15 February 2006

The majestic Hen Harrier

A magic moment, surely one of my best ever birding experiences - watching an adult male Hen Harrier sweeping along the coast, up and across the salt flats and through a flock of startled Golden Plover. Lazily this large, pale grey raptor with distinctive black wingtips floated through the plovers until SNAP - with a quick twist and burst of acceleration he grabbed one out of the air and forced it to the ground.

All was not as it seemed however - after a moment he rose again, empty-clawed, and instead of feeding was forced to carry on gliding along the coast. Successful or not, it was a wonderful thing to watch.

The action happened at Fingeringhoe, a wonderful location on the coast of Essex where tidal marshes combine with mature woodland and several other types of habitat to ensure a rich birding experience. The Hen Harrier (my first) was a highlight, but it was a marvellous day all round. Thousands of Dunlin, Golden and Grey Plover, Shelduck, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Wigeon, and Oystercatcher were joined by other birds throughout the morning - such as three Red-breasted Merganser, a Buzzard, and 400 beautiful glittering Avocet which swept up the tidal channel just a few feet above the water.

I rounded the day off by returning to Abberton Reservoir. From its main causeway I found my first Turnstones of the year - most obliging they were too, coming within a few feet of the roadside enabling the photograph you see here. I'd rather have had the chance to take pictures of the Hen Harrier, but even without photos I know that particular moment will linger long in the memory.

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