On the way home from Milnthorpe, driving between Slackhead and Leighton Beck Bridge we came across two cars pulled onto the verge. I couldn’t see why but the kids were quite excited – “It’s a big bird of prey Dad”
We too pulled off the road as best we could and climbed out to take a better look. A second bird of prey – a buzzard - came out of the woods and flew at the first, apparently seeming to attempt to drive it away, perhaps from a nest. The first raptor, which was quite different in shape to the buzzard – larger with longer narrower wings – flew back towards us and was then mobbed by a pair of shelduck.
I wasn’t sure what I was watching – I wondered if this was a red kite, but my photos, despite their lack of clarity, showed a tail of completely the wrong shape.
I sent the pictures to my friend, who is a proper birder, and she identified it as a marsh harrier. Apparently the number of ‘fingers’ visible at the ends of the wings – i.e. 5, is characteristic of marsh harriers, where as a kite would have 6. Although I’ve seen marsh harriers many times at Leighton Moss, I hadn’t realised before quite how big they are.
The colourings just about visible in the photos – grey head, pale tail, pale patches under the wings, black wing tips – make it likely that this bird is a 2 year old male.