I decided to arrive early this evening, particularly as the weather forecast was good (overcast but dry, light winds and 12 degrees centigrade). Tim Watts was already in situ, complete with chair, and the evening's proceedings were also enjoyed by Francis Buckle, Mic & Jan Wells, Graham Smith, Dave Horton, John Gearing and Howard Ginn.
The first SHORT-EARED OWL appeared shortly after I arrived at 1515 hours, feeding over the rough field on the far ridge. This was soon joined by a second bird, both of these being rather pale. About ten minutes later, the much darker-breasted, juvenile appeared over the close field, and for the next 40 minutes, all three birds put on a fabulous display as they quartered over the fields searching for rodents. At times, the two paler birds flew up high in the sky, and played together, whilst the juvenile kept low and spent occasions perching on fenceposts, even extending its range to the far eastern end of the field on the opposite side of the road.
A total of 6 COMMON STONECHATS was encountered, 3 (two males and a female) at the east end, a lone female in the middle and two males on the hedgerow at the far west end, along with a charm of 17 Goldfinches, 31 Meadow Pipits, 12 FIELDFARE and 3 REDWING.
A single Eurasian Sparrowhawk spooked the Goldfinches and two male Common Stonechats shortly later, perching briefly in the hedgerow, and at 1540, I located the HEN HARRIER on the far side of the hedgerow 800 yards east of the Quainton road near Quarrendon House Farm. With its rich rusty brown heavily streaked breast and equally warn-coloured underwing-coverts, it was clearly a juvenile and as it flew much closer and banked towards us, the four-banded tail was narrowly tipped buff at the tip of the terminal tail-band. It was boldly streaked on the underparts but lightly marked on the head, with a slight paling arc around the eye, no collar and uniform dark brown upperparts. The mantle and upperwing-coverts were paler than the rest of the upper wing and neatly peppered with pale fringing, with the pure white rump strongly contrasting as it quartered the pale coloured field flora. For over ten minutes, it hunted over its roosting field (to the east of Quainton Road) but then came even closer to the crowd, hunting over the main field north of the A41 layby. After a number of unsuccessful plunges at the ground, it then returned to its original field, and remained on view until 1600 hours. Thi sis the third consecutive evening that the bird has roosted at the site.
Whilst staking out the Hen Harrier, I latched on to a male MERLIN which quickly flew to a nearby perch by Quarrendon House Farm. It sat in full view on top of a hedgerow (again, east of the Quainton Road) for four minutes (1603-1607), before dropping down and speeding away over the field, but long enough to allow all those present to get on to it. In flight, the upperparts had a bluish-grey tinge to them, with the tail having a fairly broad black subterminal band. When perched, the head pattern showed a faint moustachial, a darkish crown and a narrow, pale supercilium. The underparts were quite heavily streaked brown, indicating that the bird was sub-adult. It was present for its third day.
At 1612 hours, two COMMON RAVENS (presumably a pair) flew 400 yards apart south over us in the layby and the A41 towards Aylesbury, presumably off to roost, whilst as the light faded, the first of 2 BARN OWLS started to hunt the fields. A truly memorable evening