Archive for January 2021

Jan 31st   Leave a comment

This morning I walked the loop from Boarhills, through Kittock’s Den and then back along the coastal path. There was a light dusting of snow, but only really staying down in the bottom of the den as the morning wore on. I flushed a woodcock, picking around in the unfrozen burn edge. They are much more conspicuous in the snow. As usual it didn’t hang around and flew off deeper into the trees. The den was full of blackbirds this morning instead of fieldfares and redwings. They were ticking and calling from every bush until a female sparrowhawk shot through creating a cone of absolute silence behind it. There was no sign of the ravens at the sea end of the den, and no sign along the coastal path. They may be keeping a low profile, particularly if one was sitting on a nest. The usual greenshank was on the rocky shore by the coastal path, and closer to Boarhills, where there are a couple of patches of reeds, a flock of 40-50 reed buntings, with a few yellowhammers and corn buntings mixed in. There also seems to be good numbers of corn buntings on this side of Boarhills this winter, again indicating that we might be in for a spectacular number of breeding pairs this year.

Woodcock (in the snow of 2010) (JA). It has been about ten years since we have had a reasonable snowfall in the Crail area.

Posted January 31, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

January 30th   Leave a comment

Each year when I get a record breaking patch year list under my belt, I think I will take a break the following year so it doesn’t become a chore. So I resolved again this year but now I find myself at my 100th bird for the year, and before the end of January. I’m ahead of any year by three weeks. A great start so maybe I should just keep going…Especially as no. 100 was the first rarity of the year. A couple of days of easterly winds, some rain showers yesterday, and an early migrant. A black redstart at Fife Ness. I walked the Wormiston – Balcomie Beach – Fife Ness loop this morning and after a cup of coffee at Fife Ness, I walked round the corner and a small bird popped up onto the fence behind the lighthouse. Dark and with a shivering red tail – a female or young male black redstart. One of my favourite birds ever since a school exchange trip to southern Germany at the age of 14 when I experienced, for the first time, the concept of the exotic being commonplace with just a shift of geography. German gardens don’t have robins, but instead they have black redstarts doing the same thing, but more urban, using the rooftops and concrete much more. Black redstarts have a great song – only a few breed in the UK so it’s hard to hear here – but it is one of the characteristic bird songs at dusk in the middle of Paris or Munich or Amsterdam or Vienna. Even when I am staying in the middle of a European city, attending a conference right in the centre of town, when the traffic noise dies down in the evening or early morning, I stick my head out of my hotel window and listen for black redstarts. It’s a scratchy warble (nothing unusual in that for a chat) but then followed by a scratchy noise like glass being ground together in an industrial mixer. Completely at odds with the pleasant bit preceding it, and in a way a perfect song for a bird that has adopted the most hard-core urban habitats we have: still half part of the wild rocky mountains that are its “natural” habitat, but now half part of the artificial cityscape. I have said it many times before, but part of the joy of seeing rare birds around Crail for me is that they take me back to exotic places I have been to all over the world. In lockdown especially – when I can’t travel – the world can still come (safely) to Crail.

Female black redstart – this one at Fife Ness in early April 2016 (JA). Today’s bird was elusive, and only seen by a couple of us. There was a strong easterly wind so I don’t blame it for feeding out of sight among the rocks at Fife Ness. They can be hard to see there. I should think it will be out and about more tomorrow when there will be little wind.

Posted January 30, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 28th   Leave a comment

It wasn’t a day to be outside with persistent rain and a strong south-easterly. But I have been stuck inside since the weekend. I went down to Balcomie Beach first thing this morning and was rewarded with a brief gap in the clouds and the showers. The sanderling were dispersed all over the low tide sand, running frantically back and forth; the dunlin were much more laid back, sedately probing along the water’s edge. All the waders suddenly went up and the oystercatchers and redshanks alarm called. I looked for the disturbance but couldn’t spot anything. I’m usually pretty good at spotting even a merlin. Windy weather makes it tricky to spot anything. Everything is moving, so detecting a small, dashing bird of prey is hard. And I’m only a spectator – for the birds on Balcomie beach its life and death, so they get jumpy in a gale and are much more prone to false alarms. Or maybe there was a merlin? But the waders all settled down quickly and calm resumed, if the ceaseless pacing of the sanderling can ever be considered peaceful.

