As of 10 November 2015, a total of 430 species have been recorded this year

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Monday, 3 October 2011

PALLID HARRIER in Cambridgeshire

What a morning,

Jill & I have been keeping an eye on Gamlingay/Sugley for most of this year. It was incredible in the summer with hundreds, if not thousands of Marbled Whites and up to 15 Silver-washed Fritillaries, and in past weeks has been excellent for hoverflies. many of which I've photographed and are on my website. The northern section has been left as set-aside, and in recent weeks it has improved with great varieties of day flying moths and various grasshoppers and crickets which since I finished work at the end of August have given me tremendous enjoyment. We'd been saying for weeks how it looks perfect for a Richard's Pipit or maybe something better. Early today I decided as it was too hot to sleep to get up early, pay another visit and go and try to find myself a Richard's...

I'd been on site about 10 minutes when I could see a dark raptor sitting on a post, facing away from me; through bins it had an obvious cream crown so I was thinking young Marsh Harrier, switching to my scope I was somewhat surprised to see it had prominent pale patches formed by rows of neat pale spots on the coverts and a darker face bordered by a pale collar. I photographed it from where I was standing and the shots even zoomed in on the camera were awful, but you could definitely make out the collar, this combined with the paler underparts and covert spotting started to make me think it could be a Pallid Harrier. I needed another experienced observer to see it and one who could get here quickly. I phoned Jim Lawrence who was already in his office, he calmed me down (Thanks Jim), ran through a few plumage features to make sure I had not made a Mis-ID, but from our rather surreal conversation it still seemed likely it was a Pallid. As Jim was now in Cambridge it would take him a good while to get here. I then phoned home and told Jill, she said she would come over as soon as she could, sh e also mentioned that Steve Rooke was in the office early as he was just about to leave for Ethiopia. I called Steve in a state of panic and he left Potton immediately, he got there as fast as he could.
In the meantime I switched back to my scope only to find a post and no bird sat on it. As I scanned the fenceline I picked up the bird coming south along the fence and straight towards me, it flew past at about 300 metres range and the plumage features were now more obvious. I then texted Jill & Steve to say that it had just flown past and that I was now sure it was a Pallid. As I scanned the fenceline, Steve appeared and rushed over. I showed him the two best images on my camera and he was in total agreement but the bird had vanished from view. He then phoned Steve Blain due to its close proximity to Beds and I phoned Stuart Piner at RBA to tell him I'd seen it flying along the hedge at 0810 but not since I'd confirmed the ID beyond doubt. Steve set out to scan the nearby area and went to the south of the fence. Jill also arrived and she started to check the northern edge near the paddocks. Steve then phoned to say that whilst he talking to Steve Blain, Steve (Blain) received an email from an RSPB colleague reporting a Hen Harrier at the site the previous day, time and observer unknown but still most bizarre. About 20 minutes went by with no further sign of the bird when a pager message came through about a juv Pallid Harrier near Tempsford - surely this bird? Indeed it was, it had been seen by Cambs birder Mark Ward and his girlfriend Laura, just over the border, in Beds.
I've since spoken to Mark Ward and Steve Blain and it seems likely that when the bird reached the end of the hedge it skirted the blindside of the wood and headed across the road, along the greensands ridge near Tetworth and across to where Mark and Laura had seen it, only a few miles, but in the process it became a f irst for Bedfordshire!

The shots, although distant (they are fairly lousy due to the distance but a handful of shots show the features) will be posted to CBC later on. They are on the RBA website and my website under Recent additions, UK Rare Birds 2011.

My thanks go to Steve Rooke, my wife Jill, Jim Lawrence, Mark Ward and Steve Blain, all of whom have made valuable contributions to this series of events. Other characters have done their best to be less helpful, but I have photographic proof of my Pallid...

An incredible morning and hopefully the first of many more, in an autumn that some have described as my semi-retirement!

Stuart Elsom

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