March 3rd   Leave a comment

1st winter kittiwake passing Crail

Despite the continuing thaw and easing winds Crail was still full of fieldfares, with several on the rocky shore. There were also redwings today, or at least I noticed them. One was unmissable, foraging under my bird feeder – like the fieldfare earlier this week I usually only have them flying over my garden. There were more in Denburn and Beech Walk Park later. There was a flock of more than 100 skylark out in the big field between Balcomie Caravan Park and Kirklands: there may be some more interesting things among them but the snow showers and wind made checking them out difficult. Another good flock – of linnets and goldfinches – was congregated at the Bow Butts corn bunting seed patch. These patches will have been a real lifeline over the last few days to a lot of birds. There were quite a few kittiwakes passing close in and low over the rocks of Roome Bay, they were with a steady passage of common gulls heading east out of the Forth. It should be worth sea watching tomorrow as birds blown about by the storm move back along the coast to where they want to be.


Posted March 3, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 2nd   Leave a comment

It was much less windy today with the waves half the size of yesterday, although still a day to be inland. The snow was slowly melting all day and the roads were completely clear by the evening. The tree sparrows visiting my back garden feeder were a distraction again as I worked at home. At least eight today, always visiting as a tight flock. They visited every fifteen minutes or so until about 10 in the morning and then disappeared until mid-afternoon. I can’t think they were having a hard time of it. That’s their typical pattern of feeding in good weather. But my feeder needed filling up afterwards so it was probably making all the difference. If we know a sparrow weighs about 24g and assume it needs about 30% of its body weight in seed a day, then a sparrow needs 7 gm of seed a day. If we get a 1 kg bag of mixed seed (high end low wheat stuff) for a pound then that will keep one sparrow alive for 142 days if it eats nothing else – let’s say that’s the winter covered (it certainly is for usually mild Crail). So, a pound a bird a winter at maximum, and each bird will be eating natural food as well, so that pound probably goes much, much further in terms of bird survival. Sounds like a bargain even for just the entertainment I got today watching the tree sparrows shyly egging each other on to be the first at the feeder so that the rest would know it was safe. Then their jostling cockiness when they all finally got to the feeder, but on a knife edge, with the slightest disturbance turning them back to their game of grandmother’s footsteps.

A terrible photo of one of my tree sparrows: the result of a misspent morning working at home, a telescope, a snowy window and my phone camera

Posted March 2, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

March 1st   Leave a comment


Another day of cold easterly winds and snow showers although the temperature climbed just above freezing by late afternoon as a faint hope that things were getting a bit better. And a day of birds in odd places to try to escape the storm: shags clustered close in to the shore at West Braes with even the toughest of the tough, purple sandpipers, feeding on the beach like sanderlings away from the murderous waves crashing against their usual rocky haunts. There was a fieldfare in my garden trying its luck on the shiny ornamental crab apples that even my resident hungry blackbirds avoid. I have only ever had fieldfares flying over my garden and then not very often. It has been a good winter for fieldfares with a large flock in the fields just to the north of Crail for most of it, but today they came into Crail for the shelter.

West Braes in the storm – thanks to my son Sam for this photo

Posted March 1, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 28th   Leave a comment

The waves are getting larger as the strong cold wind continues, crashing into Crail. There was not much passing at sea except fulmars, looking dark grey like proper Arctic fulmars against the white horses. Most birds are sheltering, inland if they can like the gulls, or in more sheltered waters. Even so, with such stormy seas the shags will be having a hard time as the waters become too turbulent for them to see their prey. There will be a few corpses by the weekend. If you see a large black bird dead on the strand line check it for a colourful leg ring with some letter and numbers engraved on it. Let me know and I will pass the information on to the May Island team that rings the shags each year and keeps tabs on their movements and survival.


Posted February 28, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 27th   Leave a comment

The May Island was briefly turned white by this afternoon’s snow showers. I was reminded of the gannets that turn the Bass Rock white for the summer. They are just coming back now and beginning to shuttle back and forth past Crail. The easterly winds that have brought the snow have also brought huge waves so that gannets – not so small themselves – disappear between the troughs. When they do reappear, they contrast brilliantly with the flat greys of the snowy skies. A gannet looks just right over a stormy sea.


Posted February 27, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 25th   Leave a comment

There has been a strong south-easterly wind for the last couple of days bringing in colder weather to Crail. Big waves and more gannets, and also a lot of seaweed getting washed up onto the beaches. There are large piles in the corner of Roome Bay below the cliffs completely covering the rocks. The washed in wrack will be rotting down even in this cold weather and will be full of seaweed fly maggots. This attracts the pipits and wagtails, the oystercatchers, turnstones and the redshanks, and so the kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards. A short but exciting food chain that can be viewed in its entirety in any hour down on the beach. I had a buzzard and a kestrel trying their luck in just ten minutes there this morning. I was also keeping an eye out for black redstarts – the winds might be just a bit too early for these early migrants but in a week or two we will be in peak time for their passage through Crail. Never more than one or two a year, but they do turn up on the rooftops right in the middle of town or on the rocks of the shore right by the coastal path.

Pied wagtail

Great spotted woodpecker

I have been neglecting Denburn Wood for Kilminning over the last year. Denburn was full of birds this morning. A huge, extended mixed tit flock including the Crail long-tailed tit flock, chaffinches, goldcrests, robins, tree-creepers and a great-spotted woodpecker. We only have the one woodpecker species in Crail – great-spotted woodpeckers are starling size, black and white with a splash or two of bright red. They often visit feeders and if you have a woodpecker in your garden in Crail it will be a great-spotted. I have had one green woodpecker in Crail: a juvenile in August about 10 years ago. Green woodpeckers are more common further in Fife but hardly ever get out as far as the relatively treeless East Neuk. The other British woodpecker species is the lesser spotted woodpecker that is also black and white but only the size of a sparrow so easy to distinguish from a great spotted. They have declined massively in the UK over the last 40 years and hardly occurred in Scotland anyway, so are very unlikely to turn up in Crail. Lesser-spotted woodpeckers like the really old, rotten trees that are nowadays never tolerated in human landscapes (as you will have noticed in Beechwood Park last week even perfectly good trees and branches now get chopped down to keep things tidy…). Luckily great spotted woodpeckers are great urban survivors, travelling long distances to isolated tree stands and feeding quite happily in live as well as dead trees. They are reliable even in Crail.

Posted February 25, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

February 22nd   Leave a comment

Grey partridge

At this time of year the grey partridges stop flocking and form pairs ready for the breeding season: they switch from the covey period to the pair period. There have been a lot of coveys this winter with up to 12 birds in them. These usually reflect a pair’s success at breeding in the previous summer. We are lucky still to have good densities of grey partridges around Crail. Our densities are probably high enough that we now export grey partridges as the young from last year try to find their own space to breed. High densities of partridge are important both to dilute nest predation risk during the summer and also to allow large coveys in the winter so that there are always enough eyes in a flock to both keep a watch for predators while allowing time to feed. Once grey partridges start declining it is hard to get them back because it gets progressively tougher for the remaining birds.

Posted February 22, 2018 by aboutcrail in Sightings

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