While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food, which mainly consists of meadow pipits and voles." This is a RED list bird.
So when a "ringtail" was reported at Hay Street I couldn't just sit at home (15 minutes drive away) and forego the chance to see what is unfortunately becoming a "rare bird", I'd not seen one before except on TV and besides I'd bought the T-shirt previously!
I've made three successful visits - success being defined as "a sighting" - to me a decent view and if possible a picture or two.
Visit 1. 10th November 2016, 13.00 - 15.30.
The morning had been rubbish weather-wise, steady rain and windy but that began to change around midday. I checked the local forecast - improving through the afternoon, wind dying down, rain becoming showers at worst, and some sunny spells, not too bad at all it seems.
I arrived just after 13.00, parked up and walked to the end of the hedgerow along the public footpath which had been cited as a "good viewing point". The weather had cleared although there were plenty of dark clouds scudding around but they seemed to be going round me (am I so big as to create my own weather systems? - No!). Looking out across the fields I could see a couple of Common Buzzards along the treeline and a Kestrel hovering close to where I'd parked the car. No sign of the Harrier.
The TV sightings I'd seen made me think that the Hen Harrier was a reasonably small bird, I don't know why, I can only think that the TV showings tend to show a lone bird flying over a large moorland area with little to gauge size - no perspective - so that's what I was looking for. Imagine my surprise when it did appear, closer to the size of a Marsh Harrier than a Kestrel, and doing very agile "quartering" manoeuvres across the lower part of the field in the distance. "Get up here you bugger" I was thinking to myself. It was edging very slowly towards me but then changed direction to the tree line at the edge of the next field. I decided to move in the same direction - slowly, two can play at that game! I lost sight of the Harrier as it dropped into the grass, I kept moving and when I reached the tree line I picked up the bird again, even further away, and closer to the place I'd just left!. I stayed put for 15-20 minutes, watching, through bins, as it worked up & down the original hedgerow. When it disappeared I started to retrace my steps and stopped behind a large-ish clump of brambles in the hope that it would hide me a bit and break-up my (considerable) outline.
The Harrier was down the bottom of the field again, in the open but distant. I took a couple of photos just in case I didn't see it a again. Hang on is that rain? Too right it's rain! and windy too. Bloody weather forecast! Camera & bins away, coat done up, hood up, shelter (it's all relative!") behind the brambles and wait it out.
Half an hour later I'm still waiting! The rain eased a little, I headed for the hedgerow in search of more (relative) shelter and thankfully found a spot which did at least provide a bit of respite. I stood for about 20 minutes, in the rain until it turned to steady drizzle at which point I turned to look to my left only to spook a rather wet Sparrowhawk which had been sitting nearby. Another 15 minutes and the rain stopped, thankfully the camera bag was OK, I was dry - in the main, but the trouble with "waterproof" coats is that the water runs off on to "non-waterproof" jeans which had taken on a significantly darker hue!
Still plenty of dark clouds around (and a rainbow!), I decided to call it a day.
From here to the car is a 5 minute walk at a decent clip, about 15 minutes if you keep stopping to check out birds in the area, which I did - Red Kites, Buzzards, Kestrels, and LBJ's - and the Hen Harrier working the area just in front of the parking area!
Note to self for next time!
Visit 2. 17th November 2016 - morning to lunchtime
I'd already decided that today I would try to utilise my VW Golf Mobile Hide, providing I can park OK - which I could as it turns out. I'm the only one here which is a bit of a surprise to me, I thought that this Hen Harrier would be attracting much more attention.
Anyway, I had the place to myself. Parked, engine off, heater still on - cracking! After 10 minutes or so I spotted the Harrier working that same area along the hedgerow in the distance but I remained resolutely in the car - just as well as 5 minutes later the heavens opened, ha! not today matey! The problem is that given cold & rain outside and heat inside the only result is steamy windows - there's an idea for a song! What? someone's already done it? Ho-hum!
The rain came and went, as did the Harrier - when the rain came, it went! Can't blame it really. During the dry periods the Harrier was showing well, albeit distant, so were the Red Kites which, along with a few Crows, were harassing the Harrier to the point that it disappeared over the hills and far away (song idea 2! - What? that one too?). Once the baddies left the scene the Harrier returned, and starting working the field again this time disappearing into the fields the other side of the public footpath and out of sight, even with bins.
I saw a few Crows flying up at intervals, and eventually saw something flying low down the other side of the hedgerow although I couldn't make it out clearly. It was easy to recognise it as it perched briefly in a small "tree"
and then dropped over the fence and flew - in hunting mode - along this "road-side" edge of the field. Photos taken! smile broadened! Decision justified. Half an hour later, a repeat performance - magic!
Great couple of hours!
Visit 3. 22nd November 2016 - morning to lunchtime
Briefly, this visit was the same as the previous one except there was once other person there who I encouraged to sit tight rather than go walkabout, which he did, and we were rewarded with some great views again.
One-and-a-half hours - you can't complain at that!
Hope you enjoyed this ramble as much as I did.
Last word to the RSPB - There is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England, but in 2014, only four pairs bred. And in 2015, three nesting males have disappeared, and only a handful of pairs remain.