May 22nd   Leave a comment

Yesterday I spent nearly all day inside, listening to the increasing north-easterly gale and the rain hitting the windows. Not a day to be outside. Nevertheless, a red-backed shrike was reported from Kilminning late afternoon, so out I went. It was ridiculous to be looking for any bird considering the weather, but the shrike had found a calm spot in the lee of the trees by the main road. It may have found a calm spot, but I didn’t find the shrike. Still it wasn’t the weather for any bird to continue its migration, so I returned home fairly hopeful I might see it the next day.

Today dawned, bright and sunny, with little wind. A great improvement and great shrike finding weather. But the shrike was eclipsed by a report of an icterine warbler from lower Kilminning. The shrike was a good sign of good birds and some early birders had made their own luck and found this quite substantial rarity at about 8 this morning after a very early start. I was down at Kilminning by 8:20 and was watching the bird within a couple of minutes. Sometimes it works like this, most of the time it doesn’t, as with the shrike last night. Icterine warblers are fairly common throughout northern Europe as a summer migrant but are only rare passage migrants to the UK: the last Crail patch bird was on the 21stAugust, 2006, at the Yellow House, Wormiston, in a big fall of less scarce migrants after some easterly winds and rain showers. So today’s icterine is only my second on the Crail list. The icterine warbler was feeding in the top of a sycamore, sometimes showing well, but mostly just offering fleeting glimpses. It became apparent that different people were watching different birds – two icterine warblers were present, one much yellower than the other. One of the birds stayed around a single sycamore much of the day (the brighter yellower one), singing every so often, and the second moved silently around a large loop around the edges of Kilminning, occasionally feeding in the trees by the Sibe thrush bench. After my initial great views it took some perseverance, especially in the afternoon to see it again well. But the song was easy to hear all day and really made the occasion. Icterines have a great, raucous, powerful song, with lots of mimicry with diverse scratchy and grating notes mixed in – I am not generally a fan of jazz, but this is as close to jazz as you get in birdsong, and it sounds good. The first icterine in the sycamore was accompanied by three spotted flycatchers, at least three garden warblers and a fair number of greyish brown “northern” willow warblers. The whole lot were probably on their way to northern Sweden before they got blown over to us yesterday. It was great birding – birds to look at everywhere, and every so often you laid eyes on the glowing yellow icterine.

The browner, non-singing icterine warbler at Kilminning – this afternoon from the Sibe thrush bench. A classic easy id – big bill, open unstriped face, a very obvious whitish wing panel, lead grey legs and a long primary projection

I went home for lunch after checking the rest of the site (another garden warbler and more northern willow warblers at the top part of Kilminning; a singing lesser whitethroat at Balcomie). My Whatsapp pinged again as I ate my sandwich – the male red-backed shrike of last night had been refound at lower Kilminning. Off again down the Fife Ness road. This time it wasn’t an instant find. The shrike – like last night – was not fond of people and went into cover as soon anyone approached. When I got there it had disappeared again. I wandered through Kilminning Coast and then along the edge of Sauchope Caravan Park before finally relocating the shrike on a fence post along the western wooded edge of Kilminning and the wheat of the airfield. A lovely bright male: always a thrill even though they are becoming more predictable – the last week in May at Kilminning after any kind of rain shower or haar on a slight easterly. I didn’t approach it and enjoyed it as a distance.

Male red-backed shrike at Kilminning today – a long way away, but this one really wanted to be alone

Posted May 22, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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