Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category
This week we welcome guest blogger Findlay Wilde. A passionate young conservationist, Findlay has spent the past year campaigning for hen harriers. Here, he explains how he first got interested in the bird of prey and what he has been doing to help the species. Hen harriers. Aren’t they just magnificent? Whenever I see one, I feel totally “raptorvated”. I can still remember the first time I ever saw a hen harrier. I was out on the North Wales moors. The rain splattered my face and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape. Despite the rain, I resolved to walk even further until a grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past me within 10 metres of where I stood. I gazed at it for as long as I could, before it was a distant speck, gliding easily on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. I was simply captivated and inspired by such a spectacle of nature. As a young conservationist, I understand that there are huge problems facing British wildlife. One of these problems is the illegal persecution of raptors, and especially of hen harriers. As more and more information was being shared by the likes of the RSPB, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Birders Against Wildlife Crime about the declines in our breeding hen harrier population, I knew that this was my next project. I made it my goal to work hard to raise awareness and to try to reach the people who had never even heard of a hen harrier. After experiencing such a wonderful bird out in the wild, it is horrible to think about how they are being purposely killed. I continued to learn all about hen harriers, the good and the bad. People talked about how positive it was to have four breeding pairs in England in 2014 after having none in 2013. But our uplands should support more that 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers, so four pairs is just not acceptable. People I meet at conferences, talks, reserves and events frequently ask why I think saving our English hen harriers is so important. The answer is simple; hen harriers have every right to be dancing in our skies and we have to protect them. I can't understand how people can allow extinction to take place right on their doorstep and not do anything about it. In 2014, I began “Project Harry” to help the RSPB’s Skydancer project. Harry, a 6ft hen harrier, started off as a tiny thought in the back of my mind. He was built and bought to life for a local scarecrow competition in our village. Harry spent four weeks in our living room while his feathers were drying and he then he spent another four weeks on the roof of our house, number 52 in the scarecrow competition. There was a poster put up below him, telling people all about the persecution of raptors. Findlay with Harry the Hen Harrier I quickly realised that Harry was reaching people who hadn’t heard of a hen harrier before and who were shocked to hear about the near extinction of Harry’s English relatives. Harry won the competition and the prize money was given straight to Skydancer. At this point though, I had no idea how amazing the journey I was going to have with Harry would be. On 10 th August 2014, I took Harry to the first ever Hen Harrier Day, organised by Mark Avery, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Chris Packham in the Peak District. It was amazing to see 570 people out in driving rain, coming together to speak out against wildlife crime. Since then, Harry has been to the Rutland Birdfair on the Wildlife Crime Prevention stand, raising even more public awareness. Visitors to the fair were asked to take selfies with Harry and post them on Twitter to keep hen harriers in everyone’s hearts. Findlay with Chris Packham at Hen Harrier Day Harry has also been to BBC Autumnwatch, appearing on Autumnwatch Extra. He was again a great focal point, and it was great for me to be able to talk about hen harriers, persecution and their declines. Currently, Harry is located at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, where he is staying for the rest of the hen harrier winter roost. He is on display for all visitors to see, and every week more Harry selfies appear on Twitter. The RSPB do monthly Skydancers on the Dee events throughout winter to raise awareness about hen harriers. On these days, I get up full of enthusiasm and head off to volunteer with the RSPB’s Dan Trotman and his team. During the afternoon we talk to passersby about hen harriers and, when possible, show the birds to them through the scopes. I really enjoy conversations with all these different people and love watching their faces when they see a quartering raptor close up for the first time. Sometimes though, I admit I get a bit distracted watching across the marsh myself. Hen harrier on the Dee In December, I used a picture of Harry with a snowy background and made Wishing You A Harry Christmas cards. 500 cards were sold in just two weeks and this raised another £525 for Skydancer. More importantly, it got the hen harrier story in to 500 homes over Christmas. Harry was just one small project, but he has made a very big impact. For a while, social media was filled with images of this 6ft imposing giant. I like to think that Harry has inspired people, and that some of them will do something positive to help protect our wildlife. This started out as just a small project and look how it’s turned out. Imagine if we did a larger-scale project; imagine if we all worked on something huge together. I have an idea or two of course! I am not sure what will happen to Harry after his winter roost; I hope he can continue to raise awareness, but I am bursting with great new ideas for the future. I feel more and more confident that all of us; NGOs and other organisations can work together to change things. I for one can’t wait to be a part of the movement making a positive difference and filling the skies with dancers. Read Findlay’s regular blog at http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/ Follow Findlay on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wildeaboutbirds
