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Hen harrier in pursuit of prey

Having been a serious birdwatcher since the mid-1980s, it is not often that I see a "lifer" (i.e., a "new" species). But on Thursday, 18 April, as I strolled from Satori to Churchinford in hot pursuit of a pint of Guinness, I spied a bird of prey high above in hot pursuit of a pair of goldfinches.
Immediately I ruled out buzzard, kestrel, peregrine, and kite, birds of prey with which I am familiar.The goldfinches got away, and the bird dived down so that I was now looking at it in side profile. It was brownish, and presented a bright white rump, which I knew would be key to its identification.
As I googled up white-rumped UK birds of prey, I was repeatedly presented with hen harrier. This would be a lifer for me, but the range maps suggested that this bird was, despite being a regular UK resident, a bit out of range for the season.
I wrote to Natural England, seeking guidance. "Bird's main feature was a prominent white rump," I told them. "It also had a banded tail. I was thinking sparrowhawk, being [an American] inexperienced with British birds, but now everything I google suggests hen harrier. Would that be a correct assumption? And if not, what would be another UK white-rumped bird of prey?"
Within 24 hours I got my reply. Natural England wrote: "In short, yes, it’s quite possible that you observed a hen harrier in the locality you mentioned. Natural England are currently involved in a captive breeding project and introduction of the Hen Harrier to the South of England." Well, it's clearly proving a success!
To read more about Natural England's effort to reintroduce the hen harrier to Southern England, point your browser to:

Andrew, Volunteer, 2024


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