Lade - cold, dry, sunny, nw 4 - Another nippy old morning with a chill nor-wester raking the flatlands. As we struck out across the shingle towards south lake almost the first bird on offer was a spanking ringtail Hen Harrier working its way low over the Desert into the breeze. I slumped down in the lee of a gorse thicket and watched as she slowly worked her way up the side of Mockmill sewer flushing a few Mipits and Reed Buntings along the way, twisting, turning and banking, before eventually disappearing behind the `mirrors`.
She must`ve been in view for a full three minutes with the sun behind me showing every plumage detail, including her yellow cere. Although essentially a brown and white raptor the upper wing comprised three tones from an almost yellowish-brown forewing patch to contrasting darker bands running along the wing and the wing tips, with paler feather shafts. The bright, white rump shone like a beacon in the sunshine, while the underparts were noticeably white with heavy brown streaking. Size is always difficult to judge on a lone bird but as I see harriers on a daily basis I reckoned it was a biggish adult female.
This winter there appears to be two Hen Harriers on the Marsh; a beautiful `grey ghost` adult male, which seems to stick mainly to Walland Marsh (see PB`s recent post for stunning pics: www.ploddingbirder.blogspot.co.uk ) and this female that I`ve now seen at Midley, Scotney, Dengemarsh and Lade over the past couple of months. Both birds have been seen going to roost on the ranges.
In Britain Hen Harriers tend breed in the uplands, and not very successfully, due to persecution on grouse moors, whereas just over the Channel into north France we`ve found them nesting in young plantations in Crecy forest where they appear to go unmolested. Quite why they don't adopt a similar breeding strategy in southern England is something of a mystery.
The walk back along the beach was interesting for the thousands of shellfish washed up along the tideline following the recent north-easterly gales. Mostly cockles, but also many razors, scallops, whelks, plus more Barrel Jellyfish. Inevitably there was several parties of Turnstones scavenging the flotsam and jetsam.
This afternoon the wind dropped and it felt almost spring-like. In the warm sunshine I gave the front of the cottage a lick of paint to the accompaniment of cackling Starlings, cooing Collared Doves and a singing Goldcrest in the fir trees.