Monday, 29 May 2017

Wykeham Raptoring

On Saturday a couple of work mates joined me in an attempt to catch up with returning Honey Buzzards at Wykeham Forest. Paul and Pete are colleagues and mates and we have been trying to do this for a couple of years. We went for the last weekend in May as its the only one I had free but we were aware we could be a couple of days early but felt it was worth the chance as there had been a strong movement of birds across the UK. We arrived on site at 09:45 and the weather was tropical. Hot and humid with barely a cloud in the sky but the forecast was for humid weather and potentially heavy showers in the afternoon. Ideal raptor weather. 

Active scanning by yours truly (left) and Paul (right). It was HYOT at this point.
Within seconds of arriving there was a male Goshawk over the far ridge. This was soon followed by a plethora of Buzzards, a couple of Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. A further, more distant Goshawk was stretching its wings before a small falcon moved west along the far side of the valley. I casually called it out as a Kes but thankfully my more observant colleagues said it looks weird. Shorter tailed than a Kes and yet with a shorter hand and weaker flight than a Hobby. The bird had a dark back, wings and tail and buffy, orange belly and underwing coverts. It looked hooded with a pale gingery head. It flew slowly west and circled at the head of the valley. When it circled it showed a white face which all three of us picked up and Pete felt it also showed a small, black mask although neither Paul or I noticed this. The white face and hooded look was the most obvious feature and along with the structure and underwing coverts plus the jizz it all added up to a female Red-footed Falcon. Sadly too distant for photos as it flew along the far side of the valley but extended views and 90 minutes after presumably the same bird arrived at Long Nab. Potentially the same bird went south at Spurn mid-afternoon, one of five in a two day period for the site.

We persevered and added a couple of additional Goshawks including an absolute flyweight male that took a little while to decipher as it was so scrawny and small but the jizz was all nazgul. A Red Kite meandered east along the valley after Paul picked it up with Buzzards and was lost to view. We shifted watch point and the rain began, just a light shower but it threw up the small gos again and he gave it the beans as he undertook an aerial pursuit on a feral pigeon. The piebald columbid managed to evade the Goshawks clutches but it was awesome to watch. Continued rain caused a change of plans and we headed back into the forest.

We rolled up at Wykeham Nurseries as I assured my colleagues that this was the place for Turtle Doves. Despite their scepticism (sitka spruce and Turtle Dove?) I assured them that they were in the right place. Just a few minutes of watching Lapwings nesting amongst small spruce saplings confused them enough and then a small dove was espied by Pete feeding in the margins. It allowed reasonable approach and Pete papped it before we moved on. Another bird was feeding in a different field and we got extended views before it flew up into a tree. A superb bird and great news that they are back - fingers crossed for them this year. We decided to have another bash at the watchpoint.

Another Red Kite worked west and was seen intermittently over a 20 minute period when we also saw a couple of Goshawks including a monster female bird. It was obvious that the watch ending deluge wasn't far off when I picked up a distant raptor circling. It moved south-east closing the distance a little and showed a white rump on a brown ground colour. Ringtail harrier. I got the boys on it but it was obvious it wasn't a Hen Harrier. It was incredibly long-winged and long-tailed and just seemed to float. My thoughts narrowed and when it decided to put the hammer down to climb and move east it showed a bounce and lightness plus a very long hand, Montagu's Harrier. It was transitting over the valley like the patrolling birds I'd seen when they were fresh in at El Hondo in Spain and lacked the power of the Pallid Harrier from the winter. Paul had already seen a couple of Pallid's this year, the juvenile female that I saw on the Humber and the adult male holding territory in Bowland plus the female Monty's at Blacktoft and he shared my view on the ID. Pete also felt the bird was incredibly rangy and buoyant. Two rare raptors in one day and despite the lack of Honey Buzzards we were delighted with the outcome. The only way it could have been better was if a Short-toed Eagle flew through (and we got a photo).

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