Monday 26 February 2024

Fife targets

I've just returned from my first trip to Fife of the year. Seeing aged relatives was the primary purpose as ever, but I find there is always time to sneak in a little bit of birding here and there, especially if I travel over a weekend. 

I arrived on Wednesday morning, leaving so early that I'd had to stay in an airport hotel the previous evening as there was no way I could have got there on public transport in the morning. I hadn't considered this when I booked the ticket, I had just assumed it would be fine, and that London, the capital and one of the largest cities in the world would have functioning transport links that would allow me to cross it no matter what time of day. Well now I know. I am kind of surprised I didn't know actually, maybe it is simply a coincidence that I've never taken this particular flight before and thus had never had to test it out. I could have taken a taxi, but this was more expensive than the hotel and would have meant getting up in the middle of the night. As it was I only had to get up at 4am.... 

So after three full days of work I had a bit of me time. Saturday morning I went and looked at the sea at Leven, then Cameron Reservoir which had a very lovely drake Smew, and then somewhat speculatively checked out a particular tree near St Andrews that had had some Waxwing in it on Friday. Remarkably it still had Waxwing in it nearly 24 hours later, a new bird for my Fife list. In the afternoon we went into Edinburgh to see my sister. I was fortunate to be able to use one of her tickets for the Rugby at Murrayfield, and so the afternoon was spent with my nephew watching Scotland spank England and win the Calcutta Cup for the fourth time in a row. Excellent. I wore my (very old) white shirt with pride, but it is a febrile atmosphere and the travelling fans were very much outnumbered. My nephew was wearing blue.... Then a lovely birthday dinner which was the main purpose for the visit.

Sunday I started early, heading west towards Rosyth via Loch Gelly. My luck was in as there were Jack Snipe ringers working St Margaret's Marsh. Having seen just one Jack Snipe in Fife before my tally is now eight by virtue of standing on the path watching as the ringers (armed with thermal imagers and a big net) attempted to sneak up on birds. I only saw them miss four by about the halfway point, but they reported 8-0 when they stopped for a break after about an hour. As I headed back towards the car I occasionally stopped and scoped them up, seeing them miss another three. Common Snipe numbered about 50, these of course getting up way before the guys got anywhere near them.

Next stop the Tay at Newburgh, somewhere I had never managed to get to in all my many visits up here. It was a clear and calm day, and I felt sure I would have a good chance of Bearded Tit in the reeds of Mugdrum Island, halfway across the river but still in Fife. These are very irregularly reported, no doubt because of the perfect conditions needed to see them. The slightest breeze and you would probably fail, but Sunday was gloriously calm, both the Forth and the Tay like glass. My scope was at the full 50x magnification, and they were still tiny, but my luck was in and I found a group of eight really quite quickly. Another Fife tick and this puts me on 199. Exciting! 

200 could have been on the cards as I headed towards a spot I'd heard about for Goshawk. Fife is well wooded, and there are apparently quite a few pairs, but they are as hard to see as elsewhere and news is of course kept to an absolute minimum. As I headed east however the weather changed markedly, as can often happen up here, with dark clouds and quite a heavy mist bearing in mind it was close to midday by now. I abandoned my planned vigil when I passed Cupar and instead went and dipped Dipper at Ceres. From there I went to my favourite spot at Letham before doubling back to the coast at Leven for a simply brilliant extended scan of Largo Bay - I was going to call it a sea-watch and then realised that wasn't quite like that. So then I came up with bay-watch, but....oh nevermind. Anyway, Velvet and Common Scoters, Black-necked Grebe (rare here), multiple Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks and Mergansers, Auks, Kittiwakes, two species of Diver, waders on the beach.... Wonderful, I love it here. A quick stop off at a nearby hill for Red Grouse and Short-eared Owl and my time was up. I'd crammed quite a lot into the weekend and ended on 93 species for my trip, with nothing added on Monday as I was working again. As usual there were Bullfinches and Tree Sparrows in my parents' garden.

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