Feb 14th   Leave a comment

This evening it is raining steadily and the temperature is back up to five degrees. Most of the snow has gone from Crail already and it will be back to normal “warm” East Neuk temperatures for next week. It was cold until mid-afternoon though and this morning it was still spectacular in the fields along the coast. I walked from Kingsbarns to Kenly Water along the coastal path and then back through Hillhead and Pitmilly. It was impossible to count the birds I saw this morning. There were at least a couple of merlins, a kestrel and a few sparrowhawks about putting up huge flocks of skylarks, hundreds at a time from small areas of each field. Then they would go down and then a few minutes later there would be another disturbance of another few hundred birds – the same, or different? I suspect thousands of skylarks – perhaps ten thousand, spread between Kingsbarns and Kenly. And in the skylark flocks, meadow pipits, corn buntings, redwings, fieldfares, song thrushes, linnets, twite (one flock of at least 80 above the beach at Boghall adjacent to the same field they have been in since the autumn), golden plover, lapwing and reed buntings. At Hillhead there were more discrete flocks of just yellowhammers and tree sparrows, and the usual large flock of chaffinches down by the Kenly Water. This flock had five bramblings in it – another bird I usually expect to see first in a year in the autumn but brought to the east coast now by the cold weather. The chaffinch flock was very, very jumpy and kept on flying back to some trees at the field edge where they were trying to feed. As I watched them a young male merlin flew over scattering the flock. It was already carrying a skylark but the chaffinches weren’t know. The merlin then, surprisingly, suddenly dropped the skylark as it flew over the burn towards Boarhills. I think it just fumbled its grip – perhaps the skylark was still struggling. It checked its dash to retrieve its prey but the skylark was already lost in the river. A clumsy merlin but I shouldn’t think it would have had any problem catching something else later. Merlins cache prey when the hunting is good, although watching a merlin going back to retrieve a cached skylark or pipit is painful. They seem to know only roughly where they stashed it and spend a long time running around on the grass looking (they are quite agile on the ground if not very good at remembering). From the prey’s point of view today, there was only a miniscule risk of falling victim to one of the many raptors hunting along the coast – but of course every individual has to react when a bird of prey appears, otherwise they are transformed from anonymity among hundreds of other fleeing birds, to obvious target. It all added to the excitement – constantly swirling flocks and birds everywhere I looked. To cap the walk, I also heard a Lapland bunting at Hillhead and then saw a snow bunting as I returned to Kingsbarns. It will be interesting to see how quickly the flocks disperse inland this week as the weather improves. One part of me is glad that conditions have eased making life easier for the birds, but another part will miss the spectacle.  

The bramblings in with the chaffinches at Hillhead/Kenly Water this morning. A male in the centre and a female below, then a male chaffinch and a female below. There are another three bramblings to spot in the photo.
A nervous moment in the flock – with the bramblings just that little bit later to fly than the chaffinches. One brambling is already up in the air, just to the right of the male facing the camera. You can see its white rump rather than the green of the chaffinches.

Posted February 14, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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