Minsmere raptors

Whilst I was at RSPB Minsmere, which I described in my last post, I was expecting to see birds of prey because I know that marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus, Dansk: rørhøg) nest in the reedbeds there and it wouldn’t be totally unexpected to see a hobby (Falco subbuteo, Dansk: lærkefalk) or a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus, Dansk: vandrefalk).

Avocet were nesting on the mudflats along with plenty of other birds including the black headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus, Dansk: hættemåge):

Black headed gull in full summer plumage guarding its nest

I was engrossed peering into the distance with my new spotting scope, and I found a spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia, Dansk: skestork). The Danish name translates as ‘spoon stork‘ which just about sums it up really. I didn’t get a photograph because it was too far away, but it looks exactly like a white stork with a long beak shaped like a spoon. The conservation status of the spoonbill is amber and it is extremely rare in the UK and not terribly common on mainland Europe either. According to the British Trust for Ornithology there are 75 individuals in the UK and between 1998 and 2002 there were only 4 breeding pairs.

But I digress. As I was gazing into the disatnce the air raid warning was sounded: “There’s a peregrine… there are two!”

A peregrine falcon swooping down onto the nesting gulls

The falcons, I found out subsequently, were nesting on Sizewell B, the nuclear power station adjacent to the reserve. They arrived from that direction and when attacking they appeared to be working in tandem. The speed of their forays was absolutely breathtaking and caused total chaos on the ground:

The nesting gulls trying to distract the pair of peregrines

I tried to capture the falcons in the middle of their attack which was not easy, but I managed to catch one just above the left hand point of the mudflat behind. It wasn’t until I looked at the image at home that I realised the second falcon was in shot on the right too. So even though this photograph won’t win any awards I really like the drama going on here!

A common tern giving chase to deter the peregrine

The falcons raid lasted for several minutes and I didn’t see them catch any prey, thanks in no small part to the bravery of the common tern (Sterna hirundo, Dansk: fjordterne).

After the excitement of the falcons I ended up in a hide on the edge of the woods overlooking the reedbeds and sure enough the marsh harriers were much in evidence:

The female marsh harrier with her brown plumage and golden yellow crown

… and the male:

Whilst photographing the male marsh harrier a brown shape lifted out of the reeds and someone in the hide identified it as a bittern (Botaurus stellaris, Dansk: rørdrum). It was too fast for me to identify it by myself as I was focussed on the harrier, but that means I heard one booming at Lakenheath in the morning and saw one at Minsmere in the afternoon. Not a bad day out.

Juvenile marsh harrier with ragged brown plumage and no yellow crown

I didn’t see a hobby but it would be churlish to dwell on that after the excitement of the peregrines, the family of marsh harriers, and the bittern and spoonbill neither of which I’d previously encountered.

14 responses to “Minsmere raptors

  1. I would offer that there was a bit of excellent photography, too, Finn…capturing the images of the birds in flight. Well done. 🙂

  2. What a fantastic birding day. Any one of those species would have been a find for me (well, of course, I don’t live nearby, so…). I have only seen peregrines at our local raptor center, never hunting in the wild. Neat!!!

    • Hello Sue, it was an amazing day out and the peregrines were just one of the highlights! We’ve had a pair breeding near here too this year and I’ll post about those soon.

  3. You are much better in finding and photographing birds than me, Finn. I find them hard to see…

  4. Amazing that you were able to get photographs of the falcons! I’m in awe!

    • Thanks Terry, it’s always a treat to ge the opportunity to photograph peregrines. They’re iconic creatures, the worlds fastest predator – stooping at up to 200mph(!), and fortunately they’re getting less difficult to find these days.

  5. Truly a good day, Finn. I love your shot of the tern harrying the falcon!

    • It was indeed an amazing day, and it made me think that if we could join up some of these wildlife oases we could do something very powerful in assisting conservation efforts and stalling the current loss of biodiversity. That falcon is one brave parent!

  6. What a wonderful day for interesting birds. I wish I had more of a clue about identifying raptors. I see quite a few that I’m sure aren’t buzzards but I don’t know what they are. They’re often a bit too far away or against the sky so that it’s hard to identify colouring. Is there some kind of trick to it? Perhaps I just need to study a bird book.

    • Hello Lorna, studying the raptors with a pair of binoculars and then studying them in a good field guide is the best way. Then get a feel for which raptors are in your part of the world at what time of year. There probably aren’t that many species of raptor to be found so they’re one of the easier groups to identify. Let me know how you get on.

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