Monday, 2 June 2014

Dorset Dawn Magic - the Morden Bog Short-toed Eagle

The last few weeks have been very busy, work, sheep, garden and home all conspiring to reduce blogging time to zero although managed to lever some birding time in somehow. At last, this weekend looked free for a relaxing time and a possible pootle up to the North coast for a look for the Black-headed Bunting. Things changed on Saturday morning when the pager mega-alerted with a Short-toed Eagle sitting in a tree in Dorset. My first reaction was "pale-buzzard". On seeing the photos my second reaction was unprintable, however the eagle had flown and I expected that like most raptors of that ilk it would vanish or just be seen flying over the occasional place every now and then. I relaxed and got on with the task of helping locate Marsh Harrier nests for an RSPB project.
Come the afternoon the eagle was reported once more and then it was found again sat in a tree at its original site. Sunday in Dorset was now beckoning but as the eagle continued to sit in its tree on and on into the evening it became increasingly obvious that Dorset at dawn was the place and time to be.
Rather conveniently, the eagle had chosen to turn up just 3 miles from my brothers house. Inconveniently, it turned out that my brother had gone away for the weekend so the option of a few hours in a comfy bed was sadly unavailable. So it was I found myself pulling up in a layby in Dorset where 4 other cars were already parked at 1.50am  hoping I was in the right layby (you can't be too careful these days). As all appeared well I removed my contact lenses and settled down on the back seat hoping to get a couple of hours sleep. My hope was ill-founded as more cars arrived with increasing frequency as dawn approached. When birders started chatting outside the car I gave up, put my contact lenses back in and realised that everyone was assembling by the gate. It was 10 to 4 and barely light. Hurriedly grabbing coat, bins and scope I joined the group as they headed quietly out on to the heath. Churring Nightjars welcomed us and then a Cuckoo joined in heralding the impending arrival of dawn. As we assembled on the ridge overlooking the eagles roost site the dawn chorus was in full swing but it was only light enough to make out the shapes of bare trunks against the dark pines. As the light improved a little more someone nearby announced that they thought they had the eagle. Following his directions I picked out a brown and white shape, the brown looking indeed like the fold of a wing against a white belly. It was only when the bird lifted its white head from where it had been tucked in its back was it possible to see that this was indeed the Short-toed Eagle, to the enormous relief of the gathered crowd.
As the light improved further the views became better but then the eagle was swallowed in a shifting mist, at times completely invisible, at times a ghostly shape. It was nearly another hour before the rising sun was strong enough to burn off the mist and give us a proper look at the bird in decent light.
The eagle spent the whole time I was watching it on one small part of one branch in one tree. Occasionally sleeping, occasionally preening, and looking around sometimes right at us with piercing yellow eyes in an almost owl like face. It attracted the attention of several of the local residents, being mobbed in succession by 3 Crows, a Jay, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, and a Mistle Thrush. In the gorse beneath its tree a pair of Dartford Warblers bounced about and Siskins called frequently. It was a magical site and well worth another visit when next I visit my brother.
By 7.45 I was feeling weary and headed back to my car. Here a flicking shape in the trees opposite became my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year and as I turned for home a Cuckoo flew across the road in front of me.

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