Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pallid Harrier at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland, Saturday 22nd October

Another autumn weekend and another opportunity to see a great bird. This time, a Pallid Harrier at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland. An eagle-eyed local birder found the bird on Thursday 20th and suspected it was a rare Pallid, not the more usual (but lovely all the same) Hen Harrier. Props to him – an excellent find. It being a completely new bird for me I rearranged some weekend jobs and set off early on Saturday 22nd to Saltholme.

If you've never been to Saltholme, I highly recommend it. There’s more then enough habitat to keep any birder, general naturalist, or family occupied for a whole day (great map here). I love it, if for no other reason, because of the wonderful views I got of a pair of Water Voles about three metres away in a pool by a path in bright sunshine last year.

After an hour or so of looking around Dormans Pool (with a fair few other birders), we hadn’t relocated the bird. There was a good chance it was still in the area, and I wanted to have a look round the reserve proper, once it opened; so I decided I’d try my luck with a pair Richard’s Pipits pone the coast at Boulby first. Then I could be back at lunchtime and do some more looking.

The view from Tees Transporter Bridge , Cleveland, 22nd October 2011

So over the ace Tees Transporter Bridge, and out to Boulby. The directions the finders gave said the pipits were in the first field east on the radio mast. Well, this caused a bit of an argument between me and the other couple of birders I met on site! The coast here ran east-west, not north-south as your instincts tells you. So, the field between the mast and the sea was not the field to the east, it was to the north. But did the person giving the instructions know this? I tried to explain this to the other two, while they each had their own theories…

But, I spent a pleasant couple of hours with one of the birders on the cliff tops looking in vain for the pipits. I did find a Ring Ouzel while there, so that was bonus. The bird looked tired as it sat almost motionless on the cliff top, until being mobbed by some Jackdaws. It has a darkish bill and lots of pale grey in the wing, plus the white breast band shining brightly in the sunshine.

The view from Boulby Cliffs, Cleveland, 22nd October 2011

I went back to Saltholme and as I drew into the car park I noticed some birders pointing over to the fire station and Bottom Pool. I raced across and the birders told me they'd seen a ringtail, but weren’t sure what type. We waited for a five minutes, all scanning the horizon for clues, while many others birders came across to join in. Then, there it was – a long-winged, white-rumped, juvenile harrier, with a pale orange breast and (most strikingly) a pale neck ring with big thick dark borders, clear with the naked eye. A Pallid Harrier! Get in!

Mobbed all the while by Lapwings and crows, it quartered the surrounding area giving great views – none better than those got by the people in a passing car. The harrier flew at their eye level by the road, no more that ten metres away, as the car occupants understandably stopped to watch.

After that, anything else was a bonus, so I didn’t mind at all dipping on the Semipalmated Sandpiper that had been reported from the Saltholme Pools hide. Plenty of Dunlin around to have a close look at, goose numbers building up, gulls in various plumages to analyse, and some lovely finches on the feeders.

I also got a great view of my first Fieldfare of this winter. It had been chased of the deck by a Lapwing and landed on a nearby fencepost. I checked the plumage and a quick gander at my BirdGuides reference app told me it was a first-winter bird - I’m learning!

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