May, 2011


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's first harrier chicks of 2011

    Well, what a week it has been here in Bowland, we have had just one day this week that has felt like ‘spring’, the rest of the week the Bowland fells have been shrouded with cloud and been subject to heavy rain and at the beginning of the week, extremely strong winds. It can’t have been easy out there for our Hen harriers.
    There is lots to report since my last post, with the exciting news being that we have our first chicks of 2011! On the first (and only) fine day this week, I decided to go up and check on the nest where young were due to have hatched. After just 30 mins of watching, the male arrived with food which he passed to the female. She did a very short flight around the nest before dropping onto it with the food confirming the presence of young. All being well, this will be the nest that will host the camera that will allow us to show recorded images of a harrier nest at the Lancashire County Council’s Bowland Visitor Centre at Beacon Fell. This has been running for the last four years and is a partnership between RSPB, United Utilities, Lancashire County Council’s Countryside Service and Natural England. The kit has been tested and is working well so I’ll let you know once it’s operational!  
    At the end of last week, I went up onto the fell with the RSPB’s Bowland assistant warden to watch one of the nests to ensure all was well. After a couple of hours of nothing happening we were suddenly swept up in a flurry of activity. A food pass was received by the female who sat off the nest to feed before spending a bit of time flying up and down above the nest, presumably having a bit of a wing stretch. During this time the male disappeared but just a couple of minutes later we were watching three male harriers clashing in mid-air! The tussle didn’t last long before they all went their separate ways, but it was a sight to see and great to know that there are at least 3 males in the area providing for four females.
    Unfortunately there is also some sad news to report. Since the last time I posted, one of our 6 nests has failed. The female was not seen for a number of days and on inspection of the nest site she had indeed deserted so we are now down to five active nests on the UU estate. But you’ll be pleased to hear that all five of those are, as I write, doing well and we are expecting more young to hatch next week.

    So there are some of the ups and downs of harrier monitoring! Fortunately there are more ups than downs and it is a real pleasure to be employed to monitor these magnificent raptors in Bowland.




  • North Tynedale: from expectation to hope

    Plenty of hen harrier sightings but still no pair just about sums it up, I'm afraid. We are now in the last chance saloon for this season. Thanks to a remarkably dedicated cohort of volunteers, on-site monitoring has been both thorough and discreet. We have had at least one watcher covertly monitoring the site for at least a part of every day since mid-February so we haven't missed much, despite the ubiquitous and wearying wind that has accompanied us almost every day for over six weeks now. Despite the project area being elevated, exposed and lacking shelter at the lookout locations, the volunteers have stuck it out whatever the weather and could not have been more conscientious.

    After the three March appearances (two adult females and an adult male mentioned in my previous blog) we have had five sightings in April. Four of these were female ringtails (one of which was immature), the fifth an adult (possibly sub-adult) male. On the basis of the most detailed observations and notes I could make at the time, I conservatively estimate that, so far this season, we have had at least four different individuals on, over or immediately around the site. However, as (bad) luck would have it, we have never had more than one bird at a time in the vicinity. If I was paranoid and subscribed to anthropomorphism I could almost suspect a hen harrier conspiracy against us.

    Seriously though, as far as I am aware there isn't a single known breeding pair of hen harriers anywhere in Northumberland so far this year, and we must ask ourselves why not. Lack of suitable ground is emphatically not the problem - Northumberland alone could accommodate many tens of pairs. Likewise, lack of food sources or poor Spring weather cannot be blamed. The problem is simple, stark and obvious: lack of numbers. As to why - I'll come back to this vexed question at later date, so watch this space....

  • First news from Bowland

    Hello from the Forest of Bowland for the first time this year!

    Let me start off with a quick introduction. My name is Jude Lane and I am the new RSPB Bowland Project Officer. I started in post in January this year, taking over from Pete Wilson who has been blogging on this site about the harriers in Bowland since 2009 and who worked in the role for 11 years – quite some shoes to fill! 

    So, just in case you have forgotten or are new to reading this post, my role as Bowland Project Officer is based on the United Utilities (UU) estate within the Forest of Bowland. UU own 10,000 ha of upland in the Forest of Bowland which they manage primarily for water abstraction. However, the UU estate is also the most important site for breeding Hen harriers in England. Last year there were 12 Hen harrier nesting attempts in England, 10 of those were on UU’s Bowland estate.

    So how are the harriers doing this year? I hear you ask. Well, after a bit of a slow start we now have six nests on the estate which are all doing well, no doubt helped by the dry weather we had throughout April.  

    The monitoring of the Hen harriers and also Peregrines and Merlins is being carried out, as in previous years, by a team of people. Peter Jones is working as the RSPB’s seasonal assistant warden (he also held the post last season) along side our team of fantastically knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers and myself.

    Well I'll keep it short but sweet for my first update but make sure you keep watching this space to keep up to date with all the harrier news from Bowland!