When you are walking on the Reedbed Walk or looking over the reserve from one of our hides, it is always worth looking out for birds of prey. At this time of year, their presence is usually indicated when a large flock of birds, such as lapwings, avocets or black-headed gulls, take to the sky making a racket, warning everything in the area that a predator is about. You may even see some birds dive-bombing the predator. This behaviour is known as “mobbing” and the birds do this to drive the predator out of their area.
Scanning through a cloud of panicked birds will usually reveal the culprit that has scared them into flight; it will usually be a buzzard, sparrowhawk, peregrine or, at the moment, most likely a marsh harrier.
The reason that marsh harriers are a common sight on the reserve at the moment is because this species has bred at Martin Mere this year. This is the first confirmed breeding of this species on our nature reserve. And, like the number 76 bus, two breeding pairs turned up at once.
Each of the pairs has raised two young and so, with eight birds on site, a visit to Martin Mere over the next few weeks almost guarantees a sighting of this special bird.
The marsh harriers are very attractive birds with the female and young birds being a rich chocolate brown colour with a cream-coloured head. The male is not so uniformly coloured but can easily be identified by grey wing patches and black wing tips. Perhaps the best way to identify the harriers is to look for a large bird that is gliding over the wetland with its wings held up in a distinct, shallow V shape.
With migration now under way, our home-bred marsh harriers will also be joined by birds from further afield. Through the use of wing tags, we have previously been able to identify marsh harriers from Norfolk that have spent time on the Martin Mere reserve in autumn.
Many other birds will now be migrating through the reserve, which makes the next couple of months one of the most exciting times of the year to visit the reserve. It’s not just the marsh harriers that will be on show – almost anything can turn up.