A laid back dunlin on a calmer day at Balcomie last week (JA)

Posted January 28, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 24th   Leave a comment

Another perfect frosty day to walk along the coastal path. I looped from Kingsbarns to Kenly Water along the coast and back through Pitmilly. I was surprised to find another chiffchaff along the footpath at Drony Road. When I got to Kenly Water it was high tide and there was a really nice concentration of birds at the burn mouth. I added three notable absent species to my year list in five minutes: a greenshank and a flock of 30 lapwing roosting on the rocks, and then a juvenile male peregrine that was also attracted to the large number of birds. There was chaos for a while as a flock of 100 teal went up and flew off low along the coast, the lapwings went straight up to get above the peregrine as did the couple of hundred jackdaws and rooks that had been feeding on the shore. One lapwing was slower and got stooped at before making it to the safety of the flock above. The peregrine made a series of stoops on other birds but never seemed very “serious”. Peregrines often seem to hunt in a speculative kind of way, harrying and stooping without coming very close to a potential prey before peeling away, and never at the kind of speeds they are famous for. I think a peregrine is looking for an easy lunch when they do this. They can up the ante at any time if they spot a weak or inappropriately behaving individual. A carrion crow got fed up with this after a while and returned the favour, stooping at the peregrine, chasing it away around the coast towards Boarhills. Inland, as I walked up through Hillhead Farm to Pitmilly, there were the same large bunting flocks as Friday, including lots of corn buntings and 16 Lapland bunting circling around and then heading towards Boghall. Later on, on the western side of Kingsbarns village, there was another big flock of corn buntings. Presumably the same flock that shuttles between there and the fields to the north of the golf course at Kingsbarns.

Drake teal. The 100 at the mouth of the Kenly Water this morning is the largest group I have ever seen on my Crail patch (JA)

Posted January 24, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 23rd   Leave a comment

The last couple of days have been cold but sunny, with hard frosts. Perfect walking weather, with the sun just that little bit higher in the sky so it is not so blinding when you turn back to Crail from Fife Ness. Yesterday I was scoping out corn buntings at Hillhead. There was a flock of 20-30 mixed in with about 75 reed buntings, and the usual (for this winter) many yellowhammers, tree sparrows and linnets. There are still at least 14 Lapland buntings in the stubbles, but this visit most were in the middle field, rather than the coastal field by the ruined salmon bothy.

Today I walked the loop out from Crail to Balcomie and then back along the coastal path. The stubble fields are frozen so there were no snipe or skylark in the big field by Balcomie Caravan Park, but the flock of about 40 fieldfares is still there. The fieldfares are feeding in the stubble and then retreat to the line of trees on the eastern edge of the caravan park when disturbed (by the sparrowhawks that regularly hunt over that field for the snipe and skylark, that will now have to make do with fieldfares). The mixed flock of mostly linnets with some twite mixed in is still around the asparagus field between Balcomie Castle and the golf course. This field, which has been waterlogged for the last few weeks, was also frozen today. The meadow pipits were congregating to feed on the ice of the frozen puddles in the hollows. Ice and snow acts like an insect trap. Small invertebrates hop or fly onto the ice and then get too cold to move. Their tiny dark shapes are easy to pick out against the ice making it a good feeding area.

Meadow pipit feeding on the ice amongst the asparagus stems at Balcomie

The cold weather has been bringing inland water birds out to the coast at Balcomie. Instead of the usual four or five teal, there was a flock of 30. Teals like very small ponds and they freeze first, so teal are the first duck to move. There was a dead mute swan on the beach. Maybe a bird flu victim, but considering the circumstances, perhaps more likely a mute swan that left moving from an inland frozen lochan a bit too late. At sea there were more goldeneyes and red-breasted mergansers to be seen, and also my first long-tailed duck of the year. As I scanned for sea duck, I picked up an auk far out with a patchy black and white look to it. I could make out a white patch on the back, and the fact that I could see its dark eye with white above and below it, with a darker cap. Two very characteristic features of a black guillemot. The other auks all have uniform black looking backs and heads – never showing patchy white. The mostly white face with a darkish small cap and obvious black eye are the best features at a distance, especially when you have left your telescope at home. It seems likely that this black guillemot is the same one that is being seen every week or so from Fife Ness or Balcomie this winter. They are so common on the West Coast it seems strange that they are so uncommon here. They could breed happily on the May Island, and even amongst the jumbled rocks of Kilminning coast. Fife Ness was much the same as last week – quite a few red-throated divers, some purple sandpiper and a couple of early gannets.

