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May 16th   Leave a comment

It rained all day – 12.6mm. And with two days of easterlies, there had to be some migrants about. I tried Kilminning this morning before the rain got really established and found a spotted flycatcher. It sat in a hawthorn looking soggy, shaking the water off its wings between sallies. By 9 am it was too rainy to be out birding. I tried again an hour before sunset after the rain stopped this evening, bizarrely the brightest part of the day. This time The Patch. Another spotted flycatcher and the first garden warbler of the year that gave itself away by short phrases of its better than blackcap song, which is saying something. So some migrants for sure and far from great conditions to find them today. Tomorrow morning there may be a bluethroat out there somewhere around Fife Ness: there was one on the May Island today.

Garden warbler (John Anderson)

Posted May 16, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 15th   Leave a comment

I finally refound some yellow wagtails today. The male channel wagtail from May 3rd (although it might possibly be another bird) and a female yellow wagtail, by the irrigation ponds between Troustrie and Sypsies and then in the adjacent cauliflower field. This field is immediately to the north of where a pair bred last year (in potatoes, this year winter wheat) and two fields away from the winter wheat field at Oldbarns where they have bred every year, except apparently this one. I still can’t find any evidence of a nest associated with the male yellow wagtail that a few people have seen over the last two weeks on the south side of the road at Oldbarns.

The yellow wagtail pair this afternoon, with the male being a channel wagtail (blue-headed x yellow wagtail hybrid)

Over the last week I have come across a couple of pairs of ringed plover that look like they are trying to breed – like the local oystercatchers – in the fields above the beach, rather than the beach itself. Today there was another one in the fleeced field of brassicas just on the left as you come out of Crail to Anstruther. The field was in the process of being defleeced – a strange sight as the tractor runs backwards as it rolls the fleece up, looking like someone has put the video in reverse – and there were a lot of people tramping up the rows so I hope there wasn’t another bird already on eggs in the field. It really is tough being a breeding ringed plover around Crail: a choice of being trampled on the beaches or trampled in the fields.

Ringed plover adapting to circumstances, although not quite there yet

Posted May 15, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 14th   Leave a comment

It has been an odd day, collecting unusual species in unusual places. As I left Crail on the St Andrews Road this morning I heard a bird from the trees beside the road that sounded bizarrely just like a dipper. Then a dipper suddenly appeared from behind the trees and continued along the road passing me on my bike at head height, following the road like it was a stream, straight into Crail. It veered at the garden centre so probably didn’t end up at the Golf Hotel. Dippers are rare in the East Neuk – the Kenly Burn and occasionally the Dreel Burn (although I have had one on the May Island!) and completely unexpected in Crail. Nearly a garden tick! I can’t think it was a dispersing juvenile this early. Perhaps a male in desperate search of a last minute territory?

Dipper in more usual surroundings compared to the St Andrews Road into Crail (John Anderson)

The next unusual bird after a morning of corn buntings, and still northern wheatears pretty much in every field, was a raven. I was up at Kippo Farm and saw a buzzard being mobbed by a barely smaller crow. Then picked up one on the ground among the cows and later a couple more heading towards the Secret Bunker Woods. Another year of locally breeding ravens.

One of the ravens at Kippo Farm this morning – easily as big as the cow behind it…

The final special bird was this evening during a quick sea watch from my house. The sea was flat calm and I picked up a cormorant with a big white patch on the side of its neck. I quickly re-evaluated. A great northern diver in summer plumage. Already on the garden list, but always fly-bys and never in full summer, black and white checker-board pattern. It was fishing like a cormorant except under the water much longer than above it was above it – living up to its name. My first common tern of the year flew by as I watched the diver to round the day off.

Great northern diver in summer plumage (John Anderson)

Posted May 14, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 11th   Leave a comment

There were some heavy rain showers overnight after a couple of days of south-easterlies so I was slightly hopeful that there might have been some scarcer migrants about. I was at Kilminning, Fife Ness and Balcomie this morning, then this afternoon on the May Island, but nothing unusual apart from the continuing run of northern wheatears. I had a spectacular flock – yes, a flock – of northern wheatears on the driving range at Crail golf course. The largest group of northern wheatears I have ever seen. Yesterday I had a group of four together on a wall near Airdrie Farm and then five together at Troustrie, and I felt there were a lot about, but today puts this into the shade. Today there were another seven along the coastal path between Kilminning and Balcomie Beach, and there were lots more on the May Island. Despite the lack of any rare migrants, the May Island was its usual magical self. Seabirds everywhere, with the razorbills and kittiwakes busily displaying to each other and getting ready to nest, and the puffins mostly down their burrows incubating, or the off duty birds out to sea, gathering in rafts before flying in to relieve their partners on the nest. I also had my first Arctic terns of the year. A big flock past Fife Ness and then a few on the May Island.

Northern wheatear (John Anderson). The best spring ever for them around Crail.

A highlight today was a wall butterfly at Upper Kilminning. This was a major rarity in Fife just a few years’ ago. It was close to a couple of orange tip butterflies which are also good to see: they are not that common around Crail.

Wall butterfly at Kilminning this morning

Posted May 11, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 10th   Leave a comment

The swifts are back in Crail at last. I walked up towards Beech Walk Park this evening and there were four cruising above. I looked up the last few years’ arrival dates, from 2015 onwards – May 6th, 1st, 7th, 5th, 9th, 3rd, 9th and today the 10th. So a little bit late. My earliest Crail date is the 24th April and the latest the 11th May. I will have to start playback by my swift boxes tomorrow to tempt a new pair.

Common swift (John Anderson)

Posted May 10, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 8th   Leave a comment

A walk along Kenly Water from Boarhills this morning was full of loud, spring warbler song: willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, sedge warblers, whitethroats. All now well into breeding. On the burn there was a dipper that unusually wouldn’t fly. It stood its ground, bobbing, blinking and chacking. The reason soon became clear. A much harder to see newly fledged chick that it didn’t want to leave. Eventually the chick flew strongly off downstream and the adult followed. The chick was a few days out of the nest, so the first eggs were probably laid in the last week of March. An early nest, and plenty of time for a second brood in a month’s time when the chick is fully independent.

Juvenile dipper, newly fledged (John Anderson)

After the Kenly Burn I walked around the fields by the shore looking for corn buntings. They were hard to find. There are plenty around Boarhills but for some reason they are quieter than elsewhere. They sing less often and less loudly. I noticed this and my student did the same independently last year: both of us thought we had just had bad days surveying there (weather, wind or time of day…), but this went on, while other areas had loud and proud corn buntings, and then we compared notes. And apparently so this year too. Edge of range birds do seem quieter, but I thought this was because they don’t have other neighbouring birds to sing against. They are at lower density at Boarhills but still there is still a corn bunting for pretty much every other field, so I don’t really understand it.

One of the quiet corn buntings of Boarhills – territory 104 for this year

There were two little egrets down on the rocky shore behind the pond just north of the Kenly Mouth. They are still a rarity on the Crail patch and these are only about my 5th record. It’s a good area there and a potential breeding site with a few big enough trees right by the pond.

Posted May 8, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 7th   2 comments

It’s one of my favourite times of year. The evenings are light, it’s getting warmer and lots of birds are on the move. Today started off well – I looked out of my bedroom window to see a pair of mute swans gliding down over the High Street, over my back garden to land out of sight in the sea by the Brandyburn. Mute swans in Crail are very rare, although you don’t have to go far to find the nearest at Carnbee Reservoir or Kenly Water. And this was the first time I have had them “in” my garden – making number 141 for my garden list. I then got a message that there was a ring ouzel on the Drony Road at Kingsbarns. Never ignore a Crail ring ouzel – you can never rely on them in a year – and a male in spring is a glorious, super-charged blackbird. Twenty minutes later I had cycled to Kingsbarns and was looking for it in the potato, brassica and turf fields by the golf course. But I had missed it – the bird had only been seen briefly and was probably already well on its way further north. There were a few blackbirds in the fields to get me going, lots of northern wheatears (some big, bright Greenland ones) and of course wall to wall corn buntings. Best of all I finally connected with my first sand martins of the year. There were a few pairs in their usual breeding place at the north end of the golf course and hawking over the adjacent fields.

After thirty minutes of looking for the Ring Ouzel I decided to cut my losses and map the corn buntings at Boghall Farm. Last year, Boghall Farm (which includes the Drony Road) had the highest densities of corn buntings in Fife – about 28 territories. This year looks the same. I had 2 or 3 corn buntings singing around every field. There was still a flock of corn buntings down at the field by red sands – at least 53 – and in another part of the farm a flock of 8. As I tried to work out how many of the flock of 53 were actually territorial birds (not very successfully – I will wait until June) I heard a quail calling from the slightly longer grass field above. A burst of quite rapid “wet-my-lips” calling for about thirty seconds very close to me. Then quiet. I scanned the field very hard with some hope of maybe seeing the quail in the relatively shortish grass but no luck. You only see them when they flush. A quail is a great bird for the Crail year list being recorded only in 5 years of the last 20: but I have had them for the last 4 years in a row now. This is most likely because I am spending a lot of time in East Neuk farmland as I chase corn buntings. Today’s record is early – quail usually turn up later in the summer.

I came back from Kingsbarns along the old railway track at lunchtime in the hope of one or two new corn buntings, but they had gone quiet (in May, they don’t sing much in the afternoon). I did hear and then see a redpoll at the end of track, where it meets the road by Ribbonfield. The redpoll was doing a display flight, calling loudly, and there was a second bird accompanying it too. There are some big bushes and small trees in the area but it doesn’t really seem like breeding habitat for redpolls, and I have never before seen any sign of a breeding pair around Crail. Nevertheless, their behaviour today made it look like a possibility.

The male redpoll displaying at Ribbonfield today

I went along to Kilminning in the afternoon in search of some reported whinchats and tree pipits. No sign of them. The migrants today were only stopping briefly. I got excited when a big, all white gull came past along the shore: initially I thought a glaucous gull before coming to my senses and remembering the leucistic herring gull that we have in the area.

Still no swifts. I have just been out in the back garden to have another check. Last year they were back on the 9th of May, but this was late because of the cold snap at the end of April. This year has been cool so far, but it has warmed up a bit over the last couple of days. They must surely be back tomorrow.

Posted May 7, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 5th   Leave a comment

My first hour out this morning mapping corn buntings between Crail and Cambo was not much fun. Rain, mud and non-existent field margins making survey difficult. But just as I was thinking about giving up, the rain stopped and a scan of a fence line picked up a whinchat. Spring whinchats are good birds – first because of their rarity, one or two a year but only if I am lucky, and second because the males are very handsome, in dark brown, white and orange. Whinchats are one of my top five birds through a decade of studying them in Africa. They are incredible generalists, making do in almost any habitat from intense farmland to scrubby, open woodland, they eat almost every invertebrate from ants to butterflies, and they glean, flycatch, dig and pick. The only thing they insist on is a perch to feed from, but then again it can be anything from a stake in a bare field, a termite mound, an unharvested maize stalk, to the top of an isolated tree. I watched today’s bird – a lovely male – swoop down from the wire fence into a newly sprouting spring barley field, hop around for a bit – and then it was off over the field, heading northwest. Perhaps a Scottish bird newly in, brought down by the rain, and keen to get on to its breeding grounds in the hills. From my tracking work I know that a bird like this may well have been in Liberia just 14 days ago.

Male whinchat (John Anderson)

An hour later, as the sun came out and I dried off, there was another good migrant. I picked up a crow flying up and then mobbing a larger bird coming in from the sea towards Randerston Farm. Through my binoculars I could see it was a short-eared owl. Another bird about as unusual as a whinchat around Crail. Short-eared owls are more common in the autumn, sometimes stay around a few days, but any day you see one is a good day, and they are much rarer in the spring. The crow gave up as the owl continued on to Cambo, but a curlew then flew up and started chasing it. Again like the whinchat, this might be a Scottish bird, heading back from wintering in Africa (although likely only North Africa or southern Europe) back to the hills and heather to breed.

Short-eared owl (John Anderson)

I came back from Randerston along the shore, picking up the corn bunting territories along the cliff edge fields. There were more migrants at Balcomie – whimbrels and wheatears. And a pair of ringed plover displaying over the asparagus fields. In one sense a good place to breed, away from the disturbance and trampling of the shore at Balcomie, but in another, not so good, as the asparagus pickers tramp up and down every row, every day at this time of year. Back in Crail the house martins were back in good numbers, I expected the swifts back tonight as well but they should be back tomorrow evening.

Northern Wheatear contemplating whether to go green and forage on the golf course on the right or brown and forage in the asparagus field on the left – in the end it did both depending on the golfers or the pickers

Posted May 5, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 3rd   1 comment

I haven’t see a yellow wagtail since the first male back at Oldbarns on the 14th April. On the 15th there were four reported there, including a pale blue headed bird that was either a blue-headed wagtail or a channel wagtail (it depends on the darkness of grey on the head and whether the ear coverts also look darker grey, and this bird looked pale blue headed with pale cheeks, or darker grey with grey cheeks depending on the angle of the photo). The conclusion was probably a channel wagtail, which is a hybrid between the British yellow wagtail subspecies and the near continental subspecies blue-headed wagtail. Anyway, it all seemed good for another (the 9th since they recolonized) breeding season of yellow wagtails around Crail. But since the 15th there have been no sightings at all around Oldbarns and Barnsmuir, with just a single reported a couple of days later from good habitat as the fields of Cornceres Farm, Kilrenny run down to the shore. I have been looking for corn buntings a lot in the area and have covered the ground, and John Anderson has also been watching Oldbarns on several days. It hasn’t been looking good. I haven’t given up hope even though it has been two weeks without a sighting because yellow wagtails are famous for their low site fidelity, often shifting a kilometer or much more between nesting attempts. There is a lot of suitable nesting habitat between Fife Ness and Kilrenny (their nesting range last year). But today I finally found another yellow wagtail. A male and again, surprisingly a channel or blue-headed wagtail type. Again it was light and view dependent, but on photos I took (below) it seemed more like a channel wagtail, with a pale blueish grey head and no darker contrast on the sides of the head. The wagtail was in a field of winter wheat to the east of Crail and was behaving just as if it had a female on the nest. It was singing, keeping close to me when I was close to a particular bit of the field, and vigorously chasing skylarks away from the area. Yellow wagtails bred in the same field successfully last year when it had late season potatoes in it. It was a great bird to see and apparently really good news to have them breeding in the area again. Except, that other Crail birders who help to survey and monitor the yellow wagtails couldn’t refind it an hour later or last thing this afternoon. The males can also be inconspicuous when females are incubating, feeding several fields away, so they may have just got unlucky. Time will tell.

Probable channel wagtail today near Crail, possibly breeding. See June 17th 2020 for another, similar bird that I initially identified as a blue-headed but then general opinion agreed it was a channel as well.

Posted May 3, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

May 1st   Leave a comment

The start of the corn bunting mapping season. 7 kilometers from Kingsbarns to Kenly and back via Pitmilly turned up 16 singing corn buntings, with the usual ridiculous density along the Drony Road.  Again, there were birds singing where they weren’t last year, as well as the usual places, suggesting that the overall number of territories is going to go up again this year. There is still a flock of 17 or more corn buntings in the big sheep field behind Red Sands at Boghall so like last year there are still lots of birds not committed to breeding territories yet. Very early days and a lot of ground to cover though, but a good start. During the walk I also came across a flock of at least 14 twite, probably many more (they were hidden among the rocks on the shore) at Boghall, a few wheatear in the fields, and a few single whimbrel along the shore, about one for every curlew that is still remaining.

May 1st – start of the corn bunting season (John Anderson)

Posted May 1, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 30th   Leave a comment

There has been a fair bit of visible migration over the last two days. Yesterday there were flocks of common gulls passing steadily north and I had a flock of 60-70 redshank at Sauchope. The resident redshanks have almost all gone, and this flock was a classic migrant flock, resting on the rocks, calling softly to each other. Occasionally they would fly up in a tight group and circle round calling more intensely before landing back on the rocks and roosting again. They were getting up group enthusiasm for departure north. A couple of my local wintering colour-ringed redshanks have turned up breeding in Iceland and I suspect this flock was on its way there. Even though we have lots of wintering redshanks around Crail, at this time of year, the ones we see are most likely to be long distance migrants – some will have come from sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps as far as Angola.

A migrant flock of redshanks at Sauchope yesterday

Today it was barn swallows. Small flocks moving down the coast out at sea or along the beach – most, oddly, going south. The wind went round to the west today after a long run of easterlies so perhaps there was a bit of compensation going on. There was a good passage of red-throated divers too, but they were going in the expected direction. One or two every five minutes, with occasional flocks, one of more than 10 past Crail at lunchtime. There were more wheatears, whitethroats, sedge warblers, blackcaps and willow warblers around today. The first spotted flycatcher of the year turned up at Lower Kilminning. They seem to come on a westerly in the spring, so probably a Scottish bird with not much further to go. There were several whimbrels at Balcomie and two of the first late spring passage dunlins at Fife Ness. The high Arctic waders, such as dunlin, turnstone, sanderling, knot and bar-tailed godwit, will now be passing for the next 6 weeks.  

Spotted flycatcher at Kilminning

Posted April 30, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 27th   Leave a comment

When I got up this morning, the first message that I saw was that there were some barnacle geese passing Fife Ness. I made a cup of tea and then looked optimistically out of my son’s bedroom window (where my sea watching telescope is and my son was not thankfully this morning). Within a minute I heard a high pitched yappy honk and watched a flock of 25 barnacle geese flying over the garden at rooftop height. It’s great when it is that easy. Barnacle geese over or from the garden is not that unusual – but usually in September. They were probably off to Spitsbergen – hopefully not too fast because I should think the snow hasn’t melted up there yet. Down at Fife Ness itself a little bit later, no more geese, but lots of sandwich terns passing, finishing their journey rather than starting it. On Balcomie Beach, there were at least three white wagtails and a wheatear on the rocky beach at the northern end, but best of all, a couple of whimbrels lounging on the mud. They were fairly laid back – I imagine birds from some busy beach in South Africa or Namibia where they get used to lots of people. Or maybe they were just tired after their last four thousand kilometer flight. Whimbrels are in my top five list of best birds. When they did eventually get fed up with the people on the beach, they did their brilliant seven whistles to say goodbye and headed off north.

The two whimbrel on Balcomie Beach this morning – probably wondering where the fiddler crabs have got to

Posted April 27, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 26th   Leave a comment

More rain overnight and continuing easterlies, but despite, this morning was very quiet at Kilminning and Balcomie. Literally. Perhaps it was a bit cold for things to sing early: a single burst of willow warbler and the first definite common whitethroat of the year, singing briefly from a bramble at Balcomie Cottages. It was nice to see a whitethroat again, especially after a winter writing and thinking about them in the context of one of my students finishing their PhD research on whitethroat migration. Their study was based in Nigeria, but we tagged some birds and followed them over the Sahara into central and north-eastern Europe in April. After just four months they were already heading back to Africa, with a week or two stopping along the way close to the Mediterranean. We found that whitethroats then spend September just on the southern edge of the Sahara – which should be at its greenest after the summer rainy season – before heading back to spend the rest of the winter where we caught them in central Nigeria. Excluding their migratory stops, whitethroats are a second to third home species – their first the breeding ground (a small bush somewhere in Europe), the second close to the Sahara (a small bush somewhere in the Sahel), and the third in central West Africa (a small bush – you get the idea – somewhere in Nigeria). They move south as the dry season kicks in and the edge of the Sahara becomes less suitable (although the best birds, who found the best bushes, might stay in their second northerly bush home all the winter). In dryer, harsher African winters then more whitethroats will move to a third home, in wet winters very few might make it to Nigeria. My “Scottish” whitethroat this morning will have been further west in Africa – perhaps Senegal or Mali – just two or three weeks ago. Trading a temperature of 42 degrees for a cool 8 degrees: it probably is a bit of a relief to get back to their first home, small bush in temperate Scotland.

