December 28th   Leave a comment

I retraced my walk of December 23rd to see if the ravens were still about the cliffs at Kitto’s Den. It was a nice walk, cold and still, with that flat bright grey midwinter light that actually brings out the detail in everything. But no ravens. The highlight was a greenshank, that obviously has a winter territory on the rocky shore at the mouth of the Kitto Burn. It still seems strange to find greenshanks as a wintering bird on the east coast, or even anywhere in Scotland. In the 1980s a wintering greenshank was exceptional in Fife, but they have increased in winter in Britain by over 50% since then. Another winner of climate change. Greenshanks like it warmer when not breeding, although recent climate change in Fife has hardly taken us to the temperatures that most wintering greenshanks experience in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia or Australia, where the majority of the world population spend the winter. But those greenshanks that stay in Europe year-round are clearly doing well, by avoiding migrations of at least 5,000 km. Although they save energy and time in the spring by staying in Scotland – they may only have to fly a few hundred kilometers to their breeding ground in the Highlands – they have to watch out for sparrowhawks and peregrines. Wintering greenshanks frequently fall prey to raptors in Scotland. During my PhD work on the Tyninghame Estuary (over the Forth at Dunbar) in the early 90s I used to watch the wintering population of up to 9 greenshanks diminish to 4 or 5 each spring, and I would find their distinctive blackish flight feathers in little piles in the adjacent woodland as the sparrowhawks took their toll. There are lots of raptors in Africa but there is much more prey for them to eat, and many eat insects and lizards, so there is an advantage for many shorebirds to migrate to relative safety. The Kitto Den greenshank is a juvenile and looked happy enough today feeding alongside the redshanks that have also decided to stake a winter territory there. But there is plenty of cover directly alongside the beach so there would be little time to see an approaching sparrowhawk. I would head off to Africa myself.

The Kitto Den greenshank. A bird born this year and so spending its first winter in Scotland (a young one because of its browner, spotted lower wing coverts – the adult feathers are the white edged grey ones).

Posted December 28, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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