Yesterday was one of those days when I love my job. Really love it. Me and my colleague Mike ventured out into the flatlands of Lincolnshire, to see the Montagu's Harriers that have been breeding on Digby Fen. At times, reading about birds isn't enough and you just have to get out and see what all the fuss is about.
These are the rarest breeding birds of prey in Britain, being summer visitors who generally prefer the warmer parts of Europe. Climate change might alter things, but currently less than a dozen pairs each year nest, usually in southern England and East Anglia. That makes it all the more remarkable that this pair managed to successfully raise four young in the middle of a rain-lashed fenland farmer's field, with the help, of course, of RSPB protection.
We arrived to find the RSPB watchpoint already busy, and we didn't have to wait long to see one of the juveniles, looking for worms in a ploughed field on the far side of the road from the nest. What struck you immediately was how orange the breast was - field guides say rufous, but this positively glowed. As we watched him, too, a male Marsh Harrier swept past, providing a useful size comparison. Ultra-rare themselves 20 or so years ago, they're now making slow but steady progress.
A flypast from a Heron stirred things into life on the far side of the road, near the nest. At least two Montys rose to challenge it, and the Heron responded by sticking its neck out and honking "frank, frank" at them. From then on, we had regular good views of the female Monty and some of the juves (spoilt slightly by the heat haze - never happy, are we?!). And finally, in came the male, passing over the nest site and dropping a small prey item to be caught by a waiting juvenile - however many times you hear this little trick being described, it's hard to believe how casually elegant it all is until you see it. Having made his delivery, the male then darted aerobatically after a Skylark (which got away easily enough), then disappeared.
After the inevitable fry-up, we pushed our luck by looking for the Black Kite at Nocton Fen, just down the road. But, no matter how much we willed the resident Buzzards to become longer, slighter and generally more kite-like, we were unsuccessful. You can't have everything.