FOR THE second year running a pair of Britain’s rarest breeding raptor, the Montagu’s harrier, have returned to the Humber and are being seen from hides at the RSPB’s Blacktoft Sands reserve near Goole.
Like other members of the harrier family male Montagu’s harriers perform a spectacular ‘sky dance’ to attract females: steep climbs, twists and rolls, and the Blacktoft pair have been showing well this week.
Last year’s pair reared a single youngster at a site elsewhere on the Humber, raising hopes that they might return again this spring.
Montagu’s harriers are on the northernmost edge of their range in this country and only about a dozen pairs nest here each year, mostly in East Anglia and the North West. Most sites are kept secret because of the threat from egg collectors.
There were seven successful nests in this country last year and three adults were fitted with lightweight satellite tags which tracked their return journeys to winter sites in Africa.
The RSPB chose to release news about the pair at Blacktoft Sands because they are already being seen by many visitors to the reserve. Also, it was decided it would be better for as many people as possible to see them now in case they move elsewhere later.
Montagu’s harriers are similar in all plumages to their close relative the hen harrier but are slimmer with narrower more pointed wings and are even more graceful in flight. They are named after Lord Montagu who first identified them as a separate species in 1802.
Other sightings at Blacktoft have included a red-necked phalarope in almost full summer plumage and a curlew sandpiper. In all, 20 wader species have been seen there in April including 21 ruff. Nearby, a drake green-winged teal was seen at Alkborough Flats.
Three rare grebes, red-necked, Slavonian and black-necked, all in full summer plumage, have been present this week on Hornsea Mere while other sightings there have included an Iceland gull.
The first little terns of the year were seen at Beacon Ponds while Arctic terns were reported on passage both along the coast and at inland sites.
More grasshopper, garden and the first wood warblers of the year were among new arrivals and there were more, whinchats, lesser whitethroats, some swifts and white and yellow wagtails including a ‘Channel wagtail’ - a cross between a yellow and Continental blue-headed wagtail - seen at Flamborough. A possible Spanish yellow wagtail was reported at Filey Dams.
A hoopoe was reported at Newport, East Yorkshire and two night herons were seen in flight at Kinsley, West Yorkshire - these failed to be located again despite checks of possible roosting sites nearby.
More ring ouzels continued to be seen both on passage and back at breeding sites, one of the best springs for them for many years, while two dotterels were seen near the summit of Ingleborough, seven off Stone Road near Todmorden, and four on Pendle Hill, Lancashire.