March, 2009


Get the latest news on our hen harrier conservation work, including the five-year Hen Harrier Life+ project.

Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers

Follow the efforts of RSPB staff during the breeding season, as they attempt to monitor and protect one of England's rarest breeding birds of prey - the hen harrier.
  • Bowland Brass Monkeys!

    That northerly wind really is cold! 

    I managed to spend a couple of hours out and about, checking a peregrine nest site for occupancy earlier this week. Unfortunately I didn’t even get a glimpse of a peregrine, but things are beginning to happen…

    The first sky dancing hen harrier was seen last Saturday, but only just! Low cloud on Friday and Saturday made observations a bit tricky, but, as always, the wait is always worth it. This individual was a juvenile male - one hatched last year, and still in his brown plumage. Not being in his striking blue grey adult plumage on top and white below, topped off by contrasting black wing tips, these males always have to try a bit harder than the full adult males to attract a mate  (and mostly they don’t!). Maybe this is the reason why these brown males seem to be much more active, and hence more inclined to sky dance, than their older counterparts. Perhaps there are parallels here with humans.

    Anyway, our tally of occupied hen harrier nest sites still stands at five, having seemingly stalled after last weeks influx. Our earliest occupied site had a male and female apparently prospecting for a nest site within their territory mid-week. Perhaps towards the end of next week we will see the first signs of nest building. Watch this space.

    Speak to you soon.


  • Northumberland 24 March: Come in Number 246!

    More excellent news from the North... In a previous blog, I mentioned that two of the five females that fledged from the North Tynedale nest in 2008 were fitted with radio transmitters. I also noted that one of the radio-tagged juveniles was picked up flying over Bowland, Lancashire, and the other - number 246, a.k.a Rainbow Dancer - was presumed dead since the last signal from her was back in August 2008. Many hen harriers don't make it through their first winter.

    But, over the weekend, the Geltsdale team were out with their tracking equipment and they suddenly picked up a signal from 246 in the Cheviots (as noted by Pete in his blog on 23 March). It is likely that she has spent the winter in Scotland.

    Now, bear in mind two things: One third of all hen harrier chicks in a nest will not live to see the following spring. And, we have just had the coldest winter in 18 years. The fact that at least two out of the five chicks that fledged last year are still going strong (that's more than one third by the way) means these individuals are no ordinary hen harriers. These are tough Geordie hen harrier lasses!

    As Stephen Murphy - a hen harrier expert based in the North West - said in an email to me today, "What a girl!". Quite.

  • Northumberland 23 March: Harriers Dancing

    Great news - there is a male and female hen harrier at the North Tynedale site! He has been skydancing since last Tuesday (17th March) though he has been somewhat lazy with his dives and loops. What really impressed me was when the female harrier joined in with her own dance one late afternoon last week.

    It was one of those fabulous early spring evenings when the sun is low in the sky but very bright. The hills and crags turned a deep orange and I watched as she displayed over a favourite hill which is thick with tall, bushy heather. The male harrier patrolled the slope closest to me, presumably with one eye on his mate. Because she was on the far side of the hill, all I could see was her body emerging out of the heather, soaring upwards then swooping back below the brow of the hill before repeating the routine. It was like watching someone on a fairground ride who only comes into view every few seconds. She repeated her loop the loops for no more than a minute, but I was left stunned.