Blog Post: Hen harrier breeding numbers in England 2017

It’s the question to which everyone wants the answer – how many hen harriers bred in England this year? Answer: three successful nests, from a total of seven attempts, producing 10 fledged young. Today, the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership* have announced that five of this year’s nests, including the three successes, were under their watch, with four of these occurring on land managed by the Forestry Commission.  This is the third year in a row that hen harriers have bred successfully at this site, after eight fledged from two nests in 2015, and six from two nests in 2016, clearly marking Northumberland out as the new stronghold for hen harriers in England. One of this year's hen harrier nests in Northumberland (Image: RSPB) Representing the Partnership, Andrew Miller of the National Park said, “Hen harriers are s...

Blog Post: Competition: Help us name our hen harriers!

You may remember last month I blogged about our 2016 Perthshire female, DeeCee and her fantastic brood of five healthy chicks (see here ). Well, I’m now delighted to share that all five have fledged successfully from land owned and managed by Forestry Commission Scotland in Argyll – two of them sporting shiny new Hen Harrier LIFE Project satellite tags! Three of DeeCee's five chicks, July 2017 (Image: RSPB) The two eldest and biggest chicks in the brood, one male and one female, were each fitted with the tiny transmitters just days before fledging, by a trained expert, under specialist licence. It will be fascinating to see where they go. Will they follow the same movement patterns of their mum, DeeCee, or will they go their own way entirely? Only time will tell. For now though, we need your help to choose names for them! You have from...

Blog Post: Exciting times: Hen harriers the next generation

We've received more brilliant news this week - in her first ever breeding attempt, our Northumberland female, Finn, is successfully rearing one chick at her nest in Southwest Scotland! The discovery was made by specially trained and licensed staff following up on Finn's welfare.  Finn's offspring - a single, large but still downy chick hidden in the heather. (Image: RSPB)  Hen harriers don't always breed in their first year, in fact historical records estimate only between 8-30% of first year birds make the attempt. And often when they do, the risk of failure is greater due to inexperience or laying infertile eggs. So although a single chick may not seem like much, for our young Finn, it's a fantastic achievement.  All being well, we expect that Finn's chick will fledge in the next 7-10 days.  Finn herself was named after teenage conse...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Stunning hen harrier chase on Isle of Man

Peter Christian is a birdwatcher and photographer with a keen eye for detail. Here, he describes how he was lucky enough to capture an incredible photographic series of a hen harrier in pursuit of a meadow pipit, providing a rarely glimpsed view into lives of these extraordinary birds. All photographs are kindly reproduced with Peter's permission and remain his copyright.  As a keen birdwatcher and hobby photographer on the Isle of Man, it's thankfully not too uncommon to encounter Hen Harriers. On a walk on an upland track recently however, I witnessed something I've never seen before.  Initially distant in the valley below I spotted the unmistakable presence of a male Hen Harrier. A striking bird to say the least. What's more, it was hunting a Meadow Pipit - wow!  They looked to be heading my way, so I grabbed the camera and tried ...

Blog Post: Happy hen harrier family

Great news for a Friday - a recent routine check of DeeCee's nest in Argyll, carried out by RSPB staff under full appropriate licences, has revealed a healthy brood of five chicks! Hen harrier DeeCee's healthy brood of five chicks. Can you spot the tiny youngest in the middle?  You'll need to look really closely to spot them all. Like many birds of prey, hen harriers lay their eggs a day at a time and they hatch consecutively in the order in which they were laid. This means that the eldest of DeeCee's chicks has at least a five day's start on the youngest, and being bigger, is able to gobble up the lion's share of the food that the adult male brings to the nest. Field voles are a vital food source for hen harriers throughout the breeding season but numbers of voles naturally vary widely from year to year, often showing what's known as boo...

Blog Post: Hen harrier Class of 2016: an update

As I sit at my desk with every window in the office open and the sun beating through the glass, it feels as though the year has abandoned any thought of Spring and skipped straight to Summer. Long may it last! It’s also a reminder (as if I needed one) that we are rapidly approaching the thick of the hen harrier breeding season, and my thoughts are naturally with our five remaining satellite-tagged females from 2016. What will these young birds, barely even a year old, make of their first true summer and will they survive to see another autumn? The news of a hen harrier shooting allegedly witnessed in broad daylight only weeks ago, near Leadhills in Southwest Scotland, has done little to calm my nerves. For now however, I am delighted and hugely relieved to say that all five birds are alive and doing well. Not only that but against all t...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Join Bo the hen harrier at Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017

Originally from London but a resident of Lancashire for 17 years with a love of the surrounding countryside and wildlife, Helen Ficorilli is the Programme Director of the Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival, which has taken up residence in the Forest of Bowland over the last seven years. Here she tells us why a female hen harrier has this year been taken up as the emblem for this annual event.    Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival returns to Gisburn Forest within Forest of Bowland AONB for it’s 7 th outing for the last weekend of July.  More pocket sized than boutique, this unique festival has captured the imagination and support of regional and national plaudits which include The Guardian, The Big Issue, Radio 6Music DJs and the high number of returning family audiences.  In a location managed by the Forestry Commission Englan...

