Archive for the ‘Sightings’ Category

August 12th   Leave a comment

Sadly, despite rain yesterday and overnight and continuing easterlies, nothing much materialised. I went out to Kilminning yesterday afternoon and first thing this morning. Of note, there were juvenile willow warblers, a couple of redpolls and a cuckoo, although the willow warblers have been building up for the last two weeks regardless of the weather. The cuckoo did its usual thing of flying into the trees and disappearing: surprisingly it looked grey like an adult – they should all mostly be in Africa by now – rather than a juvenile. All in all, another Fife Ness disappointment – despite what looked like ideal conditions. It was interesting that nothing new appeared on the May Island and some of the rarities that turned up there yesterday have already gone. Something odd happened last night: perhaps because the rain was thunderstorms and so patchy rather than a solid front? There was a steady passage of sand martins and barn swallows, heading east over Kilminning this morning that was nice to see. More sand martins than I have seen all summer in a few minutes. Sauchope was also good with a large roost of golden plover, perhaps as many as 150, in various stages of moult from full summer plumage to full winter plumage. There was a mixed roost of gulls and terns, including some adult kittiwakes. Now they have finished breeding they are much more often on the rocks hanging out with the other gulls, taking a brief break before heading out to sea for the whole winter.

Golden plover (JA)

Posted August 12, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 10th   Leave a comment

The wind is still easterly, although fairly light: migrants are appearing along the east coast and with a bit of luck and some rain tomorrow Wednesday is setting up nicely. I spent an hour sea-watching at Fife Ness late afternoon. It’s still a bit early to search places like Kilminning, although I had a quick look for a barred warbler on my way home. The sea was moderately good. I had a juvenile little gull feeding with a flock of juvenile kittiwakes right in front of me for the hour. It was instructive to compare their plumages – superficially similar but quite different. At a distance one of the best features was the white secondaries, making much more of a contrasting patch than on a kittiwake, being bordered by dirty brown in front, a greyish line at the back and the black primaries. On kittiwakes, although they have the same white patch, this extends into the primaries and right to the back of the wing so it is much less of a feature. The head and mantle on a little gull also looks dirtier, with smudged grey on the crown and behind the eye. Overall, it makes them a bit darker and contrasting, and less clean looking. In a kittiwake flock though this is all a bit technical. Little gulls live up to their name and stand out simply because they are about two thirds the size of a kittiwake. The other highlight was my first arctic skua of the year, an immaculately plumaged, adult pale phase bird, cruising past heading north and half-heartedly worrying the kittiwakes for half a minute. I think the kittiwakes, and the little gull, were not feeding on fish – instead on something small picked from the surface and not worth the skua’s time to steal. A few manx shearwater, puffins and a flock of fledged razorbills rounded off my best sea watching session this autumn, and it will only get better.

Little gull and kittiwake juveniles. The little gull is a late winter bird but not far off the plumage of the bird today – just add more brownish feathers at the bottom and top of the back. But compare the secondary panel contrast in both birds – little gulls have a distinct white patch, whereas in kittiwakes it is more the whole wing. (JA)

Posted August 10, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 9th   Leave a comment

The wind was easterly today and will be for the most of next week, with rain showers forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s slightly early but could bring some scarcer migrants. Things are already beginning to appear, with a tree pipit over at the sheep field at Third Part (although no yellow wagtails there – last August they congregated in the equivalent field), and then two whinchats at Troustie House. This is always a good spot for August whinchats, with its more scrubby field edges and bits of grassland. I suspect there were many more whinchats in the middle of the larger wheat fields. Fence lines are quick to check, but whinchats in the crop, even when perched at the top of it, are much harder to spot. Tree pipits are also very hard to spot because there are meadow pipits everywhere, and without a very good view you can’t tell them apart. If tree pipits call, of course, they give themselves away. I have probably only initially picked up a couple of tree pipits on sight around Crail. The great majority are by their distinctive flight call. As I checked the fields I picked up several corn buntings although it is too late to map their territories. Even so some were still singing and one at Sypsies was behaving like it still had an active nest in a field of ripening wheat. Such late nests run the danger of being squashed during harvesting.

