a redshank might live on average.

YGSS in its 11th year as a resident of Roome Bay

Posted November 1, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings