Archive for February 2022

February 27th   Leave a comment

I took a slightly different route today on the loop from Kingsbarns to Kenly. I went inland first and went through the north of Pitmillie and then through Falside, to the Kenly Burn at the metal bridge. Pitmillie and Falside are interesting farms, with a lot of wildlife friendly forage mixes and retained stubble or fallow corners. Lots of corn buntings, yellowhammers, tree sparrows and a flock of over 500 linnet in one of the Falside sheep fields. There was a dipper singing underneath a very suitable nesting site about 250 meters from the mouth and about 750 meters downstream from where I usually expect the pair along the burn to nest. Dipper territories are spaced along shallow rivers according to the water quality and so availability of food. In good rivers there can be a territory every 200 meters, and in poor this can be 1500 meters. I shouldn’t think the Kenly Burn is great in terms of water quality: it has that milky look of a high nitrate, high sediment river, but it is a lowland burn and fairly wide. So a nest spacing of 750 meters suggests two territories this season between the main road and the mouth, rather than one. I have suspected this in some other years, but the last few there has only been one pair, west of the metal bridge.

Dipper singing (John Anderson)

At the Kenly Mouth it was high tide late morning, and there were teal, wigeon and mallard roosting on the beach and rocks. A single male goldeneye, its head iridescent in the sun, was in the bay, displaying apparently to just itself. Boghall Farm and the Drony Road were uncharacteristically quiet – the finches and buntings have moved inland. I have found a few random small flocks of corn buntings in odd places this week suggesting that some might be on the move back to breeding territories.

Male goldeneye (John Anderson)

Posted February 27, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 26th   Leave a comment

A jack snipe popped up unexpectedly from the rock pools behind Stinky Pool at Fife Ness yesterday morning. It did its usual disappearing trick, going straight back down into a rock crevice, and that was that. It has been years since I have had any kind of better view of a jack snipe, but that’s part of their charm, and it is always a good bird to get on the Crail year list. The snipe and a greenshank again on Stinky Pool today were the only unusual birds around Fife Ness and Balcomie these last two days. We are now in the quiet month before spring migration gets started and things start to change.

I cut through Denburn Wood on the way home and enjoyed some close views of the robins there. They are pairing up and the males singing constantly. Robins are familiar to everyone but deserve a close look: perfect little chats with their subtle greys and browns and their outrageously bright red breast.

A robin singing in Denburn this afternoon. You can just see one pale orangey brown tip to a wing feather (just by the branch) that shows this is a young male. I know it is a male because even though females sometimes sing, there was a second robin very close by watching in approval, rather than trying to start a fight

Next to Denburn is the Kirkyard of course. There was still a grey heron sitting on top of the ivy-covered, flat-topped tree in the graveyard. It must be nesting. There has been a heron there for the last month although I couldn’t see any sign of a nest. If there is a nest it could easily be invisible from the ground, in the centre of the flat crown of ivy. If/when chicks hatch then it should be fairly obvious. I hope there is one. The heronry at Kingsbarns is losing nesting trees and nests every winter and every village should have one in any case. Not quite white storks, but still pretty good.

The grey heron in the kirkyard. The nest, if there is one, is right at the top of the highest bulge of ivy. The rookery in Denburn is directly behind.

Posted February 26, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 19th   Leave a comment

As I cycled past Fife Ness this morning a little egret flew over my head, cutting off the corner and then landing in the rock pools below the new house (old coastguard station). It fished for a minute and then headed off along the coast towards Kilminning. I caught up with it an hour later as it flew from rockpool to rockpool at Sauchope. Some rooks got fed up with it and chased it off into Roome Bay. Little egrets are really quite rare on the Crail patch – one or two sightings a year – and they never stay very long. This was only my third year in twenty with a little egret. It is quite surprising considering they are now resident at the Eden Estuary by St Andrews and at Tyninghame, directly on the other side of the Forth. They are very beautiful birds, pure white with long black bill and legs, and the feet adding a splash of bright yellow. They were Mediterranean birds when I started birding over 40 years ago. They were still considered UK rarities until 1991. And now there are perhaps 15,000 little egrets in the UK in the winter. But still rare around Crail, and the crows today were not happy to see this strange white heron. They were definitely chasing it off the premises.

The little egret working its way along the coast from rock pool to rock pool, Fife Ness to Crail, until the rooks on the beach at Sauchope took exception to it and chased it off

Posted February 19, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 16th   Leave a comment

More early spring events. I passed the pond in my back garden on the way to the compost heap and was greeted by the unmistakable plops of five or six frogs diving back down into the water. Today it was only 8 degrees, but the frogs are always very keen. Last year on the 16th Feb it was 10 degrees and I had 20 frogs in the pond.

