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2 Oct 2017

Pallid Harrier on the Dee estuary - potentially a 1st for Cheshire.

Pallid harrier is one of those rarities that seem to have got commoner over the last decade as they've increased their breeding range westwards into Finland. A pair also bred for the 1st time in Holland this year and there was a long staying male displaying at Bowland. With a winter harrier roost off parkgate Old Baths we've been hoping for a Pallid Harrier for some time - especially as their now almost expected on our annual Shetland jaunt. The 1st one I ever saw was when I was working in Finland in 1983 when it was still scarce over there and I twitched it with a mad group of Finnish birders. The first UK one I saw was the juvenile at Winterton, Norfolk in June 2006 - I took a very young Dan Pointon along with me! Photo's of this bird I took are below:




When Alan Davies reported he'd seen an interesting, small, long winged harrier distantly on the Dee estuary last week my interest was aroused. Unfortunately I couldn't get down during the week and after a few days with no news it was temporarily forgotten. Until the weekend............

Independently both Eddie Williams and Mark Garner saw it and both confirmed it was a Pallid Harrier. Mark P arranged to come to our house and we travelled the short distance to the marshes in pouring rain to find we'd just missed the harrier by a few minutes! It was quite a social gathering of Cheshire & Wirral's finest waiting patiently in the pouring rain. At this point the bird was tentatively being aged as an adult female, not a juvenile, and to make things even more confusing there was a ring-tailed Hen Harrier in the same location that some people were watching whilst others were watching the Pallid Harrier! It didn't help when people claimed they'd seen it then asked what it looked like and what the identifying features were. No wonder the bird information services got their undies in a twist on the Sunday and were putting out Pallid / Hen Harrier!

After a long wait the bird appeared again and flew past at distance before pitching down into the marsh where it spent the next 90 minutes barely visible. A Hen harrier appeared and we were all watching that and comparing diagnostic features when the Pallid decided to fly again! This time it put on a good show to an appreciative audience and video footage and photo's were obtained seemingly proving it was an adult female.

Mindful of the spectre of hybridisation with Hen Harrier (common in Finland) a great deal of attention was paid to the all important wing formula. Jack Ashton Booth's blog was great help in this respect:  http://raptor-id.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/harrier-hack-1.html?m=0

A bird we also saw at Loch Hillwell, Shetland that had been apparently oiled by a Fulmar also caused a lot of discussion at the time. See here: http://birdingfrontiers.com/2011/10/13/juvenile-pallid-harrier-identification/

Overall we were happy it was a sub adult female rather than a juvenile. I didn't take my camera with me because of the pouring rain. Luckily Simon Slade was braver than me and took the pictures below.




A great afternoons birding with great company, a good craic, some good discussion and some good birds. As well as the Pallid Harrier there was a supporting cast of 3 Short-eared Owls (all in the air together), Hen Harrier, at least 3 different Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine and Kestrel as well as at least 2 Great-white Egrets (seen together).

1 comment :

Hugh Pulsford said...

This is an interesting bird but I think that the various photographs and video suggest some mixed features that might conclude it was not a pure Pallid Harrier. It is certainly an adult on moult and a female. There is no evidence of Hen harrier in its structure, plumage or moult. Features which might suggest a mixed parentage include the underwing primaries barring does not look consistent across all the underwing, there does not appear to be a pale wedge at the base of the primaries, the axillaries show barring which does not appear to be just extensive spotting as it extends onto the body, the underbody streaking is incredibly minimal and fine with only a slight demarcation between the breast and belly, and the facial pattern doesn't quite match as expected, there appears to be no white or pale neck collar, the dark eye stripe is indistinct with the white cheek patch appears to be large and the supercilium appears broad. I did not see the bird and all these comments are taken from an analysis from the photographs. A suite of pictures have been shared with Dick Forsman, who also concludes that an identification of a "pure" Pallid Harrier is probably unsafe. However at this point in time no one has been bothered to submit the record to BBRC, so this record may well get lost in the ether!