Friday, 19 October 2012

Another tick at Tac!

Things had got so bad in east Cork that I had to get out. More or less everywhere was dead so I figured now was as good a time as any to pay a visit to my sister......who happens to live in Wexford, i.e. near Tacumshin ;-)
I couldn't be rude and just drop my bags and then run out the door to Tac and in any case I was happy to stay a while and catch up with my little sis'. However with a little daylight left I headed to Lingstown hoping to get views of the Bearded Reedlings. I got there about 4.30pm and the sun was already starting to dip a bit. The reedbeds were quiet but I could see a ringtail Hen Harrier hunting off in the distance. I was aware that a Northern Harrier had been reported from the Lingstown area of Tac in recent weeks but I hadn't read up on the key ID features so it would be difficult to pick it out. In any case there was nothing especially unusual about this particular bird. I thought it might be a full adult female. Shortly after I had a ten second view of a male Bearded Reedling bombing across the reeds before dropping out of sight. Still, ten seconds was the longest view I've ever had of these birds. With the light going I decided to check the East End quickly before heading home. I had distant views of a Marsh Harrier which I thought was a juvenile bird judging by its all dark plumage and bright yellow/golden crown. It was distant though and I was mindful that a 2cy Marsh Harrier had been reported a few days before from Tac. Fading light and hunger pangs meant it was time to head back.
That evening I took a little time to review photos on the net of the Northern Harrier. It had been reported from Lingstown by Conor and Donal Foley that day so it'd be worth going back there in the morning and having another look. But I had never seen one before and seperating it from a juvenile Hen Harrier without help would be tricky.
I got to Lingstown at about 10am the next morning. I parked up, put my gear together and began to wait.

The view of Lingstown reedbed along the barrel of my lens

Within about 10 minutes I had a harrier coming towards me that looked different. My first impression was that it was very similar to the bird I'd seen in the photos the evening before, it was clearly no ordinary ring-tail.

Interesting looking harrier - Lingstown, Wexford

But the sun was directly in front of me so it was difficult to pick out too much detail. The underparts looked very buffy / rufous with little or no streaking on the breast. It appeared to have a strong hood and the under-side of the secondaries appeared dark as they had done on the photos I'd reviewed the evening before. I fired off a few shots before the bird disappeared from view.

Northern Harrier, Lingstown, Co. Wexford 19th October 2012

I got back into the car where there was less glare and checked the shots I'd taken. I was pretty certain that this was the bird. In fact so certain that I put out the news. Possibly it was a bit of a risky thing to do but I felt sure. Unfortunately the bird didn't appear again for the next 2 hours but there was plenty of other stuff to see. Every so often I'd hear a chorus of 'pinging' calls as a small flock of between 4-5 Bearded Reedlings flew either over the reeds or high over my head. I couldn't say how many birds there were in total so 'at least' 5 seems reasonable. Far off in the distance I could see a large pale bird settled in a stubble field. With heat haze it was difficult to determine what it was but once I put a scope on it I could tell it was a harrier and when it got up it was clear that it was in fact a fine full male Hen Harrier - a stunning bird indeed. Not long after a Merlin whizzed by and a Short-eared Owl appeared hunting over the reeds. The local corvids gave it a hard though and after a while it rose up, up and up before disappearing off over the dunes.
Time was running out, I needed to be on the road to Cork soon. I decided to check if the Marsh Harrier was still over at Sigginstown but no sign there. A second Merlin was present perched on a fence post and I counted at least 17 Whooper Swans out on the lake amongst hundreds of Wigeon, Shoveller, Gadwall, Mallard and God knows what else.
I had spent two hours at Tac, that barely scratched the surface. I'm not a Tac regular, the birds can often be distant, water levels are often very high (and its therefore tricky if not impossible to cross certain channels especially with heavy gear) and the entire complex is vast so its hard to cover it well, But at least there are birds there, unlike Cork which as I said seems like a depressing wasteland right now. Its sad to think that if a site like Tac existed in the UK it would be properly managed with hides, walkways, a visitor centre and carefully managed for the benefit of the birds and wildlife there. Sadly, in a country our size there just isn't the resources to do this. In the two hours I spent this morning at Tac I had one lifer and five year ticks, what a great spot!

Tacumshin Lake - 19th October 2012
Footnote: I posted some of the above photos on facebook yesterday evening and eagle-eyed Robert Vaughan suggested it might in fact be a different bird. Niall Keogh felt it may be also. Killian Mullarney confirmed this morning that it is in fact a different bird. It is a juvenile female Northern Harrier. The other bird being a juvenile male. Funny I seem to have had some interesting harrier experiences, see 'a 'tail' of two pallids'
Well done and thanks to Niall, Robert and Killian.


  1. Congratulations on a great find (apparently its a new Northern Harrier).
    Enjoyed reading your blog over the last year or so. Best of luck to you and Polina on your move.

    1. Thanks Peter, yes, its a new bird apparently. I had a similar experience a year ago with Pallid Harrier too. Thanks for your kind wishes also. The blog will continue when we move over to Norfolk of course.