Archive for the ‘RSPB Hen Harrier Project’ Category

Blog Post: Working with hen harriers – the highs and the lows

Monday, July 28th, 2014
I am pleased to present a guest blog from Mick Demain, the RSPB's seasonal assistant warden in Bowland for the last few years, reflecting on his last few years monitoring harriers    Being the seasonal warden for the RSPB in Bowland means I am privileged to be working with raptors every day and undoubtedly the hen harrier is the star species. Over the years there have been many highs and lows. The 2011 season had been just like many others with success and some failure so as the 2012 season got under way I had no reason to think that this would be any different, but as the weeks passed I realised that the unthinkable was about to happen, we were to have no breeding harriers since they returned in the 1960s. You’ll probably know that 2013 was even worse with not a single successful breeding attempt in England. The species was now on the brink, the next step was to become extinct as a breeding species. So as the 2014 season got underway I had little reason to be optimistic as I drove up the estate tracks into the hills, however it soon became apparent that we may have a chance. The winter had been mild and the voles were in very high numbers, the grouse count had been the highest for twenty years and the pipits would soon be flooding in. In early March I had my first sighting of a harrier at a known site, this was a female and although she stayed only for a few minutes it was a start. By mid April she was back with a male and we were delighted when it soon became apparent that there would be a breeding attempt at this site. By the end of the month we had identified seven individual harriers at three sites including two adult males in their beautiful silver grey plumage. One of these then settled with a female one mile distant from the first pair. The remaining birds never paired up and eventually left the area but had someone offered me two pairs at the start of the season I would have gladly taken it! 2014 has been a great success with two pairs in Bowland and a third at another site, we can all bask in the glory of a good job done but we must not become complacent for this is only the start. This is where the recovery begins.

Blog Post: School children ‘adopt’ the Bowland harriers

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
What better way to inspire the next generation about hen harriers than to take them out and actually show them hen harriers! Luckily for me, I was privileged to be able to do just that when Siobhan McGuigan, the RSPB’s Youth Development Officer brought children from our local school, Brennand’s Endowed Primary in Slaidburn, onto the United Utilities estate earlier this month. The children aged 5-10 were brimming with excitement as they travelled in a land rover across the moor, then negotiated a heard of fluffy black and white four legged teddy bears (or Belted Galloway cattle) before making the final short walk to the viewing point passing heather, meadow pipits and cotton grass blowing in the wind. As soon as I met them they were all super keen to tell me what they’d learnt about these majestic raptors during previous visits made to the school as part of the RSPB’s Skydancer Project, explaining the food pass and where they like to nest. The children were given the opportunity to come up to see the birds after they ‘adopted’ the chicks and ran a competition to name them all. The four females have been named Sky, Highlander, Fern and Heather their only brother is now Flash. You’ll be able to follow the exploits of Sky and Highlander (pictured below) on this blog over the weeks, months and hopefully years to come. (c) RSPB. Highlander (left) and Sky (right) as named by pupils at Brennand's Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn. It has to be said, I was a little nervous about how I was going to show a 5 year old a hen harrier from a distance of about a kilometre, but the timing of the visit was just perfect. With the spotting scopes set up on the diversionary feeding post, just a few seconds of looking down them rewarded all the children with views of the young hen harriers flying about and landing on the post – magical. “I felt really excited and happy because they are a really rare bird. There isn’t many of them in the UK. It is a privilege to go and see them.” The ten year old who said that, sadly, hit the nail on the head with all three of those sentences. I almost couldn't have put it better myself. So whilst it is a real privilage to be able to show adults and children their first hen harrier I would far rather there were enough birds out there that people could just go and discover them for themselves. These birds should be gracing our skies over all the upland areas in England and be there for everyone to enjoy. Pupils from Brennand's Endowed Primary School see what it's like to be a member of the Hen harrier overnight protection staff.

