The falling temperatures mean “goodbye insects (see you next spring!) and hello again winter birds”. Yes, bees have all but disappeared and apart from a few shivering red admirals and hardy hoverflies, the action turns to our feathered friends who are flocking in for the winter. The summer visitors such as swallows and warblers are on their way to Africa but we’re now looking forward to thrushes, ducks and (for the keener birdwatcher!) gulls. By gulls, we’re not just talking about what are loosely termed “seagulls”, i.e. the big, heavy-beaked jobs which are the subject of annual debate in every seaside community, when their territorial behaviour may occasionally give rise to fear and loathing amongst some members of the community.Common gull – smaller and finer billed than “seagulls” (i.e. herring and black-backed gulls), mild-mannered too!
Kinghorn Loch is a great place to study the smaller members of the gull family, such as the common gull and the black-headed gull, both of whose numbers are swelled by birds arriving to spend the winter feeding on local beaches and fields. They use the Loch to have a wash and a drink of fresh water, especially in late afternoon. Both of these birds’ English names are misnomers – nationally speaking, the common gull isn’t especially common and the black-headed gull doesn’t have a black head. In its winter plumage the head is white, with a small black dot behind the ear (and in the summer it’s brown!). Black-headed gull – note the fine red bill and white blaze on the wings
Many black headed gulls spending the winter here come from much further afield. I saw one with a numbered ring on its leg on Burntisland beach last January that had been fledged in Norway 13 years previously.
Many of the winter wildfowl are yet to arrive but, as well as mallard, coots and moorhens, there are two species of grebe on the Loch, both of which successfully raised young here back in the summer.Young little grebe in drab winter garb, in summer plumage it has a bright chestnut neck and cheeksGreat crested grebe - but the crest goes missing at this time of yearThis Syrphus ribesii hoverfly was still finding some nectar on a patch of corn marigolds A red admiral catching some rays on late flowering knapweed
Some butterflies, e.g. small tortoiseshell and peacock, can hibernate but sadly this one is unlikely to survive.
Any time now the winter thrushes will be arriving from Scandinavia and further east. The two main species are redwings and fieldfares, but did you know that the blackbirds and song thrushes you see in your gardens in winter may also be foreigners?Rowan berries waiting to be devoured by winter thrushes – and, if we’re lucky – waxwings. The bird/rowan relationship is an example of symbiosis, i.e. both benefit. The bird gets nourishment from the berries and the rowan tree has its seeds disseminated in the bird’s droppings.Waxwing
Last winter was a good one for them, with multiple flocks of these exotic visitors throughout the country. Whether or not they arrive depends on the berry crop back home in Scandinavia. If it’s a poor year then they’ll make the trip, hoping for better pickings here. Keep your eyes peeled!