131. Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Well my day started very early indeed the alarm went off at 4.00am. Time for me to have a shower and wait to be picked up half an hour later by David Thompson.David was going to be leading the Dawn Chorus at Mount Stewart, a National Trust property at the top end of Strangford Lough.(I could have posted a photo of him having drunk seven bottles of wine between four of us,but sadly it is not a digital image and I dont have a scanner) At 4.30am there was not a sound coming from the bushes. It took us thirty five minutes to drive to Mount Stuart where there were a few people pulling up in cars. There was a party of ten men and women in their forties to fifties who had never been birdwatching in their lives. They set out once a month to do something different that not one of the party have ever done. Last month they went abseiling. In all there were about 25 brave souls who had got up very early on a sunday morning.
Mount Stewart House & Gardens has been home to the Londonderry family since the mid 18th century and continues to be the home of Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry.
The magnificent gardens planted in the 1920s by Edith, Lady Londonderry have made Mount Stewart famous and earned it a World Heritage Site nomination, as well as an award for the European Garden of Inspiration 2003. Within the estate, the Temple of the Winds, an architectural gem built in 1785 by James `Athenian' Stuart and based on the Temple of the Winds in Athens, offers visitors breathtaking views over Strangford Lough. By the time we left the house the birds were in full flow. Mainly thrushes, everywhere, Robins, All the tits with one very obliging long tailed tit. We walked to the Temple of the Winds as it overlooks Strangford Lough as we could listen to some of the shore birds. Curlew, Whimbrel and Oystercatcher. A few Sandwich Terns could be heard further out in the lough.
We then made our way towards the lake in front of the house where we heard Little Grebe, Coot, Mallard. We were also fortunate to spot two red squirrels, whose numbers are declining. There was also a pair of Ravens which I assume were nesting in the tall pine trees. When you are immediately below them they sound fairly loud. There was also the high pitched call of the goldcrest heard in the pines. After David's walk we went and had breakfast in the cafe.
After David had driven me home I got my binoculars etc and headed up to open the RSPB bird hide on Belfast Harbour as I was doing the sunday volunteering shift of 1-5. Not long after I got there some one came in and said had I seen the Montagu's Harrier at the other end of the reserve as it was showing really well. I thought to myself well I will go and see it at five when I have locked up as I was sure it would still be around. It had been spotted the previous afternoon. Well the hours seemed to go slowly and more and more birdwatchers were coming into the hide and immediately leaving to go to see if they could see it three quarters of a mile away. Meanwhile I counted the birds out in front of me. At least 270 oystrcatcher, 40+ Shelduck, Whimbrel, Curlew, Snipe, Teal, shoveler. Numerous gulls in their first,second and third year plumages amongst which there was a nice Glaucous Gull which then flew over to a party of Black Tailed Godwit and plonked himself in the middle of them before going to sleep. Identity crisis I think.
I was then showing a child all the linnets and a couple of Redpoll that were feeding just outside the hide when I noticed a commotion at the beginning of the hedge that runs up to the hide. 2 Shelduck, Loads of swallows and some Godwits were mobbing this grey thing approaching closer and closer to the hide. It was barely flying almost gliding on its upstretched wings. It came to within ten feet of the hide window and I was going f---ing hell, f---ing hell and racing to get my camera to take a couple of shots before it went out of range This is what BIRDING is all about I was ecstatic to see it and had to apologise to the father of the child for swearing. He was also quite taken up with the excitement and didnt seem too bothered. This was my first ever Montagu's Harrier and it was also Northern Irelands first ever sighting. Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant. I hope it stays around for a few days as I would like to get better photos if I can and I hope the reserve manager Anthony , who was in Spain on a Bird Race(187 Birds in 24 Hours), will get to see it. Even though he saw lots of them in Spain.