Blog Post: Introducing James Bray

This week we hear from the newest member of the Skydancer team who tells us a bit about himself and his new role, as well as giving us an update on our sat-tagged birds, Burt and Highlander. Hello. My name is James Bray and I have just started as the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, and my role will be to help monitor and protect Bowland’s birds of prey. As Bowland has been so important for hen harriers in England over the years, this will be very exciting and challenging work. However, I am very fortunate to be joining an incredibly dedicated and skilled team of volunteers and staff from a range of different organisations. I have been made to feel very welcome and have been really impressed with the expertise and enthusiasm that I have encountered. I previously worked for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in Scotland taking part in a varied range of research projects in a range of habitats and locations. This included monitoring the wader-filled fields of the machair on the Outer Hebrides, and carrying out bird surveys on the high tops of the Cairngorms. One thing that I will not miss is the sitka spruce plantations that we occasionally had to survey – needles is a very appropriate term. I was also responsible for BTO Scotland’s training programme, running bird identification and surveying courses for volunteers, and encouraging more people to take part in bird surveying and monitoring. On my second day of work here, my colleague Gavin Thomas gave me a great introduction to Bowland by taking me to monitor a harrier roost on the edge of Bowland. Clear skies and calm conditions provided beautiful conditions and we were soon watching a couple of ringtail hen harriers drifting over the grassy slopes. I never tire of watching harriers, they are endlessly fascinating as they rock slowly from side to side, flying low over moorland, with bursts of acceleration or sudden stalls quickly followed by a drop to the ground. With a Barn Owl quartering the hillside in the background, my trip out with Gavin was a sensational way to start my time in Bowland. These two photos, taken by a nest camera at one of the successful nests on the United Utilities Bowland estate last year, provide some idea of how spectacular these birds are.     Meanwhile, Burt and Highlander, both seem to have taken a liking to their wintering grounds as they are still in the same areas that they have been in since before Christmas, with Highlander on the south-east Lancashire / Yorkshire border, and Burt in Cumbria. It is likely that the relatively mild winter has allowed good numbers of voles to survive in these areas, providing plenty of food for these two birds. It is great to see these two young birds doing so well in their first winter as it is in this period that natural mortality is usually at its greatest. This map shows that their autumn wanderings have given way to a more sedentary period, although they do cover relatively large areas within their wintering grounds.   As we look forward a month or two, it is possible that both birds will attempt to breed this year, particularly as so much suitable habitat is available. This is in part due to the rather disgraceful fact that that there are so few hen harriers left in England. As I join the work to try to bring hen harriers back from the brink in England, let’s hope that Burt and Highlander continue to thrive and play a practical part in the species’ future. In the meantime should you be enjoying an early spring foray into the countryside and are lucky enough to see a hen harrier, please report it to the hen harrier hotline at henharriers@rspb.org.uk  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.