Pallid Harrier, Bowland

'SECONDS ARE ALWAYS NICE' said a guy I passed in Dunsop Valley who I saw a few evenings ago. Fourths aren't bad either. I've been up in Whitendale watching this amazing bird four days running now, including taking Alexander on one of the hikes up the valley. The harrier is becoming a local celebrity in the same way that the eagle owls did a few years ago and is attracting a steady stream of admirers. It has taken me a while to work out the best plan to get the shot I had in my mind's eye and this is almost it. A little less shadow on the underparts would have been ideal but I shouldn't complain when it has taken me around 17 hours over four days to get this far. Some of this was simply in poor light conditions and this evening the light was perfect low angle, 'golden hour' light. However, from time to time I still put the camera down and simply watched the bird's wonderful sky-dancing displays instead. Surprisingly a sound as well as sight experience when it's purring trill high overhead is sometimes the first sign that it has commenced its aerobatic display over the valley. It was great to see some old friends today too! Also in the valley today were Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Hen Harrier (briefly - Bowland's one and only this year), Merlin, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel (singing), Common Cuckoo, Common Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Another day to remember in Bowland!


American Badger, Colorado April 2017

'DID YOU SEE THE LUMP IN THAT FIELD? I think it was a mammal, maybe a marmot. I'm just going back to check' was the conversation somewhere between Rifle and Hayden on my recent Colorado tour. Well, to our delight, the lump turned out to be a badger, which was digging in the middle of a grassy field surrounded by Wyoming Ground Squirrels. Before too long it sat up with a ground squirrel in its jaws, which it then proceeded to shake violently for several minutes. Even though it is fairly common and widespread, it is rare enough to see a badger in the USA let alone some action like this. We hadn't seen one on our Colorado tour for over 12 years prior to this for instance. Needless to say, things did not end well for the poor ground squirrel, which forms the majority of the badger's diet in grassland areas.


Pallid Harrier, Whitendale, Bowland

WHAT A WELCOME HOME THAT WAS! I got into WIFI range again yesterday in Houston Airport in Texas and was stunned to read news of a Pallid Harrier on my home patch in Bowland. After a relatively quiet month in the UK while I have been away in the US I was pleased not to have missed much until I read this. However, after a nervous flight home, happily I was watching it this evening with my Bowland birding friend Mark Varley. It is a bird we have often talked about as a possibility for the local fells, particularly with the increase in records in the UK/Western Europe in recent years but it still came as a shock. Even better that it is a male holding territory! It is a sign of the times that there was only one other person watching it this evening with me and Mark and we enjoyed some very nice views, although a little out of DSLR range as it quartered the hillside below the stone man in Whitendale. It even did a couple of sky dancing loops, upside down at the top of the loop while giving a high pitched chattering call. It also harassed a buzzard, which ventured within its air space, the cumbersome buzzard was quickly seen off by this tiny but aggressive ball of feathers. Interesting that it has chosen the same hillside that the Eagle Owls first used as a nest site and this was also a traditional nest site for Hen Harriers for many years previously. It must be an attractive situation. Dunsop Valley and Whitendale were alive this evening with Ring Ouzel, Common Cuckoo, Common Stonechat and Willow Warblers on the hillsides and White-throated Dipper and Common Sandpiper along the stream. A curlew sang its wonderful bubbling song in the background as the harrier graced the valley. Wonderful stuff! Massive thanks to the RSPB for deciding that the news of such a rare bird should to be broadcast as it may yet breed (even as a mixed pair with a Hen Harrier is a possibility). They would have been justified to keep it quiet and special thanks to the finder James Bray. He's already on the shortlist for my hero of the year award! Here's hoping that many folks will be able to enjoy the harrier over the coming days just like the eagle owls [the hike to the 'watchpoint' takes around one hour at a reasonable pace but is mostly on the flat].

Pallid Harrier versus Common Buzzard. No contest!


Pacific Loon, East Chevington, Northumberland

A DAY OUT ON THE NORTHUMBERLAND COAST with Mark Varley resulted in another UK lifer, the long overdue Black Scoter off the dunes at Cheswick Shiel. It took over 5.5 hours to find it in tricky conditions at times but mostly because it was probably not where we were looking at the time. We checked hundreds of Common Scoter bills until Mark eventually picked it out more or less right in front of us. Its bill like an yellow-orange light bulb. I'd been saving this one until later and I guess now it's later. There were plenty of other birds along Cheswick Sands today, including: Great Northern (two), Black-throated (one) and Red-throated (c.20) Divers; Slavonian Grebe (one); Long-tailed Duck (c.30); Common Eider; Red-breasted Merganser; Northern Fulmar (one); Razorbills and Common Guillemots; European Shags and a female Merlin, which bombed down the beach with a crow in hot pursuit. The scoter flocks were being harassed constantly by large gulls and moved around quite a lot. The day started off bright and sunny but we got rained on about half way through before the Black Scoter materialised, which did not leave much time for the Pacific Loon at East Chevington. It was surprisingly elusive, diving frequently but it did give us one nice fly past. That's all five loon species in a couple of weeks. Not such an incredible record bearing in mind we passed the site of the first one near Knaresborough on the way there and back. I wonder how many other records are lurking in the photo archives waiting to be identified? Also here of note were: kingfisher and Pink-footed Geese.

Black Scoter, Cheswick Sands

Now then! I'm supposed to find the birds! A great bit of spotting by Mark Varley saved the day.