Thursday, 27 August 2009

Keep the Monty's Coming!

I got back from the Birdfair in the UK on Monday evening and am still trying to catch up.
Here's the latest from yesterday's day tour with Pete and Julie from Grimsby in the UK. The weather was a bit fickle, so we took to the rice fields and my 'private farms'. A lot of last weeks Montagu's Harriers has moved through and had been replaced by new arrivals, including one melanistic or dark form of this wonderful raptor species.

It was a hot day and the wind was from the South. Bee-eaters were passing overhead all day, heading across The Strait. One or two high flying raptor migrants passed and these included Short-toed and Booted Eagles with some Common Buzzards.

I managed to get quite a few good shots of the Monty's swooping down on dragonflies in the rice-fields

Hovering, turning, diving then disappearing from sight below the rice only to fly off with their catch, landing on the track and 'shelling' the dragonfly like we would a prawn!

This one had just finished off a snackette!

A distant shot of the melanistic bird from yesterday which showed quite grey coloured inner primaries and tail (No dark 'hand'). The bird seemed to have slightly shorter wings and stiffer flight suggesting that it could be a juvenile. It's quite difficult to tell at a distance and without scoped views or detailed photos, you have to go on your instincts.

This is the same bird on the ground. Look at that lovely 'coffee-brown' colour which again suggests a juvenile bird

So, this is the typical area that the Montagu's Harriers in Cadiz province like best. Open agricultural areas with good insect life

There is only one crop of rice each year with the paddy-fields being planted in May and harvesting takes place from late October to November. I took this photo yesterday to show how the plant was developing with flowers past and the seeds maturing quickly

Various Dragonflies, Skimmers and Darter species feed on other insects and breed in the rice fields, canals and water channels like this Black-tailed Skimmer

A Broad Scarlet (male) lands on a twig, watching and waiting for passing prey or a female of the same species to pass by

I think these pair are Blue Emperors?

Other bird species yesterday included both Griffon and adult Egyptian Vultures, Common and Lesser Kestrels, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Blue Rock Thrush, Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers, Yellow Wagtails (mostly juvs), Thekla, Calandra and Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, Red-legged Partridge, Eurasian Spoonbills, Cattle and Little Egrets, Purple and Grey Herons, Glossy Ibis, Crag Martins, Alpine, Common and Pallid Swifts, Turtle Dove and Collared Doves, Linnet, Goldfinch Woodchat Shrikes and loads 'kettles' of migrating White Storks

A young Marsh Harrier descends to feed as another Montagu's Harrier whizzes past! Great stuff..

We had some excellent views of migrating Alpine Swifts with Sand Martins, Barn Swallows, common and Pallid Swifts all wheeling about together, feeding above our heads

These huge swifts often look like a Hobby at a distance

Lovely birds!

Few Yellow Wagtails like this lovely male seem to be around, mostly this year's youngsters are passing through to make their on way South and across The Strait of Gibraltar

Hello! Sorry, I nearly forgot about this little chap - a cheeky Little Owl takes some shade

More news coming soon - Please pass this Blog link to your friends and click on the side to become a "Follower" of this blog. Thanks, Stephen

Rutland Water 2009

Outside in the sunshine, Sarah Whittley (Pinkfoot Gallery, Cley) Rachel Lockwood ( Lovely artist) and Rene Pop (Dutch Birding etc, etc..) exchange some words in Dutch-English. Robin Chittenden watches wearing a rather dashing baseball-cap...

Paradise in Portugal is owned, run and managed by.... Frank McClintock
....Born in Glasgow and brought up in the Gorbals, McLintock started his career as a wing half at Leicester City in 1957........

Dick Forsman, Stephen Daly and Killian Mullarney make a joke about some bird or other..

After just one bucket of Peruvian nectar Mike Weedon's head has to be un-blurred.... using Photoshop

"Who had the car keys last then?"

Jo Hemmings (Behavioural Psychologist) salutes birding illustrator, painter and one time pirate of the "Black Pig", Clive Byers

Meanwhile, on the Limosa Holidays stand were David Cottridge & Gary Elton of Limosa Holidays
Rene Pop and family with SD

Mike Weedon (in blue) of Birdwatching Magazine in action at the Birdwatching Fair footie

Dick Forsman bought me an ice-cream just to get his photo taken with Mark Constantine

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Montagu's Harrier

The rare dark form of Montagu's Harrier seen here on Autumn migration

I had a great week's birding on several days in the last week. Thanks go to Alejandra, Liz and Niall, Harry, Amy, Garth and Fanny. This was a fantastic birding week, despite the strong and very hot *Levante (Easterly) that kept the birds firmly on the Iberian peninsula. It was just too windy to cross and such a strong Levante wind can push migrating birds far out into the Atlantic without being able to make landfall on the Moroccan coastline.
It was tiring being out in the sun, wind and heat but extremely rewarding to have so many good views, especially with the Monty's, as they are affectionately know. Any migrating birds we saw during the week were high flyers and gliders, well above the locally low winds and more or less just 'dots' in the bins.

