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Monday, 1 November 2010

NORTH AMERICAN HEN HARRIER/MARSH HAWK in IRELAND - First Record

The bird was first seen on Saturday by Tom Kilbane (and possibly by others, it has transpired since). Tom contacted me on Saturday night to let me know that he had seen a very interesting looking harrier, resembling a ‘Marsh Hawk’ at the East end of Tacumshin that afternoon. We discussed the identification of hudsonia vs. cyaneus and I summarised some of the detail that might be required to eliminate the possibility of it being a tricky Hen Harrier, a few of which can strongly resemble hudsonia. We both felt it better not to put out any news on the bird until the ID could be confirmed, in case it proved to be just an unusually plumaged Hen Harrier.

I wasn’t free until Sunday afternoon and had been intending to have another look at the Carne Buff-bellied Pipit, but as the weather had become much better than had been forecast, I decided to visit Tacumshin. After around an hour and a half tramping I had pretty much put the harrier to the back of my mind and was walking the flooded areas beyond the east end pool in search of pipits when this amazing looking harrier suddenly got up from long grass just 25m away. At such close range it was immediately clear that this was not just a ‘rufous’ Hen Harrier and the impressions Tom had described to me were absolutely real. It alighted momentarily on a nearby fence post before drifting off over Sigginstown Island and it then dropped out of view some distance away, to the NE. Having managed to get some decent record shots I felt certain that the identification as hudsonia could be confirmed, so I phoned Tom with the exciting news. Shortly afterwards I phoned Noel Keogh, who I knew was in the area, and learned that he had seen the bird completely independently about an hour earlier, at ‘Forgotten corner’. Noel was sufficiently struck by the bird’s appearance to wonder if it might be a Pallid Harrier, though the Hen Harrier-like structure indicated otherwise. The bird reappeared at the east end just before dusk, by which time a small crowd of birders had gathered at the east end car park to see it. It was last seen out to the west, over ‘the patches’, in fading light.

Another great find by Tom, I’m grateful for his tip-off that put me in the right place the following afternoon! (Killian Mullarney)