The Fife Ness/Balcomie black guillemot – John saw it from Fife Ness earlier this week (JA). Note the black eye standing out which makes it easy to identify even in this poor view.

Posted January 23, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 19th   Leave a comment

I was out at lower Kilminning mid-morning for an hour. It was incredibly still and quiet, with a very calm sea. Quite unusual for this time of year. I could see the auks and divers spread across the Forth as black dots. It is not a good year for red-throated divers around Crail, but I could see a few this morning.

Red-throated diver (JA)

Posted January 19, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 17th   1 comment

I repeated the walk of yesterday this morning and although brighter and clearer, it was very quiet, with twite, and chiffchaff having moved on. So, in response to a comment asking “how does one tell twite from corn bunting from Lapland bunting when they are dashing up from fields and back down into stubble?”, this is my guide to East Neuk stubble bunting and linnet/twite id. The links are to the most representative sound recordings I could find on Xeno Canto, to illustrate my descriptions of the calls. If you haven’t found Xeno Canto yet, then follow the links and enjoy: you may never come back out of this internet rabbit hole.

Corn Bunting: https://www.xeno-canto.org/537243

A soft “pip  pip  pip” – quiet and hard to hear, like something electrical shorting out.

Flight directly away, keeping low and  with strong buzzing wing beats, followed by gliding with wings closed briefly.

Found in most East Neuk stubble fields, but never common except occasionally in large flocks.

Lapland Bunting: https://www.xeno-canto.org/598953

A dry, very rapid rattle followed by a loud clear “chew”. Often described as “ticky ticky chew”. Very similar to snow bunting but dryer and more metallic.

Flight directly away, initially low but then going up very high and often circling around where it was flushed in high circles of radius several hundred meters, picking up any more Lapland buntings around to form a loose flock. Flight very fast and strong, with buzzy wingbeats followed by gliding with wings closed briefly, but keeping high and circling around, whereas corn buntings go somewhere and perch. Very often mixed up with skylarks that do the same high circling: skylarks are the same size and can do the same buzzy flight as Laplands, but then the skylarks slow down and do a more hovery flight, showing their white trailing edges to the wings – the Laplands keep up their buzzy -glide-buzzy flight forever.

When they fly past note NO white in the wings, and if you are lucky a crescent mark running behind, around the face

Found in about 30% of East Neuk stubble fields in a good winter, but usually you are very lucky to bump into one unless you know where they are from previous experience; they often flush at only 10-20 meters.

Snow Bunting: https://www.xeno-canto.org/606124

A twittery, rapid rattle followed by a loud clear “chew”. Very similar to Lapland bunting but more twittery and the chew more melodic. But I always double check for a white wing bar (large and obvious) in snow buntings, easily seen as they fly away.

Flight away less direct and more buoyant than Lapland bunting, more flickery flight, looks less purposeful and usually go somewhere directly to land again on the ground (but a much more direct and purposeful flight compared to a reed bunting).

The rarest regular East Neuk bunting and I might only expect to see one or two a winter (and even then I will feel lucky); more likely to be found on the shore. Snow buntings flush much more readily than Lapland buntings. I often pick them up as they fly over making their melodic “chew” call.  I pick up Laplands flying over more readily by their rattle.

Yellowhammer: https://www.xeno-canto.org/501919

A wet sounding rapid twittery rattle, never ending with a “chew” call, and sounding less coherent and distinct than Lapland or snow bunting.

Flight looking relatively weak, direct to edge of field or back down again; will form relatively slow moving flocks, that appear to dance as birds change height, looking less rushed than corn or Lapland buntings.

The most common bunting in East Neuk fields. Tens in most stubble fields.

Reed Bunting: https://www.xeno-canto.org/608946

Just a thin “tscheew”, higher pitched and longer than Lapland or snow bunting; often weak sounding. Never any rattles preceding it.

Flies straight up when flushed from ground with a weak almost fluttery flight. Then slow, flittery flight to land on ground again or on vegetation at the field edge. After looking at the other buntings, reed buntings start to look small, weak and lacking purpose when they fly off.

The second most common bunting in East Neuk fields. Tens in most stubble fields.

Linnet: https://www.xeno-canto.org/606298

Very rapid, chittering “chew” notes, blending together, particularly if there are lots of birds in a flock, into a jangly, twitter.

Finch – not bunting – so small and slight looking, very dancing flight, but rapid and flocks are very tight, keeping together and swirling around. Short forked tail, white in the wings but not a large panel like a snow bunting (it is a completely different bird – when you see a snow bunting you will know what I mean).

Linnets are one of the most common birds to be found in a stubble field, with flocks of over 100 common.

Twite: https://www.xeno-canto.org/605416

A quite hard, but twittery “pit  pit pit” – more sparrow like than linnet, followed by “dweezey” – likened to a creaky bed spring. The “dweezey” call is very distinctive and although the other twite calls overlap with linnet, the bed spring call does not. This usually alerts me to twites in a flock of linnets.

A finch that is identical to linnet in flight view – the plumage differences can’t be appreciated in flight. Flight behaviour is pretty much the same, except a very tight flock of “linnets”, keeping very close together and wheeling about like a tiny starling murmuration is worth checking out because they are probably twite.

Twite are very scarce in the East Neuk in some winters, but in others, there can be a flock in about 20% of stubble fields. They also like turnip fields and coastal grassland and saltmarsh. There is no obvious habitat separation between linnets and twites in winter in the East Neuk. Expect the dancing flock of finches to be linnets (watch out also for goldfinches among them), but hope that they might be twite if you can get close enough to hear the “dweezy” flight call.

Yellow hammer, reed bunting, skylark, corn bunting, snow bunting, lapland bunting, twite, linnet (top to bottom, left to right) All photos John Anderson.

Posted January 17, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 16th   2 comments

At this time of year it is harder to get out during daylight: lockdown was easier in the spring when I could go out for a couple of hours before or after the working day. But I finally walked round Balcomie, Fife Ness and Kilminning again this morning after over a week away. There were a few changes. The newest asparagus field (between Balcomie Castle and the Golf Course) has been cut back for the winter and there was a flock of about 60 linnets, twites and goldfinches (in about equal numbers) feeding on the ground, I assume, on the scattered asparagus seeds. Again more twite – it really is a good winter with about 350 between Crail and Boarhills. It was interesting to see that the linnets and twite, although in the same flock, were keeping more or less to their species’ group. On alarm the flock would fly up onto a power line above briefly, but the twites would fly back down before the linnets as a coherent group, and land together. The linnets would follow soon after in their own group and land nearby. After a minute or two they would be mixed as they hopped about on the ground feeding, until separating again if alarmed. As I watched the twite I saw a small bird fly up from the brambles along the dyke by the track: a chiffchaff. It landed in the asparagus and fed on the ground a bit, looking quite greenish brown, so I thought it was a normal wintering European chiffchaff. But when it returned to the dyke it had lost all its greenish tones – so the initial impression was probably caused by the vegetation around it when it was in the field. Against the dyke it looked completely brown in tones. It didn’t call so again another uncertain chiffchaff, but tending towards Siberian perhaps. In any case a wintering chiffchaff in the Crail area is fairly unusual and they rarely make it on to my year list in January.

Down on Balcomie Beach it was sanderlings and redshanks. The sanderling were spread over the wet sand, looking like they were running across ice. Unusually they were in a feisty mood, with one bird chasing another persistently. Sanderling flocks always seem well coordinated and peaceful but there is probably the same dominance hierarchy and micro-territoriality going on that occurs in almost all shorebirds. It is just a well run hierarchy, peaceful only because every flock member already knows their place.

Sanderlings scrapping on Balcomie Beach this morning

I sat at Fife Ness for a few minutes. Winter quiet despite a south-easterly wind early this morning. A gannet, a red-throated diver and a few auks far out, and a small flock of purple sandpipers on the rocks. But best of all, a woodcock flying low between the waves, coming in from the North Sea into the Forth. A late migrant making a cold weather movement from a colder continent. Perhaps the chiffchaff was also a migrant just in?

A woodcock coming in from the sea at Fife Ness (this one late autumn last year) (JA)

Posted January 16, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 11th   Leave a comment

The temperature was up 10 degrees today compared to Saturday. From frozen to damp and mild. A great relief for every small bird around Crail. Most birds manage a couple of days of hard frost and wind without too much trouble, but still sensitive species like stonechats and wrens will have found it a lot easier today. A chance to get fat reserves back on. I did a quick walk around Crail before the heavy showers that came in from the North Sea late afternoon. There were still a lot of skylarks and fieldfares in the stubbles by Pinkerton and a single Lapland bunting. The partridges were beginning their annual breakdown – literally. The big coveys that form after breeding split into pairs and they start being territorial. It makes partridges this time of year a bit conflicted. I saw several males standing on the little tussocks formed by the recent field drainage work in the field between Pinkerton and the airfield. They were screeching aggressively at each other like so many rusty wheelbarrow wheels. But as I came closer they formed back up into a flock to fly away over the road. There is safety in numbers and the “survive the winter” imperative is still dominating over “breed successfully in the spring”.

6 of a covey of 11 grey partridges at Cellardyke yesterday: quite at peace with each other but ready to explode into breeding pairs any day soon

Posted January 11, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 10th   Leave a comment

There have been some crossbills around Kilrenney and Cellardyke since New year. I tried to see them last week, but only got lucky today. Unusually the crossbills are in dense young conifers and are not making any calls at all. I walked past a group of at least five twice before I found them. Then I was rewarded with the best views of crossbills I have ever had. The flock was feeding, quite oblivious, only a few meters away from me, and because the trees are so young, often at eye level. I usually have to squint up to a distant bird at the top of a very big tree. The flock is commuting between the taller conifers in Innergellie Wood at Kilrenny and the line of conifers between Windmill Road and Silverdykes Caravan Park. It was the first time I have walked down this line of trees. There is a couple of paths threaded through the pine and alder trees. It was a nice walk, with lots of birds around including fieldfares and grey partridges. But I walked around the entire area, a good bit of Cellardyke and all of Kilrenny Common before finally seeing the crossbills, exactly where I started the walk. Still better late than never. Crossbills are big, chunky finches with their outstanding namesake parroty bills -well worth the effort every time. There was a mix of colourful males (bright red) and females (bright green) and sub-adults (goldish), adding to the general tiny parrot feel.

One of the male crossbills today showing off its pliers of a bill to prise open conifer cones to get at the seeds (this is more or less all that crossbills ever eat). Where there are conifers, there are crossbills.
And one of the females

Posted January 10, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 9th   Leave a comment

A few of the local birders who live in St Andrews, Kingsbarns, Crail or Anster took their lockdown exercise this morning walking across the remaining stubble fields from Crail to St Andrews. The plan was to get an accurate minimum count of Lapland Buntings, and test the theory that if you walk across enough stubble fields in the East Neuk you will bump into a few. I walked out from Crail across the stubbles between Denburn and Hammer Inn, then the stubble fields between Wormiston and Randerston Farm by the Kingsbarn’s Distillery. It was a cold morning – minus three in the moderate wind, the ground frozen. But great to stride across the stubble fields imagining I was in the Arctic, just at the start of the autumn. There were a few skylarks in every field but otherwise it everything was concentrated in a huge field down at Randerston. Hundreds of skylarks milling around, with flocks of linnets and twite (hard to count because I could only hear them calling amongst the linnets), and starlings, some fieldfares, meadow pipits and yellowhammers as well. I picked up a group of 4 Lapland buntings and then a single bird but with all the skylarks it was very hard to keep track of them and I am sure I overlooked a few. The wind made hearing their calls difficult and I only picked up flying birds when they passed quite close. Still, as I scanned through the skylarks I picked up a large open faced bunting making a “chew” call with a white wing bar – a snow bunting. A needle in a haystack – but sometimes you get lucky. Another snow bunting was picked up at Boarhills this morning as well. In total, between Boarhills and Crail, checking the remaining stubble fields within about 2km of the coast, we had a minimum of 48 and a maximum of 53 Lapland buntings. We checked 37 stubble fields in total and 12 had Lapland buntings in them (32%). Not too bad really and showing that at least this year there are a lot about. Some other good totals were: 234 corn buntings (maybe 25% of the population!), 75 grey partridge, 1362 skylark (we always have lots of skylarks when it gets cold and they move to the coast where it is milder), 130 twite (maybe more – indicating another species that is more common than we think, just out in the stubbles being overlooked), 121 tree sparrow, 230 yellowhammers, 342 linnet and 40 reed bunting. A day with a lot of birds is always very encouraging.