Blog Post: Birders Against Wildlife Crime hen harrier podcasts

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
I was recently delighted to be invited to record a podcast about hen harriers with campaign group, Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) , as part of their series of podcasts leading up to Hen Harrier Day. If you've not come across them before, BAWC are a group definitely worth checking out - concerned, knowledgeable birders promoting awareness, and appropriate recording and reporting of wildlife crimes. Have a look at their brilliant website here and I definitely recommend having a read of their FAQ for a fuller explanation of what they're all about.  BAWC are the instigators of Hen Harrier Day and alongside Mark Avery in the Peak District and the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland, will be running a Hen Harrier event in Northumberland on August 10th. More information on all three events can be found on their website here .  To listen to me describing the beauty of a skydancing hen harrier in full flight or indeed any of the other excellent podcasts, simply visit their soundcloud page here or the podcast page of their website here .  I'll be at the Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District - hope to see you there! 

Blog Post: Only 2 days to help Skydancer win a National Lottery Award!

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
This is it folks - only two days to go! Voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Wednesday 23rd July, and we need your help for one final push to help us win Best Education Project at the National Lottery Awards. We're up against stiff competition but winning would mean national media attention for hen harriers on a BBC One televised award ceremony in September.   Please cast your vote online and encourage all your family and friends to do the same! www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer Every vote counts - thank you!

Blog Post: Four more harriers in Bowland!

Thursday, July 17th, 2014
So here are the newest additions to the English hen harrier population! © Mick Demain, RSPB.  While the five young from the first nest are all flying well now, these little ones in the second nest still have a fair bit of growing before they see the world from above the heather. Given the diligence of their parents, the adult male was seen to bring in 3 items of food last night in 20 minutes, it will only be a matter of weeks before we see them flying strong too. © RSPB Just four weeks is all it takes for hen harriers to develop from helpless, downy, bug eyed chicks to stunning, fully feathered birds ready to take to the skies!    

Blog Post: Five more years of hen harrier conservation

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
It’s a day of countdowns... 25 days until the Hen Harrier Day peaceful protests on the 10 th August (I’ll be at the Peak District one – more info here )... ... 7 days until voting closes for the National Lottery Awards (cast your vote here )...  ...and only 9 days until I bid a fond and emotional farewell to Skydancer.   Yes, you read that right but don't worry, the project’s not finishing! In fact, I’m not really leaving – merely switching desks to take up my new post as Project Manager for RSPB’s new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project. What’s that, you ask? Well I’m delighted to announce that we’ve just received a grant from the European LIFE+ fund for an ambitious five-year, cross-border project covering hen harrier conservation in Northern England and Southern Scotland. The project officially starts this month and I will take up my post as Project Manager in August. Details of the new project will follow in due course but it will focus largely on practical conservation measures such as nest protection, winter roost monitoring, and satellite tagging, while also building on the great community engagement achievements of Skydancer by extending this work wider and continuing to seek opportunities to work progressively with the shooting communities in these areas. It’s only 50% funded by LIFE+, so we’ve also just launched a Hen Harrier Appeal – see here for more info.   Stepping back from Skydancer with just 15 months to go was never going to be an easy decision, and I can already tell that Friday next week is going to be a very emotional day for me. However, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new job and excited about the opportunities and potential for hen harrier conservation that the LIFE+ project represents. Most importantly, nothing will stop with Skydancer and we’re already recruiting for a replacement. If you feel passionately about hen harrier conservation and enjoy working with a wide range of people and communities, then I can’t recommend it enough! Check it out for yourself and apply online here: Skydancer Engagement Officer – you just can’t beat that job title. It’s been a dream come true to see Skydancer through to the National Lottery Awards and what an incredible high it would be to leave on if we manage to win...! Please, please, if you haven’t already – vote here and encourage all your friends and family to do the same, and share on Facebook and Twitter. Winning would mean national media attention for these amazing birds and what better leaving present could I ask for than that? To every one of you who has been involved in Skydancer in whatever small way over the last three years, even if just by following these blogs – from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

Blog Post: Frontline diary – healthy options breakfast (Pancakes with blaeberry jam and skooshie cream)

