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

2 responses to “Jan 16th

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  1. Love your reports. Advice please – how does one tell twite from corn bunting from Lapland bunting when they are dashing up from fields and back down into stubble? Deb

    • Hopefully today’s post will help (17th Jan). It’s tricky but the key is learning the calls and just keeping at it. It took me a while to get confident with this, but the craft needed is part of the fun.

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