pictures of marsh harriers

Wing tagging Marsh harriers

Apologies for the lateness of this post. I really should have added it shortly after Marsh harriers Part 2, back in mid October but I have been awaiting detailed information regarding this practise before committing it to a post.

A month into photographing a pair of nesting marsh harriers, I accompanyed two very experienced ornithologists, Rod Smith and Brian Watmough who were hoping to find a number of nests in order to wing tag the young birds. This is a relatively new practise and 2010 was only it’s second year. Initially, ringing the birds was the only option but of course the only time data could be collected was when the bird was deceased. With wing tagging however, simply looking through binoculars can inform you both of it’s origin and year it was tagged. It is therefore far easier to collect data such as age and where it goes throughout the year. One bird, for example, that was born on the Isle of Sheppey, has been seen in Lincolnshire! But why I ask myself should a bird leave an area that has an abundance of food and fly 100+ miles? Just one of those things I guess.

If I remember correctly, 4 nests were identified as possible sites to tag the birds. The first 2 revealed nothing even though I had myself been photographing the parents bringing in food to one of them. This isn’t unusual however. Reedbeds are so dense that visibility can be just a metre or so and when you have a large area to cover, regardless of how much you have pin-pinted it’s location, you can quite literally be on top of it and still not see it. After around 30 minutes they decided to move on to allow the parents to return and resume feeding. On the third nest, we got lucky. As I stood, some distance away from where they entered the reedbed, I could see a huge pair of wings flapping among the reeds. A sure sign they had located the young and were now in the process of gathering them. 

Three, four week old Marsh harriers being brought out of the reedbed by Rod Smith (who is pin-pointing its location on his GPS) and Brian Watmough.

Once brought out they were taken to the car where both ringing and wing-tagging would be carried out. Two tags were attached. A blue one which indicated the year (in this case 2010) and a white one which indicated location which in this case was for the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

As I looked on I could see how experienced Rod was in doing this. Totally confident in the way he handled them and maneuvered the birds to get them into the position he needed.

Blue tags for the year.

And white for the location.

After exactly an hour (to the minute actually according to the image EXIF data) they were taken back to their nest. I had never seen a nest of a marsh harrier before so upon borrowing a pair of waders, I followed.

I was instantly amazed just how deep the water was. At at least 2 feet deep it was the ideal place to keep the eggs and young safe from predators such as foxes.

Upon reaching the nest site I had just a few seconds to get pictures since as soon as the birds were released, rather than modelling perfectly in the centre, they scattered in all directions!

Immature Marsh harriers in nest.

I have to say I was a little disappointed with the nest. I had visions of a monster structure, perfectly entwined amongst the reeds. Instead, it was a simple nest of flattened reeds. But it was practical. It served it’s purpose, which afterall is what it’s there for.

It was a perfect conclusion to two months spent photographing these magnificent birds of the marsh and with approximately 30 nests on Sheppey, it looks as though they are going to flourish for many years to come. Hooray to that!

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Monday, November 22nd, 2010 Notes from the field, Past work No Comments