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

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