With little movement from Burt and Highlander since my last update (still residing in North Cumbria and the South Pennines respectively), this blog is simply an excuse to share some photographs (all my own unless stated otherwise) and experiences with you of a place that is really special to me. I’m Lancashire born and bred and always knew Bowland as ‘the place’ for breeding hen harriers in England. It’s a misguided view that I’ve since revised, as ‘the place’ for breeding hen harriers should of course, be our uplands as a whole. So here’s my experiences of just one small corner of our uplands over a few months in the spring and summer a few years ago.... When I started work for the RSPB in April 2005 little did I know that the fifteen pairs of hen harriers that nested in Bowland that year would soon be effectively wiped out. Shocking isn’t it, from fifteen pairs to extinction in less than ten years. My first contract was a joy, essentially I was being paid to go birding, well spend four months surveying and mapping the breeding birds on the United Utilities Bowland Estate to be exact. I’d think nothing of seeing half a dozen hen harriers in a day whilst surveying the moors and on one particularly memorable morning that April, I lay in the heather watching two stunning male harriers skydancing whilst three ringtails quartered the moors below. Spending four months combing 42 square kilometres of the estate gave me such an insight into how special these upland areas are for wildlife. No field guides, video clips, CDs of bird calls, photographs nor any other medium comes close to being in the thick of the action, and I learnt so, so much. As well as daily multiple hen harrier encounters, merlins and peregrines were frequently seen, I literally stumbled on my first ever short eared owl nest, the adult flying up from under my feet leaving three young owlets staring me out. They won. The nest subsequently went on to fledge three healthy shorties. It’s also the first time I experienced their spectacular wing clapping display flights. Short-eared owlets on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. Curlews were widespread and as well as frequent encounters with their sprinting chicks (they’re all leg for the first couple of weeks), provided for me what is the ultimate soundtrack to our uplands, that beautiful, eerie, plaintive, bubbling call that accompanies their parachuting song flight that just can’t be beaten. I challenge anyone to lay amongst the heather on a crisp spring morning taking in the stunning landscape whilst your ears are filled with that most atmospheric of sounds and not be moved by it. It simply lifts the soul. Curlew chick. Golden Plover in breeding plumage. I’d also share my ‘office’ with golden plovers on the high plateaus, resplendent in their black, white and gold spangled finery, a bird transformed from the altogether duller subdued golden browns of winter. The song of ring ouzels would echo around the valleys carrying far and wide and making it difficult to pinpoint the songster, usually perched in isolated rowans on the hillsides whilst whinchats, newly arrived from their sub-Saharan wintering grounds, flitted around areas of bracken setting up territories where the resident and closely related stonechats would allow. Incessant singing skylarks competed with the curlews for the audio crown and ‘ tseep, tseep ’ing meadow pipits were everywhere, scattering from tussocks on every transect I walked, occasionally a bird burst from underfoot in an awkward low, almost scrambling flight across the top of the vegetation with tail spread. I quickly learnt that this behaviour meant the bird had come off a nest and was attempting to get me to follow it – a distraction display to lead me away from the nest. Meadow Pipit nestlings With the meadow pipits providing food for harriers and merlins, the insect life that fed the pipits was there in abundance to the point that every footstep seemed to be onto moving ground, a tide of spiders scuttling out of the way as I placed my feet between tussocks of cotton grass, various mosses, bog asphodel and other-worldly carnivorous sundews. Green hairstreak butterflies, so small and inconspicuous amongst the bilberry and almost impossible to follow in flight were simply exquisite at close range when found motionless, still lethargic in the early morning mists before they warmed up enough to take flight. Golden-ringed dragonflies, our largest species, were an unexpected treat found hawking over some of the smaller rocky streams flowing down the moorland valleys. My steps became a little more tentative after the morning I met a hissing adder in one of the boggier valley bottoms. I could go on for hours and hours but you get the idea, the estate teems with wildlife and for much of the spring and summer I pretty much had it to myself. Wherever they were, the general public just didn’t know what they were missing. Bog Asphodel, Round-leaved Sundew, Green Hairstreak, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Adder. With the wider ecosystem services that such areas provide whether that be carbon storage, flood prevention, recreational walking, hiking, cycling or just taking in the spectacular sights and sounds, it just seems bizarre, selfish perhaps, that anyone would want to damage such places. Not all of our uplands are as diverse as this, especially where the management practises are geared towards intensive production of thousands of red grouse for driven shooting. The United Utilities Bowland Estate....... ....and an intensive driven grouse moor in Scotland In their own right, our uplands deserve the domestic and international protection they are afforded. Whether it is conserving hen harriers or restoring areas of degraded peat, the uplands remain a high priority for the RSPB and other organisations going in to 2015. It is essential that their protection and that of the internationally important habitats and species they support is maintained and effectively enforced. That way, the natural wonders I was privileged to spend the spring and summer of 2005 with, will be available to everybody, wherever they are, for generations to come. So for me, nearly ten years on from my first steps into Bowland’s magical moors, I saw 2014 as a turning point. Whether it was the return of successfully breeding hen harriers to England, the inspiration that was Hen Harrier Day, or Skydancer winning the National Lottery Best Education Project Award, the year’s many highlights have provided us with many positives to build on in 2015. I begin the year with real optimism, so happy new year Skydancer followers, enjoy the photos and let’s make 2015 even better!
