Friday, 11 September 2015


There has been a bit of an influx of Pallid Harriers (steppehauk) to Southern Norway in the last week or so and with Årnestangen having proven popular with Marsh and Hen Harriers I decided yesterday afternoon that I would find one today. Just after making this promise to myself (which incidentally I have done a number of times over the last few years….) I checked Artsobs and saw that I had been beaten to it! Reported by a dude as a “Pallid Harrier?” with couple of dark photos it took just a few seconds to lighten one of them up and voila! (Edit: I see know that Erling Hobøl had first reported the bird on Wednesday but somehow I never noticed that observastion)

So I was in place before sunrise this morning and arrived in just the nick of time. As I walked out and reached the first large open fields there were three ringtail harriers flying together in the gloom. They had clearly just left their roost and for a few minutes were flying close to each other before after less than 10 minutes all three headed off to the north and disappeared behind trees. In the gloom it was difficult seeing any details through the scope and two birds that showed well were clearly Hen Harriers and most likely 1cy birds and with a noticeable size difference clearly a bird of each sex. The third bird was however much more difficult to see but when I finally got it in the scope its unstreaked red underparts and red tinge to the upperwing coverts shone out in the gloom. By then flying away from me and I only briefly glimpsed the head and neck pattern and no pictures were possible. Its jizz was however distinctive with slender pointed wings and its small size compared to the Hen Harriers suggests it to be a male. This can possibly be appreciated in this photo which shows all three birds.

After the birds disappeared at 0647 it was not until 0740 that I saw a Harrier again when I picked up a bird flying over the water towards fields on the west side of the water. It had orangey underparts but when it finally banked it showed itself to be a Hen Harrier. It proceeded to land on a ploughed field where amazingly enough there was another ringtail harrier. It was long range and I had to wait for this bird to fly before seeing it was also a Hen Harrier. A clear 1cy bird it spent a long time making half-hearted attacks on (larger) Crows that did not seem too bothered by it. Eventually I had both birds hunting over cereal fields and they frequently went very close to farm houses whilst I was watching frustratingly from 2 km away. There were also 4 Common Buzzards perched on fence posts here so there was clearly a lot of food.
An hour later I watched one bird flying back to my side of the water and whilst following it saw that what I assume to be the other bird was already back on my side perched on post. I eventually got to see and take photos of one of the birds well.  This bird was a 1cy male (size and pale eye) with quite orangey underparts and in the field I felt little doubt that it was a pure Hen Harrier. Looking at my photos though I see it has some features that match a bird recently reported asa hybrid Pallid x Hen. I’m quite sure though that my bird is well within the variation of Hen Harrier and actually wonder if the other bird has been correctly called. My photos also show how a bird can be made to look different by “improving” the pictures in PS.
Otherwise Årnestangen was very quiet with high water having covered up the previously so productive mud banks. Ducks were also in lower numbers and passerines nearly absent – worrying to be honest.
Three ringtail harriers together. The one in the middle is a 1cy Pallid Harrier (steppehauk) and the other two are Hen Harriers but I'll guess you'll have to trust me on that...
Two Hen Harriers at 2km range
1cy male Hen Harrier (myrhauk). Given that it is a 1cy then the pale eye sexes it as a male
the same bird in all the photos
the orangey underparts and darker secondaries age this as a 1cy plus it is on very fresh plumage
the underside of the primaries is very striking here

 And here is how photos especially after a bit of "treatment" can be very misleading.

look how red the underparts look and no black trailing edge to the wing - no one would complain if I posted this picture as a Pallid Harrier!
very red and unstreaked again

not quite as confusing but shows how a blurred picture can look different


My other port of call today was the Bean Geese. I didn’t find them on the fields I checked so headed for the bog. I heard geese as I waked out but it took a while to find them as they were on the other side. I saw perhaps 40 birds sticking their heads up including 6U but it was not until they flew off to feed that I saw the flock has grown and from photos I counted 146 birds which tallies well with my count of 144 I had on 5 & 10 Sept 2013 but is lower than the 163 I had on 4 Sept 2014. Does this mean lower breeding success this year? I am trying to count youngsters in the flock but so far just cannot get close enough to see the subtle plumage differences to accurately age the birds.
On the drive home a roadside Great Grey Shrike was my first of the autumn.
some Taiga Bean Geese (sædgås) heads

this lone bird returned to the bog 15 minutes after the flock left and flew around three times calling loudly almost as though he had lost someone

there are 3 birds with neck collars in the middle of the picture but they cannot be read unfortunately

The first Great Grey Shrike (varsler) of the autumn

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