One of the bird highlights during February was a hen harrier which was seen at Castle Water on the 3rd. This species is a mainly winter visitor to the reserve, the summer being spent in its upland breeding habitat. The hen harrier has a mixed history in the UK. It was certainly more widespread in in the past, though persecution and habitat loss saw it become extinct on the UK mainland by 1900, with re-colonisation occurring after the Second World War. The current UK population is around 600 pairs, most of these in Scotland, and only extremely small numbers in England and the species is still threatened by human persecution in many parts of the country.
With the advancing year we are starting to see several signs of spring on the reserve. On Ternery Pool, we began to see noisy gatherings of black-headed gull from about mid-month, with at least 50 birds present by the 24th, while the first seven Mediterranean gull were seen on the 18th and on Harbour Farm a group of 27 avocet were present on the 24th. On the Beach Reserve, displaying ringed plover was regular by the end of the month while the occasional isolated pair of oystercatcher on Flat Beach and lapwing on Harbour Farm hinted at territories to be occupied during the spring.
Having said this there were still large numbers of what are typically winter birds present on the reserve during February. Peak counts of waterfowl included 1200 wigeon, 250 teal, 126 gadwall, 109 shoveler and 36 pintail, while ‘winter waders’ included 800 each of golden plover and lapwing, 365 curlew, 223 dunlin and 93 snipe, and passerines included regular fieldfare with a maximum of 54 at Castle Water on the 11th along with 28 redwing. Wildfowl highlights included a red-breasted merganser on Harbour Farm on the 9th, black-necked grebe on Ternery Pool on the 4th and 10th and white-fronted goose on Harbour Farm on the 4th (14) and 13th (10). There were also several sightings of bittern at Castle Water during the month, while great white egret currently seems to be a regular, with a number of sightings on Castle Water and Harbour Farm. Best of the bunch for the waders were jack snipe at Ternery Pool on the 2nd (five) and 10th (six) and several sightings of ruff with a maximum of 27 on Harbour Farm on the 18th.
Image: David Phillips
In addition to the hen harrier, raptors during February included a red kite over Harbour Farm on the 15th, merlin on the 2nd (Beach Reserve) and 10th (Harbour Farm), two peregrine on the 14th at Castle Water and on Harbour Farm, a small number of buzzard sightings and regular marsh harrier. Offshore there were regular sightings of red-throated diver (with a maximum of 180 on the 13th), the occasional guillemot (with a maximum of 450+, again on the 13th), 12 razorbill on the 4th and 35 gannet on the 9th.