Snow bunting (JA)
And one of the 234 corn bunting we counted today (JA)

Posted January 9, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 7th   Leave a comment

The buntings are back in the stubbles just north of Kingsbarns. If you walk out of Kingsbarns on the main road towards St Andrews and then turn right down the green lane after the first stubble field you get to several more stubble fields to the northwest of the golf course. And this is where they are. An amazing 140 corn buntings. They were feeding in a couple of smaller flocks in the stubble but occasionally flying up to perch all together at the top of the large trees in the garden of Sandyhill house. Then they could be counted fairly easily – one count of 130 and another later of 140. There was a count yesterday of 129, so we can be fairly confident that there are a lot there. We think there are about 200 active territories in the east of Fife – so perhaps 500 adults breeding. Then there will be the juveniles produced last year – three or four per pair if they did well last summer (and I think they did). So another 800 birds at most. Some will have died in the intervening 6 months – if we work on an average annual juvenile survival rate in the first year of 30%, then we would have 520 left, and for adults an average annual survival rate of 60%, then we would have 400 left. So, a total population of 920 corn buntings (and I think this is an overestimate and the result of a very approximate back of the envelope calculation…) making todays flock at Kingsbarns 15% of the population! There were also between 60-100 yellowhammers, 45 tree sparrows and at least 15 reed buntings. They were all mobile but on occasions they were all in the same small area making a very impressive flock.

Yellowhammer (JA)

Posted January 7, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 4th   2 comments

I walked down Kitto’s Den this morning to check on the ravens down there. When I got down to the shore there was a raven displaying briefly over the crags. It disappeared for thirty minutes but then I saw it further down the coast towards Boarhills mobbing a buzzard. A second bird joined it. The pair then flew around a bit over the fields before displaying again over the cliffs at the south end of the Fairmont golf course. At one point I noticed that one raven was carrying what looked like a large egg – but there are none available in January? It carried it over the golf course and then dropped it over the cliffs before diving after it. It should have been obvious what it was carrying…I enlarged a photo when I got home and saw it was a golf ball! Ravens are far too smart to mistake golf balls for eggs or anything edible, so I suspect they were just playing. Ravens have been seen picking up objects (sticks and rocks), dropping them and then catching again in mid-air many times, and ravens quite often behave exactly as if they are playing. The most memorable of these incidents that I have read about is a group of ravens sliding down a snowy slope on their backs, before walking or flying back up to the top and doing it again and again, like a group of children sledging. So, expect an “East Fife ravens learn to play golf” headline in the Scotsman any day soon, or alternatively “Killer crows bomb coastal path with pilfered balls” from the Daily Record. I often find golf balls along the coastal path and have always blamed bad golfers, but clearly something else might be responsible now. It was great to see the ravens again on the patch. They are behaving as if they might nest: they should start nest building now and lay eggs in February. Fingers crossed.

Ravens at Fairmont this morning – hanging around and playing golf

Posted January 4, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 3rd   Leave a comment

John and I went down to the bunting fields by Kenly Water first thing this morning. The plan was to photograph the buntings as they flew around us or ideally perched in the new hedge. No plan survives contact with the enemy… Initially all seemed good, we quickly found a couple of flocks (of six and seven) in the usual south-west corner of the field closest to the coastal path. But they wouldn’t circle around us, only flying high and far away around the perimeter of the field. It was all very atmospheric as they flew across the moon, and bruised storm clouds, but not conducive for any kind of photo that was recognisably a Lapland bunting. And the morning, instead of getting lighter, got darker as the rain came in. We cut our losses and headed back, putting up another couple of Lapland buntings closer to the road. It was still early so I decided to try an experiment. I think that there are Lapland buntings all over between St Andrews and Crail, and it is just a case of finding them. This involves walking through stubble fields, ideally with lots of weeds, until you put them up. And because they only reliably flush at 20-30 meters, it means a lot of walking. So, I chose some new stubble fields between Wormiston and Cambo at Randerston farm. Five fields, three of them quite weedy. In the three weedy fields closest to the sea, I found a flock of six, a flock of five and a single Lapland bunting. These are the minimum number of birds: I had sight of up to 16 and I will have probably missed some. I covered realistically about 25% of each field (although my dog may have doubled that figure): in any case, I can hardly claim to have covered all of the fields within flushing distance. The conclusion of my experiment: at least this year, it might be just effort that is determining the number of Lapland buntings that are being recorded. We need to do a proper count across all the potential stubble fields – hopefully six of us will cover the ground systematically next weekend. I also found another flock of 25 twite, and probably a second similar sized flock, but it was distant and I didn’t hear any calls. Plus a lot of skylarks, some corn buntings (some singing) and good numbers of tree sparrows. Stubble fields are great: spring rather than autumn sowing of crops really helps birds.

A buzzard watching me as I quartered the stubbles between rain showers

Posted January 3, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

Jan 2nd   2 comments

I went down to Balcomie Beach this morning. Yesterday it was so busy with post-hangover walkers that there were no waders there at all: I missed the usual ringed plovers. Today it was back to normal with about 50 sanderling and dunlin, ten ringed plover and one bar-tailed godwit. The last two missing from my year list started yesterday. Another addition was shelduck. A couple passed over the sea heading North. I had forgotten about them. We usually see them around Crail in late March when they start to think about breeding, but they can turn up at any time during the year. It was a quiet seawatch from Fife Ness. The sea duck, including the goldeneye, seem to have gone elsewhere, with only a pair of red-breasted merganser at Balcomie. There was only one gannet and a few guillemots and kittiwakes passing far out.

Ringed plover (JA)

Posted January 2, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

January 1st 2021   Leave a comment

When the New Year starts, I try to see how many species I can see on the first day. It gets the Crail year list of to a definite start, and it’s great to have one day in a year when seeing a house sparrow is just as exciting as seeing a rarity. Every species counts. The rules are simple – any species seen within 24 hours within 10 km of my house. To date I have only managed 85. Today it was a creditable 84. The expected ones that I can find easily every day with the addition of Lapland bunting, twite, Mediterranean gull (first appearance ever on Jan 1st) and jack snipe. First bird was a blackbird ticking outside my house when still dark as I left to start at Boarhills. The last bird was a flock of common scoter, catching the last sunlight as they flew far out to sea by Kingsbarns – the sun has already set for me watching from the shore. The two highlights of the day were finding a Mediterranean gull among the thousand or so black-headed and common gulls in the Kingsbarns gull flock and finding a jack snipe immediately in the boggy field corner that in many years is the only reliable place on my patch for this species, but not so for the last couple of years. I missed a few easy species – sparrowhawk, long-tailed duck, ringed plover, greenshank, lapwing and golden plover, and a few “with a bit of luck species” – jay, peregrine, grey plover, bar-tailed godwit, velvet scoter, greylag goose, water rail, whooper swan. If I had a perfect day, with everything possible being seen and a couple of lucky minor rarities (like great northern diver), I am sure I could get 100 species. Something to play for. I do like the element of Groundhog Day of my Jan 1st bird race. I get to do it again next year and can change things to make it better: a bit more scoping out of sites for lapwing and golden plover the day before, for example. If you don’t get this and you are shaking your head because of the obvious obsessive and inconsequential nature of the task I set myself for Jan 1st, then just give it a try sometime. A daily bird race (any day will do) is great fun, makes you focus on what is around you and perhaps most importantly, a key to happiness is setting yourself straightforward, achievable goals. I already feel well started on 2021.

Twite – no. 41 at 09:32 this morning
Find the Mediterranean gull – no. 45 at 09:59 this morning
Dipper, singing in its usual place on the Kenly Water – no. 57 at 11:20

Posted January 1, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

%d bloggers like this: