Archive for the ‘Sightings’ Category

July 14th   Leave a comment

In my life I have only seen quails in Europe three or four times. The first was exceptional. A bird sitting in a tiny reedbed, in full sight in front of a hide on St Marys in the Scillies, spectacularly next to a spotted crake. Two great European skulkers in one go. It was early on in my birding career so I didn’t realise how lucky I was. The rest of my quail sightings have been random brief flushes from farm machinery, the most notable being a harvester going through a field of cotton in Israel in September with quail shooting out of the field in front of it like tiny rugby balls. The rest of my other European quail encounters (perhaps now over a 100) have all been like today: a bird heard but not seen. Today was particularly galling. I was passing by the big wheat field northwest of Troustie House when I heard a quail, barely a meter from the edge of the field and the road I was cycling down. I stopped and the bird kept on calling. It soon became apparent that there was more than one. Probably three. Two moved away calling every so often, while one remained, tantalisingly just out of sight in the wheat directly in front of me. It was moving slowly, calling away. I was so close I could hear the amphibian like croaking part of their call a soft “mwack – mwua”. But I couldn’t see it – even with it being one or two meters away for ten minutes. The temptation to leap the fence to try to flush it was hard to resist, but if there were three birds in the field they may well be breeding, or trying to breed, so best left completely undisturbed. It is turning into a good quail year for Crail, the first since 2011.

Obviously no photo of the elusive quail – but a roe deer more obviously popped out of the field edge a bit later (JA)

Balcomie has been relatively quiet after last Friday. Only three dunlin yesterday, and a couple of whimbrel today. It was relaxed sea watching at Fife Ness. Very calm seas and warm sunshine, but comfortable conditions never bring the best birds. Of note yesterday I had a great skua and some velvet scoter. Today it was mostly just auks, gannets and arctic terns. 

Guillemot – still plenty passing Fife Ness today back and forth from the May Island (JA)
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Posted July 14, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 12th   Leave a comment

What makes a good day out in July around Crail? Any route that takes in Balcomie Beach, Fife Ness and Kilminning. July is wader month and you never know what you might find along the shore. You probably won’t but you can travel hopefully. Today was flat calm as well so if there had been a minke whale out there – and August (we are getting there) is the best time to see one passing Crail. This morning I had four or five whimbrels – they are coming back now. I had my first of the “autumn” last night in Roome Bay but there were plenty more today. Still singles and looking for company. They were either following curlews or responding hopefully to my whistles. There was a single bar-tailed godwit roosting with a couple of curlew at Fife Ness. A single ringed plover on Balcomie Beach and three common sandpipers between Fife Ness and Kilminning. The arctic terns and late puffins were carrying fish past Fife Ness to the May Island but the number of auks passing is much reduced from a couple of weeks ago as they have been fledging. As I came back into Crail there were more returning waders: a flock of eight golden plover back on their high tide roost rocks at Saucehope. The final highlight of a top July morning was a V of 12 goosander heading over Roome Bay towards Fife Ness.

Two of the common sandpipers, at Kilminning today (WC)

Posted July 12, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 9th   Leave a comment

House martins are the small blue and white swallows that nest under house eaves in pot shaped mud nests. They are the ones with the white rump and the chirruping calls. They, like most summer migrants, have declined a lot – 50% since 1970 in the UK – and they have certainly become a bit less common around Crail in the 16 years I have been here. They nest colonially and their favoured site is under a steeply sloping eave with regular protruding joists. They like the pro shop at the golf club at Balcomie and the houses along Roome Bay Avenue for example. Some people like them nesting on their houses. It is a joy to hear them gently warbling away in their nests at night or see them swooping agilely catching insects around the garden. Others are not so keen. The piles of droppings accumulating on window ledges or worse dropping down above a front door are too much. The response is then to net the eaves during the winter to force them to move on next summer. House martins have lost a lot of their nest sites in recent years through changes in house design and decreased tolerance of householders. But I think the real reason they are declining is probably lack of insects. We are recording huge declines in insects all over Europe as farming becomes more intensive and we increase our use of pesticides and herbicides.

