September 25th   Leave a comment

The wind died down overnight leaving a very still day, and a calm sea. A very important characteristic of the day as it turned out. Sea watching at Fife Ness was to the horizon, with everything pin sharp and visible all the time above the sea. Although the hour I spent there was slow, the clarity of every bird made it one of the best sea watches of the autumn. Two sooty shearwaters and four manx shearwaters passed going north, the first for a week. There was a flock of over 100 little gulls milling around for the hour and a constant passage of pink-footed geese. I was just short of 1000 by the end of the hour. But the best bird was an adult pomarine skua, complete with its distinctive extended tail “spoons”, flying steadily north. No squinting into the wind, no disappearing behind the waves: my first nice and easy pomarine skua in years.

There were some small changes elsewhere. More northern wheatears – there were six around Balcomie Beach – a couple more chiffchaffs at Kilminning, and a couple of white wagtails on the east beach at Sauchope. It is worth checking out every group of pied wagtails on the shore at the moment because there are lots of white wagtails passing.

White wagtail at Sauchope today – a male moulting into winter plumage

This afternoon the lack of wind and calm sea was significant again because I took the May Princess out to the May Island. I haven’t been in the autumn before except to stay on the island to ring birds: why would you go for a random day trip when the puffins and all the other seabirds are gone? And when there was almost no chance of any migrants because of the good weather this week. The reason, as it emerged, is that the May Island is an amazingly atmospheric place when it is quiet. No seabirds, no wind, no noise, just calm and amazing scenery. I stood on the top of the island, in the last of the evening sunlight, with an unparalled view across the Forth, from Fife Ness to Edinburgh and back to St Abbs. Very peaceful. There were some birds of course. A female peregrine patrolling the cliffs, rock pipits and pied wagtails, a few northern wheatears and in the Heligolands a couple of chiffchaffs and a willow warbler. But it was eerily quiet without the seabirds. There was just a single shag on a ledge on the cliffs, otherwise all the others were on the sea around the island, with a few razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and a single juvenile puffin half way between Anstruther and the island. As the May Princess left, we encountered a pod of about 30 boisterous bottle-nose dolphins. A complete contrast to the calm before. They were surfacing right by the boat, leaping out in pairs and trios. The St Andrews Masters students that were the actual reason for my trip were completely captivated and the island was totally sold on them, even without its puffins.

Bottlenose dolphins on show by the May Princess and the Osprey III, Anstruther ecotourism in action
Guillemot in Anstruther harbour struggling with a flat fish – just the wrong shape entirely to swallow

Posted September 25, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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