13 March 2014

Marsh Harriers strike out across Europe

Phil Littler and John Middleton (North West Norfolk Ringing Group) write:

On 5th February 2014, the first live British-ringed Marsh Harrier was sighted in Spain by Javier Elorriaga, along with Yeray Seminario, Juan Martin and Ramon Navarro. The wing-tagged male Marsh Harrier (BN - green pin on map below) was ringed as a nestling in North Norfolk on 3rd August 2013 by the North West Norfolk Ringing Group. This bird was seen at La Janda, near Cadiz, an area of flooded rice fields, which has a high concentration of Marsh Harriers in winter. It was then seen again on 8th February by Geoff Gowlett who sent us the photo below. BN was first seen by Alex Colorado on 9th December 2013 approximately four kilometers from the latest observations.

Male Marsh Harrier BN. The sex was determined using the Dutch foot span measurement method, which this Norfolk project have championed in the UK (c) Geoff Gowlett
Prior to this only two British-ringed Marsh Harriers had been recovered in Spain; one ringed in Lincolnshire and the other in Suffolk, both found dead in 1991.

Subsequently, we received a report of a second Marsh Harrier (LB - red pin on map below) from Suffolk that had been wing-tagged in the same project. It was seen by Juan M Perez-Garcia on 13th Januar 2014 at Parc Natural El Hondo, Spain, a site that is both a RAMSAR site and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.

Previously, on Christmas Day 2012, a report came in of a wing tagged bird near Lisbon, Portugal (AP - yellow pin on map above). This represented the first live sighting of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Portugal, and only the second ever recovered there.

AP, a female, was ringed in July 2011 at Sculthorpe Moor, Norfolk, and was seen near Aerodromo de Leziria, a small airfield used for aerial crop spraying of the extensive rice fields in the area. We know this female survived its return migration because in April 2013, she was photographed coming in off the North Sea at Spurn, Humberside.

On 11th December 2013 Green DX, ringed in June 2013 near Haddiscoe, was reported from Belgium by Frank van de Velde who photographed it at De Blankaart Nature Reserve, another first for a British-ringed harrier to Belgium.

DX with it's new wing tags - by Alison Allen
Marsh Harrier DX - by Frank Van de Velde
Unconfirmed, but 99% sure, was a distant sighting in Senegal on 24th January 2013 by a French Ornithologist Jean Francois Blanc who was studying Montagu's Harriers. He saw a green wing-tagged Marsh Harrier who thought that the markings were black OO. This was rather disappointing as OO has not been used but CC has; was it that bird? It would have been the first recovery of a British-ringed Marsh Harrier in Senegal. Jean also observed two Belgian wing-tagged birds.

Not only exciting foreign recoveries were being received, but Marsh Harriers that had been wing tagged in this collaborative project were also being reported from as far as the Loch of Strathbeg near Aberdeen, to the Dale Peninsula in Wales, Burton Mere in Cheshire and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

More details about the Norfolk wing tagging project can be found here.


  1. Wow interesting read, I'm amazed there had been no recoveries prior to these, staggers belief sometimes how little we know. Well done guys for the project.