Sunday, 27 July 2014

Rare Raptor Breeds Successfully Locally


During one of our morning classes this term we came into the open for a very short time at about 10am, and we were about to plunge back into a wooded area.  We may have been in the open for a couple of minutes at most, but we stopped for a few seconds, while I tried to point out a distant Yellowhammer on a path.  Most people had seen it when a fairly new recruit asked what the strange bird was flying at the back of an oilseed rape field slightly to the north.  I could see immediately from its pearl grey plumage with black wing-tips and white rump, that it was a male Harrier. I wondered what on earth a male Hen Harrier would be doing in early May flying across arable fields, so I was more inclined to the even rarer Montagu's Harrier.  It also seemed noticeably rather small and slim.  I tried to ensure everyone got on to the bird, and instead of looking at it through my own defective binoculars I attempted to take some photographs.  Unfortunately, it carried on flying in a north westerly direction, and was fairly soon lost to sight.  Even though it was in full sight for 1 minute one brand new client failed to see the bird at all, but at least 2 others observed the markings on the undersides of the wings.  Checking my photographs on the back of my camera I was able to confirm that we had seen a Montagu's Harrier.  In the 10 years of the classes we had never come across this species before, so this was a lifer for the sessions.

Male Montagu's Harrier
At lunch time I contacted the head honcho of the birding community in our county to report my sighting, and ask if it was likely.  He confirmed it was, and I subsequently discovered that there was a pair nesting within 10 miles of our sighting.  I asked if I could put the pictures of the Montagu's Harrier on my blog if I obscured the location, but he replied that "there are egg collectors looking for clues" and he'd prefer that I didn't even mention the sighting on my blog for a while.  
Male Montagu's Harrier
Later that evening I received a message from one of the most promising young birders of his generation asking for more information on our sighting.  He was part of the team guarding the nest.  Apparently, the male had been seen that morning leaving the nest area at around 8.50, and then we had seen what was almost the same bird almost an hour later.  The Montagu's Harrier is an extremely scarce breeder with under 10 pairs breeding in the UK on an annual basis, so I was happy that my blog didn't put this particular pair in jeopardy.

Yesterday, the Yorkshire Post broke the news that a pair of Montagu's Harriers has bred successfully in our area fledging one youngster.  The exact location was not divulged in the paper, so I give no further information on that here.  As most people know, Hen Harriers are one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK, so one cannot be too careful with any rare species of raptor.  Once it was realised that a pair of these birds were attempting to breed, then the nest was given 24-hour protection by the RSPB.  It's a shame only 1 chick has fledged, but even one survivor is important when less than 10 pairs have bred in the UK this year.  Here's hoping they have better success in the immediate future, and more of my class members, as well as all birdwatchers have a chance of seeing them hunting locally in future years.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Such an exciting sighting, usually when we spot something unusual I manage to glimpse it just as it flies away, but this time I saw the Montagu's quite clearly as it flew along the hedge line ,presumably hunting. Just brilliant! Thank you Michael and thanks also to Clare who spotted it first.
Jan.

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