Well, after barely any movement from Highlander in recent weeks, she’s ‘done a Burt’ and gone exploring. On 4 th December she headed about eight kilometres north of her usual haunt and roosted on the Pennine fringe east of Colne. Rather than continuing north the following morning she headed west towards the coast and took in the area around the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere on the Lancashire plain. I contacted a couple of the staff there to see if there had been any harrier sightings over that weekend but it seems nobody managed to connect with her. She was still in the area early afternoon of 7 th December but she was heading back east and had arrived back in her usual South Pennines haunt by 14:58 – a distance of over 50 kilometres covered in under two hours. Highlander's movements in December So despite Highlander giving everyone the slip at Martin Mere, Burt has given himself up again in recent weeks. After his trip to Dumfries and Galloway, he was spotted by none other than Norman Holton, our RSPB Senior Sites Manager for Cumbria at our Campfield Marsh reserve on the Solway. On the morning of the 2 nd December, Norm was doing some work in the eastern part of the reserve and was treated to a sighting of a ringtail harrier hunting close by. He was sharp eyed enough to notice that it was satellite tagged and contacted the Skydancer team to find out where the bird had originated from. At the time Norm saw him, Burt was on his way back south, to an area of north Cumbria where he spent a week or so in late November. He’s remained there, not too far from Bassenthwaite since. Burt's movements in December So that’s the latest update on Burt and Highlander’s travels and as 2014 comes to an end, I think it’s worth taking a closer look at where these tagged harriers have been spending much of their time since they fledged from their Bowland Fells nests over five months ago. Sadly Sky and Hope were not able to explore any further than their natal areas due to their untimely disappearances back in September, but their siblings, Highlander and Burt, have been able to spread their wings as their confidence and wandering instincts have developed. Between them they’ve graced six counties in two countries, exploring the upland landscapes of Dumfries and Galloway, the Yorkshire Dales, South Pennines and the Cumbrian Fells. When they’ve spent time away from the uplands, the Solway, the Ribble Estuary and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere have all been visited by these two very special raptors. In case you hadn’t already noticed, all the areas I listed above have something in common. They are all landscapes or sites which have been afforded special protection from statutory designations. From the Bowland Fells Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest where they were born, to the Special Area of Conservation of the Solway and Ramsar site of Martin Mere, these are all areas which are nationally or internationally recognised for their important habitats and species. The Bowland Fells Special Protection Area (SPA) - a special place so designated for its breeding hen harriers - Gavin Thomas RSPB Despite few of these being specifically designated for hen harriers it just underlines how important these protected areas as a whole are for our rarest wildlife. Their attractiveness was clearly demonstrated by Highlander for example when she wandered away from the South Pennines – she’d headed straight to Martin Mere, a wetland oasis within the agriculturally improved landscape of the west Lancashire Plain. Similarly when Burt left Bowland, he headed straight to the multi-designated landscape that is the Ribble Estuary before heading north to the Cumbrian Fells, the Solway and southern Scotland. We’re all too aware of the direct threats to our hen harriers but what about the indirect ones? At a time when it seems that nature as a whole is being given a pretty poor deal, it’s concerning that the very legislation that underpins the protection of these special places, the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, are now under review. Whether it’s protected sites, specific conservation measures for species or wider countryside initiatives such as the agri-environment schemes that are supporting farmers’ efforts in managing areas of their farms for wildlife; it is all potentially under threat from a review of the legislation. You can read more about this here on our conservation director's blog. So if you care about nature and special places then it’s well worth keeping an eye on this review and making sure you have your say, especially at a time when the UK Government seems to be giving nature short shrift. Nature, including hen harriers and the habitats they depend on, needs a voice, therefore it is up to us all to ensure that protecting nature is firmly on the agenda of the decision makers. To help this happen click here . In the meantime should you be enjoying a festive foray into the countryside and are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please report it to the hen harrier hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible.
Autumn and early winter is a great time to look for hen harriers in England. With so few nesting attempts in the country and so few birds out there in summer despite the hundreds of square miles of suitable habitat, the autumn sees numbers swell as harriers begin to disperse from elsewhere. As well as birds from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, harriers are also arriving from abroad. The east coast of England is a particularly good area to encounter them and there have been multiple sightings in recent weeks. It’s possible some of these birds have originated from the near continent, Sweden and Finland for example but without recovering a ringed bird or seeing a bird fitted with wing tags it’s impossible to know for sure. This is where satellite tagging is so useful in learning more about the detailed movements of these birds. With a Scottish tagged bird already making it to northern France, we’ve been hoping our tagged Bowland birds might give the Scottish bird a run for her money. Highlander however has a long way to go to even come close as she seems to have taken on Burt’s sedentary nature and remains faithful to the Pennine moors between Burnley and Bradford. Burt however is now proving quite mobile and has already taken in a new country, Scotland to be precise. Since my last update, when one of our volunteers managed to ‘twitch’ Burt leaving a roost site in Bowland after his satellite tag gave us some fantastic location data, Burt has been on the move. On 18 November, another great series of fixes placed him on the north Ribble marshes where he roosted overnight. These marshes are a fantastic place for wildlife and it’s likely Burt would have found a plentiful food source here in the rough grassland and saltmarsh, an area where many finches, buntings, pipits and larks overwinter and doubtless plenty of small rodents are present. In fact Burt wasn’t the only hen harrier in the area at the time, as on the opposite side of the estuary, a stunning adult male bird was delighting visitors to our Marshside reserve . It seems Burt escaped their attentions though! Ringtail hen harrier hunting passerines over saltmarsh - thanks to Andy Davis for the cracking pic! Despite the estuary’s appeal, Burt didn’t linger and headed up to northern Cumbria where he spent a week on the northern fringe of the Lake District between Carlisle and Bassenthwaite. His next foray was even further north across the border into southern Scotland where he found an area of grass-dominated moorland and conifer plantations west of the M74 near Moffat to his liking. It would be interesting to know whether he encountered any other harriers in this part of the world as he wasn’t too far away from Langholm Moor where a far more natural population of hen harriers successfully nested this year – no fewer than 47 young fledged from 12 nests to be exact! You can find out here exactly why hen harriers are doing so well on this particular moor. Burt’s movements over the past few weeks So as November gave way to December, Burt remained north of the border. Any guesses where he’ll go next? Will he continue north and follow the remarkable track taken by the sadly late Bowland Betty , or will cooler weather halt his travels further north? Will he head south and if so how far? He’s got some way to go if he wants to match the travels of this remarkable hen harrier for starters. I’ll keep you informed.... If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at email@example.com or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible.
