Birds are without doubt among the most fascinating and exciting groups of inhabitants in our world. One of the many reasons is because they transverse our planet through migrations, moving on mass or individually and yet sometimes, rarely, it can go a little wrong, or actually is it by design?
Birds have conquered every corner of the globe and their ability to fly long distances has meant they can be encountered on every continent with a bewildering choice of variety on design. So you see, these birds that get ‘lost’ aren’t necessarily lost at all but migration evolution and a new wave of colonisation in action. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that some birds get lost on purpose, they are the few that are migratory pioneers searching out new lands and new areas to occupy. Of course that isn’t a conscious decision, just something handed down to a select few by process of species development/evolution. So when you wonder why people chase rare birds to add to their list across the country you might just want to join them to see and attempt to understand these migratory pioneers (the birds not the watchers!).
I went on my own pilgrimage to a Fair to Nature farm in Norfolk, to pay homage to a special migratory pioneer, with a good chance of waiting hours for a glimpse. Then almost immediately upon arrival, the most glorious of images floated into my binocular view – a stomping PALLID HARRIER!!! As it twisted back and forth over the farmland bird flocks and harassed the Woodpigeons, it gave the best aerial display beating anything any mechanised air show could orchestrate.
As this special show came to an end there was lots of looking at each other in utter disbelief and then, after the adrenalin subsided, some admiration of a farmland bird flock and the habitats that Edward Cross, the farmer, supplies as part of being a great Fair to Nature farmer.
Sacrificial crops in plots at the end of several fields, fallows and stubbles provided Linnets, Tree Sparrows and Bramblings with a seed buffet that was no doubt most welcome. It is a mark of the times but seeing Tree Sparrow in Norfolk is becoming increasingly difficult, yet Edward puts in some fantastic work to encourage this bird. Nest boxes, seed food from specifically managed sacrificial plots of cereals, managed insect rich plots of nectar producing flowers and a nice pond for aquatic insects to feed hungry young Tree Sparrows. As one of the amassed birders commented, “Every farm should be like this”.
Speaking with Edward, he said, “This is the second year I’ve been involved with Fair to Nature. The scheme supports me managing specific habitats for wildlife, which has been great for Linnets, Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammer and Skylark, and it enables us to manage our rotations to help nesting Lapwing. This, along with work funded by Natural England’s stewardship schemes, means the farm has some good flocks of farmland birds, which in turn attract birds of prey like this rare Pallid Harrier, and regulars such as Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier”.
While I was about to leave, the Pallid Harrier decided to whizz overhead and land right next to me by the road! WOW!!! So I duly admired it and took this video to mark the occasion! You can also hear the ornithological paparazzi camera shutters and awe!
Pallid Harriers aren’t just a rare occurrence here. The population is in rather terminal decline due to agricultural changes throughout the breeding areas in Eastern Europe and Russia making the species, evaluated by IUCN as near threatened. The European breeding population is vanishingly small with only 310 pairs estimated, although the populations in its Asiatic strongholds are thought to be more stable.
This young Pallid Harrier should have been wintering sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka or Burma, yet here it was jetting around some Fair to Nature fields in Norfolk! To lament the tragic decline seen in this species it was last recorded breeding in Bulgaria in 1952 where it had been the commonest Harrier species to be encountered there.
Fair to Nature are working with Bulgarian sunflower seed producers to be Fair to Nature and whilst it maybe too late for the Pallid Harrier, lots of other species are set to benefit there. Edward also grows crops such as millet for your bird food so by buying Fair to Nature bird food from the RSPB, Honeyfields and Chapelwood you are helping Edward, the Bulgarian producers and others to be Fair to Nature!
BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK. BirdLife International. (Birdlife series No. 12)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona