The transition from Autumn to winter has happened quickly here at Geltsdale, the frosted hills providing a fitting back drop to black grouse feeding on the remaining haw berries behind the visitor centre. This week is in stark contrast to Cumbria’s wild weather in November, however a few harriers have been seen battling against the wind.
Great views were had of a ring-tail (a female or 1st year male – they both look very similar before the male moults into it’s striking grey plumage, although the female is generally larger) hunting over heather and fields along with one roosting on the reserve. Two males are now regularly being seen hunting and then coming down to roost at RSPB Campfield Reserve on the Solway coast. The wider area roost watches have been going well with Friday the 13th November proving to be the most productive evening so far, with 10 sites covered with a total of 6 birds being seen.
One volunteer was treated to a spectacular display of a 2nd year male chasing meadow pipits, field fares and redwings over the bog, before retiring to a post where it was lost due to poor light, it presumably roosted near by. It has been observed that males are more likely to hunt passerines on the wing, as they are more agile than the larger female. Sights like these hopefully make up for the hours spent in the wind, rain, hail, freezing temperatures……..
The buoyant, effortless flight of a hen harrier is similar to a barn owl or short-eared owl. When hunting, they hold their wings in a ‘v’ shape just a couple of metres above the ground, head facing downward, concentrating on flushing small birds or locating voles.
Hen harriers often perch on fence posts for preening, before roosting or use them as a vantage point for hunting. They are rarely seen on tall structures, appearing to leave that to the buzzards and kestrels. So if you see a bird of prey on a telegraph pole it is unlikely to be a hen harrier. A grey male was seen flying within inches of a volunteer’s car, so you do not have to spend hours looking over a windswept moor to get a sighting. It is worth keeping your eyes peeled when out in the countryside, you may be lucky!