24 December 2010
Northwick Warth and Aust Warth.
A chilly, snow covered day between the two Severn crossings. I went specifically for the male Merlin, which duly appeared within two seconds of setting up my scope at Aust Warth. I watched (distant views, but passable through the scope) it fly low over the vegetation for about ten seconds, perch briefly and then spring upwards to pursue a Pipit. Then I lost it - and didn't see it again.
A large female Sparrowhawk flew directly overhead, and a Kestrel lazily flew along the shoreline.
I decided to walk down to Northwick Warth to the gate midway along the footpath. From there, at 1110hrs, I observed a large Harrier casually flying NE upriver over the Warth. It wasn't hunting, just 'ambling along'. It flew off towards the first Severn crossing, and out of range. Now, I felt strongly that this bird was a female / juvenile Marsh Harrier. No markings on the tail (absolutely no white rump), consistently very dark, and a noticably heavy (for a Harrier) build. In argument against, and to be honest, lighter markings on the head were hard to discern. But still, the unmarked tail and no white rump sells it for me.
I spoke with another birder who said that a ringtail Hen Harrier had been seen shortly before at New Passage. In addition, RBA has a ringtail Hen Harrier sighted flying NE over Chittering Warth at 1015hrs and Severnside Birds has a shot of an obvious Hen Harrier (probably the same individual). The site reports that the Hen Harrier stayed the afternoon at Aust Warth (from 1340hrs onwards) and also roosted there. So it lingered. Long before that my bird disappeared completely out of sight and for the remaining duration of my visit did not return... so I stick by my identification as a female / juvenile Marsh Harrier.
I'd love what I saw to be the Hen Harrier (it would've been a long overdue lifer), but it wasn't. Infact, given that I chose to visit today I consider myself unfortunate to have missed it. I realise that all this sounds awfully coincidental and that the simplest explanation is that there was no Marsh Harrier. But the thing is... there was. I think a Hen Harrier stayed for the day, and a Marsh Harrier passed through.
I drove down to New Passage hoping to find the Merlin, but the wind was getting up and so the temperature really began to take its toll. Plus, the Merlin didn't show. Finally, another 30 minute stint at Aust Warth was as far as my box of Maltesers would take me. I left 20 minutes (at 1320hrs) before the definite Hen Harrier showed well at Aust! By then, the Marsh Harrier was long gone...
Weatherman says the Sun will come out tomorrow.
Posted by Chris Berry at 18:03