A corn bunting at Sypsies keeping a close eye on me and its nest down in the crop

I sea watched at Fife Ness mid-morning. Slightly disappointing with only a couple of manx shearwaters. There were more reports of cory’s shearwaters in the inner Forth today so one passing Fife Ness any day soon is a real possibility. The highlight was a near adult plumage Mediterranean gull passing right over my head as I sat on the rocks as close the waters’ edge as I could get. Balcomie Beach was relatively quiet with only a handful of people on it and very few waders as well: a couple of dunlin and a ringed plover to add to the now ever present redshanks (and discounting the oystercatchers which are always there, any day, any season and any weather condition).

One of the Balcomie Beach oystercatchers that rarely get a mention because they are always there, which is the shame because they have everything going for them (JA)

Posted August 9, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 8th   1 comment

I was at the mouth of the Kenly Burn just after lunch today. It is a great spot to sit and birdwatch: conspicuous birds and enough of them that when you have finished checking them out you can start again with a reasonable expectation of finding something new. There were about 130 canada goose. It’s now a summer usual for a big flock to spend July and August moulting there. They commute from the burn, where they roost, to feed in the newly appearing stubble fields nearby. There was a mute swan with them, perhaps one of the resident birds there. It was feeding quite happily in the sea among the gulls. There are always a good lot of gulls at the burn mouth, bathing and then preening or roosting afterwards on the rock. Today it was mostly herring and black-headed gulls with a few common and great and lesser black-backed gulls. Wader wise there was a flock of about 100 lapwing, some redshanks, 3 common sandpiper, a couple of whimbrel, a knot and a lot of oystercatchers, also using the burn for a bath. I heard a distinctive “chew-it” call – but sadly only once. If I had been in Norfolk I would have added a spotted redshank to the list, but in Fife it is a very rare bird – only one on my Crail list in nearly 18 years. My rule is to hear a call properly at least twice if you don’t see the bird. Passing by, at sea, there was a steady passage of sandwich terns and my first couple of fledged common terns of the year.

Canada geese and the mute swan at the mouth of Kenly Water this afternoon

Yesterday at Kilminning I couldn’t find any of the whinchats so they may have, indeed, moved on after the oat field was harvested. But I did find an adult whinchat flycatching from the powerlines over the field at the east end of Crail behind Sauchope. It was perched in the usual position that the corn bunting sings from that I can see from my house (if I climb onto the roof with a telescope…). I had a brief fantasy of cycling full speed home, clambering to the top of my house and adding whinchat to my garden list. Common sense prevailed and I just sat and enjoyed one of my favourite migrants as is. Whinchats are great flycatchers and when on the non-breeding grounds they usually spend the last hour of the day flycatching from the top of big bushes.

Posted August 8, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 6th   1 comment

It is hard to judge quite what is passing through Balcomie Beach at the moment. There have been more people on it than I have ever seen before and there is no space for waders except around the edges. At low tide it barely matters because the rocky shore is huge and mostly undisturbed. But at high tide the opportunity to see the waders along the tide edge is gone apart from the tolerant flock of mostly juvenile dunlin. Most waders are roosting at high tide so the disturbance is probably not a big issue for them then either, just for me as some of the scarcer late summer species miss out a stopover on the beach. There are plenty of whimbrels though. I watched a flock of five flying south slowly along the coast at about fifty meters height, whistling continuously. Birds roosting on the rocky shore whistled back and flew up to join the flock until there was a flock of nine flying over Fife Ness. I could hear their whistles long after they disappeared over the headland, and I should think the flock was picking up more birds as it passed Crail.