A frog in my garden pond (last year’s photo – they were too quick today despite the cold)

Posted February 16, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 15th   Leave a comment

I was surprised to see a male blackbird flying across the road as I came back to Crail this morning, carrying a beakful of vegetation! Blackbirds are early nesters and the last couple of days have been back to a mild 10 degrees (although going much colder tonight) but even so this is spectacularly early to start nest building. Males only occasionally help so this one must be very keen to get going. It may be reconsidering its haste tonight. Another male blackbird, a couple of territories down the road, was singing away at dusk so others are getting going too. And I noticed a lot of song thrush song today as well as blue tits singing and displaying. I suppose if we do have an early spring, it is only 4 weeks away now.

Male blackbird (John Anderson) – they are always early nesters, but it’s usually March

Posted February 15, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 10th   Leave a comment

It is a good winter for purple sandpipers. I think there may be 30-50 along the shore at Fife Ness to the rocks just north of Balcomie. I had a flock of 20 around Fife Ness first thing this morning as I sheltered from yet another gale. More supersonic auks and scoters being blown past and even the heavy red-throated divers looked in a hurry. Another day not for birding.

Purple sandpipers at Fife Ness (John Anderson)

Posted February 10, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 6th   1 comment

The brent geese were still at Boghall Farm this morning, although it was eight today, one less than in January. They were feeding in the sheep pasture field next to the shore which held all the twite and corn buntings last winter. This winter it is grass, great for the geese, but less good for seed eaters. There is a field of turnips further up the hill towards the farm buildings, and not really visible from the coastal path. I suspect the twite and buntings will have moved up there. The next farm along, heading towards Boarhills, and before the Kenly Burn (Hillhead Farm) was much better for seed eaters. 30 corn buntings, 100 yellowhammer and 50 goldfinch and linnets were in a set aside field margin of wild bird seed mix. But the best place for corn buntings is still the stubble field just to the north of Kingsbarns. The farmer has added a big pile of old wheat to its attractions and there was a flock of 50 corn buntings mining it, just like the heap up along the old railway line last winter. It is a good place to potentially catch them for colour-ringing, but not while this spell of windy weather continues.

Eight pale-bellied brent geese still at Boghall Farm this morning. Classic goose behaviour – some feeding, some looking up. In any flock of more than a handful of birds, the chance that all are feeding at the same time is almost zero, which means that there is always a goose looking up, and out for predators

Posted February 6, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 5th   Leave a comment

John Anderson had a little gull on Balcomie Beach yesterday afternoon. I went down there this morning in the hope of seeing it. Winter little gulls are unusual, although several other late summer and autumn species – like manx shearwaters and great skuas – are around this winter. Little gulls are one of my favourite gulls: neat, compact and just that bit unusual that seeing one always makes a day. But not today. There was another gale blowing. The sort of gale that gets my bike and me down to Fife Ness in less than ten minutes, but then makes it thirty minutes back. Easy out and hard back never bodes well; much better hard out – into an easterly – for getting good birds, and then a triumphant, easy ride back to Crail. Balcomie Beach only had a single common gull along the tideline, and many of the waders were probably feeding in more sheltered, rocky bits. There were kittiwakes shooting by Fife Ness, but otherwise little else. At least I have avoided the blog anomaly today. When I read someone’s birdy blog, or worse, look at Twitter, it is continuous thrills and spills – fantastic birds, close wildlife encounters – and even though I know these are the edited highlights from thousands of observers, there is still that sense of missing out and wondering why my day hasn’t featured a belted kingfisher or a walrus. So today (and quite a few days this winter) I am at least redressing the balance. My birding highlight today was simply getting home, not too wet and with a happy, well run dog.

John’s little gull highlight. These photos are just superb, capturing this individual yesterday walking on the surface of a breaking wave by kiting into the wind, to pick up a seaweed fly maggot that has got washed out of the kelp on the strandline (John Anderson)

Posted February 5, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

February 3rd   Leave a comment

It remains busy down at Balcomie Beach. At low tide this morning there was about 200 waders. Mostly sanderling, but with good numbers of dunlin, purple sandpipers and ringed plovers. And the ever present oystercatchers, curlews and redshanks. The long-tailed duck seemed to have moved on. Now it is the goldeneye displaying to each other with their strange head popping movements.

Male goldeneye displaying (John Anderson)

In contrast, sea watching from Fife Ness was about as quiet as it ever gets. Normally there are many species you don’t bother to count because they are passing constantly – gannets, auks, kittiwakes etc. Today, in 30 minutes, I only got above double figures for one species – about 30 razorbill passing. I did have an early great skua. They are very unusual mid-winter and should be off the coast of West Africa. It lumbered north. Several other observers saw it later that morning as it reached Tentsmuir and then doubled back into St Andrews Bay, probably attracted by the many gulls there.

Great skua (this one from Balcomie in 2020)

Posted February 3, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

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