Raptor watching

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Red Shouldered Hawk, photographed by me earlier this year in the Botanic Gardens, Memphis USA

It was flying straight towards me. I had a perfect head-on view through my binoculars as it drew closer, then veered off to fly in a line parallel with the distant river Dee. It was a male Hen Harrier and I enjoyed every second of tracking its flight, watching its silver-grey body with distinctive black wing tips and quietly gasping at my good fortune at seeing it.

It was even more special a sighting as Hen Harriers are a persecuted species, especially so on open moorland close to grouse shooting estates, where there is known criminal activity of destruction of these magnificent birds and their chicks. So persecuted are they, only three pairs have bred successfully in the UK in 2018.

The Hen Harrier I was watching, as part of the RSPB’s regular Raptor Watch event at Parkgate, Deeside, can be seen there quite often…but it was my first sighting of the male. I’ve seen the female, known as Ringtail, a few times but managed to miss her this time around as there was so much going on.

“Overhead!” called one of the volunteers who run his event. It was a Merlin. As it flew at speed over our heads, another RSPB bod said “Female Merlin”. That instant ID, against the light of the sky, was impressive!

There were skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in to the marshy areas nearby, egrets in amongst the vegetation and pools, two Marsh Harriers hunting further out near the river, and as dusk crept in, an elegant Barn Owl began hunting for food, dropping down from time to time to catch a mouse or vole, only to rise up again when it got away. Then he went down and stayed – he must have caught something and was ready for dinner.

But this was not to be as a kestrel appeared out of the blue, flew down to join the owl and mugged him, flying off with the catch in its claws. It was high drama at dusk as this happened not once, but twice.

As we left, it was almost dark but the shape of the owl could still be seen quartering the marshland in search of food.

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