A whimbrel passing Fife Ness (JA)

Posted August 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 5th   3 comments

The conditions were perfect this evening for looking for whales and dolphins, and the warden on the May reported two minke whales earlier today. I sat on Castle Walk for an hour looking at the flat calm sea, trying my luck. Minke whales tend to come to you – you happen to be watching a bit of sea and then one surfaces. A couple of seconds of a long rolling back with a relatively small looking dorsal fin and then it’s gone. I got lucky twice in the hour, and all in the first five minutes. The rest of the time I was looking in the wrong spot: lots of the usual seabirds and a couple of manx shearwaters. Even so I knew it was there and knowing there is a whale cruising by your house is quite a wonderful thing. August is the best month to see minke whales from Crail or Fife Ness but it still takes some luck.

Posted August 5, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 3rd   Leave a comment

They have been harvesting the field of oats at lower Kilminning today. When I got there at 7 this evening there were only a couple of tufty bits left uncut, in the field corner that used to be scrubby grass before the field was improved last year. Sure enough there were four whinchats using the only available perch left in the field to launch their sallies from. It was a familiar sight. In Nigeria, whinchats use all types of agricultural land and at the start of the dry season when they arrive in September there are uncut maize fields everywhere. They settle among the tall stems, but sooner or later these get cut down or burnt leaving only a few stumps and open ground. The whinchats stay put even though the habitat has changed completely. I think their trick is that they eat anything insect wise from ants to butterflies, and as long as they have some kind of perch to gain a vantage point, then they are happy in any kind of grassy vegetation. It will be interesting to see whether this hastens their departure from Kilminning though. Unlike wintering birds in Nigeria, these individuals haven’t already got to approximately their final destination, and also need to have a very good feeding rate to build up fat reserves for their migration. A whinchat in Nigeria has a mass of 14 grams whereas a whinchat pre-migration has a mass of 28 grams. They double their body weight and then set off on a potentially 3,000 km flight, with only a few hours off each day, for 3 days and nights. After that they will be back to 15 grams or so and it will take them a week or ten days to refuel to do the same again – and then they will have arrived back home in West Africa. Whinchats really impress me – superb generalists and superb migrants.

One of the Kilminning whinchats this evening making do with the only perch left in the the field after harvesting

Posted August 3, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 2nd   Leave a comment

I spent the morning at Kilminning coast. There were a couple of common sandpipers on the shore. They are very inconspicuous and shy. If it wasn’t for their whistles I wouldn’t have noticed them. Eventually I spotted one working its way up the shore to eventually feed on the pebbles of the strandline – not very much different from the Highland or Norwegian riverbank where this bird was probably born, but a long way from the mangrove in Senegal or Liberia where it was heading. It would not come very close and soon retreated back onto the rocky shore.

Common sandpiper at Kilminning coast – despite the distance you can see this is a juvenile born by an upland river a couple of months ago (white spots on the tertials and thin pale bars on the wing)

There has been a divide of the stonechats and whinchats at Kilminning for the last week. The whinchats – I saw five today – are in the oats, and the stonechats are in the long grass going down to the shore. They do meet at the fence line and they occasionally sit side by side before the grumpier, resident stonechats chase the whinchats away. When they do end up together I have been struck just how similar juvenile stonechats and whinchats can be: some juvenile stonechats look very much like whinchats with a hint of a paler stripe above the eye that usually characterises a whinchat. Then you do really need to check the tail for the lack of white corners at the base. Juvenile whinchats, however, don’t look like stonechats. But if you really want a subtle distinction, I think they fly differently. Stonechats are direct like a dipper, whirring from place to place, whereas whinchats are a bit more swallow or flycatcher-like with a final gliding flourish as they land. That might not be quite it but after spending hundreds of hours looking for whinchats on African farmland I often reliably identify them at a distance in this way. We have now had whinchats at Kilminning for three weeks: in some years we only have whinchats at Kilminning for three days.

Juvenile stonechat at Kilminning coast – compare it to the photo of the juvenile whinchat for July 19th

Posted August 2, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

August 1st   Leave a comment

August is here and with it summer starts sliding into autumn, at least bird wise. The last couple of weeks there has been a complete change in the number of birds singing, only the corn buntings are still having a go. The noisy, conspicuous sedge warblers have become almost silent and invisible, and the whitethroats are skulking in family parties in long grass, or wheat and oat fields. I only see them as they dash back into denser cover at the edge of the fields. Both species will start leaving us for West Africa over the next couple of weeks. In Denburn, only the woodpigeons are still singing – they can breed through until Christmas – and the other main bird sound is the grumpy ticking of robins.

