August 23rd   Leave a comment

My wife, Sue, took the dog out this morning while I went in to St Andrews. She had two short-eared owls hunting along the grassy banks by the coastal path between the salmon bothy and Caiplie caves. They must have been migrants, just in from the sea. I went down an hour later in search of them but they had moved on, probably because of the now very busy path full of coastal walkers. Even without the owls it was a nice walk. I came back on top of the old cliff, on the level of the fields, which gives great views across the Forth. It was dead calm again and without the haar. Every bird on the sea was visible to the May Island. As I walked back I heard the double quack of a black-tailed godwit flying above me, heading west. I looked up and instead saw three odd looking ducks – pintails, with their distinctive long necks and tails. And then behind them the black-tailed godwit. Two unusual birds for the Crail year list in two seconds. Pintail used to be regular with a female that spent every winter at Kilrenny Mill with the mallards. But since its demise, I have not had one on the patch for three years. Black-tailed godwits, although easy to see on the Eden estuary, only pass through Crail and you have to be lucky to see them – about once every 2-3 years for me.

Lucky birds for the year list continued later in the afternoon when I got a message that there were a couple of green sandpipers and a juvenile little ringed plover at the pond, by the mouth of Kenly Water, at Boarhills. Green sandpipers are fairly rare on the Crail patch because we have so little fresh water in the winter – only 5 years with green sandpipers recorded in them since 2003 – and the same applies for little ringed plovers – only 2 individuals since 2003. The finder of the birds, Simon Pinder, kindly stayed in place to guide me: I got there as quick as I could, throwing my bike on top of the car and then cycling down from Boarhills. I think I made it from my house to the pond in 25 minutes – it is downhill from Boarhills which helps, and the dog had to run fairly fast to keep up. I saw both birds. A green sandpiper popped up immediately from the flooded saltmarsh (that is always good for wintering greenshanks) showing its almost black wings and white rump, and then about thirty minutes later, we relocated the little ringed plover back on the flat rocky area, with very shallow pools, by the pond. In the meantime, I checked out the roost on the high tide at Kenly Water. Quite fantastic in the late afternoon warm sunlight: lapwings, curlews, turnstones and noisy whimbrels; over 100 little gulls, an adult Mediterranean gull and the other usual gull suspects; arctic, common and sandwich terns; guillemots and razorbills in a raft just offshore.

Green sandpiper (John Anderson)

The little ringed plover topped it all off. Another epic wader, which travels and travels over the planet, and that connects me to so many places. My favourite little ringed plover fact is: a pair were tagged in Sweden. One went to India for the winter, one went to Nigeria. They met back in Sweden and bred successfully producing several young – where did they go to spend the winter? – well, they weren’t tagged but they could have gone pretty much anywhere, from Senegal to Bangladesh. Today’s bird was a juvenile, at the start of some epic journey. Perhaps a migrant from Sweden on its way to West Africa, perhaps a local Fife bird, feeding up at the coast before heading to East Africa. Little ringed plovers just need little pool margins to be happy so they can do well anywhere that is a bit damp. Like the wood sandpiper of yesterday they are an African bird to me, around every pool on the continent during our winter. Little ringed plovers look superficially like common ringed plovers but are structurally much more delicate, with a long tail and wings giving them an elongated look and a small domed head. They lack the eyestripe and have a yellow ring around the eye, again giving them a more delicate look – you can sculpt a ringed plover in clay, but you would need bone china to get a little ringed plover right. Today’s little ringed plover was mostly roosting on its own, occasionally stretching out its wing to show another good feature – its very slim and unobtrusive wing bar – common ringed plovers have big white wing bars. And it fed a little bit, with delicate steps and pecks rather than with the runs and vigorous pecks of common ringed plovers. A lovely bird and if it behaves like the last one that I found on Balcomie Beach in July 2017, it might stay for a few weeks (or it has been here for a few weeks already of course). They might be distinctive when you look closely at them, but they are easy to overlook among the much commoner, common ringed plovers, especially when you don’t expect to find them by the sea (although they are common around salt lakes in Africa).

The little ringed plover at Kenly Water this afternoon.

Posted August 23, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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