Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category

Blog Post: Burt’s on the move.

Friday, December 5th, 2014
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 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.

Blog Post: The Dee’s the place to be

Friday, November 28th, 2014
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 .

Blog Post: Scottish hen harrier heads to France

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
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

Blog Post: Breakfast with Burt

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
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 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

Blog Post: Highlander and Burt – an update

Friday, October 17th, 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 If you are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please remember to report it to the hen harrier hotline at 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.

Blog Post: Hen harrier-inspired music

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
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 .   

Comment on Sky and Hope: A plea for information

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
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!

Blog Post: Sky and Hope: A plea for information

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014
 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.  

Blog Post: Silver lining

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
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. 

File: Skydancer’s on Mull and the Outer Hebrides

Friday, September 26th, 2014
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.

Blog Post: Missing: Sky and Hope

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
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."        

Blog Post: Gamekeepers at the Lottery Awards

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
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!

Blog Post: Skydancer Glams It Up

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
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.”

Blog Post: Pastures new.

Monday, September 15th, 2014
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 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.

Blog Post: The private life of hen harriers

Friday, September 5th, 2014
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 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.

Blog Post: Hope and Burt are still in Bowland!

Friday, August 29th, 2014
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!  

Blog Post: Is it a buzzard or is it a hen harrier!?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
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 .  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

Blog Post: Great turn out at Glendale Show

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Thank you to all the people who dropped in for a chat and some hen harrier arts and crafts at Glendale Show on bank holiday Monday. Some great conversations were had with lots of children and adults as well as a hunter from Malta with her daughter and a local game keeper showing his support. We will be at Bellingham Show this Saturday 30 th Aug, stop by to make your own flappy hen harrier or a hen harrier chick. Follow us on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .

Blog Post: Tracking harriers – introducing Bowland’s Burt, Hope, Highlander and Sky

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
So we’ve had a few technical IT issues here but we are now up and running and I’m extremely pleased to be able to bring you the first update from some of the young harriers satellite tagged this year on the United Utilities Bowland estate. So far so good for the two young from the first nest, Sky and Highlander , who have been flying for about 7 weeks now. You can see they are still very active in Bowland but are starting to branch out and explore right across the AONB. (c) RSPB. Sky and Highlander 19th Aug 2014   I also have the pleasure of introducing Hope and Burt, two of the tagged harriers from the second nest. They were named by children from the local RSPB Wildlife Explorer groups and were fitted with their tags on the 28 th July.       (c) Jude Lane, RSPB. Burt (top) and Hope (bottom) having their satellite tags fitted by Stephen Murphy, Natural England. Burt and Hope have been flying for less than 3 weeks but are already become adept at the technique of food passing. Their parents are still dilagently practicing with them after almost three months of complete dedication to their brood of four, little known to them, incredibly important young hen harriers. As the weeks pass they too will start to explore further and further afield and who knows, in a few weeks some may even have got as far as  France .     (c) RSPB. Burt and Hope 18th Aug 2014   Over the following weeks, months and hopefully years you will be able to follow the progress of these four birds here on this blog. I was privileged enough to be present when they were all satellite tagged by Stephen Murphy from Natural England. It’s hard not to form a bond with such superb birds especially when you have held them in your hands. I hope that you will also come to know them from these blogs. You never know, maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to actually see one of them (if you do give us a call on the hen harrier hotline ). Either way, enjoy learning about their travels and please pass on the link to this blog to friends, family, schools and any one else who you think will enjoy getting to know these iconic birds. What I think we are all hoping is that like Grainne and Hettie from Langholm , Sky, Highlander, Burt and Hope will all be back in the English uplands raising broods of their own next summer. Fingers crossed.

Blog Post: Front line diary – They came, they danced, they thrived

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Ever wondered what it would be like to be involved in round the clock protection of a rare breeding bird? With just three pairs of hen harrier nesting in England this year (there should be well over 300) we are at a point where their nests are so precious they need to be monitored 24 hours a day. This is the last posting of a series of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it is like to be on the front line protecting England’s hen harriers. From the Amor twinkle of their father’s eyes to the fully fledged nine, yes I said nine, cheeky young hen harriers that are now making their way around the United Kingdom and beyond in a bid to survive and thrive well what can we say? The outcome of this year’s project couldn’t be better and I am sure that we all hope the success will carry on for years to come so these jewels of the sky will once again become a common site across our stunning moorland landscapes for all to enjoy. Photo (c) Chris Beever. Female and male hen harrier at Bowland. So as another Skydancer season comes to a close just as the shooting season on the moor starts, and as all involved in watching and protecting these magnificent birds of prey breath a sigh of relief that the young male and female harriers are venturing to new parts, and of course as all of the staff involved reach critical levels of blood loss due to the onslaught of the mighty midge, I suppose its time to start winding down the project and reflect on a stunning experience for all involved. From the first signs of the harriers in the harsh late winter battling their way through the elements to their courting grounds, to the dazzling displays of the males as they strut their stuff dancing in the Bowland sky in the early spring, to the first signs of new life, we have been there and seen it all and enjoyed every minute. From the volunteers who braved the upland moor extremes of weather, often walking miles to get to the observation points in the wind and the rain, all of which I may add should receive an award for there dedication, to the people like us - the species protection officers that have been living, thriving, diversionary feeding and enjoying our job during the day and night within this stunning but often wet and windy landscape deep in the forest of Bowland. Spending time on the moor gives a whole new outlook of this threatened habitat from the bleak lifeless days of early spring to explosions of colour and life of the early summer, and seeing not only the hen harriers thrive but also the other local wildlife population multiply due to the presence of a dedicated team of volunteers and staff of the RSPB only goes to show that with a little help and understanding, the moors will be a haven for wildlife and a stunning place to visit for years to come. There is a growing amount of politics involved with the processes and daily running of the upland moors in our stunning nation but this year’s project has proved that if all parties are willing and an understanding is reached the wildlife occupants of the moor will bounce back, and if that means that myself and my colleges have to brave the elements to complete diversionary feeding then so be it! Let’s just give nature a chance. Photo (c) RSPB. Highlander (left) and Sky (right) as named by pupils at Brennand's Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn. So alas, it is time for me and the rest of the team to pack away the biscuits, eat the last of the cakes, take down the cosy two and a half star B&B`s (The Hides) and retrieve what is left of our equipment that has partly been devoured by the local mouse population and head back to our semi normal lives around the country until it’s time to once again wait in anticipation for the hen harriers return to our upland moors in 2015. A last word must go out to all of the people who have supported this project from the youth hostel staff and other accommodation providers who have made the protection staff welcome and comfortable to the school kids who have give our harriers names and the education staff that have showed an interest to the project, not forgetting the people of Slaidburn who have made us all welcome and to the shooting tenant and staff that have assisted the project with open arms and minds.       This has been an experience to remember and be proud of, I am sure that all involved are as proud as me and the team to have been a part of such a worthwhile project. Please keep checking on the Skydancer website to hear updates about the harriers and don’t forget to look after your local feathered friends this winter. So until next year its good bye from them (the harriers) and good bye from us (the watchers), toodaloo! Photo (c) Chris Beever, end of season volunteer BBQ