Friday, 18 January 2013

Pallid Harrier?

Hi all,

It’s been a while since I last had anything worth posting – around the Mar Menor things are much the same – the Common Scoter that were around appear to have gone now but the group of 6 Velvet Scoters remain; the Long-legged Buzzard hasn’t been seen since the 4th January although there does seem to have been a flow of Common Buzzards coming through the area, and there definitely seems to be an Osprey wintering in the area, as I’ve now seen one fishing on the Mar Menor a few times.

 Osprey looking out for fish close to the Mar Menor shoreline, 13th Jan.

Last weekend was all about censuses – we had the Aquatic Wintering birds survey (annual) and the Wintering Cormorants survey (which takes place every 10 years).  The former didn’t show too many surprises although the numbers of Grey Herons in the ‘encañizadas’ between the end of the La Manga strip and San Pedro del Pinatar was high, as was the number of Spoonbills (eventually we decided on 44 of the, three of which were colour ringed but unfortunately too distant to be able to read the rings); also, the numbers of Red-Breasted Mergansers was down again - quite worrying this.

The Cormorant survey I think just confirmed what we had all suspected, that Cormorant numbers have increased exponentially over the past few years, with over 3,000 roosting on one of the islands in the Mar Menor plus a few thousand more on other islands and in the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar.  (You only have to see the big group of 1,000+ which steams through the Mar Menor in the afternoon to know that they’re pretty common).

Part of the group (of 1,000+) Cormorants steaming through the Mar Menor

What has been seen of interest though, is a ringtail Harrier.  I first noticed the bird while looking through a friend’s blog, and saw a photo of what he had labelled  as Hen Harrier which to me had all the appearance of a juvenile Pallid Harrier except for the white ‘boomerangs’ around the carpal joint.  Here’s a link to the blog page:

Yesterday afternoon (thursay, 17th January) I was taking a trip along the Mar Menor and up the rambla de Albujon, and I bumped into some friends (José Antonio Barba, José, Oscar and Raquel) who were ringing and attaching radio locators to Common Snipe there.  As they had all the nets set and as I had just seen the Velvet Scoters closeby, we all went to have a look at the scoters.  While we were there at about 4-30pm, a harrier flew over us, not very high up.  This is not an uncommon occurrence here as it is close to a harrier roost and Marsh Harriers quite often fly over.  However, this wasn’t a Marsh Harrier, and both José Antonio and I had the same impression – the bird was a small ‘ringtail’ with a very marked face and pointed wings, a plain rusty-orange colour below – surely a juvenile Pallid Harrier.  It flew along the tideline where we lost it eventually.

I personally have only seen Pallid Harrier once before, last autumn in La Janda in Cadiz province, and it was a second year male so there was no debate about it.  This one however would be a 2cy bird, possibly easy to confuse with Montagu’s or even Hen (although at this time of year, there shouldn’t be any Montagu’s about).  I decided I would follow it up (José Antonio had to go back to his ringing). 

Assuming it would go to the harrier roost, I drove down there and got out my scope.  There were already 3 Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbeds there, but no sign of the bird I wanted to see.  After about 10 minutes for some unknown reason I looked behind me, and there, close, was the bird – flying over some houses.  It went back west and I got some good views of it and took some photos – the only problem with the photos is that they were taken into the sun, so I’ve had to play a bit with ‘photoshop’ to get any detail.  I carried on watching it until it flew over the main coastal road there and flew back up along the shoreline, but I’m sure it probably came back to the roost later.

So when I got home, apart from playing around with the photos, I got stuck in to all the reference books I have over ‘Pallids’, and eventually I came to the conclusion that this definitely WAS a juvenile Pallid, for the following reasons:

 Record shot of the underside of the Harrier

 Record shot of the upperside

1)                  Ringtail.  The white rump in the form of a thick curved line rather than a squared block.
2)                  Wingpoint.  The wingpoint is formed by 3 ‘fingers’ giving a pointed wing appearance, and the ‘hand’ is narrower than the ‘arm’ with only 4 fingers (Hen Harrier has 5).
3)                  Pattern of the underwing.  It has the typical pale ‘boomerang’ at the base of the primaries, around the carpal joint.
4)                  Facial pattern.  A complete pale collar around the neck, with dark behind and in front of the collar.  Dark cheek with small white point at the eye.

Generally it had the aspect more of a large falcon than either Marsh or Hen Harrier, and appeared much smaller than the Marsh Harriers that were flying nearby.

So, what do you all think?


  1. I am no expert on raptors. Would be nice to see any large one on my trip though.

  2. Yes, agree with all your points. Also diffused "buteo like" dark line at the tips of the primary feathers is missing, a feature shown by montagu's.