I was only a kid, ten or eleven I think, but I can still picture it now – my first ever hen harrier. My mum used to take me there on Sunday afternoons hoping to catch a glimpse of a bird I’d dreamt about seeing in real life after drooling over the plates of it in my Mitchell Beazley bird book, a present given to me by my mum and dad for my eighth birthday. I still own and treasure that book. Hen Harrier plate in my treasured Mitchell Beazley book. It was a red-letter day putting that tick next to it! Less than an hour from my inner city Liverpool home I’d stand there gazing out over what seemed like another world - the Welsh mountains providing the backdrop to a seemingly vast, wild place that was devoid of people and teeming with birds. After several failed attempts, that first sighting was just so, so special. Those slim wings and long tail just weren’t right for a buzzard, it wasn’t flying right and the tail had striking thick dark bars. Then a sharp twist in the air as it flushed a skylark out the marsh and there it was, the characteristic flash of a white rump. I’d seen my first hen harrier. I was simply elated as I watched the bird for several minutes as it hunted effortlessly over the saltmarsh in the mid-winter, late afternoon gloom. That bird over that habitat underlined to me even then what a fantastic place it was. I was at the RSPB’s Dee Estuary reserve in Cheshire. So here’s a guest blog from a lucky lad called Dan Trotman, who’s the Visitor Development Officer on that very reserve where I first caught the hen harrier bug: ‘One memory that has stuck with me from my early days at the Dee Estuary reserve is my maiden voyage to Parkgate with my manager in September 2010. We were hoping that I’d see my first ever hen harrier. At the time, I didn’t quite appreciate how significant it would have been had we caught sight of the lone ringtail, the only one that had so far returned to the marshes after the breeding season that summer. Four years on, I need no reminding how lucky I am to have the opportunity to see them regularly on the Dee every winter. It’s likely that the birds we see here are from the nearby Welsh breeding population, as well as further afield, but this is no compensation for their shocking demise in the uplands of England where they should be present in their hundreds. The vast saltmarsh off Parkgate promenade is well-known as a winter roost site for hen harriers. Since the late 1980s, the Dee Estuary RSPB team have delivered regular events to showcase these spectacular raptors and the other birds of prey such as peregrines and merlins that grace the reserve in the winter months. The opening of the new Burton Mere Wetlands visitor facilities in 2011 was intended to make the wildlife spectacle of the wider estuary more accessible to the public, and one of the species that has delighted visitors most in the winter months is the hen harrier. Over the coming months we are running Skydancers on the Dee , a series of events aimed inspiring people about these amazing birds and highlighting their plight. Most people have never seen a hen harrier but we can change that here! So far this autumn, a total of three hen harriers have been on the Dee; one grey adult male, who has moved on after a brief stay in October, and two ringtails that are still present and thrilling visitors to our Burton Mere Wetlands reserve on a daily basis. This winter has so far been very mild so hopefully, more harriers will arrive, should the winter weather harden. True to the unpredictable nature of wildlife, rather than using their traditional roost on the saltmarsh off Parkgate, one of the ringtails appears to have been roosting at our Burton Mere Wetlands reserve on a few occasions. One of the two juvenile marsh harriers that are currently also on the reserve is doing likewise – in fact it’s a novelty for us to have marsh harriers so late in the year and to see both species in the air together. The harriers have also roosted on Burton Marsh some nights so it seems that you have to be in the right place at the right time this winter! Our team is keeping close tabs on these birds so whether they are at Parkgate, Burton Marsh or Burton Mere Wetlands we’ll be doing our best to ensure visitors to the Dee are rewarded with a sighting. So why not join us this Sunday, 30 November, between noon and dusk to learn more about these birds and the Skydancer project. There are harriers around so you’ve every chance of seeing one of these fantastic birds hunting over the marsh and hopefully dropping into roost around sunset. If you can’t make it this Sunday, there are further events on the Dee each month until March. For full details, click here .
Thanks to a satellite tag and an eagle-eyed photographer, a young hen harrier from southwest Scotland has recently been tracked to our Wallasea Wetlands reserve in southern England. However, that wasn't far enough apparently, as the intrepid traveler has now migrated all the way to France! Read more about this fascinating journey on our Rainham Marshes blog here . Photo of sat-tagged hen harrier, Wallasea Wetlands, 2014 (c) Tony Orwell
With little new to report on the movements of our harriers in recent weeks it was exciting to hear of a tagged harrier from northern Scotland being sighted in Essex last week, on one of our fantastic nature reserves at Wallasea Island nonetheless! No such great journeys to report on locally, bar Burt’s short trip into Cheshire last month. Highlander, one of the young female harriers from the first Bowland nest this summer, continues to reside in the West Pennine Moors, whilst Burt, the young male fledged from the second Bowland nest, has returned to form wandering widely around the AONB. Whilst doing so, his satellite tag has been providing some excellent data allowing us to pinpoint the various locations he has chosen to feed and roost. Burt and Highlander's movements over the past three weeks As well as having our eyes peeled on the data coming in from satellite tagged hen harriers, there are also sightings of harriers coming in from a passionate bunch of folk out there looking for harriers on the fells and in the wider countryside. After several fixes in close proximity late one evening revealing Burt’s exact roosting location, one of these harrier watchers was given a tip off and was in position before dawn the next day. Jean Roberts takes up the story.... After a tip-off from Gavin regarding the whereabouts of Burt, I got up well before first light the next morning to see if I could get a sighting of the young hen harrier leaving his roost site. Normally it is very difficult for me to get up so early and in the dark but that morning it was no problem at all - I was full of hope and excitement! This gave way to apprehension after 20 minutes on site staring at nothing, but suddenly, five minutes before sunrise, up popped Burt from his roost, materialising magically above the fell. I could hardly believe it. It was fantastic to see him still alive and well, especially after the disappearance of Sky and Hope, two of the other satellite-tagged youngsters I’d been hoping to follow through their first few months of life. The sudden “jumping up” of harriers from a roost has been documented by Donald