Happy New Year from wintry Geltsdale! As with the rest of the country, the reserve has been covered with a blanket of snow since the week before Christmas and has provided a stunning looking landscape in which to watch wildlife. Although the snow looks great, it has been very difficult getting to different roosts with roads and tracks proving treacherous (in many cases completely impassable even with the landrover) and it has been slow going, wading through knee high snow.
However, there have been a few sightings on the reserve of a ringtail throughout December and early Jan. It is highly possible it is the same bird and is roosting on the reserve or close by.
Young harriers may potentially be affected by this harsh weather, but it is worth remembering that first year birds have a higher mortality rate over winter than older, more experienced birds.
During the winter months, harriers move around a great deal to where they can find food, which is why many harriers can be found along the coast, where food is likely to be more abundant. For that reason, they fare much better when snow covers the ground than birds such as barn owls which stay on territory and really suffer when they are unable to catch prey on their patch. Unlike barn owls, which are restricted to small rodents especially voles, harriers (along with other birds of prey such as kestrels) can switch to small birds being their main food source.
The snow has however resulted in record numbers of black grouse being reported on the reserve with 30 males and 57 females recorded. They have benefited from careful management on the reserve, which has created a mosaic of varying vegetation structure.
During periods of heavy snow, taller vegetation allows birds to feed on the ground as well as picking off remaining berries of hawthorns etc. It is therefore likely that birds move away from areas, which have been over grazed/burnt and move to areas where the vegetation is able to break up the blanket of snow, making food available.