June 14th   Leave a comment

I was out in the wheat and oat prairies northwest of Kilrenny Common this morning. I had just spotted a distant female type marsh harrier close to Kilrenny and was cycling for a better vantage point when I noticed a female yellow wagtail on the road. It was picking up insects around a puddle from last night’s rain and then flew off into the tramlines of an adjacent wheat field. The marsh harrier was forgotten as I watched where the wagtail had disappeared. I wondered if this could be another breeding bird or just a migrant. Then the wagtail was up and calling. It flew over me on the road clearly carrying a bill full of insects and continued 100 meters into an oat field before dropping down into it. Instant gratification – proof of another breeding pair of yellow wagtails. And this one a long way from Barnsmuir: my first breeding record of one breeding to the west of Kilrenny. My route to and from Kilrenny took me past the three other active yellow wagtail nests at Barnsmuir, and there was still activity at two of them today, also with chick feeding going on. I didn’t see any activity at the third Barnsmuir nest but the male was still around over the weekend. So I will settle for 4 yellow wagtail nests on the go at three separate sites (where a new site is at least 1 km away). This great news: 6 years on and we nearly have a reliable (and perhaps expanding) breeding population of yellow wagtails in Fife.

Female yellow wagtail feeding on flies at Barnsmuir (this one on May 18th) (JA)

Back to the marsh harrier. I didn’t see it again after the excitement of the yellow wagtail, but Tom Glass – the resident birder at Kilrenny – has been seeing one about for the last couple of weeks. Presumably we have a summering bird, happy enough to hunt over the faux reedbeds and meadows that the cereal prairie at Kilrenny provides. The habitat is similar to where marsh harriers have started breeding in the Netherlands, so anything is possible.

The marsh harrier wasn’t my raptor highlight – although they are rare Crail birds. I was just north of Pittenweem when I picked up an unusual looking buzzard. It was all dark and the wings looked relatively broad and rounded. I thought goshawk briefly, then it banked, and I saw a large white rump and tail base above a longish tail. The only raptors with white rumps in the UK are female harriers – and this had broad wings so must be a hen harrier. But the wing shape was too broad and so shorter looking than a harrier. A buzzard helpfully stooped onto the raptor to help with size comparison – the hawk was about the same size or slightly larger. Then the penny dropped. A Harris’s hawk! A social, desert living species from southern USA and Central and South America. Last seen by myself on a BBC wildlife documentary pack hunting in Arizona, and also tellingly at a couple of falconry demonstrations in Fife over the last few years. Although I would love this to be a wild vagrant, it is much more likely to have escaped from one of these displays: it is one the commonest birds of prey in captivity and relatively easy to train for falconry. I watched it being mobbed by just about everything as it soared and gained height over Anstruther, before heading off, high towards Crail. I wished it well, although it will not have a lot of luck finding other Harris’s hawks in Crail.     

Bless John Anderson for having even a Harris’s hawk in his collection – from Chile in 2018. A long way from Crail except as the falconry bird flies. (JA)


Posted June 14, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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