May, 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.
  • Blogging in Bowland

    The heavy showers continue to pound the Bowland Fells, interspersed with sunny intervals. This makes life a bit more interesting! We currently have two surveyors here on the estate, Colin and Peter, undertaking moorland bird surveys for us. The methodology of the survey states that surveying shouldn’t be carried out in winds of greater than force 3, or when there is any rain. This immediately rules out any kind of survey work for half the time(!) though doesn’t stop us monitoring the birds of prey.

    For the last two years we have had a camera on a hen harrier nest, showing recorded images of the activities of the harriers at the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell. This is a partnership between RSPB and United Utilities, and Lancashire County Council Countryside Service and Natural England. The nest camera is nearly ready to go into action this weekend, after a visit by contractors to service and check the equipment ten days ago. This revealed that two small, but very important, pieces of equipment were faulty. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any spares with them, but I did receive replacements the next day. A round trip of nearly fours hours to the equipment on the fell to replace the gear, and everything was working - phew. Lets just hope it stays that way!

    Last time I mentioned a possible sixth hen harrier nest. I’m pleased to say that this was confirmed just a couple of days later. Now, I’ve just heard of a possible seventh nest… Again this needs to be followed up. A job for tomorrow, me thinks.

    On the downside, one of our early nests looks as though it might have failed. Observations from a distance have shown the female spending long periods of time off the eggs, hunting. A male (possibly the same that paired with this female, but we can’t prove it) is still being seen in the vicinity, but is not providing her with any food, hence the need for her to hunt for herself. Observations early this week showed her visiting the nest for only a few minutes during a two hour period.

    Merlin have now crept up to four confirmed nests.

    Thanks for reading


  • Northumberland - hen harrier event 30 May

    Wildlife Day at Kielder
    What? A day of wildlife events and activities including guided walks, bird ringing demonstrations, crafts... and a special hen harrier stall. I'll be there chatting to visitors and making hen harrier kites with children.
    Where? Leaplish, Kielder Water, Northumberland
    When? Saturday 30 May
    What time? 11 am until 5 pm
    How do I get there? Leaplish is half way around Kielder Water and is signposted off the main road (also look out for flags)
    Hope to see you there!
  • Northumberland: Dedication, Patience and Persistence

    Great to hear about hen harrier nests elsewhere in England but of course we are all very disappointed in Northumberland where our harriers haven't had a successful season.

    We hoped that the male hen harrier would start displaying again and pull in a new mate, but that hasn't happened, so far. However, we saw a male hen harrier towards the end of last week which was uplifting. Of course, it would help if he stayed put on the territory and made a bit of effort with some skydancing!

    While he roams the hills, we keep watch for his return every day.

    Having spent the last two and a half months staring at one hill, two hillocks and a belt of high crags, I am now very familiar with every bush on the skyline, every contour and every rock. This means that if one morning there appears an additional grey-white object on the landscape, I get very excited. It's a bit like someone adding a new plant to your garden during the night. The following day, you'd instantly know that something was different.

    Of late, those occasions when a stone on a hillside becomes a male hen harrier, have been less frequent, but we don't give up.

    I am extremely fortunate to have the help of volunteer wardens at the North Tynedale site. The hen harrier protection project would simply not be possible without the support of these dedicated individuals. At the moment I have more offers of help than I need as it is quiet, but it has been fantastic knowing that there are people living locally who are willing to step in and assist with the monitoring - often at short notice.

    Even when there is not much activity, they put in a sterling effort, scanning the hills and sky and keeping detailed notes. They also monitor the other raptors in the area and, if nothing else, at least we are helping to keep the peregrine nest safe from human persecution. It takes a lot of commitment to keep turning up and putting in the hours when the chances of seeing a displaying harrier are becoming very slim.

    Of course, there are other birds to enjoy when things are quiet on the harrier front. The peregrines are always about as are buzzards and kestrels, and occasionally we see goshawks and, at dusk, long-eared owls. Warblers and swallows have been around for quite a while and there are many other songbirds including stonechats, linnets and crossbills. Cuckoos have been calling for a few weeks. I frequently see deer bounding into the woods when I enter the site, and sometimes I spot the odd mischievous stoat darting across the sand stones at my observation point.

    I've been joined by many tens of bees during my observations over the last few weeks which are attracted to the pink bilberry flowers. A few bees usually come over and politely check me out with a few circuits of my head before returning to foraging. The bilberry flowers are past their best now, but the lime green of their leaves and new bracken shoots are bringing colour to the hills.