Common whitethroat (John Anderson)

Posted April 26, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 25th   Leave a comment

There was a little rain overnight so I went out first thing this morning hoping that some migrants had been brought down. I saw my first house martin with some swallows over the airfield, and then had my first sedge warbler singing at Lower Kilminning. There were some new willow warblers and chiffchaffs in as well I think. But still nothing very unusual. The spring is now turning out to be fairly typical in arrival times – the colder weather slowing things down to make the birds arrive at their “usual” times rather than early as has been the case in a few recent years. I may have heard a common whitethroat at Upper Kilminning, and certainly they should be back in the next couple of days too.

Sedge warbler (John Anderson) – they are back and singing. You can hear them most easily in the bramble patches, just on the edge of the town, at either end of Crail on the main road. They have a continuous scratchy and variable warble, chuntering along noisily, usually from cover but every so often they sing in the open, or do a little song flight

Posted April 25, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 24th   Leave a comment

Today was replay of yesterday. Still a strong north-easterly, and a steady stream of the local seabirds close in at Fife Ness. There was some migration. More manx shearwaters today: about one every 10 minutes. Some small flocks of turnstones and purple sandpipers. There was an interesting carrion crow on the rocks at Balcomie. Half a hooded crow – some pale grey plumage in the right places, but not quite enough to make a full hoodie. Hooded crows and carrion crows have been considered the same species, and two separate species. They hybridise along a slender line through the middle of Scotland, and pure hooded crows are very rare on this side. But some of their genes have made it over here.

The carrion crow/hooded crow hybrid at Balcomie this morning. There was one like this on the shore here in November 2020 – it is probably the same bird

Posted April 24, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 23rd   Leave a comment

It was a beautiful day today but somewhat spoiled by the wind. A strong north-easterly makes the sea interesting and it was impressive watching the gannets, kittiwakes and fulmars shearwatering past Fife Ness in the wave troughs this morning – but it is hard to see really what is going on when your eyes won’t stop watering. I managed half an hour at Fife Ness – a lot of close guillemots and razorbills and a single manx shearwater being the highlights – before I sought some shelter in The Patch. A different world in the lee of the gorse bushes – warm, still and very spring like. But only a couple of willow warblers. Kilminning was the same. There seems to have been another pause in migration for the last few days except for the influx of white wagtails. I had a flock of 5 very handsome grey, black and white birds on the golf course at Balcomie, and a few more on the beach with four northern wheatears and a whimbrel. All good migrants, but the commoner migrants are not here in the numbers I might expect by now – sand martins are conspicuous by their absence and barn swallows disappeared yesterday and today. The winds might have potential to bring in some rarities if we had some rain to bring them down, but none is forecast for quite while.

As I cycle around Crail mapping the corn buntings I come across grey partridges often. They are all in pairs now and will be getting ready to breed. It is hard to estimate their density because they are hard to detect. I must miss many more than I see, and usually it is the ones that flush close to me that I notice. But making a rough minimum guess – maybe 3-4 pairs per square kilometer. This is good, although densities in areas intensively managed for grey partridges can be three times greater.

