April, 2013

Skydancer

Skydancer
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.
  • Emotional roller coaster!

    The excitement was palpable 10 days ago when I took a call from Mick (the RSPB’s Assistant warden) to say that a food pass had been seen between a male and female harrier on the United Utilities estate. I could almost feel my pulse quicken with excitement, the first food pass in two years, this is it I thought, they’re back and it’s game on!

    I shouldn’t have been quite so quick to let my excitement run away with me. Since then we’ve been having regular sightings of both male and female harriers but we’ve yet to see any further indication of any pairing up and settling down in territories. That said, it’s still only the 24th April and given the late spring this year it’s little wonder that these harriers are not fitting to the ‘typical’ timetable we have come to expect from them.

    So nothing concrete to pass on to you all yet but you never know what the next day will bring.

    I should also add that it’s been great receiving information about hen harrier sightings from local birdwatchers in and around Bowland. Thanks for sharing those with me, it certainly helps us to gauge how many harriers we have in the area.

    Remember, if you see a harrier anytime, anyplace we’d really appreciate hearing about it – please give us a call on 0845 4600121. You never know, it may lead to finding a breeding pair in an area currently un-monitored.

    Here’s hoping to bring you some good news in the near future! 

  • Now is the Time?

    The wind is still with us, but now from the south and the west. Thus the ambient temperature rises and, as the blanket of snow melts rapidly away, so our hopes rise also. Spring this year will be fleet and frantic, and now that the passerines and waders are back in force, and field voles are once again accessible, now indeed is the time!

    It may be mild, but that wind has been gale force for the last few days, suppressing a lot of expected activity. Even so, if there is one bird that can take advantage of such conditions, then that bird is the hen harrier. Its low-level hunting technique, superb flight skills and lightening-fast reactions help it to rely as much on the element of suprise as on its hearing ability or straight-line speed.

    North Tynedale has ample foraging ground and the prey to go with it. The site has proved attractive as a breeding location in recent years, with prime tracts of leggy heather. So far as hen harriers are concerned, it has everything going for it. However, while we watch and wait for action, we are also aware that the number of individuals throughout Northumberland is anomalously low, and has been for decades. Under such circumstances, when interest is shown in the site, and evidence of territoriality seen, the chances of male and female meeting up and pairing are diminished. The element of luck simply should not be a factor in the breeding equation but, because of such low numbers and the fact that so little of the suitable breeding grounds of Northumberland are utilised, the birds are more at the mercy of chance than they should be. Still, the frequency of sightings in North Tynedale so far is very encouraging, especially when the adverse weather is taken into account. We can only hope that this year the dice are not loaded against them.

    Stephen Temperley,   Species Protection Coordinator for Northumberland

  • Spring thaw at Geltsdale

    So, Spring at long last! The snows have finally relinquished their grip on the fells and, eventually, our early spring migrants have started to return to Geltsdale (albeit up to 3 weeks late). Our first ring ouzel was spotted on 12th April – the latest returnee for many a year. So now wheatears, chiffchaffs, sand martins and swallows also brighten up our days. And last week one of our dedicated volunteers was treated to a very close view of an osprey as it migrated north along the spine of the Pennines. The fells are now alive with meadow pipits, skylarks, curlew and golden plover, and merlins are back on the scene. Yesterday, in near-gale force westerlies, I watched a blue male jink up out of the valley and make a swift feint at a meadow pipit before it was picked up by a violent gust and quite unceremoniously tossed, like a rag puppet, right over the roof of the observation hut I was sitting in! Luckily it quickly regained its composure, and was soon able to fight its way back down to more sheltered terrain.

    So what we’d really like now is a pair of spirited and graceful hen harriers. Each day, whatever the weather, staff and volunteers are up on the fells carefully watching all the potential nesting areas round the Reserve. There is definitely a feeling of optimism this year. And so, with excitement and anticipation, we eagerly await the return of breeding harriers to their rightful home here on the Geltsdale moors.