The Fulmar- oiled bird at Hillwell, Shetland
I saw this bird several times over a 2 week period. It was a little surprising that questions about the bird’s identity were not more forthcoming. Certainly I had some questions, as the classic Pallid Harrier ‘pale collar’ was not normally visible. Thankfully I was able to quiz Roger Riddington, the bird’s finder, who knows the subject better than me, having a UK self-find list of 4 for the species! On the issue of the pale collar, in fact, earlier photos do show a collar, but in some way the effects of the oiling obscured its presence. On some close perched views I could just make out the ‘ghost’ of what seemed to be a pale collar. This photo by Ian Cowgill was taken the day before we saw it with another interesting bird from Fetlar at end:
Here a selection of Roger R’s photos with his helpful comments on the bird:
Oiled Pallid Harrier (by R.R.)
ID as Pallid based on three basic areas (it’s clearly a slim-winged harrier, with four fingered primaries, inc. P10, not five as in Hen/Northern, and P6 much shorter than P7).
1) Head pattern. The pale collar is unusually indistinct (for a juv Pallid – the bird is undoubtedly a juv), which seems to be a function of the Fulmar oil. However, as Ian Cowgill’s pic (top) shows, also mine (photos a-c, taken early Sept) the collar appears to be of even width and stretches almost from the pale patch on the crown down to the throat. Monty’s which resemble this normally show a less extensive ‘moon-shaped’ collar, which tapers top and bottom, which is less extensive and doesn’t reach onto the throat. Also, as all these pics show, this Hillwell bird has a lot of dark feathering on the cheeks (by which I mean below the eye, not the ear-coverts – behind the eye), which suggests Pallid rather than Monty’s. Finally, there is extensive dark behind the pale collar (the ‘boa’), which is typical of Pallid.
2) Underwing. The contrast between the almost solidly dark secondaries and pale primaries is strong and consistent. Also, although it’s harder to judge, the tips of the inner primaries seem to be at best grey (OK for Pallid), and in some shots look pretty pale, thus lacking the more typical dark rim to all the primaries that Monty’s shows (eg awful pics photos e-f). Also photos g-h suggest that not all the ‘finger’ of the longest primaries is dark, which you might expect in Montys (hard to be certain of that cos of the state of the feathers).
3) Overall jizz. To me, when I’m watching this bird through bins, it looks a fairly hefty harrier, with a relatively broad-based arm and not incredibly pointed hand. It doesn’t give the impression of being a slim, kite-like Monty’s and it has allegedly been misidentified as a Marsh Harrier once or twice on account of the dark head and neck and extensive pale crown. So I think the jizz is better for Pallid than Monty’s.
Finally…and by way of comparison: Brydon T and Pierre A Crochet popped off to Fetlar (cheeky) while I was changing groups on 30th Sept. They found this juvenile Pallid Harrier, with noticeably weak dark boa. All good learning: