Feb 13th   Leave a comment

The dictionary definition of a wild goose chase – “a foolish and hopeless search for or pursuit of something unattainable”. The literal definition – this morning’s tramping around fields around Pittenweem and St Monans, on the coldest day of the year, in search of elusive white-fronted geese. You can guess the outcome. It has been 9 years since we have had some white-fronted geese on the Crail patch, and this group was just on the 10 km boundary when it was reported this morning. I was very keen to see them. The cold weather brings the pink-footed geese to the East Neuk and with them rarer species. There were certainly lots of pink-footed geese. Small groups scattered about and at Balbuthie, several hundred, with a single barnacle goose among them. I searched diligently for bean geese or the whitefronts but another saying came to mind – needle in a haystack – particularly when my attention span was soon limited by a wind chill of about -5. Despite missing the target geese, it was really interesting to see the concentrations of birds brought down to the coast by the cold weather. Thousands of skylarks, hundreds of meadow pipits, redwings, fieldfares and song thrushes along the field edges and a flock of 500 linnet at the edge of Pittenweem (at one point all roosting on the ice of a frozen field pool like a flock of tiny golden plover). There are common snipe in most of the fields and many more lapwing than usual. I saw a peregrine sat in the middle of one of the stubble fields with a huge bulge in its crop: I should think it was appreciating the wader bounty as well.

Linnet flock at Pittenweem temporarily roosting on the ice – I estimated at the time about 500 of them, but there are over 350 in this photo alone, and half the flock had already flown off to join another similar sized flock in the wild bird seed set aside plot just on the edge of the east end of the village. So a lot of linnets…

The wind was even stronger this afternoon, from the south-east. In theory it should have brought something past Fife Ness but there was just a steady passage of kittiwakes and one red-throated diver. The few auks that were about were all staying put on the water. I think everything was keeping their heads down: I could only watch the sea in the shelter of the block house by the hide. It was much more exciting walking along the beach – again lots of song thrushes and redwings, meadow pipits and skylarks. The purple sandpipers were feeding like dunlin along the tide edge, and among the usual turnstones and redshanks a couple of grey plover and a knot out of the ordinary. These last two and the barnacle goose of this morning – three species that I often don’t get on the year list until the autumn – takes my Crail year list to 105 and a 45 day lead on previous years (and still with rare winter geese to play for). There was a big flock of skylarks and linnets in the asparagus field at Balcomie Castle, and among them, appropriately enough, a snow bunting. At Kilminning there were several woodcocks. Another snow species brought to the coast. And the final bird of the afternoon, a female merlin dashing over the sheep field and over the airfield. Another species that will be enjoying the abundance of small birds as much as I am. It really is a spectacle: there must be tens of thousands of song birds in the fields of the East Neuk at the moment.

The big seas continue – here a shag dodges the waves (JA)

Posted February 13, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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