Sunday 1 September 2019

Cabin Fever - a tale of a 'cream crown', a 'grey crown' and a 'white crown'

You cannot beat a bit of viz-migging and especially when raptors are involved. Many a time I've been lucky to witness cracking raptor passage in the autumn at Cape May, NJ, USA be it marvelling in the numbers involved or the buzz when a rarity is spotted such as a west coast Swainson's Hawk from way out west. Here in the UK we're arguably limited to opportunistic days on the coast at celebrated bird migration watchpoints, and without intending to be disingenuous, cannot match the famed raptor watchpoints found across the globe in terms of numbers and variety. But what about down the spine of the country? The north eastern edge of the Pennines is not the safest place for raptors as is well documented...

During the heatwave on Sunday 25 August 2019 we watched from the Cabin overlooking the Ewden Valley, South Yorkshire, to check out bird migration. First up were several Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs on the walk out west, and before arriving at the Cabin a flock of 16 waders (15 Curlew and 1 Whimbrel) headed west with 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon after crossing the moors. A steady stream of butterflies moving west up the valley were noted mainly Painted Ladies (50+) but several Red Admirals were also on the move.

Local Buzzards soon began to stir in the heat of the day and a passage juvenile Peregrine, perhaps seeing this habitat for the first time, exited stage left but not before sharing the sky with a Hobby. The smaller Falcon keeping a safe distance above the big wanderer. Interesting to see this behaviour play out. The Hobby relaxed soon after much to the displeasure of the Odes

Out to the east an all dark raptor appeared, its identity betrayed by its 'cream crown' that shone like a beacon, and also of having a long-ish tail. This Marsh Harrier was soon lost to view over an upland ridge but nevertheless scanning this area paid dividends as soon after a 'grey crown' raptor appeared. Noticeably lacking a dihedral profile the fact which grabbed our attention as it glided towards us before turning south, a turn revealing its distinctive tail, a Red Kite. Just after midday a gliding raptor picked up again down valley to the east had a distinctive flight profile, a shallow 'M', not disimilar to the Kite, but unlike the Red Kite it turned to reveal a gleaming 'white crown' contrasting against uniform dark brown upperparts. As it fanned its tail the dark and pale barring was visible at distance. A distinctive dark eye stripe broke an otherwise all white head. Birding Gold, an Osprey! This individual sported an obvious breast band, the bright white underparts and underwing coverts drew a "wow" from its audience as it flapped them into view before leaving to the south in a strong power glide.