It was a complete change at sea this morning. The wind was westerly and an hour at Fife Ness didn’t turn up a single shearwater. There were some velvet and common scoters passing, three teal, and a group of 9 knot on the rocks. One had a set of colour rings on so I emailed the person who the combination is registered to so I can find out its details: but according to the overview of the scheme, it was ringed in Norway as long ago as 2003… I can believe this. One of the rings had three letters on it that were barely legible, and it took me several minutes of close observation through my telescope to get an idea what the letters were. I love knowing that some animals have long lives, coming back and forth through Crail at least as long as I have been here, so I hope this one does turn out to be a survivor.

The likely very old knot at Fife Ness this lunchtime – the yellow leg flag had three almost illegible, faded letters on it NHP. I hope to find out its exact age from the ringer when he gets back to me, but I think it is at least 16 years old.

I came back to Crail via Balcomie, reversing my normal route to go along the shore at high tide. It paid off. 47 juvenile dunlins at only a few meters, barely reacting as I went along the coastal path above them – the ratio of adults to juveniles had reversed completely from 3 weeks ago. Now it is almost entirely juveniles. I saw just two adults today, and both were roosting further out on the rocks rather than feeding close in. There was also a single sanderling and five whimbrels, and a couple of northern wheatears. I am seeing wheatears every day at Balcomie but almost always different birds (different ages, sexes or moult stages), so individuals are only staying for a day or two. There were 13 goosander roosting at the furthest end of the golf course.

Northern wheatear at Balcomie two days ago (JA)

Posted August 1, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 31st   Leave a comment

The national heatwave eluded Crail today – we only hit a maximum of 16 degrees – mainly because of the strong south-easterly this afternoon. It was great for seabirds though. Perfect conditions and everything flying out of the Forth was pushed close inshore and so was passing close enough to be appreciated. There was a steady passage of manx shearwaters all afternoon: about 150 an hour at 4 pm, and up to nearly 300 an hour by early evening. The best place to see them was at Sauchope, where they were passing about 100 meters out. By the time they got to Fife Ness they were several hundred meters away from the shore. I sat right at the tip of Fife Ness for a while, at the level of the waves, and it made the shearwaters easier to see as they broke the horizon. From the slightly more elevated level of outside the hide they were much less visible with the sea as background. The gannets were also very close, with fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins, guillemots and sandwich terns also passing. And the first great skua of the year, cruising past Kilminning coast.

Manx shearwaters passing Sauchope this evening with the May Island in the background

Posted July 31, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 30th   Leave a comment

There was a cory’s shearwater flying past Crail and Anstruther this morning at about six – reported by the warden on the May Island; yesterday, one – presumably the same bird – was in the inner Forth. Great excitement for the local birders. Cory’s shearwaters are rare in Scotland, and I have only seen them around Crail on one occasion in early September in 2005. Now a very long time ago. So I bought a lottery ticket and sat at Fife Ness for about an hour mid-afternoon with my telescope in the light rain. I didn’t have a real hope but there were enough manx shearwaters and fulmars passing to keep it hopeful, and I had my first little gull of the year passing, an adult without much of its hood left. My telescope eventually got too wet and I headed for Kilminning. The oat field had a spectacular 7 whinchats in it, probably more because they were hard to see. As I arrived I had a group of five close together and then another two, possibly three, at the other side of the field. So a good minimum count. I still think we are having a passage of whinchats, with the numbers changing daily as birds arrive and leave – perhaps with a couple of the juveniles that have been here for nearly three weeks now.

