Saturday, 24 September 2011

Palid Harrier Twitch

23rd September:
I woke up early today which was just as well because when I looked at my email I found a message from Steve Ashton saying he and Alan Ashdown were going try to see the palid harrier at Burpham (near Arundel), departing from Sturry at 7.00. I decided to join them and drove off to Sturry. From there we picked up Mike Gould and Martin Casemore and off to jolly West Sussex we went. Martin had already been down to see the harrier so finding the exact location was not a problem.
On arrival we were told the bird had been seen twice already and in fact we had only just missed it.
It seems the bird roams the hills and valleys of the area but there was a stubble field with a strip of un-harvested cgame strip that it normally hunted along so we made our way to that, taking up position in a lane that runs alongside the field.
As always this position was not perfect and the discontent grew. Although it was the closest you could get to the game strip you were looking south into the sun. After about 20-30 minutes Steve, Martin and myself decided we would try and get round the other side of the stubble field. This was not a good idea. We had only gone a couple of hundred yards when there was a flurry of activity from the other twitchers on site – the bird had turned up – but by this time we were deep in a sunken road and could see absolutely nothing!!!!!!
We eventually found an opening at the top of the lane but the bird was long gone. Mike and Alan turned up a few minutes later in very good humour because they had had good views and Mike had managed a few record shots.
As for our new position, although it was better with respect to the sun it was actually too far away from the game strip so we went back to our initial position – helped on our way by a couple of the local game keepers!
It was now around 11.00am but it was everyones opinion that it would be back in 30 minutes so we weren’t too perturbed and settled down for the wait. We waited and waited and waited.
 It seems this area is very good for raptors and whilst waiting we saw a number of  kestrels (highest number at any one time being 4), a couple of sparrow hawks, 4 or 5 red kites and numerous buzzards – I think we reached 11 or 12 visible at one point. One of the buzzards did have the good grace to fly right over our heads and for those who weren’t ready with the camera it circled above us a couple of times before disappearing up the valley.
Common Buzzard
By 1.00 o’clock things were looking grim and we had a debate as to whether we should give up and go look for the sabines gull that was nearby or stick it out to the bitter end. I was certainly getting a little despondent and was ready to quit but we stayed and I’m glad we did because at 2.15 it finally reappeared!
The bird came in from our left (east) coming quickly down the hill and disappearing behind the trees that line the lane. It then turned towards us and started hunting the eastern end of the stubble field and the adjacent pasture. It was always very distant, flying very slowly then going into a hover before moving on. This continued for a couple of minutes when it dropped to the ground and when it took to the air it had a small critter in its talons. During this time we were all frantically trying to get a picture but most of the time it was too distant and the cameras would not lock on. In fact the only shot I manages was of it banking away with its prey firmly in its talons.
Palid Harrier with prey
This is where our luck really changed for the better because instead of flying off with its lunch it landed on the far edge of the stubble field directly opposite from where we were standing. It was distant (200yards?) but it could be seen and the markings/colouring appreciated. I did take a shot of it on the deck drawing on the hints and tips Phil Milton has been giving me on how to get a good picture of a bird:
Spot the Harrier
It is there!

It was a long way to go and the long wait did try our patience (especially mine!) but it was worth it in the end – it’s the first palid harrier Steve, Al and I had seen.

After ~ 30 minutes on the floor the bird took to the air and did a couple of passes along the game strip allowing brilliant views and some decent record shots. At 2.50 it was all over and we all went through our pictures to see how we fared. I’ll let you decide.


  1. i'd say they were a bit better than record shots! Nice one :-)

  2. Brilliant shots! Saw my first Pallid at Cliffe Pools this evening - pretty special. An excellent blog btw.

  3. Nice reading and good pictures of the harrier...
    Saludos camperos!