November 6th   Leave a comment

I had to get a piece of the seabird action that I have been missing this week, so I was straight down to Fife Ness this morning. A grey morning – with rain threatening, and never getting really light. And a strong south west wind. It was little auks again today. Lots of little auks throughout the day. Hundreds past Fife Ness, and then later at Kilminning, I counted 380 passing in just 15 minutes. Passage was continuous, but in pulses, sometimes only a handful were visible, at other times there were flocks visible wherever you looked. There were more little auks on the water, invisible until they flew up and joined the passage. Almost all were heading into the wind: there must now be thousands, probably tens of thousands in the Forth. When the wind eases on Monday, they will head back out again. Something to look forward to. Little auks were the commonest auk today and then also unusually, puffins came second. Some years I might not see a puffin from September to April, but over the last couple of weeks juvenile puffins have been common, and today there was one or two juvenile puffins (again heading into the Forth) passing all the time. I saw – for the first time – a mixed flock of little auks and a puffin, with the puffin being the smallest bird in the group. Usually, the tiny auk in a mixed auk flock is the puffin. And I could appreciate just how small a little auk is. Barely thrush sized. They seem lost and so vulnerable among the waves. It is a false impression. If you ever get to handle a little auk – and every so often one turns up disorientated at night, blown inland in a storm – you find they are incredibly tough. All dense muscle and a robust compactness to weather anything. Some days it is just one bird that is the star – like a dusky warbler. Others it is the spectacle. Today it was both.

Little auks – the original riders on the storm (John Anderson)

There were some other star birds as well today. A sooty shearwater looping around off Kilminning. The strong wind paradoxically slowing it down as it tacked into the wind, yet still moved with it, heading around the tip of Fife Ness. A very late goosander. And a woodcock flying in off the sea. There is something very exciting about picking up just a dot, so far out to sea that you have to guess its identity. Then following the dot as it heads to land, slowly becoming identifiable and larger, and then suddenly a very real, individual bird dashing past you to the safety of landfall after what might have been a day of crossing the North Sea.

Goosander (John Anderson)

Posted November 6, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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