*The Levante is said to deplete your seratonin levels, thus making a lot of people a tad melancholy. Whethere its an urban myth or not, I'm not sure, but it has been rumoured that if the Levante blows for ten days or more then a statutory defence in the case of where a man murders his wife, can be submitted to the court, blaming the Levante as the cause. Personally I like the foresic and logical explanation to any murder prosecution.

We spent a lot of time on two large, private farms at La Janda and we were all alone with the birds - no traffic, no other birders and over thirty-five Montagu's Harriers to study and photograph. Here are some of the rersults


Adult male

Transitional male


In Spain and Portugal Montagu's Harriers are in decline. This is thought mainly to be due to habitat loss throughout the Iberian Peninsula and France, where most of the Eastern European population breed. Smaller populations breed in other countries with Denmark, Sweden and Finland are seeing a reversal in their decline there, with increased and expanding breeding populations.
Weather change, unusual wet or dry weather patterns caused by global warming, are inducing earlier Springtimes in the South has had a negative effect in the South but conversely has had a positive effect for Montagu's Harriers breeding in these Scandinavian countries.
Monty's are ground nesting birds and have suffered from early cerial sowing which returns earlier harvests in Andalucia, where whole broods have been caught in the bailing machinery when our early harvest takes place in June and July. Sometimes the harvest is even earlier with the emergence of new strains of wheat and if birds have chosen the 'wrong' nest site it can often mean the loss of a brood.

Dark fingers, dark trailing edge to hand are typical of Juvenile Montagu's. The primary barring is more on the inner hand which is common among juveniles
(Dick Forsman - Raptors of Europe and the Middle East)

The same bird

Very faint streaking on the underside

Now the upperparts

Clear ringtail

All shots of the same bird. Showing a sightly pale collar, scaly upperwing coverts and a prominent pale face pattern and colour

This young male is showing considerable wing moult on primaries, secondaries and of course tail


Young Male with moulting secondaries and lack of distinct secondary black band

Young male in moult with still a lot of juvenile brown showing. Photographed eating a Lesser Emperor dragonfly

Adult male. Yellow Iris with some adult moult on wing coverts

Young male again. The green strand was a leaf of rice plant where the dragonfly was perched, before all was snatched up in the Monty's talons!

Juvenile showing lighter collar but not so much of white to the face. Note the white tips to the greater coverts and secondaries

Another juvenile bird seen from the rear showing, little or no lighter collar but noticeable white nape marking

Juvenile bird with clear facial markings, light rusty, very faintly streaked breast sides

Young male showing upper side with wings fully extended and lacking that diagnostic black secondary band in mature males

Juvenile with medium streaking to breast, possible a young female

Another fresh juvenile

Juvenile showing lighter and cleaner looking facial patches, slight nape marking but again faint collar.

Same bird as above

Another couple of flight shots of the young male Montagu's Harrier

Identification - Quick ID
This graceful raptor has long slender wings with a narrow body and longish tail. It is extremely light and agile hunting low on long wings with head down. It weighs on average 3-4 times less than a Marsh Harrier and can pick off crickets, grasshoppers dragonflies and other insects, small birds and small mammals.

Juveniles birds are dark redish-brow above and have a rich ochre or red-rust colouring. Juveniles seem to have a longer tail and shorter winds than adults thus their flight pattern isn't so 'bouncy' as adults and looks very steady and business-like. Juveniles also show a variable head pattern often with whitish cheek patches and small patches of cream above and below the eye. The nape is also marked with a white-cream patch. The underside is unstreaked, unlike adult females and they retain a rich rust to yellow-ochre colour to the armpits then have lighter barring on the secondaries with black primary tips. Juveniles can only be sexed buy their iris colour.

Adult males are usually fairly easy to identify and the following description is again a quick ID
Upper plumage show two distinct shades of rich grey with a large black primaries and a distinct black secondary band which stands out against the grey. The rump may show a lighter grey band as per other ring-tails but often darkens to grey with age. The underside in flight again shows this huge dark 'hand' or primaries, grey head, streaking on chest and belly and heavily barred tail. Has bright yellow iris.

Adult Females
Female Montagu's Harriers show dark brown head which can be confused with juvenile birds. In flight the upperparts seem all dark brown rather than the grey in adult males. Seen in flight from below, underparts are deep ochre-brown streaked with heavy underwing barring. Tail deeply barred and iris shows an amber brown iris colour.