Grey partridge pair (John Anderson)

Posted April 23, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 19th   Leave a comment

There were some white wagtails down on the beach at Kilrenny Mill today. Every year they pass through on their way to Iceland or Scandinavia from wintering in sub-Saharan Africa. Just as exciting as yellow wagtails, but because white wagtails get lost among our resident pied wagtails, and are a little bit tricky to identify, they don’t get the same attention. Mid-April is the best time to see them. Best thing to look for is the pale grey back contrasting with the black crown, rather than a black or dark greyish back merging indistinctly with the crown. A white wagtail’s call is more melodious, less di-syllabic than a pied – but that might be pushing it as a reliable character. It did draw my attention to my first one this morning among the pieds at Kilrenny. There was a greenshank calling more obviously in the background – another sub-Saharan migrant on its way to northern Europe.

White wagtail (John Anderson)
Pied wagtail (John Anderson)

Posted April 19, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 17th   Leave a comment

This weekend has been more of the same, with more swallows, wheatears, willow warblers, chiff-chaffs and blackcaps in (two singing in Denburn yesterday), and at last my first sandwich terns past Balcomie Beach this lunchtime. I missed the early first pulse of sandwich terns in late March. There were redwings and fieldfares passing through Kilminning as well. I had my first swallows singing around the airfield, as they now become ubiquitous for the summer. There was a tree sparrow singing at Upper Kilminning from the middle of a bramble. Initially I was puzzled. I could hear typical tree sparrow chipping but interspersed with quite a Sylvia like warble. I think this might be the first time I have really heard a tree sparrow singing well because I have never noticed how unsparrowlike it is before. I don’t usually expect tree sparrows in spring at Upper Kilminning, but they seem to move territories a lot between years. This is quite unusual, birds usually stick with the same territories for life.

The tuneful, singing tree sparrow at Upper Kilminning this morning

The highlight of the weekend was a good sighting of an otter at Balcomie today. One was reported swimming past the beach at midday and I cycled down from Kilminning straight away to try my luck. I hardly ever see otters around Crail even though they have been becoming more common in the last few years. An otter is now seen every few months at Fife Ness but I always miss them. But not today. I staked out the shore at Stinky Pool and after about 20 minutes finally spotted the head of an otter as it swam along the shore back towards Balcomie Beach. I realized why I keep missing them. It dived straight away, and then it was just pure luck whether I was looking in the right place as it surfaced for a few seconds before diving again. It was only visible for about 10% of the time – it was mostly underwater and moving fast so when it was close it very hard to keep track off. It was only more obvious when it swam across the bay at Balcomie Beach, its dark shape clear in the calmer water when I could easily scan a much larger area at the same time. At one point when it was closer in and less conspicuous, some herring gulls began squawking and flying above it, or perching on nearby rocks, presumably hoping to scavenge some fish. They helped me relocate the otter today, but then there are always herring gulls making a fuss at Fife Ness so I am not sure how helpful it is when I don’t know already there is an otter about. Anyway, it is always great to see an otter, and better still it was around and about, doing its thing despite lots of people and dogs nearby on the golf course, coastal path and Balcomie Beach. The upward trend in numbers of otter sightings in the East Neuk is very encouraging, perhaps one day they will be as easy to see down at Balcomie as the seals.

An otter out in the waves (John Anderson)

Posted April 17, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 15th   Leave a comment

There were more migrants in today. I heard willow warblers singing from the Secret Bunker woods this morning, more chiff-chaffs, and there were a couple of northern wheatears up near the old railway line by Kippo Farm, where I often see passage wheatears. There were more swallows over the sheep fields at West Newhall Farm. The swallows are not everywhere yet, but they will be by Monday.

Migrant northen wheatear this morning – perhaps on its way to Shetland or Iceland

Posted April 15, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

April 14th   Leave a comment

There was a sudden pulse of migrants arriving today. I had my first Crail blackcap tuning up from the trees by the entrance to Sypsies; my first Crail swallow at Lochton Farm and a male yellow wagtail back at Oldbarns. There were some willow warblers reported from Anstruther and I also had a snipe in a wet pasture that was almost certainly another migrant. There will be more migrants in tomorrow, and the forecast for this weekend and next weekend looks great with some interesting southerlies and then easterlies.

Newly arrived male blackcap (John Anderson)

Posted April 14, 2022 by wildcrail in Sightings

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