Blog Post: Another shot hen harrier… how many more?

This is not the news I wanted to wake up to. Just weeks after the Crown Office discontinued a high-profile case against a former gamekeeper for the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier despite clear video evidence, another hen harrier shooting has come to light. Police Scotland issued an appeal this morning, for information relating to the lethal shooting of a hen harrier near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. You can read the response from RSPB Scotland here . Fortunately and exceptionally, “a number of witnesses” have apparently come forward but whether that’s enough to secure a prosecution remains to be seen. After all, if video evidence , clearly showing a hen harrier being shot out of the sky and its body retrieved by a man with his face in full view of the camera, isn’t enough to secure a conviction or even a court case, it...

Blog Post: Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

In case you missed it, RSPB have just published film footage of a former gamekeeper allegedly shooting a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, in June 2013, retrieving the body, and cleaning up the feathers after himself. After almost four years of waiting, court proceedings were dropped two weeks ago by the Crown Office, who indicated that after considering all of the relevant material, they couldn't use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court. However, it's only today that the Crown Office has explained the rationale behind this decision. Here' s the official response from RSPB Scotland: We do not agree with the opinion from the Crown Office that we were attempting to gather evidence for a prosecution. We installed a camera to monitor a protected breeding bird’s nest site, core business for a conservation...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Music on the Marr hen harrier t-shirt competition

Richard Johnstone is the organiser of the Music on the Marr folk festival, which takes place in Cumbria each summer. Here he tells us why the hen harrier has been chosen as the symbol of this year's festival and how the artistic amongst you could see your very own hen harrier design emblazoned across the chests of  hundreds of this year's festival goers.  Each year in late July, the lovely North Cumbrian village of Castle Carrock, nestled under the Geltsdale fells, hosts Music on the Marr, a three-day music festival showcasing outstanding folk and roots acts from near and far. The moors above the village partly comprise the RSPB's Geltsdale reserve, one of the very few recent breeding grounds of the hen harrier in Northern England. Each year the festival produces a new commemorative T-shirt and has on this occasion decided to feature the...

Blog Post: A new season & hopes for the class of 2017

It’s that time of year... hope and trepidation playing on my mind in equal measure. The breeding season just beginning, and with it, all the excitement and uncertainty of what lies ahead for our hen harriers. Often it feels as though little has changed from year to year, but our recent adventures in satellite tagging have given my reflections this year a new focus. For months now, our remaining satellite tagged birds have been sticking tightly to their chosen wintering grounds – Aalin in Shropshire, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, Finn in Ayrshire, Harriet in the Lake District, and Wendy on Mull. Who knows, perhaps that immobility has been the secret of their success? Being young and immature, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that any of our young harriers will attempt to breed this year. But experience shows that won’t stop them se...

Blog Post: Guest blog: Hen Harrier at RSPB Wallasea Island

  Andrew Armstrong is a wildlife photographer local to RSPB's Wallasea Wetlands reserve. Andrew’s stunning hen harrier photographs first came to our attention on Twitter where he posts under @drumon25. Impressed by his passion for the birds which clearly shines through his photography, we invited him to share what it feels like to capture these rare glimpses into the private life of one of our most spectacular birds of prey.  As a wildlife photographer I have been visiting RSPB Wallasea Island for three years, predominantly in the winter when the raptors congregate over the site. Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin and especially Short Eared Owls show really well during the winter, making for wonderful photography opportunities. The real prize is getting the opportunity to watch, and hopefully photograph, the Hen Harriers as they...

Blog Post: From a bird found, to a bird lost

As far as positive starts to the New Year go; the news of the possible rediscovery of our missing 2014 female, Highlander, was a pretty fantastic way to kick off 2017. This was shortly followed by a phone call from a farmer in Cumbria who was only too delighted to tell me about the hen harriers roosting in his rushy fields. The palpable excitement and pride in his voice was a wonderful reminder of the power of these graceful birds to captivate and inspire – a welcome sign of hope for the future of hen harriers in our hillsides. Hen Harrier over rushy pasture. Photo: Lin Lyon For the most part, our remaining birds continue to fare well and seem to have settled down for the winter in their favoured roosts – Wendy on Ulva, just off the coast of Mull, Finn in Ayrshire, Carroll in Northumberland, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, and Harriet in the...

