Friday 16 August 2013

A Marsh Harrier at RSPB Langford Lowfields

Wednesday 14th August, I realised I hadn't paid a visit to RSPB Langford Lowfields in an awfully long time, so I saddled up, and headed out on a bright day with the sunshine taking the edge off a fresh breeze.

The trip out was uneventful. It was getting late in the afternoon, so pushed myself hard until reaching the reserve. There I performed an undignified gate limbo at the site entrance, pausing in my contortions to take in the excellent sightings board they have here, where a Marsh Harrier was advertised as having been seen that day.

"Fat chance", I thought. "The fun birds are never there when I show up."

 I cycled down the path, flushing out various butterflies, and what I'm guessing were the common darters found low down on the Langford path this time of year. And as I came up to the gate between Phase 1 and the First Lake, I noticed a large dark raptor making a circling anti-clockwise turn low across the path ahead of me. It was buzzard sized, but the wingplan was different, even broader looking and the tail seemed narrower and slightly longer. It slowly glided across the path and disappeared behind the treeline.

I knew instinctively it was the reported Marsh Harrier - it seemed to fly like no raptor I'd seen before. It was difficult to make out the colouration - essentially a dark brown bird with a pronounced pale buff area underneath the wing, which seemed darker at the edges.

So, I was feeling rather pleased with myself, and settled into the hide to take in the beautiful egrets out on the reedbed, along with a large number of coots and young, and out on the islands, the largest flock of lapwings I'd ever seen, easily numbering in the hundreds. Chased off by a couple of these smartly dressed peewits, a small dabbling duck made its way out on to the water. I wondered if it might have been a teal, details were hard to make out at this distance.

A small wader dashed out of the reeds for a second, before thinking better of the idea. A sandpiper possibly, I have no idea.

Every so often a group of common terns would appear, flying up from the river, every so often hovering before making a swift dive onto the water to hunt. Large dragonflies - perhaps southern or migrant hawker, patrolled the hedgerow. I had a look for the marbled white and clouded yellow butterflies I'd seen as numerous on site, but no joy.

I returned to the hide, and as I swept left to right, I caught a glimpse of large raptor flying low and slow from the left - it was actually below my vantage point. A chocolate brown bird, it was obviously the marsh harrier again. It flew at a very leisurely pace towards the river, but just fast enough to stop me getting the 10x50s on it! A first for me however, a genuinely uncommon bird, and thanks to RSPB Langford Lowfields, I'd seen it!

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