Wildlife

James Lowen 

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13 Jan 2016  Phantom harrier



Fast-forward 12 years, and Warham Greens is the location where I first dip this particular Pallid Harrier. After Saturday's debacle, when I arrived precisely 60 seconds too late, I nearly gave up. It would remain a Phantom Harrier. But forecast sun for today prompted me to set the alarm to its 'unfeasibly early' setting and give it one last go. At 07h53 precisely, David Norgate was looking skywards whilst the rest of us were scanning at field level. He picked up the Pallid scudding east 40m above ground. We got onto it, and then it was gone. In the bag, but as underwhelming as they come. I elected to scour the surrounding farmland looking for it. Amazingly, I found it, just north of the A148 about a mile east of Abbey Farm. Better views, but it was gone within 10 seconds. Further scanning failed to reveal it, so at 09h35 I departed. 

Since autumn 2015, a juvenile Pallid Harrier has frequented Lincolnshire and Norfolk.  Since it arrived in my adopted home county, I have tried to see it eight times. And failed. I'm not sure why I keep trying: I've already seen two in Norfolk, for example. But there's something particularly exciting about raptor rarities. And this one is notably special: it was a true mega when I was growing up, with friends twitching one in Orkney and others breaking their duck with a bird in Kent whilst I was in South America or Indonesia or somewhere.

It took me another decade to connect with Pallid Harrier, seeing the famous wintering bird at Warham Greens in Norfolk in 2003, co-found by my mate Stitch. That bird brings back fond memories for me, as it was the first twitch to which I exposed my then-girlfriend (now wife). I whisked her away on a romantic birthday weekend to Norfolk... because I needed Pallid Harrier. I bought her some binoculars as birthday present... so she had something to look through. Then asked if she minded a slight diversion. We drove down a muddy lane (Garden Drove), walked round the corner onto the saltmarsh... where she was confronted by the sight of a hundred five-legged beasts (man+tripod), all dressed in anoraks. In at the deep end...     

Barely five minutes later, as I was driving south, Dougal MacNeil called to say that the wretched bird had returned to Abbey Farm. I did a swift U-turn, crunching the boot against a bank, and got back on site just in time to watch the Pallid Harrier give a decent flypast during which I scrambled a few record shots. A cracking bird, and a phantom no more. Whether it was worth nine attempts to see it, I don't know. But at least I don't have to fret about whether it's worth a tenth...