Posted by: Ross Gardner | October 8, 2018


It’s not often you get a five raptor day within a stone’s throw of the South Essex urban sprawl.  This though, was very much the case last weekend.

As I have made mention of more than once within the pages of this blog, amid this spread towns and industry are to be discover considerable stretches of open country.  So it was yesterday that I found myself walking the seawall around the RSPB’s West Canvey Marshes reserve, the remarkable brownfield reserve of Canvey Wick (an entomologists treasure trove in due season) and their adjoining acres.  This all comprises a landscape of grazing land, dykes and ditches, scrub and saltwater creek frontage.  It is an area not unknown by local naturalists as a potential draw of wandering birds of prey, not only raptors, but owls too.

Marsh Harrier 4b (scaled)

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus).

First up was a beautiful female Marsh Harrier, all brown, but for her creamy yellow crown.  She was loafing over the saltmarsh on easy, languid wing-beats, showing only the faintest interest in the Curlew she had spooked beneath her.  Not long after a Buzzard sailed overhead, much to the chagrin of the Carrion Crow paying its close, harrying attention.  I am always impressed by these birds, something which is undiminished by their resurgence of recent years and returning to former, long vacated haunts.  Their occurrence around these part is becoming increasingly regular.

Buzzard - close-up (scaled)

Buzzard (Buteo buteo).

The Peregrine racing over the fields an hour or two later was indeed a treat, perhaps one of the two birds I had seen a few miles eastward a couple of weeks back.  Even before the slate-grey upperparts are clocked, these birds a quite unmistakable; undoubtedly a falcon with all its narrow-winged aerodynamism; undoubtedly a peregrine, emanating that sense of predatory power and robustness.  The recovery of the Peregrine from the pesticide disasters of the mid-20th century is well-known, to the extent that they now inhabit many of the UK’s larger towns and cities, enjoying rich pickings from the thriving populations of city pigeons.  As birds general quite faithful to their breeding areas, there is however, a small proportion of these falcons given to migratory movements and so some of those that haunt the coastal landscapes during the winter may well have their origins in Scandinavian Europe.

The Kestrel, I am pleased to say, have long been a feature of such places, but its presence here today no less a welcome one.  The last of the five though, was perhaps the biggest treat of all.  It was provided by a Merlin fly-by.  These are the smallest falcon, scarcely bigger (if at all) than a Blackbird.  They are hunters of upland realms during the breeding season, dispersing, often to coastal areas for the winter and perhaps joined also by migrants from Northern Europe.

It’s not often that birdwatching pans out quite as conveniently as this, but when it does it is good fortune to be cherished.


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