Monday, 7 November 2011

A 'tail' of two Pallids

Looking outside this morning I could see a very thick fog lying over the River Lee and hoped that it might have grounded some overnight migrants.  I called Harry Hussey and told him I was planning to head out and could he be ready in 40 minutes. I picked him up in the city before heading towards east Cork. Given that Ballycotton and Power Head were already in the process of being checked we made an 'executive' decision to go once again to Knockadoon Head. First stop was the campsite. We checked the small beach and pier below for Black Reds or 'tasty' Wheatears but to no avail.  A further check around the campsite itself and the fields beside it yielded zilch and I was starting to think that autumn had finally finished. Moving further back along the headland we pulled up outside a house about 200 metres from the campsite and within a few minutes I picked up a small flycatcher perched on a fence post along the side of a private garden. As I checked it with my bins I could see it was a Red-breasted Flycatcher. It cocked its tail a few times as it sat in the sun before it disappearred into the fuschia bush. We checked the adjacent gardens and waited for 20 minutes hoping for further views and some shots but that was all we got. This was no doubt the same bird that was found last Saturday so buoyed by this we continued on to a number of other spots on the headland. Sadly however the best we could find was a Chiffchaff in the Pallas's Lane and no migrants whatsoever along the Holy Ground or in the Hume's Garden.

Pallas's Lane - just a Chiffer here :-(

The Hume's Garden - but no Hume's Warbler sadly!

I suggested then we head back to Ballycotton and see if we could relocate the Barred Warbler Harry had found the previous day. I hadn't really got any decent shots and felt the bird could still be there. As we reached Shanagarry Ger Walsh called to say the juvenile Pallid Harrier seen the previous week was again on view. With some good light still remaining we decided to head for that instead and hopefully I could get some decent shots.
Arriving there we were met by Ger Walsh and Paul Moore and joined soon after by John Meade. Ger and Paul had had the Pallid about 30 minutes beforehand and sure enough after about 10 minutes wait it showed up again quartering the fields nearby. I managed a couple of flight shots before the bird disappeared over distant fields chased by some grey crows. On checking the shots I could see one of its tail feathers was missing, I didn't think anything of this assuming the bird had lost that feather in the previous week since I had last seen it or perhaps in the misty conditions a week ago, that missing feather just wasn't apparent.

Photo 1. Juv. Pallid Harrier (with tail feather missing)

Just then a Merlin scattered the large flock of Starlings from the overhead power lines and as they took flight it was Ger who picked out a single juvenile Rosy Starling. The flock settled back on the wires but sadly once again the light was the wrong side of me.
As we waited for further views of the Pallid Harrier, a smart 2nd cy male Hen Harrier came in with at least one ringtail. Then the Pallid was picked up again, this time over a distant field. I watched it as it flew around for a short while before it alighted in the middle of the stubble. At this point I can remember hearing Ger and Harry describing how the Pallid was in the air and moving along the hedgerow on the edge of the stubble field. I started to get a little confused then, through my bins I could indeed see a Pallid Harrier in the air but when I switched back to my camera I could see the Pallid Harrier remaining on the deck in the stubble field.

Photo 2. Pallid Harrier - stubble field.

The pale coverts on the folded wing were very obvious and even visible with the naked eye in the fading light. I said that I thought the Pallid was still on the deck and that the pale wing coverts were clearly visible. Paul quickly said that he too had the Pallid on the deck and then I think it was Paul who exclaimed something along the lines of.....'there's two effing birds!' And that was it, all five of us at this point had been looking at not one but two juvenile Pallid Harriers in the same location. Until last April the species hadn't even been recorded in Ireland. What were the chances of this happening and where had this second bird come from (for that matter where had the first bird come from?). Anyway, we all watched in awe as both Pallid Harriers quartered the same field. One of the birds clearly differentiated from the other by its missing outer tail feather.

Photo 3. Juv. Pallid Harrier - the second bird. No missing tail feathers!
Photo 4. Juv Pallid Harrier - same bird as photo 3.

Photo 5. juv. Pallid Harrier - missing tail feather

Photo 6.  Obvious missing tail feather.
 (the shots above were taken at ISO 3200 and are heavily cropped so please excuse their crappiness)

So for a day that at one point seemed to signal a depressing end to the autumn it finished with an RB Fly, a Rosy Starling and 2 fantastic Pallid Harriers!


  1. That's the way to do it G-Dawg! You can have that as a find. You stuck to your guns that there was a second bird on the deck! What a year!

  2. Thanks Owen but I can't take credit for that, more of a collective effort really.