A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Montagu's Harriers - Blacktoft Sands RSPB

Hearing that a pair of Montagu’s Harriers had set up territory at RSPB Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire, and with the reserve making the news public last Monday, a trip to the east coast was in order to try and catch up with these beautiful raptors.

One of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, their survival is jeopardised by illegal hunting both here in Britain and whilst on migration, as well as from egg collectors and thieves, and it is for these reasons that the nest is thankfully being guarded 24-7 under the protection from wardens.
Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Arriving at Singleton Hide where the birds have been showing over the reedbed, we didn’t have to wait long before the shout went up from one of the assembled birders to alert us that the female had taken to the air to fend off an approaching Marsh Harrier.

Chasing off the larger intruder from her territory, the difference in size and structure was especially apparent, the female Monties much smaller and streamlined, with the long, thin, sickle shaped wings in clear contrast to the Marsh Harriers thick-set and sturdy shape.
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
We happily watched her quartering over the reedbed several times before dropping back down in to the dense cover of the reeds, arising again over several intervals to survey her surroundings and providing a great show to all those watching.
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Before long, another shout went up that the male was approaching having returned from a hunting trip, and sure enough, a pale, ghostly figure could be seen appearing from the trees on the far left, gliding over to the nest site and where the female was waiting. With her taking to the air to greet him, it was apparent that a feeding pass was going to take place, and sure enough the two met up in the air as a small parcel of prey was exchanged. Absolutely amazing to watch and the pair showed much better than I’d ever imagined as they bonded and played in the air, providing a great spectacle for all those watching.
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Very similar to the much more familiar Hen Harriers, the Montagu’s differ by their much thinner wings and overall slimmer structure, and the distinctive two black bands on the upperside of the wings on the male was apparent even from a distance.
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
The black bars on the wings show up well
Having not seen any in Norfolk at the regular site, and failing to see what is presumably this same pair on their breeding grounds just slightly further away from the reserve at their nest site last year, it was great to finally catch up with them, and despite seeing both male and female Monties before in Spain, this was a much wanted bird for me in the UK!
Montagu's Harrier - Spain
The male Monties from Spain
Montagu's Harrier - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Record shots were all that was possible from the hide :)
With an assembled cast of a great flyover Spoonbill (that found the water too deep for it’s liking to land), a late Pink-footed Goose and a nice Bearded Tit that Alex spotted mooching about the reeds, it was all in all a great day at the reserve – despite not being able to track down a pair of elusive Garganey at Xerox hide!!
Spoonbill - Blacktoft Sands RSPB
I’d highly recommend a visit to Blacktoft for anyone wanting to get views of this species in the UK, as at present the pair are extremely reliable with sightings each day. The reserve also provides the perfect opportunity to see Montagu’s Harriers without posing any risk of disturbance to nesting pairs - here’s hoping they have a successful breeding season and continue to return to Blacktoft for many years to come!

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