Adult little gull – taken in early August (JA)

Posted July 30, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 28th   Leave a comment

Yesterday was literally a washout – 15 mm of rain during the day. I did have a go at Kilminning at lunchtime but even the dog got just wet and depressed. This morning was much better, although the wind has been climbing up all day. At Balcomie there were nearly equal numbers of sanderling and dunlin – about 15 of each, and three, probably four common sandpipers between the beach and Fife Ness. I also picked up an early purple sandpiper flying up with the redshank from the roost at Fife Ness. Only a single whimbrel, and that was down at Kilminning coast. At sea it was mostly puffins passing, a few manx shearwaters and an increasing number of sandwich terns and their noisy chasing juveniles. On my way back to Crail I enjoyed the swallows flying low and close to avoid the wind. But some were using it to practically hover over the vegetation to pick off insects, their legs dangling like storm petrels to give a bit extra stability.

A barn swallow making use of the wind to pick insects off vegetation (JA)

Posted July 28, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 25th   Leave a comment

The swifts have upped the ante again. This morning with ten minutes of playback below my swift boxes I had a pair visiting below and around the boxes frequently, often with a third bird, and then two occasions of a bird landing at a nest box hole, hanging on and having a good look inside. Again fantastically optimistic. Next time a swift in the box maybe. I realise I have forgotten to update re the swift fledgling of last Sunday. On Monday there was no sign of the bird either inside or below the box, and we haven’t found a body in the garden in the days since. The evidence is that it fledged. I hope it made it.

Swifts properly checking out one of the nest boxes today – a composite from two visits

I was at Balcomie at full low tide so the waders were dispersed over the rocky shore apart from a handful of dunlin and ringed plover on the beach. At Fife Ness there were three knot with some turnstone, all in summer plumage – there should be some here for next few weeks as they start returning from the Arctic. At sea everything was far out apart from the gannets. A greylag goose flying south was unusual for the time of year. There are still whinchats at Kilminning; 2-3 birds today, at least two juveniles along the reserve fence, and possibly an adult, distantly in the oat field.

The three knot at Fife Ness

Posted July 25, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 24th   Leave a comment

At high tide this evening on Balcomie there were only a handful of dunlin and no sign of the little stint. But it was a nice evening with some weak sunshine, sandwich terns passing in noisy groups, a northern wheatear and as I was leaving the first Mediterranean gull of the summer. A juvenile, just moulting into first winter plumage, still with some brown tones, but just starting its black mask. It landed on the beach for less than half a minute before heading off to Fife Ness.

Juvenile Mediterranean gull (JA)

Posted July 24, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 23rd   Leave a comment

I have been trying playback at my swift boxes to encourage the late season non-breeders to get to know them ready for next year. It’s been spectacularly successful so far. The first time I played swifts screaming below the nest boxes I had four birds flying closely around the boxes within three minutes. Within five they had landed on the eaves above the nest and within 10 there was an individual trying to get under the roof tiles of the next door house. This evening I had two attempts to enter one of the boxes – a brief hover in front of the hole and a quick scrabble of legs to gain purchase, lasting only a second. There were several occasions when a swift landed on top of the box or scrabbled up the wall under the eaves by the box. It all looks very hopeful.

Swifts prospecting my new nest boxes today in response to playback – the speaker is the round object in the bottom of the picture

Balcomie Beach was busy with waders again today. A greenshank, several whimbrels, six turnstones and two bar-tailed godwits were new in. There were also about 100 dunlin and a few sanderling and ringed plover. I missed a little stint in the evening, but I came down looking for it a couple of hours after high tide and the shorebirds were already dispersed onto the rocky shore. A needle in a haystack. I will try again tomorrow evening at high tide.

A pair of bar-tailed godwits on Balcomie Beach this evening

Posted July 23, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 22nd   Leave a comment

It has been raining most of the day. A proper continuous west coast rain adding another 7 mm to the monthly total that will match June’s. I walked out of Crail towards Anstruther mid afternoon when it began to clear up. The May princess was heading out to the island into the murk: trips have resumed and there are still plenty of seabirds doing their thing there if the numbers shuttling past Crail are anything to go by. But there are also plenty of fledged seabirds around now: this week there have been the first few sandwich terns being chased by their demanding chicks. Their arrival always seems to be the signal for the beginning of the end of the seabird season. And there were three newly fledged herring gull chicks in the harbour today. It is also getting quieter along the coastal path as the songbirds finish breeding. Most of the buntings are still going though and today there was reed bunting song to be heard most of my walk. They can have three broods in a year and at least around the East Neuk seem to be nesting more and more in intensive crop fields. A recipe for success. Their numbers have declined in England but may be increasing slightly in Scotland, and their shift from reedy and damp places to more agricultural habitats must be a part of this. They should perhaps be called field buntings.

Male reed bunting singing along West Braes this afternoon

Posted July 22, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 21st   Leave a comment

There were many fewer dunlins at Balcomie this afternoon, perhaps 60, with just two sanderling. Evidence of things coming and going, even if the species mix is the same. Likewise there were only 2 to 3 whinchats at Kilminning today. More obviously new in was a juvenile marsh harrier, looking black in the strong sunlight apart from its golden head and throat. It was quartering over the wheat between Wormiston and Balcomie, which seems to be a favourite late summer spot for passage birds.

Marsh harrier (JA)

Posted July 21, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 20th   Leave a comment

I had one of my wildlife highlights of the year today. An hour spent just a few meters from a flock of two hundred dunlin. I went down to Fife Ness in search of a little stint reported at lunchtime at Stinky Pool. When I got there, there were only a happy family of rock poolers and obviously no birds. I wasn’t too worried because stints at Fife Ness tend to relocate to Balcomie Beach. My heart fell though when I got to the beach, lots of people, and although there was a big flock of waders, they soon headed to the horizon as another couple of walkers went by. I walked north to the far end as the beach cleared of people and was heartened by a large flock of small waders feeding on the strandline as the shore becomes rocky again. I began a slow approach, staying right up against the dunes and taking my time. After a few minutes I was sat just eight meters away from lots of dunlin, with some sanderling and ringed plover mixed in. The flock was amazingly accepting of me and I felt invisible. I was incredibly privileged to be so close to so many wild birds. Not for long – more walkers of course, and the tide was right up so there was nowhere to walk apart from straight past, between me and the dunlins. All my effort and field craft wasted – or so I thought – the flock barely moved. Some birds flew out to sea for a few meters but returned immediately, and many just remained feeding, although a bit more warily. I needn’t have bothered with my stealth approach. The coastal path was busy today and a steady stream of walkers passed me and the dunlins (some completely oblivious to the birds nearly at their feet), and yet they stayed put. There is something special about being close to animals when they know you are there, but they are clearly not bothered about your presence. Even better when they come to you, which is why garden bird feeders appeal so much. I was so close that I could see the sandhoppers like a tiny blizzard erupting out of the sand at the tideline, and the see birds targeting those that landed on top of the water, temporarily slowing them down enough to be picked up with a quick bill stab. It is wader season at Balcomie – I may have missed the little stint today but the signs are good for more waders to come this year. Yesterday I had two black-tailed godwits, only one hundred dunlin, and no sanderlings. Things are changing every day, although the dunlin fest should continue for a few more days, with high tide, late afternoon the best time to see it.

Dunlins at Balcomie Beach this afternoon

Posted July 20, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 19th   Leave a comment

There was a young cuckoo on the beach at Balcomie this morning. Stopping on its way down to Africa to feed on burnet moth caterpillars on the ragwort at the base of the dunes. It was reluctant to fly and sat on a rock at the top of the beach before moving in short flights along the beach as a couple of walkers disturbed it. Young cuckoos are brownish and barred like a kestrel, and I was struck just how much like a bird of prey they look. As it sat on the beach, the local pied wagtails gathered around it, mobbing it and watching it intently. Either they too thought it looked like a bird of prey (they keep an eye on the kestrels and sparrowhawks that hunt on the shore like this), or it was a response to the real threat that cuckoos represent. Pied wagtails are potential host species for cuckoos so there will have been some natural selection for recognition. Interestingly all of the pied wagtails were local young birds and this will be the first cuckoo they can ever have seen. Between flights the cuckoo lolloped on the sand a bit picking up flies, and it eventually reached the gorse bushes by the golf club house. Hopefully it is snacking on caterpillars there now and refuelling for its long journey ahead.

