Hunting a harrier

Brenda writes: “It’s very easy not to notice the world around us as we rush from one job to the next, but if we keep our eyes open it’s amazing what we can see. Down the years much of my daily logging of wild flower species has been picked up by observing things on the grass verge or the edges of footpaths. So today, for instance, between home and Burnham Market I saw two buzzards sitting in bushes, a red kite overhead and a grey heron and a pheasant on the grass verge. Once the flower season really gets going the larger species will be instantly recognisable as I drive or walk to and from my various engagements. It helps to oil the wheels of a working day!”

Whilst Brenda was running around between meetings I was at home recording a video and answering emails, but at about 2.30pm I popped out to a section of the saltmarsh between here and Stiffkey to try to spot a particular bird, a pallid harrier. This is a fairly rare visitor to our shores and potentially hard to identify in a large expanse of marsh. If you’ve been reading these posts you’ll know (or you might already have known) that marsh harriers are very common along the coast of Norfolk. Hen harriers are much less common, but fairly regular. A pallid harrier is a different matter, but this juvenile has been around now for several weeks. I had tried to spot it about a week ago – a worthwhile couple of hours as although I didn’t see the pallid harrier I did manage merlin, hen harrier and sparrowhawk ( – but since it was still reported as being around I thought I’d give it another go!

There are a couple of different access points to the marsh and the one I chose had no other birdwatchers nearby when I arrived, though I could see a small group further along the coast path. I decided to be independent and try to find the harrier on my own – a somewhat foolhardy exercise with acres of saltmarsh (an area known as Warham Greens) to scan for a bird I have never seen before! But then another birder turned up and we got chatting: He had seen the bird several times and was obviously very knowledgeable. A useful person to have around!

sunset today looking west from Warham Greens

There were lots of redshank and curlew, a good smattering of hares and a couple of cormorants. We then saw a beautifully plumaged marsh harrier hunting. And then my colleague picked up a harrier with a ringtail – so either hen or the pallid. I got it in the telescope and then it turned in the afternoon sunshine and showed the deep rufous breast colours; it was the pallid harrier, confirmed by my acquaintance – my third new life list species for January. It was fairly distant but flew around for a couple of minutes giving me a good view of its colouration and general shape. I may well go back again soon to try to get a better view.

And to keep us happy, just before I left for home, a hunting barn owl flew silently past us at close range. A good end to the first month of 2023!

New species for January 31st:
Birds: pallid harrier

Birds = 113
Moths = 2
Wildflowers = 11