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

As far as positive starts to the New Year go; the news of the possible rediscovery of our missing 2014 female, Highlander, was a pretty fantastic way to kick off 2017. This was shortly followed by a phone call from a farmer in Cumbria who was only too delighted to tell me about the hen harriers roosting in his rushy fields. The palpable excitement and pride in his voice was a wonderful reminder of the power of these graceful birds to captivate and inspire – a welcome sign of hope for the future of hen harriers in our hillsides. Hen Harrier over rushy pasture. Photo: Lin Lyon For the most part, our remaining birds continue to fare well and seem to have settled down for the winter in their favoured roosts – Wendy on Ulva, just off the coast of Mull, Finn in Ayrshire, Carroll in Northumberland, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, and Harriet in the Lake District, while our Manx Bird Aalin seems determined to continue her slow but steady progress south and is currently residing in Shropshire.   Finn’s gradual path west from Northumberland to South Ayrshire. Unfortunately, the good news wasn’t to last and it’s with a heavy heart that I have to tell you our young Geltsdale male, Bonny, is now missing and is presumed to have died. The first hen harrier chick to fledge from our Geltsdale reserve in 10 years and the only one in the whole of the North Pennines SPA last year, Bonny’s nest was sensitively and remotely monitored round the clock by a 24/7 watch of dedicated RSPB staff and volunteers from throughout the local community. The support of Geltsdale’s joint owners, the Weir Trust, in this work is something for which we were also very grateful. In a year that saw just seven hen harrier chicks fledge from three nests in England, Bonny quickly became a celebrity, featuring on both BBC’s Autumnwatch and the national BBC Six News. His name was selected by Chris Packham from over 2,000 entries into LUSH Cosmetics’ hen harrier naming competition; a partnership which has seen a fantastic contribution made to hen harrier conservation by funds raised through sales of LUSH’s Skydancer bathbomb. You can read more about Bonny’s story here .   Bonny with his newly fitted satellite tag being held by RSPB's Guy Anderson. Photo: Mark Thomas Unusually for a male hen harrier, Bonny remained faithfully close to his nest site after fledging, never venturing further than 10 km or so from our Geltsdale reserve. Sadly, no data has been received from his tag since 14 th December and while we have no information to suggest what might have happened to him, we now believe it most likely that Bonny has died. His last known location was on an area of moorland a few kilometres to the east of Geltsdale but despite a search of the area, no body was found, so unfortunately it’s unlikely that we will ever know the cause of death. I realise this news may come as a real blow to those who have told me they see Bonny as a symbol of hope for hen harriers in England but I would argue that his death doesn’t detract from this. Despite his short life, the media attention generated by this young harrier probably did more for raising awareness about these birds than all of our other 2016 birds combined (did I mention he was on the national Six o’clock news??). Not only that, the fact of Bonny’s successful fledging against the odds was a testament to the hard graft of so many staff, and especially volunteers, dedicating hour after hour in a midge-infested hide simply to watch over him.  If that doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the passion that exists for these spectacular birds and the determination to see them restored to our hills, then I don’t know what does.  Paul Morton from Lush campaigns had this to say:  “We're really sad to hear about the loss of Bonny, his short life was an inspiration to so many people and a credit to all those that worked so hard to protect him before and after fledging. The future of Hen Harriers still hangs in the balance and with so many others already going missing in the last 12 months the vital satellite tagging work the RSPB do to monitor these birds is now more important than ever.”  Hen harriers are known to return to successful breeding sites year after year and if they do come back to Geltsdale, we’ll be ready and waiting for them with open arms.  The 2017 breeding season is just around the corner...