Watson in his excellent book “The Hen Harrier” but it was still a surprise to see it. As I watched, Burt started to quarter the hillside for breakfast but a resident crow spotted him and gave chase. Burt effortlessly dodged the crow with some sideways manoeuvres and, with a flash of his white rump, he flew down the hillside out of view. Some minutes later he mysteriously reappeared, having sneaked up the hillside without either me or the nearby crow noticing. With typical buoyant flight and wings held in a shallow V Burt flew agilely down into a dip and disappeared again. I waited a while but didn’t see him again after that. This is both the joy and frustration of harrier watching as I have found out over the years. Harriers appear so suddenly giving you a jolt but, in the time it takes to scrabble for binoculars to get a better view, they disappear again and you’re wishing you’d noticed the plumage details better or whether they had a sat tag or wishing you hadn’t bothered to get your binoculars at all! But the all too brief sightings of Burt had made my day and I returned home in a very happy frame of mind for a celebratory breakfast. It is experiences such as this that spur me on to get more involved in supporting the monitoring and conservation work being undertaken for hen harriers and other birds in my local area. It is good to know that, along with that of others, my information, positive or negative, helps to build a picture of where our harriers are, how many there are, where they are roosting and foraging and dare I say, where they are under threat from illegal persecution. Male Hen Harrier heading in to its winter roost site - always guaranteed to get the pulse racing and brighten a dull winter's afternoon! Copyright John Whitting. If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible. Gavin Thomas and Jean Roberts 11 November 2014
Apologies for a lack of updates on our tagged harriers - for the past two weeks I’ve been away on a birding trip to Shetland. No Hen Harriers up there due to a natural absence of voles, one of their main food sources, but I was lucky enough to see a juvenile Pallid Harrier – a rare migrant and close relative that breeds mostly in Russia and central Asia and winters in sub-Saharan Africa - quite a migratory feat and one that sometimes results in these birds drifting way off course! No such concerns for Burt who has continued to remain faithful to Bowland over the past two weeks. Until a few days ago that is.... Yes he’s finally discovered his adventurous side and has started to head south with his last fix from the mid-Cheshire sandstone ridge. Inland Cheshire is not ideal habitat for a harrier but areas of young conifer plantation and small areas of remnant heath where Burt has frequented will no doubt harbour rodent and meadow pipit food, far more than the surrounding grass silage dairying country that dominates the county. The estuarine northwest of Cheshire however is a great area for seeing wintering Hen Harriers, more on this in a future post... If Burt continues south I expect the meres, mosses and moors of Shropshire and Staffordshire may well be to his liking, in fact a pair of hen harriers held territory in Shropshire in 1988 near the Welsh border. Such areas have historically held breeding harriers and should the national population recover, there is every likelihood hen harriers could breed again in suitable habitat in these counties. Map of Burt and Highlander's recent travels. Meanwhile, Highlander continues to wander the intensively managed grouse moors of the West Pennine Moors and Yorkshire Dales. After the unexplained disappearance of Sky and Hope, it’s good to know that Highlander is still out there holding her own in the uplands. We’ll be following her movements with interest.... Female Hen Harrier hunting over the RSPB's Burton Mere Wetlands reserve on the Dee Estuary. Copyright Steve Round rspb-images.com If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at email@example.com or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible.
This week we’ve got a guest blog from Laurence Rose, former RSPB Northern England Director and a composer, who talks about his hen harrier-inspired composition, Skydancer. I first saw hen harriers skydancing in the late seventies. It was in the Forest of Bowland and the memory of the birds, and the place – which I came to know intimately in later years – is still vivid. I remember watching the effortless and buoyant flight of a male harrier and noting how it seemed to trace a gently undulating line that matched the shape of Tarnbrook Fell. Then a sudden burst of energy and a rocketing flight as a female appeared from nowhere. Both birds rose to describe a sharper curve, she twisted, he swerved and a speck of prey flew between them. Then, a serene separation as sudden as the dance itself. On another occasion, I was walking Clougha Fell, across the valley. It was June and the air was still and warm and peat-scented. My path took me past a gritstone outcrop where I was greeted by a sudden wind that threw ice crystals in my face before subsiding back to nothing. For years I was fascinated by these lines and rhythms. The shapes of the fells against the sky, how they change with the light. And the patterns of energy as the wind plays around the rocks or the birds play along the wind. As a composer, I never stop thinking about line and rhythm. Seeing it in a landscape is half way to writing it in a score: just add notes! Last weekend the London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra (LCCO) premiered my Skydancer , a short piece that is a direct response to the grandeur and the minutiae of the fells and their inhabitants. For me, the most important rhythms in music are the big ones, the ones that define the structure of a piece and the flow of energy across its span: the landscape. Rhythm at a smaller scale, like the movements of birds or the sounds of the weather, characterise the moment. The LCCO had asked for a piece “playable by a good amateur orchestra.” I knew Skydancer would be borderline. I needed it to progress in gradually-shifting, hazy harmonies; no block chords to signpost the route. Bursts of energy had to be in the form of complex cross-rhythms, as they always are in nature. Difficult stuff, but “good amateur orchestra” turned out to be an understatement: it was an impressive performance. I just don’t write music that is about something, or so I always tell people. The decision to give this piece a title that even hints at what composers pompously call an “extra-musical idea” wasn’t easy. My music is supposed to be what it is and no more – notes on a page, or in the air if someone actually plays it: abstract music, like in the old days. But I heard that the RSPB Skydancer project had been nominated for (and has now won) this year’s national Lottery Award for Best Education Project. At the same time, momentum behind the inaugural Hen Harrier Day was picking up, while news of yet more atrocities against this wonderful species continued to filter through. Having written a piece that owes so much to my early experiences of fell-walking in what remains of England’s hen harrier country, I couldn’t really not call it Skydancer .