The young cuckoo at Balcomie this morning
Being mobbed by pied wagtails
And flying to show just how hawk like they look

There were six whinchats at Kilminning a little later. Still clustered around the gravel road that goes up the golf course, past the water treatment shed. As I sat semi-concealed in the grass waiting for them to come closer, my phone kept ringing. And every time I answered and was distracted, the whinchats came their closest. And on one call a fox trotted across the road in front of me! I couldn’t ignore the calls because a neighbour (Catriona Miller) had found an unusual, young bird sheltering in her grandson’s shoe that had been left outside the back door. This time of year there are lots of new fledglings and the best thing is to put them in a quiet, safe place, to get on with it. I suggested this and thought would be the end of it, but then Catriona’s sister, Shona, sent me a photo of the bird they were now keeping in a shoe box. It was a newly fledged swift (not sadly a shoebill). It would definitely not be a good idea to put a swift fledgling under a bush. Swifts find it tricky to take off at the best of times and tend to drop from their nests to gain speed enough to fly. I suspected that this bird has tried to fledge and had botched it up and was now stuck on the ground. Another one of those phone calls ensued, to change the plan, and I cycled back to Crail as fast I could.

Now six juvenile whinchats at Kilminning

When I got to Crail I found a beautiful young swift in the shoe box, apparently in good health except perhaps slightly too young to be out of its nest. It was fully feathered but its flight feathers still need a few days to get fully grown. It’s a tricky call – ideally I would put it back into its nest but even though it was found right under the eaves of the house, there was no obvious hole or nest to return it to. Swift chicks accumulate a lot of fat pre-fledging and the adults stop feeding them. The chicks finish their feather growth and slim down a bit before venturing out of the nest. Assuming this was the stage that this bird was in I took the swift home and put it into one of my newly fitted swift nest boxes. If it still has to develop a bit then this will be a safe place to do it, and if it is ready to fly, then this would be a good place to start again from. The swift is currently, as I write, looking out of the nest box hole. It has tried to fledge once but again not succeeded and ending up below the nest. I hope it stays put there for a day or two to get a bit more flying edge. Fingers crossed but there are so many tiny tragedies with young birds at this time of year.

The young swift
And again from the safety of one of my swift boxes where I hope it will be able to fledge again, but this time successfully

Posted July 19, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 18th   Leave a comment

More whinchats are accumulating at Kilminning. Today there were at least five – I saw four juveniles and an adult along the usual fence and then all feeding on the gravel road. They looked beguilingly like a family party but the first two arrived 6 days ago, one more yesterday, and now two more today. They weren’t a very happy family either, displacing and chasing each other as they fed on the ground or in the adjacent field of oats. But if I hadn’t been visiting Kilminning daily since March, looking unsuccessfully for whinchats each time, I would be fairly happy that there had been a successful breeding attempt there on the strength of today’s sightings. There is nothing wrong with Kiminning as a breeding site for whinchats though. In the same way that much of Fife is suitable for spotted flycatchers, cuckoos and common redstarts, but no longer has many of them, whinchats are a scarce breeding species because of the large population declines of migrant birds over the last sixty years. Reduction in habitat quality – mainly insect abundance – is the main cause, because of agricultural intensification. But population processes also are important. We are edge of range, on the northwest edge of Europe, and as populations shrink, they contract to the centre of the range. Populations lost at the edges have fewer opportunities to be re-established than at the centre so even the remaining suitable habitat is likely to stay unoccupied. Anyway, whinchats are at least with us this week and it is a joy to see them feeding well in readiness for their continuing journey to West Africa. And speaking of journeys to West Africa: I heard the first two tree pipits of the season flying over today. Another late summer, rather than autumn migrant. In contrast, the sedge warblers are still singing their hearts out as if they are still in full breeding mode.

One of the five whinchats now at Kilminning – this one is a juvenile

Posted July 18, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings