Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Marsh Harrier spectacle.

The morning dawned bright and sunny, however, a chilly SW wind kept temperatures at dawn at 5 degrees.  The afternoon was warm and very bright with a high of 18 degrees.
Early morning I walked north from 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham to as far as Watton Brook, a lovely stream which meanders through farmland and STANTA before flowing into the River Wissey.
On land north of the brook, a pair of Oystercatchers fed between grazing sheep.  Also 3 Mallard were present.
I found myself a nice spot to sit and overlook arable land, some of which has been set aside for grazing sheep.  From this point I saw several Skylarks both on the ground and singing in the early morning sunshine.  Some chasing was seen between some of these birds...rival males perhaps.  Also here a small party of about 8 Linnets came and went.
Brown Hare at Little Cressingham 09/04/14.
Whilst overviewing farmland, this Brown Hare was seen in front of me.  He/she had an idea I was in the area as it often warily sat twitching its ears (often towards me), when it had enough it moved off sharpish.  On one occasion this animal was seen quite close as it sat on its haunches, using its front paws for an early morning wash.
An interesting migrant appeared behind me as I was watching the Hare, unfortunately, the bright, low sun made it diffcult for me to locate it and if I moved...it would have moved.  The bird was a Redpoll.  This bird occasionally sang, however, the most frequent call heard was the familiar "djit djit".  I eventually saw this small Finch flying to the north.  Redpolls are sadly quite scarce breeding birds now, this particular bird would have been a winter visitor which is now on passage to its probable Scandinavian breeding grounds.

Thompson Water 1500-1800 (with Richard Farrow)
At 1500, I met my very good friend Richard Farrow at Thompson Water.  The afternoon was sunny and warm and there was a fantastic light cast over the water, reedbeds and surrounding woodland.
Several Great Tits and Reed Buntings were seen in the area of the hide and surrounding damp woodland scrub/carr.  Also in the nearby area was singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff and overhead Siskins passed by.  Cetti's Warblers occasionally gave a burst of its explosive song.
Female Marsh Harrier (one of 2) Thompson Water 09/04/14
Whilst watching birds in the area of the hide, an unusual raptor species passed overhead, further investigation revealed a female Marsh Harrier over woodland and reedbed habitat, however, Richard confirmed there were 2 female Marsh Harriers, and indeed, he captured an excellent photograph of both birds together.
The presence of these visiting raptors caused them to be the subject of attention from resident Buzzards and Corvid species which frequently mobbed the Harriers. 
Although occasionally seen at height soaring above the water, the Marsh Harriers also did what they do very well, hunting just above
Reed Bunting (male) at Thompson Water 09/04/14
the reedbeds around the periphery of the water.  It was possible at times to see the structural differences between the Marsh Harrier and close-by Buzzard.  Buzzards are much bulkier birds with broader wings than the Harrier, also, the underwing of Buzzard is a mixture of pale and darker colours with much barring, the female Marsh Harrier appears all dark with no underwing barring.   When seen head-on it was possible to see the Harriers wings held in the typical shallow V, a distinctive feature of the Harriers.
Marsh Harriers are annual passage migrants to Thompson Water. It is likely that these stunning raptors wintered in Africa, although it should be remembered that Marsh Harriers do winter in small numbers in Britain.
Richard was able to take a stunning image of the Buzzard over the water, the picture showed in excellent detail the pale underparts and conspicuous barring formed by the dark tips to the underwing coverts.  As well as mobbing the visiting Marsh Harrier, the Buzzard also made close passes at a single Cormorant.
This was a productive visit to Thompson Water and as always it was great to be in the company of my good friend Richard Farrow....thank you Richard.

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