Surprise! Surprise ~ lost in the middle of Grouse Shooting country! :-( This, despite all the high profile, nationwide, negative publicity recently, regarding the persecution of our rare Birds of Prey by those involved in the UK's Red Grouse industry! It looks highly unlikely that the Red Grouse industry in the UK, will ever be able to root out the Scum in their midst, who continue to bring the industry into disrepute!
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that we have been trying to find out what happened to Sky and Hope, two young hen harriers that fledged from nests in Bowland this year. We were tracking the movements of these birds by satellite but their tags suddenly stopped transmitting last month, within days of each other. No bodies have been recovered. Satellite technology is normally extremely reliable so it is most likely that Sky and Hope were either victims of natural predation or illegal persecution. Lancashire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit were notified about the disappearance of these birds. However, without any sufficient evidence to work with, they are currently unable to progress any investigation. If you spend time in the Bowland area you might be able to help. Has anyone been talking about the fate of the birds locally? Gamekeepers, in particular, spend more time on the moors than anyone else and could have come across something. If you’re a member of this community, do you know anything about the fate of the harriers that you’d be willing to share in complete confidence? We are offering a £1,000 reward for any information that leads to a conviction, should it emerge that one or both birds were illegally killed. Here are the facts: Sky’s last transmission was at 7.33pm on Wednesday 10 September at Summersgill Fell, west of Thrushgill, in the Forest of Bowland. Hope’s last transmission was at 10.51am on the Saturday 13 September at Mallowdale Pike, also in the Forest of Bowland, 2.5km south-west of Sky’s last position. Blue squares show location of final transmissions from Hope (left) and Sky (right) If you have any information about either birds, please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636.
As we are currently recruiting a new Skydancer Engagement Officer , I am acting as temporary caretaker for this blog. My name is Chris Collett and I’m the RSPB’s communications manager for Northern England. It’s is my job to get our conservation projects in the pages of our regional newspapers and magazines, and on TV and radio. Last week, I was kept very busy with the story about the missing Bowland hen harriers, Sky and Hope. As you are probably aware, these young satellite-tagged birds, stopped transmitting last month and have vanished without a trace. There has been a huge amount of interest in Sky and Hope from the national and regional media. Our Head of Investigations Bob Elliot was interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4 and the story was covered on the BBC News website and in the Daily Telegraph. Regionally, there was a report on BBC North West Tonight and several pieces on BBC Radio Lancashire, as well as many column inches in the local papers. We also had a huge response on Twitter and Facebook, with loads of people expressing their sadness about the missing birds. The Skydancer project is all about inspiring people about hen harriers so this level of media and public interest is heartening. The disappearance of Sky and Hope has been devastating for the Skydancer team, particularly for the staff and volunteers who protected them around the clock on the United Utilities Bowland Estate when they were chicks. However, the fact that lots of people care enough to be upset by the news, gives us cause for optimism. The English hen harrier remains teetering the brink of extinction as breeding bird but I believe it can and will recover. Generally, nature conservation works on the principles of democracy. If enough people call for a species to be saved, there is a much greater chance it will be.
To see these beautiful birds on the Scottish islands was truly magnificent.One of the many Highlights for us both were the first sightings of Hen Harriers, a Ringtail spooked Lapwings nesting in the Machair then decided to give us a fly pass over the picnic table while we were having lunch!! and my camera left in the car! Then 10 minutes later at another location the sky dancing Male quartered over the moor then climbed high over our heads. What a fantastic view of this brilliant bird....its quarry Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. Our first of many sightings of this beautiful iconic bird of the heathland across all the Islands, bar Skye. We want them in England. With dedicated people like yourselves it will happen we just need everyone who live and work on the moors to see them as part of the landscape. They belong there. Keep the dream alive and keep these amazing bird alive too.