Monday, July 14th, 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 nesting hen harriers 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. Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it's like to be on the front line protecting England's hen harriers. Hi Folks, Just in case you were worried about us wasting away on our nightshift on a diet of midge sandwiches and jammie dodgers, I thought I’d share with you one of our favorite seasonal breakfasts – Pancakes with Blaeberry Jam and Skooshie Cream. It’s rammed with calories and saturated fats so its just the kind of thing to perk you up as the sun comes up over the moor. Our hides have all mod cons and it’s a piece of cake (pun!) to rattle this up on our gas cooker. All you really need is a frying pan for the pancakes and small metal dixie for the jam. Here’s how to make it if you fancy trying it for yourselves:   Pancakes -  Best prepare the mix beforehand and carry to the hill in a small plastic bottle. No fuss, no mess. Make a basic mix from 1 egg, self raising flour, full fat milk and sugar. Tip - needs to be runny enough to come out the bottle! Prepare a very hot frying pan with a big knob of butter and pour in some pancake mix. Fry until golden brown. You can either make lots of smaller ones or some proper man size ones.   Blaeberry Jam -  Now that we are well into July there are tons of blaeberries (or bilberries for you English folk) ripening on the moor. Half a mugful makes enough jam for two. Put your berries in the dixie and cover with the same amount of sugar and add a wee drop water. Simmer the berries on a low heat til your jam starts to thicken.   Skooshie Cream -  Easy peasy! Just buy an aerosol of cream, it’s really nice if you can find the stuff with brandy or champagne flavour!   Serve artistically on a plate and enjoy while still hot ... weetabix eat your heart out!!

Blog Post: Front line diary – a constant state of awe

Friday, July 11th, 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 nesting hen harriers 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. Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of guest blogs from our Over Night Protection Staff in order to give you some idea of what it's like to be on the front line protecting England's hen harriers. A day for the hen harrier protection staff actually starts in the evening, a few hours before sundown. Myself and my three comrades trundle slowly along rocky tracks frequented by families of red grouse that bathe themselves in the dry dust (well, when thunderstorms aren’t rolling across the moors that is). While the others drive the truck, I’m always on the lookout for brown hares and other fantastic fauna such as stoats and adders before we arrive at the hides to relieve the day watch volunteers. There’s plenty to keep the amateur naturalist in a constant state of awe in this fantastic world I have the good fortune to be in for a while; plants, mosses and moths (heath bedstraw, sphagnum moss species and oak eggar moths are my latest finds). But all this of course is not why I am on the moors enduring constant midge invasions; I’m here to keep watch over two of the three known hen harrier nests in England this year. Juv stone chat ... there's always plenty to watch when the harriers aren't flying. The overnight watches themselves are primarily taking place in order to ensure that the birds are not subject to any unnecessary disturbance; whether that be deliberate or accidental. The other part of my job requires me to record to the minute the details of the lives of the hen harriers; when the female stretches her wings, when the male passes food to her in wonderful mini aerial stunts known simply and creatively as ‘food passes’, or when the local terror of a merlin knocks a short-eared owl from the sky. This actually happened, and though I just missed it, I was in time to watch this lunatic falcon transfer his ferocity to the pair of hen harriers. Bringing some joy into the dark stretch of the night (the night shift has its fair share of uneventful waiting time) I have to thank the wood mice. Happy to meander about the hide, it is a bonus for them if they ‘happen’ to find a few biscuit crumbs about the place. As they become increasingly used to being watched by torch light, they are becoming like unofficial project mascots to the night staff as we await their arrival each night. So, myself and others wait in the hides, our coffees, biscuits and scopes to hand, watching from afar to avoid disturbing our ‘wards’. Our watch lasts until 8am when volunteers arrive and we can stretch our legs, thaw out and look forward to catching up on sleep - but not before my obligatory search for basking adders on the rocks adjacent to patches of heather ... and then we start again, night after night. I still cannot believe I have this incredible job; a tiny neurotic part of my psyche is awaiting the revelation that it’s all a practical joke; another part however, is saddened by the realisation that my good fortune in this role is a result of the near eradication of this raptor from the English countryside. I wish it were not a necessary task, but I am proud to have a role in ensuring the future of such a beautiful jewel in the crown of England’s moorlands.

File: Hen Harrier Hero #6 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July:  www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

File: #thankyour Hero #5 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July:  www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

File: Hen Harrier Hero #4 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July:  www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

File: Hen Harrier Hero #3 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

File: Hen Harrier Hero #2 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

File: Hen Harrier Hero #1 #thankyou

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014!  Vote for us online by 23 rd  July:  www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

Blog Post: Front line diary – life of a hen harrier chick.

Monday, July 7th, 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. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting 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. Hi Folks, My name is Ronald and I am one of the 5 hen harrier chicks in Bowland. I am just over a month old and quite new to all this blogging and social media stuff but I thought I would give it a go. My mum says I’m the first ever hen harrier to post a  blog so let me know what you think. I hatched about a month ago in a nest in a deep heather patch on one of the Bowland hills. I am a boy and have four big sisters so the nest is never quiet. It was them who called me Ronald for a joke because I was so small at first I was like a little runt. It wasn’t much fun being Ronald the Runt, but now that I am older they wouldn’t dare call me names as my beak and talons are quite sharp. At first the weather was really cold and wet but our mum kept us all dry and warm when it got really horrible. It was ok but my big sisters kept sitting on me and I kept getting squashed. It’s much better now that the sun is shining and I am quite strong now. (C) Mick Demain - can you work out which is Ronald? My mum looks after us most of the time and spends ages keeping the nest neat and tidy, my big sisters are so messy you know. Dad spends most of the time working away from home hunting for food and I only see him when he has caught something and brings it to mum. She feeds us and was careful at first to make sure my big sisters didn’t grab all the food. Mum’s older than dad and she keeps him working hard to catch food. He is still wearing his brown feathers and looks a bit like mum but smaller. His feathers are getting really tatty now so he is due for a new silver suit next season. Mealtimes are my favourite part of the day and there is always plenty to eat, I like voles and meadow pipits best. The nice boys who look after us  from the nightshift team bring us up extra food every day and leave it on a post a bit away from our nest. Mum says it’s called diversionary feeding (you can read more about it here ). At first I wasn’t too keen on it and much preferred the stuff my dad brought us but I am quite used to it now. Mum and dad can be a bit cheeky as sometimes they will take food from the post and fly about with it for a while before mum brings it to us, I think they are just pretending to us that they have caught it to look cool. They tell me that we are famous, quite the stars of social media at the moment! Anyway, must go, next time I will tell you about our new satellite tags and ID rings. Mum is bringing in food so I’d better get in the dinner queue!  

Comment on Front line diary – a bobby dazzler of a job!

Friday, July 4th, 2014
I'm full of admiration for your dedication but also think it's a great shame that these birds need this level of protection to live their normal lives. (By the way, the locals in Scotland on my recent holiday were recommending Smidge - not tried it myself but they swore by it.)

Blog Post: Hen harrier chicks satellite tagged in Bowland

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
As we approach the nest, we have to watch our every step for chicks that may have gone on an exploratory shuffle through the knee-deep heather. The adrenalin is pumping as I anticipate what we’re about to find. It’s quickly followed by a wave of relief and happiness as I stand there holding a beautiful, healthy hen harrier chick in my hands. I’d been on the morning protection shift the previous day and had seen at least one of the chicks airborne. Volunteers had been spotting little wings flapping around the nest site when the female came in with food over the weekend, but early on in my shift one managed to get just enough lift under its wings to allow its body and distinctively gangly harrier legs, to clear the top of the long heather. It was just for a fraction of a second, but all the same, it was the sign I had been waiting for that these chicks were ready for their satellite tags! The satellite tags need to be fitted when the birds are at the point of fledging to ensure they are big enough and healthy enough to carry one. The tags weigh just a fraction of the bird’s body weight and are solar powered, allowing us to track their movements for at least three years. The data these tags send back to us will provide a fantastic insight into where these birds go to hunt, roost, and with a bit of luck, breed. Two females fitted with satellite tags last year at Langholm are in the process of raising broods of their own  back there this year. Here you can see Stephen Murphy of Natural England carefully fitting a tag to one of the Bowland chicks.    © Jude Lane RSPB This fabulous picture shows two of the five chicks sporting their new satellite tags; both of these birds are females. As both male and female hen harrier chicks have the same colour plumage they can be tricky to tell apart so the colour of their eyes is one of the best ways to distinguish between them. You can see these both have deep brown eyes; a male would have smoky grey/brown eyes.  © RSPB  In the next few days, pupils at Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn will be naming these two sisters to make it more fun and interesting to follow their progress on this blog over the coming weeks, months and hopefully years. Come back soon to find out who’s who! Skydancer has been nominated for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards 2014! Vote for us online by 23 rd  July: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