Blog Post: Highlander lives?

It’s a rare delight in the world of hen harriers to be able to start the New Year with some good news, but I am utterly astonished and elated to report that Highlander, a female hen harrier which fledged from United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland in 2014, and who suddenly and unexpectedly went missing in County Durham in April 2016, has possibly been found alive! Highlander and her sibling, Sky, just after having their satellite tags fitted, in Bowland, 2014. (Image: Jude Lane) To most people, Highlander is the eponymous lead character, played by Christopher Lambert, in the classic 1986 British-American action fantasy film, about an immortal Scottish swordsman on an epic quest. As our own Highlander was “adopted” by children from the local Brennand’s Endowed Primary School however, I’m going to hazard a guess it’s un...

Comment on A natural death on Mull

Keith, As far as we’re aware, the Scottish Government’s satellite-tagging review is already collecting a significant amount of data and information on the fitting, operation and reliability of transmitters. To quote from their website: “The review will investigate a massive data set on satellite tagged raptors, much of it funded and held by RSPB, Highland Foundation for Wildlife and Natural Research. The review will report on the fate of tagged birds, the distribution of losses and known and adjudged causes of loss. It will attempt to determine the significance of these losses nationally and regionally, and factors associated with these. Drawing on international research, the review will comment on the reliability of tags, any effects of tags on raptors, and any inferences on the value of the techniques employed in Scotland.” The S...

Blog Post: Hen harriers on the move and another bird lost

As the cold weather sets in and Christmas approaches, it’s clear that winter is truly upon us. My thoughts at this time of year, as ever, turn to our young harriers out on the hills. Over the last two months, the number of hen harrier sightings at roosts and hunting grounds in southern and coastal areas has increased dramatically, as many of these birds seek to escape the harsh upland weather. Hen harriers have been spotted at a number of RSPB reserves across the country including Saltholme, Burton Mere Wetlands, Blacktoft Sands, Wallasea, and Rainham Marshes, not to mention the National Trust's Wicken Fen reserve in Cambridgeshire and the Wildlife Trust's Upton Warren reserve in Worcestershire, amongst others. Several birders and photographers have been kind enough to share some of their incredible photographs of these birds with us, an...

Blog Post: The autumn outdoor classroom: a lesson on hen harriers and special landscapes

Katy Saulite is  the Hen Harrier LIFE Project's  Community Engagement Officer for Scotland, working with local schools and community groups in areas where hen harriers should be, to raise awareness and promote the conservation of these spectacular skydancers.   At the beginning of September I had my fingers and toes crossed for good weather in the weeks ahead. Two school groups were all set to venture out onto the moorland with the Hen Harrier LIFE project, and I feared the unhelpful presence of that all too familiar horizontal precipitation we’re often blessed with. Thankfully September has been lovely up here in Scotland, and the pupils who took part in our moorland field trips were more than happy to be out and about, exploring and engaging with the outdoor classroom. The primary 5-7 class of Kirkmichael Primary School spent an aft...

Comment on Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

Alex - thank you for the kind words. I've been working on hen harriers for over five years and every lost bird stays with me. It doesn't get easier but the way I see it, we have a choice - either to despair, our to let it harden our resolve to make a difference. I choose the latter. The LIFE project runs until 2019, so I promise there will be plenty more satellite tags to come. Alan - yes please! If you could include time date and location as accurate as possible, that would be much appreciated. ...

Comment on Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

Thanks Alan. I do too! Satellite tagging is brilliant but for the majority of hen harriers, we rely on sightings from people on the ground to help us keep track. It would be a huge help to us if you could share any sightings via our Hen Harrier Hotline, by emailing the details (including time, date, location, description of the bird, and a 6-figure grid reference if possible) to henharriers@rspb.org.uk or phoning 08454600121 (calls charged at local rates). The hotline is linked directly to our Investigations and Regional Conservation teams and is instrumental in helping us to target our limited resources to maximum effect. ...

Blog Post: Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

The recent recovery of Rowan, a Langholm hen harrier tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust and Natural England, who appears to have been illegally shot in Cumbria, highlights the vital role that satellite tagging has to play in the conservation of this threatened species. These tiny devices, barely 2 cm long and weighing only 9-12g do not, of course, confer protection in and of themselves (the bodies of Rowan , Lad , Annie , and Betty are all testament to that). However they do shine a light on what is happening to these birds, helping us to better understand their movements – where they go when they leave their nests, which roosts they favour over winter, where they attempt to breed and build their nests, and ultimately, where they stop. That final piece of information is the bit that gets most publicity – whether the birds die naturally, ar...