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Wild Crail -Birds and other wildlife around Crail and the East Neuk of Fife

Publication: Crail Matters

Dead Redshank
Dead Redshank Photo by by Will Cresswell | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

The Crail harbour master stopped me as I said hello outside the co-op on the 25 March and told me that there was a colour-ringed wader (marker scheme for waders in Europe and East Atlantic flyway) lying dead at the harbour and had been for some time.

I said it was most likely one of my colour-ringed redshanks although I haven’t ringed any redshanks in Crail for 9 years. I thought them all dead by now – it has been a couple of years since I saw any of my colour-ringed birds.

Redshanks have a longevity record of 27 years, but most of my Crail birds only lasted 5 or 6 years.

The harbour master delivered the corpse to my porch a bit later after I enthused about seeing it to find out for sure.

It was one of my birds – GGLG (green over green left leg above the knee, lime over green right leg above the knee; and my scheme identifiers: a tall blue ring on each leg below the knee). It was intact but fairly smelly and its innards had been eaten out by maggots.

So dead for a month at least, and probably dead from starvation or disease in the cold weather of a month ago.

I caught GGLG in the harbour on the 29January 2010, at 20:33 in a net across the entrance. It was a juvenile, so born in 2009. And it was a very small bird so almost certainly a British, probably Scottish breeder (the northern Isles or the Hebrides perhaps).

Assuming it died in February then it was 13 years and 8 months old. Not bad really. In the meantime, it has been around the Crail harbour, harbour beach and Roome Bay every winter except the last couple.

I wonder where it has been, although if it moved round the coast a little towards Anstruther,  a fishing village in the East Neuk of Fife, then I would easily overlook it.

A couple of my other Redshanks did this some winters but I am embarrassed not to have noticed it, assuming them all dead. I will run the numbers sometime to work out their annual survival rate properly. This is likely the last one gone now.     

Sapling at Kilminning
Sapling at Kilminning Photo by Will Cresswell | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

I was out all day at Kilminning on the 26 March. This time last year, we planted over 2,000 trees – maybe as many as 2,500 if you count all the willow wands and hedging plants.

Today we were checking to see how they were: weeding, mulching, straightening, and replacing stakes.

Last autumn, I checked the trees by looking down the tree guard tubes, and any trees I couldn’t see or without leaves I considered dead.

I estimated we had an 80% survival rate, and I was elated. I had been hoping for more than 50% but thought it would probably be lower.

I got a pleasant surprise last Sunday. All the tree guards that were full of grass or other vegetation where I thought the tree had been swamped turned out to have a live sapling in them. It was really hard to find any dead trees at all.

I estimate now that we easily have over 95 per cent survival of everything we planted last year. This is more than brilliant, considering the trials of drought and plenty of deer being around last summer. It was immensely satisfying to weed and remulch each tree guard and find a little tree of hope in almost everyone.

And more good news. A team of archaeologists were at Kilminning last week using ground penetrating radar to find out if the medieval graveyard there is anywhere near where we might hope to dig the big pond.

They haven’t analysed the data fully, but their impression was there was nothing there but soil. They picked up the foundations of the old farmhouse at the edge of the area, which provided proof of the process but nothing indicative of cists and other graveyard remains.

This is really encouraging, leaving 0.6 hectares of ground at Kilminning without significant archaeology, historic tarmac or SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) status where we will be allowed to fit the planned pond in.

Spring is on the way. The temperature jumped up a few degrees on the 29th of March; there was a southerly wind and a fair bit of rain. The result: the third summer migrant species of the season appeared.

Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzel Photo by John Anderson | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

This one is a bit more unexpected than the lesser black-backed gulls and chiffchaffs: a Ring ouzel that was found by local legend Chris Smout at Lower Kilminning this morning.

I went down to see it early evening in the heavy rain. You never ignore a Ring ouzel. They are great birds, and there are only a few a year – almost all turning up at Kilminning in the autumn.

I found a very well-marked bird – like a male in its nearly white big breast band and lots of white in the wing, but with a brownish tinge to its paler fringed body features, which suggested a female to me. But it was low in the grass or the bushes in the far southwest corner or feeding along the scenic airfield fence among the discarded tyres, and it was raining hard, so it wasn’t ideal conditions for a close appraisal.

Nice to see, though and to hear its stone-on-stone chacking that gives them away when they are doing their usual shy skulking.

Today’s bird will be on its way to the Highlands or Scandinavia from wintering in the hill forests of Iberia or North Africa.