Blog Post: Five healthy chicks

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
Another photo of our ever-growing first brood of hen harrier chicks! These feisty five now have BTO rings and will be given satellite tags this week. Can you spot the one male chick looking somewhat harried by his four big sisters? Photo (c) Jude Lane, Bowland, 2014

File: Hen Harrier education

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Skydancer is one of seven finalists short-listed for Best Education Project in the National Lottery Awards, as a result of our work with pupils like these two from Bellingham Middle School, June 2014. Vote for us online by 23rd July: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/skydancer

Blog Post: Front line diary – a bobby dazzler of a job!

Monday, June 30th, 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. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting 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. Once again the one and a half star accommodation has been set up on the moor and I am back for a second season protecting England’s breeding hen harriers! My love for the hen harrier started last year living high on the Northumberland moors. Often cold, wet, tired and driven bonkers by the onslaught of mighty midges that gradually emptied me of my much needed blood supply; I would see the hen harriers daily struggle for survival. Watching these stunning birds cope with the extremes of weather that the upland moor can bring made me not only appreciate my central heating when I got home, but also gave me a huge amount of respect for a bird of prey that at one time I knew nothing about. So why have I come back for a second year? What it is like and who does a job like this? Well the job is unlike any other! As I write I am sat in the cozy hide dressed like a Michelin man in 8 layers of clothing, supping a mug of hot chocolate and nibbling on a jammie dodger whilst looking out on a spectacular ever changing landscape. Its flora, fauna and weather systems are second to none, so in my view this is a bobby dazzler of a job! From the first sounds of the moor in the morning, with willow warblers, whinchat and grouse calling out from the dew laden heather, to the loud cry of the stunning short-eared owl and the constant clicks of the grasshopper warbler announcing the arrival of night there's always something to listen to. The view from the office window is second to none. We watch daily as the moor transforms from a rugged and lifeless, remote, windswept landscape, into a stunning panorama carpeted with flowering heather, bilberry and cotton grass. Even the night time reveals hidden secrets when our well lit hide transforms into a haven for shrews, voles, mice and winged creepy crawlies of the night that insist on landing on your face just as you take a sip of a well-earned brew! The weather. Nothing to watch there you say, but oh by gum how wrong you would you be! We started this watch back in the rough but beautiful early spring with its hail and heavy rain that you could see rolling in over the hills and the stunning late night lightning shows when weather fronts collide. Now we’re into the early summer with its double rainbows and morning mist rolling through the valleys, creeping down the cloughs like spindly finders just before the hot sun makes an appearance and burns it away in minutes. That’s not even mentioning the sunsets and sunrises that change in colour and appearance on a daily basis. Bowland is truly a stunning place to be no matter what the weather. For me this project is not only an enjoyable job but a growing passion. I believe the protection of this stunning bird of prey is vital not only to the ecology of the moor but also for the pleasure of lads and lasses that love to see wildlife at its best and in its rightful place. I hope you enjoy our blogs, usually written on our phones or tatty bits of paper when the weather closes in. Don’t worry about us though, we can assure you the fire will always be on, the coffees will be in hand and the biscuits will be in plentiful supply!