Harriers, Owls at last and a Liverbird(er)

30 Oct

Taking advantage of the unseasonably fine and warm conditions I decided to have an afternoon out rather than staying at home and tending my flu-struck wife and risking infection myself. With her doped up on all the painkillers she could lay her hands on and a plentiful supply of fuids, I headed for West Hartford. Heading down Hartford Bank I was delighted to see only my second northumberland red squirrel (well 2nd that hasn’t been plastered to the tarmac by traffic) so I figured it might be a good afternoon.

On arrival at West Hartford I was greeted by a buzzard hovering over the scrubby grass, keeping its eye on something down below – my first thoughts were “marsh harrier” but closer inspection revealed a buteo not a circus. Checking the main pool, hundreds of lapwings were joined by assorted gulls of the black-headed, common, herring and lesser-black backed variety and a couple of pied wagtails were flitting around and a pair of grey heron were wading by the waters edge. In one of the large trees overlooking the pool my first three fieldfares of the winter were a welcome sight.

Off in the distance a couple of buzzards circled around and then my eye was caught by a kestrel seeing off another raptor – a little too distant to be sure but it looked like a female type marsh harrier.

A little later I met a dog walker who inquired as to whether I’d seen the marsh harrier that was around earlier. Based on where he’d seen the harrier a short while previously this seems consistent with what I’d seen a short while earlier.

After some conversation I definitely started to pick up a slight scouse twang, and the dog looked like one I’d seen somewhere and suddenly 2+2 made 4 and I realised that I was talking to none other than local birding celebrity The Liverbirder. He very kindly gave me an outline of the patch and mentioned that there was also a hen harrier that had been visiting the patch in late afternoons and may be worth watching out for.

With that we went our separate ways and I spent a little time scanning the grasslands for any further sign of the bird I’d seen earlier. I was set to head back for the car when I noted a couple of crows mobbing something and when my bins were in place the unmistakeable white rump of a female type hen harrier told me that I had hit the jackpot. I watched for a while before the crows drove it to ground and then I lost it in the grass.

Northumberlandia taking shape


With the sun still shining I decided to make the short hop to Prestwick Carr in a bid to finally get to see one of the short eared owls. Although it was still fairly early in the day I figured it was worth having a look. As usual, buzzards were in evidence but little else. I got to the stand of the trees that the owls favour and had a chat with a birder surveying the scene. He thought I was too early for owls but we got chatting and he very kindly gave me some good pointers for sites in the area as well as comparing notes on our experiences in the oil industry and the middle east which we had in common.

We watched the skies and had several buzzards  but aside from a great spotted woodpecker and a few magpies there was nothing much moving, perhaps put off by the incessant racket of two lads trying out a scrambling motorbike nearby. As I eventually took my leave, up flew one of the elusive short eared owls just feet from where we were stood and I finally got a good albeit short view of only my second owl species of the year.

Overall a most satisfying afternoon – red squirrels, harriers, owls and informative chats with local birders. Now I’m back in the flu zone.

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