Missing: Sky and Hope Last week we were in high spirits, celebrating our National Lottery Award for Best Education project. This week though, we received some news that has left us devastated. It has emerged that two of the hen harrier chicks that fledged this year on the United Utilities Bowland Estate have vanished. Gone without a trace. Female birds Sky and Hope had both been fitted with satellite tags so we could monitor their movements over the next few years. Sky being fitted with a sat tag. Photo by Jude Lane � Hope. Image by Jude Lane But both of these tags stopped transmitting with a few days of each other. It is unlikely that this is due to technical difficulties as this technology is generally very reliable. This leaves two possible explanations: fox predation or human persecution. We have searched for the birds but haven’t found them. We may never know exactly what happened to them. After months of protecting these chicks and their siblings with 24 hour nest protection, this is a cruel blow indeed. And we are not the only ones who are gutted by these disappearances. Sky was one of five chicks that had been officially named and adopted by pupils from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn. When we told head teacher Charlotte Peregrine the bad news, this was her response: "As a rural school we cherish our beautiful and unique environment at every opportunity. We felt really honoured to be part of the Skydancer project and wanted to help support the plight of the hen harriers. Naming the chicks and visiting the nesting site was really exciting and we have been following the progress of Sky & Highlander (another of the tagged chicks) intently at school. "The children are truly upset about the disappearance of Sky and everyone at school is hoping that their worst fears are not confirmed. We will continue to follow the progress of Highlander and only hope he will remain safe and live a long life" And here is what some of the pupils had to say when they heard about Sky: “Sky was my favourite hen harrier, I felt happy when I saw him fly” Max, aged six “I feel very worried that they might not come back” Charlotte aged eight “I’m sad because I was one of the children from Brennand’s Endowed who went to see the Hen Harriers nesting and see them fly. To know that two of them are missing makes me really sad” Matthew aged 11 “I feel it is such a tragic loss for such a rare and endangered species” David aged ten “I feel very sad and miserable. What if they have been shot, it is hunting season” Sadé aged nine Where Sky had been adopted by Brennand’s, Hope had a special place in the hearts of our Wildlife Explorer and Phoenix groups from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss. Young people from these groups had named Hope while making a film in Bowland with Chris Packham about Skydancer’s National Lottery Award. Speaking to the BBC on the subject, 16-year-old Macclefield group leader Kat Mayer, 16, said: "It's really disappointing, because the ones that were radio tagged could have spread awareness through the blogs and social media so people could have learned about them and been able to follow them." Her brother Will, 13, added: "It's really upsetting. It wasn't our bird, but it was a bird that we were close to because we had named it."
After months of build-up, excitement, and suspense, it finally happened – Skydancer appeared on the National Lottery Awards Show last Friday night at 10.45pm (11.30pm in Scotland)! In case you missed it (and let’s face it, I doubt if anyone in Scotland could keep their eyes open long enough following a sleepless night of referendum results), you can catch it on BBC iPlayer here until Friday. After that, you’ll still be able to watch the short film we shot with Chris Packham in Bowland on YouTube here . Skydancer receives a National Lottery Award for Best Education Project 2014. It was an amazing feeling to see the work of the project celebrated on a national stage and especially to see hen harriers put firmly in the spotlight. After the award ceremony, the project team and I received loads of lovely feedback from other projects, celebrities, and guests, with one person even commenting, “Watching your film, I feel like I actually learned something tonight.” For a project whose main aim is to raise awareness, what more could we possibly ask for than that? Those of you that did see it may have noticed the young man who came up on stage with me to collect the award. Perhaps my speech was too long, or perhaps too rambling (I didn’t think so), but the only pity of the night was that any mention of him or why he was there was cut from the final edit of the show. For me, his presence was one of the most important points of the night, so I want to take a moment to offer some explanation here. The young man in question is Ryan Mort, a level 3 Gamekeeping student from Askham Bryan College in York. He is one of over 100 gamekeeping and countryside management students who’ve taken part in Skydancer workshops over the last three years, debating, discussing and exploring the issues of hen harriers and grouse shooting from all points of view (read more here ). The student feedback from these workshops has been fantastic with comments including: " If I was an upland keeper, I would consider ways to promote hen harriers ." " Extremely informative " " I believe now that with the right attitudes and the right methods, hen harriers and gamekeeping can coexist ." " Didn’t know much about hen harriers before but know a lot now. Found it very helpful and it changed my opinion slightly as I seen it from another point of view ." Askham Bryan staff and students following a Skydancer workshop, June 2014. At the end of every workshop, we take a vote in favour or against encouraging hen harriers to nest alongside grouse shooting. At the final workshop I ran back in June before leaving Skydancer, for the first time ever (and that includes when I’ve done these workshops with general high schools and youth groups) we had a unanimous vote in favour of hen harriers – from a roomful of gamekeeping students. Brian Sweeney, who runs the gamekeeping course at Askham Bryan, was also with us at the Awards. Brian is a fantastic advocate for what he terms a modern, enlightened approach to gamekeeping – game management that supports a whole suite of biodiversity, including birds of prey like hen harriers – and he has played no small part in the success of these workshops. Illegal persecution and intolerance remain the biggest threats facing hen harriers today. However students like Ryan, and the positive influence of Brian and his colleagues, give me real hope for a generational shift in attitudes towards these magnificent birds. Who’d ever have predicted that a member of RSPB staff and a gamekeeping student would be standing side by side to collect an award for education work to promote hen harrier conservation? It is not the whole solution but it is a significant step in the right direction and to me, that is definitely something worth celebrating. Ryan Mort, Brian Sweeney and Blánaid Denman at the National Lottery Awards, 2014. � We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!
Skydancer has won Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014. We were shortlisted from over 750 projects across the UK. Last Friday representatives of the Skydancer team, including past project officer Blánaid Denman, and a gamekeeping student from Askham Bryan College, put on their party frocks to film the glitzy award ceremony in London. Skydancer's Amanda Miller and Blánaid Denman at the National Lottery Awards This ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One this Friday, 19 th September, at 10.35pm. This will be a great opportunity to share our messages about the plight of the hen harrier and the positive work we are doing to help its conservation. It is also well-deserved recognition for all those who have worked hard to make this project a success. In August we spent a fantastic day making the film that will be shown at the awards ceremony. Families from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss Phoenix and Wildlife Explorers clubs were thrilled to meet presenter Chris Packham and learn all about hen harriers with the Skydancer project. Even more special was the appearance of hen harriers flying over the moorland, as if on cue, to accept the award. Chris Packham making the BBC Lottery Award film in Bowland - Photo: David Tolliday The star-studded awards ceremony is hosted by John Barrowman with Jade Jagger, John Torode, Tinchy Stryder among the celebrities presenting the awards. Plus, there are performances from Ella Henderson and Pixie Lott. Past project officer Blánaid Denman says: “Hopefully, this award will help us make a difference to breeding hen harriers in England. I want to thank all those who have supported the project, the people who have taken part and everyone who voted.”
