July 2nd   Leave a comment

The first Mediterranean gull of the season was on Balcomie Beach this evening. A bird in its second summer of its life, so born last summer – which in gull ageing language makes it a first summer (because this time last year it would have been aged as a juvenile, then a first winter and now first summer). It had a bit of a black hood – definitely black and helping to make it stand out among the 100 (now) black-headed gulls also on the beach. There was also the first juvenile black-headed gull. And many more waders compared to last night: 6 dunlin, a common sandpiper, a bar-tailed godwit, a turnstone and 8 redshank. The beach is covered with rotting seaweed so the feeding is great for both the gulls and the waders. It is a great start to July.

The Mediterranean gull on Balcomie beach this evening (WC)
Common sandpiper (JA)
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Posted July 2, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

July 1st   Leave a comment

The first redshanks were back on Balcomie Beach this evening. A flock of ten. Still in breeding plumage. They were feeding along the tideline for a few minutes and then gone, already heading further south. The black-headed gulls are also back in large numbers. There were about 50 on the beach tonight. Like the redshanks, all still in breeding plumage, but unlike them, here now for the winter.

A returning black-headed gull (JA)

Posted July 1, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 30th   Leave a comment

The grey herons have finished breeding and there a quite a few juveniles now on the rocky shore. They lack the black eyeline of the adults and have a dirty grey top of their head – it all looks ill defined and generally gives the impression of a more scruffy, younger looking, bird. Some are still following their parents around the rocky shore, others are being chased off by adults from their feeding territories. Grey herons aren’t that territorial around Crail but they don’t usually tolerate another bird feeding close by and I suspect most of the time you see a heron on a particular patch of rocky shore, it’s the same heron.

Juvenile grey heron (JA)

Posted June 30, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 29th   Leave a comment

Although we have had non-breeding curlews and oystercatchers on the rocky shore all month, I have been waiting for the first migrant shorebird of the season to reappear after the sanderlings and dunlins left us three weeks ago. It was a grey plover today. An individual with no sign of breeding plumage so probably a non-breeding adult. It was sat out with the moulting eiders on the rocks at Balcomie. And also at Balcomie, the shelduck chicks were still about. They are now much bigger and quite likely to survive to fledging now. But only 5 left out of the original 10. Not too bad for a bird that can live for 25 years at least: a pair only has to get two chicks to adulthood in a lifetime for the population to remain stable. The same thing applies to the eiders. A good thing because there are few chicks remaining now. Some are nearly fledged but I saw a mixed age creche this morning with two quite young chicks with a third at least a week older. It makes sense for any age eider chicks to gang together for safety in numbers.

The surviving shelduck chicks at Balcomie – see May 25th (WC)
Mixed age creche of eiders (there were only three left in this one – a third young one is following out of shot) (WC)
Grey Plover (JA)

There was a spectacular thunderstorm over Crail this evening. We hardly ever get thunderstorms on the East Neuk. Once or twice a summer. It was right overhead today, with hail and heavy rain – 3 millimeters in three minutes. That doesn’t sound much but it usually takes a good few hours of rain here to get three millimetres recorded on my rain gauge. The frogs in my garden were loving it – 23 degrees and maximum humidity – proper amphibian weather.

Common frog – this one is probably two years old

Posted June 29, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 27th   Leave a comment

I took a slow route to work this morning, cycling up the secret bunker road, back down towards Kingsbarns past Kippo, and then across around and through Upper and Lower Kenly farms. I was looking for corn buntings. These areas don’t have more than a handful of birds. Hopefully they will spread out to them, but apparently not this year. When I map the corn buntings each year, obvious holes appear. Some of them are, like today, places where they don’t occur, but others are places where no-one has checked yet. False negatives. Well today was an exercise in turning unknown negatives into true negatives – as my PhD supervisor used to say (and it sounds better in his Geordie accent) – “good negative data”. The only corn buntings I found off the beaten track were ones on the edge that I knew about already. A good sign that we have covered the ground this year. Other new corn buntings were between known singing males in high density areas at the sea end of the Kenly Burn and between Wormiston and Cambo. They really like the fields close to the sea. Very similar fields just a kilometre inland hardly have any. We still have a few weeks of the season to go, but the total number of male singing corn buntings (the index we use to keep track of the population because they are easy to count – although the joker in the pack is that a male may sometimes have 2 or 3 females and nests on the go in a territory…) is up to 160. The total last year was 164 and that includes the farms that the RSPB volunteers monitor in much more detail – they get the joker multiple occupancy territories. It looks like the total will go well above 170 when the RSPB add their bit and so the population is still increasing. There were a lot of corn buntings at the end of the mild winter so perhaps not surprising, but still great news. The wildflower strips, fallow fields and the winter feeding are really making a difference.

Looks like another good year for the corn buntings of Crail (JA)

The wind is a bit easterly bringing the seabirds in closer to Crail. I enjoyed the auks and the manx shearwaters passing this evening, Two male velvet scoters came past, still in immaculate plumage, although I suspect they will be off to a quiet bit of coast to moult now. Their orange bills and white eye patches were positively glowing as they passed by the end of my garden.

Two drake velvet scoters (JA)

Posted June 27, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 25th   Leave a comment

I was sea watching at Fife Ness first thing this morning in the vague hope of an early Mediterranean gull. There was constant auk passage – hundreds of puffins, guillemots and razorbills passing every few minutes as the three species work as hard as they can to feed the peak demand of their rapidly growing chicks on the May Island. Now is the time to learn the three species as they pass one after the other. They are easy on close view – you can see that guillemots are milk chocolate and razorbills dark; that puffins have white faces. But as they get further out it becomes trickier. I gave some thought to what I use to split them at a distance. It’s all shape, and tilt, and relative proportions of the front and back. Hard to describe except visually (see below). I haven’t quite got it right but it’s a reasonable guide to splitting distant auks. Puffins are always easy – wobbling, oval rugby balls. Guillemots usually look bigger at the back and unevenly balanced. Razorbills look even and flat.

My guide to identifying auks in flight at a distance: guillemot (top), razorbill (middle) and, of course, puffin (bottom)

Posted June 25, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

June 22nd   Leave a comment

It is getting hard to keep track of the yellow wagtails breeding near Crail this year. I think there may be as many as five nests – two which have probably already fledged chicks. There were birds around the Thirdpart area today but not the nests where two females were very active two to three weeks ago. And at Barnsmuir there are now three areas where there are yellow wagtails, at least one active nest with a female sitting, one with a female probably feeding chicks and a third with a male hanging around as if there is also a female incubating. Optimistically that’s five nests in four separate fields, spread over 2 km. The population seems to be growing which is fantastic news for a species in decline in the UK and Europe generally. I am still not seeing more yellow wagtails here than in Africa when I join them for the winter, but they are beginning to feel more like an East Neuk bird.

A male yellow wagtail today keeping watch on its territory while I think its female was sitting on a nest (WC)

Posted June 21, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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