House martins collecting mud for their nests (JA)

It has always been tough to be a house martin I think. They are susceptible to bad weather here in the summer, on migration, and then on the wintering grounds in Africa. They nest naturally in rare habitats like sea cliffs and caves. But they cast their lot with us, shifting to our farmhouses and messy insect rich farming habitats, and rambling villages and towns, full of horses and small holdings. Things were better for house martins for two or three thousand years. But its now all a bit sterile – think, when was the last time you saw a cowpat? True its all a bit neater and less smelly for us, but much less interesting and much less full of wildlife like house martins and indeed barn swallows. We still have a few house martin colonies around Crail, but it is not a certainty for the future. They, like many species that live in close association with us, still need wild plants and insects in the spaces between our buildings, and we need to keep habitat for them. Crail is not a bad place with lots of habitat sneaking its way between the denser bits of housing. And we have the beach and the seaweed of course – the best place to see a house martin is along the shore at Roome Bay because it has good nesting sites right next to the best insect supply in Crail. But we can do more. The unmown grass strips above the beach and at Castle Walk are a great example. This year they will be adding lots of extra insect food for the house martins as well as the barn swallows, the swifts and the sand martins. And all just because we asked the Council not to spend our money so often, cutting all of the grass, all of the time. House martins break my heart a bit – like spotted flycatchers and cuckoos and other characters from my childhood that are becoming scarcer – but they also make me very happy every time I see them. Thankfully that is still every summer day in Crail.

A house martin building its nest – the corner of a window frame where it meets the roof is another favourite site (JA)
A house martin chick looking out over Roome Bay this evening (WC)

Posted July 9, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 7th   Leave a comment

Today was a slight reshuffling of the characters of the week on Balcomie Beach. The Mediterranean gull was back wading through the thick seaweed soup with the other gulls. Although a lot of seaweed has been washed away, what remains has decomposed into a thick black sludge, slowing the waves coming in like an oil spill. But unlike oil this is all good and there were again hundreds of gulls and starlings feeding on the seaweed maggots washing out from it. And the knot was still around as a lone shorebird at the feast.

Mediterranean gull, herring gulls and a couple of starlings in the foreground (WC)
The knot (WC)

Posted July 7, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 6th   Leave a comment

It was the turn of a knot on Balcomie Beach this morning. A returning, full summer plumaged bird – lots of red below to show off to a mate and speckles of arctic lichen above to camouflage the red from Arctic foxes when sitting on a nest. On the way back to Crail I heard a quail singing from the wheat field opposite the entrance to Kilmining. One was reported there a few days ago so it is a fairly good bet to be there tomorrow – it was calling every two minutes or so in quick bursts.

The knot this morning (WC)
A better view of a summer plumaged knot (JA)

Posted July 6, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 5th   Leave a comment

The first summer Mediterranean gull is still in residence at Balcomie Beach. Most of the black-headed gulls have moved on but it remains with first summer common gulls and herring gulls, three redshank and five dunlin. Much of the seaweed has gone too, although the back of the beach is sculpted into peat like hags and the smell remains.

The Mediterranean gull again at Balcomie Beach this evening (WC)

Posted July 5, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 4th   Leave a comment

I was on the May Island this afternoon. As I left Crail a great skua came in off the sea and flew over the High Street. Cutting off the corner of Fife Ness as it headed north. That turned out to be the most unusual bird of the day. The crossing was fairly rough but there were the usual close flybys of gannets and some more distant manx shearwaters. On the island there seemed to be arctic terns everywhere, and lots of chicks. This meant the parents were even more aggressive, particularly as their chicks wandered onto the paths. But a few knocks on the head by a tern is worthwhile when you know they seem to be having a good breeding season this year. Last year none fledged at all – the gulls got them all. This year, fingers crossed, they are doing well. Part of this was the strategic removal of just two gulls that were tern specialists early in the season. The puffins were bringing in mostly single big fish indicating they had big chicks to feed. They are fledging at the moment: the young come out of their burrows at night to avoid the gulls and head out to sea on their own. One of these “pufflings” that had taken a wrong turning last night and ended up trapped in the toilets (oh dear what can the matter be…) was released from the May Princess as we set off back to Anstruther and had got a safe distance away from the island. The other species all had chicks. Many of the guillemots were sheltering big chicks under their wings as they sat on the cliffs and there were well grown kittiwake and shag chicks in most nests. There was a flock of 15 turnstone down on the rocks and some redshanks to show the turning of the season as well. Soon all the chicks will be fledging and it will be autumn passage again.

Puffin ready to feed a large chick (WC)
The puffling we released offshore on the way back (WC)
Arctic tern chick (WC)
Guillemot chick (WC)
Kittiwake chick (WC)

Posted July 4, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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