After a disappointing spring/summer for hen harriers at Geltsdale this year, it is now time to turn our efforts and eyes to different roost sites. This work is incredibly important to get an indication of numbers of birds using the area over winter and to act as a protective presence at certain sites. Any bird, which successfully survives the winter months, can then go on to be a potential breeder.
Hen hariers need quiet areas to roost that offer cover and shelter, areas that are relatively undisturbed by potential predators or human activity. Harriers can roost in tall heather or in marshy areas with plenty of Juncus (rush). Although spending the night with our feet in ice cold bog doesn't sound very apealing to us, it is a case of the the wetter the better regarding roosting harriers (foxes don't like getting their feet wet either) as these areas offer greater protection. So, this time of year, we dust off our bivy bags and sit out watching these areas on the reserve and in the wider area, with the help of a fantastic team of volunteers.
Roosts can be communal, with birds coming in from afar. Winter hunting grounds cover a much wider range than in the summer months. Depending on the weather, hen harriers usually come into roost before sunset. It is a great sight, picking up a hen harrier way off in the distance and then following it as it flies closer and closer to you before it comes down to roost in the patch you are watching. Birds can of course come in at different times and a radio-tagged bird has in the past been detected flying around in the dark before it came down to roost, long after it could be detected by sight.
During October, we had a few sightings of a grey male foraging on the meadow behind the office/visitor centre, giving some brilliant views of this graceful bird to staff and visitors alike. A ring-tail has also roosted on the reserve and we have had 5 sightings of roosting harriers at the different sites watched within a 20 mile radius of the reserve. A grey male has also been roosting regularly at RSPB Campfield reserve on the Solway coast.
The hen harrier hot line is open all year round - your records are invaluble! So please send in any sightings. 0845 4600121 email@example.com The root watches will be carried out until march, so expect another blog at the beginning of next month, hopefully with more harriers to report.