Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Watching Harriers

In the last few hours of daylight on a beautiful winters day, I watched three Hen Harriers hunting over fields. The light was perfect and the birds were as close as I have ever seen harriers. There were two females and a male, and they were quartering over fields which contained an impressive selection of species, including a Barn Owl, an adult Mediterranean Gull a flock of 350 Lapwings, several Golden Plover, Woodpigeons, Red-legged Partridge and gulls.

The ghostly grey male flew with a larger brown female, and the two rose briefly into the air together almost clasping talons before continuing the hunt. Both birds had a white rump, but it was much more obvious on the darker female. The third bird kept its distance, and I did wonder if it might be a young bird. At one point the female left the male and flew towards me over a ploughed field, it’s owl like face pointing directly down, oblivious to everything as it searched for prey. I couldn’t see any Red-legged Partridge on the ground, but I knew they were there, because one by one they flew up in panic as the harrier approached. Occasionally the bird would swerve towards a fleeing partridge, the barring on the raptors tail standing out in the bright winter sunlight, but I didn’t see it make a kill

For three hours I watched the fields, and saw the harriers several times, each time at quite close range. Of course I’ve seen harriers many times before, but this was different, this was the first time I have really watched their hunting techniques, and it was a privilege to see them so well. Meanwhile, in the background a Barn Owl hunted along the ditches in broad daylight, and up to eight Buzzards soared over the distant woodland. A wonderful afternoons birding.

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