Gone to Scilly


South west winds and heavy rain have made late September birding both difficult and uninspiring. A few brief visits suggested small numbers of Firecrest and Goldcrest have managed to move around despite the adverse conditions.


Pallid Harrier

Despite a dull end to my September birding, the Harrier double bill made for a memorable month.


Montagu’s Harrier

I’ve now departed for St Agnes, Isle of Scilly until mid-October.

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18.9.19 Pallid Harrier

Of late, Beachy Head has had a remarkable series of events involving rare Harriers. With both the Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers being initially discovered whilst I was out cycling without optics!


2CY female Pallid Harrier

At 16.50hrs on the 17th I was cycling past the set aside field at Birling Gap when I noticed an immature/female harrier with warm saturated underparts quartering the field. The bird was observed briefly without optics as it disappeared towards Cornish Farm. I logically assumed it to be the reappearance of the very elusive Montagu’s Harrier, which had been present since the 7th and was last seen on 15th. I sent a tweet, called Roger Charlwood then continued the ride, arriving back home at dusk. Later that evening I received an email from Derek Hales a local birder/photographer who had been photographing the Harrier I had found earlier at Birling Gap. His email began “Did you know the Montagu’s is ringed?” There had been no rings visible on the Montagu’s so with great interest I looked closely at the images, simultaneously sharing them on WhatsApp with local birders. It quickly became apparent to me the bird in the images was not only a different individual to the recent Montagu’s but it was also showing Pallid Harrier features. I spoke to Chris Ball who had similar thoughts and with Jamie Partridge who also expressed agreement.

With building excitement and a little anxiety some late evening phone calls were made and at dawn the following morning I was above Belle Tout wood overlooking the set aside field. Just after 8am and fortuitously after the arrival of other local birders, the Pallid Harrier appeared,  showing excellently. It continued to be seen, latterly from the Old trapping area, up until approx. 10.30hrs. It gained height on at least one occasion shortly before disappearing below the cliff edge.

With the spectre of Hen x Pallid hybrids a real possibility in the UK, great caution was taken whilst putting out news. Especially as this bird exhibited initially confusing intermediate features of both adult and superficially juvenile characteristics. Although once the age was established (2nd calendar year female) the whole jigsaw fell into place.

Not only did Beachy Heads first & much anticipated Pallid Harrier follow hot on the heels of my first Montagu’s Harrier for the site, it was also sporting a davic ring! The birds history was available by late morning thanks to the work of Josh Jones. I’d also like to thank Roni Vasainen, Phil Saunders, Derek Hales and Mark Thomas.

The bird was ringed in June 2018 as a chick at Tyrnävä (northern Finland, close to Oulu) by Ari-Pekka Auvinen. Who has ringed most of the Pallid Harriers in Finland. Remarkable!

The wind had been light NE on the 17th and 18th with a high pressure sat close to the UK extending into the low countries and Eastern Europe. The days preceding that had light SE feeder winds off that high pressure into southern Britain. This was one of several good birds to be found along the south coast during that period.


The birds age (2CY) gave it a much more subtle appearance about the head than would be expected on a 1CY. Although the underparts are still richly coloured as in 1CY.

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The bird had retained a subtle impression of the classic, juvenile Pallid Harrier head pattern.


Immaculate and fresh upper wing, every feather neatly fringed.



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Pale trailing edge to the inner primaries. Although subtly streaked the underparts were still warmly infused with rich apricot tones reminiscent of 1CY birds.




Ring detail (photo Derek Hales)


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17.9.19 Blue Tit on the move & Harrier reprise.

A clear bright start with a brisk & cool north wind.


Tree Pipit on Went Hill.

A little more interest in the bushes this morning, although my visit was confined to the Birling Gap & Went Hill area followed by a raptor watch from the old trapping area.


Willow Warbler.

A fairly quiet morning with a Coal Tit heard from, then flying out of, the old trapping area the only potential bird of interest. It constitutes my 4th on the headland in 5 years, two were continental birds the others seen all to briefly to assign to a specific race. Several mobile flocks of Blue Tit seen as well as Long tailed Tit moving through the old trapping area. 2 late Swift were notable picks amongst the Swallow and House Martin. I also saw the Montagu’s Harrier* again at 16.50hrs, this time over the rough field at Belle Tout, again cycling without bins.

*It would appear my naked eye views of the Harrier was the initial sighting of Pallid Harrier.

Best of the bunch including raptor watch, single Cormorant high west, 4 Sparrowhawk, 3 Kestrel, c10 Common Buzzard (all loafing local birds) c2 Swift, 5 Alba Wagtail, 10 Yellow Wagtail, c25 Meadow Pipit, 3 Tree Pipit, a good 2000+ hirundines lingering with a higher number of Swallow in with the House Martin, c8 Robin, c20 Chiffchaff, c8 Willow Warbler, 1 Garden Warbler, c20 Blackcap, c15 Common Whitethroat, c35 Blue Tit, 4 Great Tit, 1 Coal Tit (not specified to race). 3 Long tailed Tit.


Blue Tit on the move today.



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16.9.19 Pied Flycatcher

Rather overcast with a light W wind. I covered most sites including a mid afternoon visit to the Birling and Cornish Farm areas.

Huge numbers of House Martin again today.

A very quiet day compared to yesterday. Although House Martin numbers were perhaps 2 or 3 times higher than the previous morning, I have a hunch birds maybe roosting on the cliffs and this is a result of a cumulative build up over several days. I’d say 5000+ would be a reasonable estimate.

House Martin passage.

In the bushes, the only bird of interest was shy Pied Flycatcher which appeared in the old trapping area mid morning. c10 Chiffchaff were seen along with c5 Common Whitethroat, 1 Hobby, 5 Common Buzzard, 2 Goldcrest.


Pied Flycatcher in the old trapping area.


Pied Flycatcher.


A moth eaten, moulting Common Buzzard over Cornish Farm.

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15.9.19 House Martins and Montagu’s again.

A bright start with a light NW wind.

A day Indian Summers are made of, with a huge congregation of House Martin first thing and Matt Eade seeing the Montagu’s Harrier again, this time soaring above the pub at 10.40hrs. Time was limited this morning to the briefest of visits to radio mast, old trapping area and Birling.


Big numbers of House Martin today.

Best of todays bunch; 3 Sparrowhawk, 3 Buzzard, 2 Peregrine, 1 Wheatear, 2 Redstart, c40 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 2 Grasshopper Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, c20 Common Whitethroat, 1 Lesser Whitethroat. A large number of hirundine this morning, somewhere in the region of c3000 House Martin, vastly out numbering Swallow and Sand Martin, c15 Yellow Wagtail, 2 Tree Pipit, 2 Alba Wagtail.


Pleasing to see many juvenile amongst adults within the flock.




A couple of Wheatear from the 14th.


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13.9.19 A lot of House Martins

Overcast a light NW wind. A brief visit to radio mast, pub garden, old trapping area and Birling Gap.


Yellow Wagtail.

A noticeable gathering and movement of Hirundines early on, congregating at the very highest point of the headland. Minute counts averaging at c80 birds per minute heading east. Although there were a good few 1000 individuals lingering too. Mostly House Martins (75%) the rest Swallow. Approximately c10 Yellow Wagtail, c30 Meadow Pipit and 4 Tree Pipit on the move too.


A bright, adult Yellow Wagtail


1st winter Yellow Wagtail.

Every cow seems to have at least 3/4 of these attendees at the moment.

On the ground; 2 Common Whitethroat, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, c30 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Common Redstart, 2 Wheatear, c35 Yellow Wagtail.


Garden Warbler buried in an Elderberry at Birling Gap on the 12th.

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10.9.19 No Harrier

A bright start to the day in contrast to yesterday, light wind strengthening SW by 3pm.


Sparrowhawk over the old trapping area first thing.

After a 3 day stay, the Montagu’s Harrier appeared to have moved on with no sign between dawn & dusk. Although it proved to be somewhat of an enigma throughout its visit.

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Montagu’s Harrier from yesterday.

JP joined me today hoping to catching up with the Harrier. Most of our time was spent walking the fields and then sky watching for raptors so the bushes were largely neglected by us.

1 Grey Heron very high NNW, 1 Hobby, 1 Merlin, 3 Peregrine, c12 Common Buzzard, 4 Sparrowhawk, 2 Alba Wagtail, c50 Yellow Wagtail, 4 Tree Pipit, c20 Meadow Pipit, 11 Wheatear, 3 Whinchat, 2 Common Redstart, 4 Robin, 5 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Swift, c1000 hirundines seen throughout the day, slight passage first thing then birds seemed to be lingering over the headland, c10 Dunnock with some birds high suggesting movement, c20 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, c10 Common Whitethroat, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, c18 Blackcap.


Dunnock on the move this bird dropping into the old trapping area.


House Sparrow at Cornish Farm.

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