Archive for the ‘Sightings’ Category

September 12th   Leave a comment

Still not much change. The waders are more or less the same at Balcomie – lots of dunlin and ringed plover, a few sanderling and three bar-tailed godwits. There were three northern wheatears at the north end rocks and these are probably some of the same birds as last week, although there are fewer this week. Kilminning was very quiet apart from the flocks of swallows catching insects around the sycamore canopies, some goldcrests and a few blackcaps – the whitethroats and willow warblers have all gone now. There were two siskin in at the lower part of Kilminning – the first of the winter for me. And down in the place where they often turn up, along the road past the water treatment building towards the golf course, a whinchat feeding beside a stonechat. The whinchat is likely to be a migrant from the west of Scotland rather than an indication of rarer birds from the east, but still a nice autumn bird that I will be following to Nigeria and Liberia later this coming winter. 

Whinchat left, and stonechat right foraging together and in the same way at Kilminning this morning (WC)

I watched a sparrowhawk hunting along the shore below Kilminning, putting up everything including gulls even though it was a small male. A flock of 30 lapwings resting on the shore flew off, bunching up in a dense group in response to the hawk before they headed south. I am seeing sparrowhawks hunting along the shore nearly every visit but as yet no merlins this autumn.

One of the sparrowhawks hunting along the shore out at Fife Ness, Balcomie and Kilmminning at the moment (JA)

Posted September 12, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 10th   Leave a comment

Most birds finished breeding two months ago and only the very big species like gannets are still to completely finish. But you can still see some late fledglings, particularly house sparrows, swallow and house martins chasing their parents. The giveaway for a fledgeling songbird – apart from the general dopey, fluffy look – is a yellow gape. This is an enlarged and conspicuous side of the mouth so that when a chick begs in the nest it offers the biggest brightest target for the parent. You can imagine that those chicks with the most conspicuous mouths get fed more often and are more likely to survive until fledging – a good example of natural selection.

A young swallow in my garden over the weekend with its yellow gape conspicuous. This has less than a month to feed up before it needs to head to Africa (WC)

Posted September 10, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 9th   2 comments

I should have kept my sooty shearwater complaint to myself. Two minutes sea watching this evening from my house and a sooty shearwater came past. After thousands of fulmars and hundreds of manx shearwaters this autumn, it looked so dark and distinctive with its powerful wing beats, and then a quick flash of silver as it banked out of site behind the Marine Hotel that demarcates the end of my sea watching view. The last sooty shearwater I saw this year was in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego in March – it and its friends were hanging out with black-browed albatrosses, giant petrels, magallenic penguins and sei whales. My sooty shearwater today won’t have been one of those birds but then again, it could be.

Sooty shearwater – this is one my favourite photos of John’s and I have posted it before and will again I’m sure to celebrate this epic global wanderer

Posted September 9, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 8th   Leave a comment

There was a hint of an easterly today, with a few things turning up including a rarity on the May Island (a collared flycatcher from Eastern Europe or Sweden), and there is some rain over night. There were two white wagtails on Balcomie Beach amongst the pied wagtails – a very pale winter plumage bird and an obvious male still in summer plumage. White wagtails will be leaving Scandinavia and northern Europe at the moment in very large numbers so a few always end up on the east coast, the trick is remembering to check the pied wagtails. I was on the beach at high tide, so no sign of the curlew sandpiper, but it wasn’t reported later on in the day so it may have moved on.

One of the bar-tailed godwits still on Balcomie Beach that I am now beginning to hope might be staying for the winter (JA)

I hit 150 on my Crail year list with a black-throated diver flying past Fife Ness as I sat there in the sun this morning. This time in September seems to be the best time to see a black-throat passing. They tend to fly over Fife Ness quite high, cutting the corner off – a good reason not to sit in the hide when the weather is good. Today’s black-throat was obligingly with a red-throated diver following it, so its larger size and more bulky neck and feet were more obvious, although not as ridiculously large and hefty as as a great northern. When I added the diver to my year list I had a think about what I was missing this year and noticed that I had forgotten to add shelduck in March – so 151. 11 short of the record and with several likely species still to come (brambling, redpoll, yellow-browed warbler). With a bit of luck… 

It is good to think in lists because you focus on what you have missed. Sooty shearwaters are the most conspicuous by their absence this year. There have been less than 10 recorded at Fife Ness so far, when by this time there may have been hundreds. I hopefully put in another half an hour late afternoon seawatching from my house in Crail as the wind got up a bit. Hundreds of gannets and lots of fulmars past, a few common scoters, kittiwakes, arctic and sandwich terns, and a single great skua and a manx shearwater. But still no sooty. Today must have been a good fledging day for the gannets on the Bass Rock with about 1 in 40 of the gannets being juveniles. Most surprising were a few puffins heading east – they should be far out to sea now for the winter.

A juvenile gannet (straight out of the box as John would say) (JA)

Posted September 8, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 7th   Leave a comment

Although the winds are wrong, it feels wrong not to check out Kilminning at this time of year. And there could be a barred warbler hiding out there after the mid-August easterlies. There were a few migrants this morning, although all probably from the west. There were juvenile willow warblers mixed in with a big mixed flock of tits and goldcrests. And there were blackcaps chacking everywhere, enjoying the elderberries. The most obvious were the swallows. It is hard now to tell the residents from the birds passing through. It was a lovely day today with little wind so the swallows weren’t in a hurry, congregating in flocks around the sycamore canopies. A sparrowhawk passing through on a hunt got short shrift as it was suddenly dive bombed by twenty mobbing swallows – no chance of surprise with that much aerial surveillance.

One the blackcaps feasting on elder berries at Kilminning today (WC)

I was back at Balcomie this afternoon watching the still present curlew sandpiper and the other waders dodging the walkers around the beach. I think it bothered me more than the birds, with only a few minutes lost over the hour I sat there because they settled back on another bit of the beach straight away. In the end all the waders finished up on the less attractive (to walkers) more rocky and algae covered south section– and this was the bit where I was sitting, so it all worked out in the end. There was a fourth bar-tailed godwit but otherwise the same waders as yesterday I think.

The curlew sandpiper, closer today (JA)
And also far… (WC)

At Fife Ness there was a steady skua passage going north but with most birds except for a dark phase arctic skua very far out. I identified about 6 great skuas in 30 minutes but there was the same number of unidentified ones in the distance. I was really looking for sooty shearwaters, which have been very scarce and I haven’t seen one this year: there were a lot of fulmars passing and about 8 manx shearwaters but still no sooty.

Fulmars (JA)

Posted September 7, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 6th   Leave a comment

If at first you don’t succeed…Back to Balcomie Beach and a successful curlew sandpiper hunt today. Luckily this time at low tide, when the beach is much more resilient to people. The waders can retreat to the other side of the beach when someone walks across – at high tide there is little space away from people. I appreciate this because I had to watch someone walking out to take some photos of the shorebirds with their phone (you do have to get close): this is fair enough, if a bit of a futile wild shorebird chase but less so when it happens right in front of your telescope and you are sitting, in a well-behaved fashion, at the top of the beach. Most people get it and walk behind me when I am watching something, but occasionally they spectacularly don’t. Anyway, the curlew sandpiper bounced about all over the beach staying out of the way, but did not leave. A nice bird, and standing out among the dunlins – longer legs and neck giving a much more elegant and slender look, and a much paler and uniform plumage. You have to get your eye in, but once you have, they are very distinctive. I realise I write something like this every time a curlew sandpiper turns up in Crail but they are one of the landmark species in the journey to becoming a good birder: being able to pick out a curlew sandpiper in a flock of dunlin is a qualification you have to pass, like being able to split common and arctic terns, tree and meadow pipits, ringed and little ringed plovers and so on (more or less forever because there are always the antwrens and the petrels even for the very, very good birders). I was happier cycling back to Crail than my return last night although my slow progress reminded me that the winds are still firmly from the west.

The curlew sandpiper at Balcomie this afternoon – you can really see how slender and curlew like they look – but small of course, with the ringed plover on the right for scale (WC)
The curlew sandpiper and a couple of dunlin on the left to show how different they are. You can also just see its white rump poking out – it is a great feature when you only get a flyby (WC)
The curlew sandpiper close up (JA)

Posted September 6, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

September 5th   Leave a comment

I have been out to Balcomie Beach twice today. The first, a late lunch break to take the dog out and see something other than my computer screen, was fairly relaxed. I checked out the 75 or so dunlin on the beach looking for curlew sandpipers and little stints, and the 50 ringed plover for little ringed plover. No luck but pleasant enough. The three bar-tailed godwits were still on the beach too. My second visit wasn’t so relaxing. A text came through at 5 pm – a curlew sandpiper on Balcomie Beach. Not a major rarity, but a once every two year bird for Crail so well worth seeing. I had to do some family things so didn’t get cycling down there until after 6. There were still dunlins and ringed plovers on the beach, but I had just missed the curlew sandpiper. I spent an hour in the deepening gloaming and increasing wind scanning the line of small waders all along the beach, with only the occasional sanderling among the dunlin to get me briefly excited. A wader flew in last thing with a white rump, but it turned into one of the lingering knots as it landed. It was a shame – it wasn’t a bad bit of birding this evening, but it was coloured by the disappointment of not finding the curlew sandpiper. There were goosanders, house martins at touching distance over the beach and then the same for a swift that came in off the sea and started hawking very low in front of me, apparently very hungry. As I headed back to Crail I watched a kestrel hovering very high above the golf course. They are almost owls with their love of dusk and dawn and voles.


Posted September 5, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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