Twitching in Crail

We are so lucky in Crail to have the exceptionally knowledgeable Will Cresswell writing a column in the Crail newsletter. Crail is a real haven for bird watches with plenty of different habitats to study. So when you are booking your next break in Tappit Hoose don't forget your binoculars!

Here is an extract from the latest edition of the Crail newsletter from Will.

"On the Sunday of the 10th it felt like it should have been a bit busier than it was: there were quite strong winds after some light easterlies the day before and rain showers all day. But the sea remained the quietest I have seen at this time of year since I moved to Crail 14 years ago. I haven’t seen a sooty shearwater this year, manx shearwaters have been rare since the beginning of August and there are barely any great and arctic skuas passing. And watching the arctic terns far out from Fife Ness I was reminded that

little gulls are also rare this year. There are good and bad years for little gulls, and as I watched a single first winter little gull amongst the terns, it occurred to me that we are heading for a bad year for little gulls too. The stronger wind did bring more newly fledged juvenile gannets. I think they are so heavy when they fledge, they need a good strong wind to get themselves airborne and to carry them out of the Forth.

There was a pulse of waders through the Eden Estuary at the beginning of last week – curlew sandpiper, ruff and little stint – but none made it onto Balcomie Beach. There are still small

groups of dunlin, ringed plover and sanderling there. I can’t tell how much turnover there is in their numbers: perhaps not that much considering that nothing new seems to have come in. There are at least more redshanks there now and many more along the rocky shore to Crail as the juveniles start setting up their territories for the winter. These redshanks will mostly then be here for life, returning every winter that they survive. Each year some of the adults don’t come back from breeding and these territorial “holes” in the rocky shore get filled up with juveniles. How long the juveniles search for a vacant good territory is hard to tell. I think they will go for almost the first thing they find after arriving from the breeding ground. It’s a race against time – if they don’t occupy a

place soon then all the good spaces will be gone. It’s a great advantage to arrive first and so a great advantage for adults to breed early and give their young a head start in life: this is probably true of

Little Gull


most animals. On Balcomie Beach it seems much more fluid with a flock of up to 40 redshanks. They disperse out onto the rocky shore or the lower beach at low tide and do defend

small areas from other redshanks, but mainly they seem less territorial than the birds on pure rocky shore. And it is 2

not unusual to find flocks of redshank even at mid-tide on the beach. Not exactly a tight flock of “friends” like dunlin, but a definitely a group of birds tolerating each other. These are often juveniles so I wonder if they are making the best of a bad job in the absence of a territory. There were large flocks of seabirds finally at the end of last week,

just out of sight from Fife Ness. I have been able to see only the vague shapes of hundreds of gulls just popping up above the horizon, shimmering in the heat haze – perhaps even a mirage of gulls even further out. Aesthetically pleasing but very irritating. Far too far out to see which species are involved. One flock made it into the Forth between Crail and the May Island last Thursday evening. All kittiwakes that I could identify but still far enough out that there was probably something else among them. I keep waiting for some winds to bring them all closer. "

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