Monday, 9 June 2014

Marsh Harriers at Sculthorpe Moor

Thanks to a last-minute call from Mike Dawson and kind invitation from Lin Murray of the Hawk and Owl Trust, we had a wonderful evening out at Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve to watch the Marsh Harrier chicks being tagged and ringed by Phil Littler and John Middleton.

View over Marsh Harrier habitat from the Whitley Hide.
The evening began auspiciously, with a Red Kite soaring over the car park at the visitor centre shortly after we arrived. Together with the other guests we walked down towards the Whitley Hide, passing a feeding station together with a family of Bullfinches (male, female and two juveniles) on the way. Comfortably installed in an extremely well-appointed hide, we soon heard the song of a Cuckoo, which then flew across the meadow in front of us. As the ringers walked out to the nest, the female Marsh Harrier flushed and began to circle high above the nest, calling.

Meanwhile, the monitor showed the four chicks eyeing the approaching ornithologists. It was not long before the boys were holding three bags, each containing a Marsh Harrier chick (the youngest was too small to ring). In a very short time, Phil and John had measured, ringed and tagged all three chicks: two females and a male. They had nevertheless used the opportunity to explain the entire process to us, to tell us how previous tagged birds had fared and to discuss how the data had been used. We also learned how to sex the species, even at this young age, according to talon span.

Phil Littler & John Middleton get to work on the first bird, putting on the ring.
Phil Littler & John Middleton attaching the wing tag.
John Middleton with tagged and ringed Marsh Harrier chick.
I've done my fair share of ringing over the years but this was something else truly inspirational place and people.

The next generation of Marsh Harriers: tagged, ringed and restored to the nest.

The progress of this nest can be followed on the Hawk and Owl Trust's live webcam. Must get over to Norwich Cathedral to see the Peregrines before they leave...

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