Thursday, 17 November 2011

Swarm of Harriers and a Load of Owls

Wow, what a day! After the excitement of yesterdays Veery on Muck today was my turn for some birding and what a day it was...

I can't say exactly where the site was due to confidentiality reasons but it was on the coast somewhere and here's what happened...

We arrived late morning in foggy conditions to start our survey and within no time at all the action was underway with 2 harriers up in the air together, both with totally different wing shapes/sizes. It was a ringtail Hen Harrier mobbing a juv Marsh Harrier that had some food. After a good while the Hen finally got the food off it, showing nicely in the process!

A short while later 2 ringtail hen harriers came up behind a bank. An adult female and an immature male based on size and colouration. I watched these birds for a while as they came closer giving stunning views, the juv had some food and the female wanted it big style, after a decent battle in the air he dropped the food and she grabbed it and dropped down and consumed it.

Gradually as the weather started to improve more and more Marsh Harrier became evident, with at least 5 birds present on one side of me with another 4+ on the other side! It was crazy busy!!!

Suddenly the sky was full with golden plover and lapwing, hundreds of birds all over the place. And while all of this was going my attention was drawn behind me by a grey ghost, a stunning adult male hen harrier was stupidly close drifting by - awesome bird! They just blow my mind every time I see them!

Hen Harrier: Source Unknown BBC News.

Having that number of harriers out hunting/fighting was fantastic because they would constantly flush other birds, such as Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Great White Egret, Redshank, Geese, Swans, Pipits, Larks, Finches and one even put up a male Merlin that was sat unseen on a ploughed field!

As lunchtime approached a single Lapland Bunting flew over heading southeast. It (or another 1 or 2) were also seen/heard by two other observers later in the afternoon.

The afternoon session was full of harriers, in total we recorded at least 5 Hen Harriers and over a dozen Marsh Harriers. A couple of Peregrine flew through and flushed all sorts of birds (pigeons + plovers generally). But the afternoons main attraction was owls.

I was surrounded by four Short-eared Owls and three Barn Owl all out hunting. It was so peaceful where I was stood, not a sound and the owls just kept coming closer and closer. The Shorties were incredibly aggressive, chasing off the barn owls and the occasional Marsh Harrier. It was great to watch these birds hunting and having them all to myself and the light by this point was fantastic!

Short-eared Owl © Steve Garvie 2009

As the sun set the various harriers went off to roost, a female-type Merlin shot across trying to catch its supper and a late Kestrel and Buzzard flew through thus ending a great day!

In summary, I was glad I'm not a vole!!!

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