Hi there Skydancer followers. I’m temporarily stepping into the breach whilst still keeping one eye on the day job of working with Bowland’s farmers to help conserve wading birds. If you’re not already aware of the project please take a look here as it’s not only harriers keeping us busy in Bowland. Firstly I’d like to wish two special ladies well: Jude obviously who’s been a pleasure to work with and a fantastic asset to the team. I know for a fact everyone who’s worked with Jude and been involved with hen harrier conservation will miss her. Jude has headed north of the border to take up a new adventure with the spectacular gannets of Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. The second special lady is Highlander, one of the harrier chicks fledged from the first nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate this year. She’s been heading north and east too and since leaving Bowland has wandered to the West Pennine Moors, not too far from here where the RSPB has also been rather busy trying to improve the prospects for our precious upland habitats and species and then finally on into the Yorkshire Dales where she remains as I type. Highlander's track since leaving her Bowland nest site. So what of the other harriers from this year’s Bowland nests? Well in the past week, Highlander’s sister Sky has been wandering widely but remaining within Bowland. From the second nest, Burt has still not ventured very far from northern Bowland (Jude was spot on when she described him as sedentary!) whilst his sister Hope has a little more wanderlust having seemingly been visiting every nook and cranny of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but still reluctant to leave Bowland. With the settled, warm, sunny weather here at present and a plentiful supply of voles and meadow pipits on the fell who can blame them. I can assure you that it’s far more thrilling to see a Hen Harrier in the flesh than watching their movements on a computer screen so why not get out there and try and spot one! With a good breeding season up on the fells and harriers arriving from further afield, now is a very good time to try and see one of these majestic birds quartering our stunning uplands. If you are lucky enough to see one, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 4600 121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports of sightings should include the date and location and a six-figure grid reference where possible.
Now is the time of year when hen harrier chicks have fledged the nest. Adults and juveniles may stay close by for the winter, while others can move to communal winter roosts in coastal areas, wetland or reed beds. Some have been known to go as far as France or Spain. This video “ The private life of hen harriers ” is an oldie but a goodie, a film following the eggs through to fledging. It was filmed under special licence, by remote cameras, at a secret location in North Tynedale in 2008. This is footage of the last known successful hen harrier nest in Northumberland. If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please call The Harrier Hotline number on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports can also be e-mailed to email@example.com. Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible. All filming was carried out under licence by Cyaneus Photography. The hen harrier is a Schedule 1 species. Disturbance of these species may only by undertaken by licensed individuals. This footage was obtained under a licence provided by Natural England.
As promised, here is the second of what I hope will be many updates from Bowland's sat tagged harriers. Hope and Burt, sister and brother, fitted with sat tags on the 28th July have been flying for about 4.5 weeks now. They are a full month younger than Skydancer and Highlander and those four weeks are very obvious when looking at the downloads from their satellite transmitters. Where Skydancer and Highlander are now very independent and have almost cut the ties with their nest area, Hope and Burt are still very reliant on the area from which they fledged. You can see from the maps below, both Hope and Burt, although they are making forays away from their nest site, are still returning to the nest area presumably when they maybe haven't eaten for a while and decide their best bet is to head back to where they know they can catch prey or where they know they might still come into some reassuring contact with one of their parents or siblings. It is especially apparent when looking at Hope's data that her flight paths are almost creating the shape of a star as she makes explorations in all directions of the compass from the nest area. In a few weeks time she probably wont be creating these patterns anymore and she'll have decided on an area, with a good food source and suitable roosting areas, to settle down in for a while. But ... you never know. The first rule with hen harriers is ... never second guess a hen harrier, as we learnt so well with Bowland Betty . An interesting observation is how much further afield Hope is travelling in comparison to Burt. Is this a male/female trait or just a difference between these two individuals? Male birds tagged by Stephen Murphy in the past have gone as far as France and northern Spain. Only time will tell us where Burt will decide to head. Hope's locations over the last 5 days. Burt's more sedentary activity!
Adult male and female hen harriers look very different, sexually dimorphic. They both have long wings and tail with a white rump (a great ID feature). They fly with their wings raised in a shallow ‘V’, flying close to the ground when hunting. The male is blue/grey above with white underparts and black wing tips and trailing edge. Male Hen harrier The female is very similar to the young, to keep them camouflaged while on the nest. The collective term is ‘Ringtail’ due to the brown bands on their tails. They are brown above with barred wings and a streaked breast. Their face has an owl like appearance. Female Hen harrier A buzzard may be confused with a hen harrier; one way to help with this is look at what habitat it is in. In the breeding season hen harriers are found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Buzzards are the most frequently seen medium-sized birds of prey. They have broader wings and shorter tails than the harriers or red kites. Their plumage can vary from a uniform dark brown to much paler colours. Underneath they have dark shoulders with a pale mid-wing and adults have a dark trailing edge. A good ID feature is a pale band around their chest and no owl like face. Buzzard If you see a hen harrier, please call The Harrier Hotline number on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate) . Reports can also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org . Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.