Latest update from Stephen Temperley, our Species Protection Coordinator, overseeing hen harrier monitoring and nest protection efforts in Northumberland this year.

Across Northumberland these last couple of days, the clement weather has been very welcome indeed – for the farmers, for the muirburners, for the Northumberland National Park Wardens, for all nature-lovers who like to get out there but, with regard to the project, most of all for my volunteers, for myself and of course for the birds themselves. What a joy to be able to see for miles, to bask in a relatively warm sun and to be able to describe the movement of the air as a zephyr or a breeze rather than a wind that cuts right through you.

 Don’t get me wrong – cold has not been a substantial problem at all this winter or spring. It’s the lack of visibility that has proven so frustrating. Certainly from the end of March to the middle of last week we had a cold east wind prevailing that brought in a harr (a wet fog with mizzle, drizzle, rain, you name it) and cut down visibility consistently to 50-200 m over the higher moorland where our monitoring has to be concentrated. Accordingly, under such circumstances, any hen harrier sightings had to owe a great deal to serendipity.

 Nevertheless, over the two weeks or so of crummy visibility, my inestimable team of volunteers and me together managed to establish a minimum of two adult females and two adult males in residence across the county, although one each of those females and males seem to have remained more attached to their wintering habitats, rather than moseying along to the potential breeding areas.

Male hen harrier silhouetted against the sky. (c) Amy Challis, 2008 

Now at least I can tell you that the potential is such we have great cause for optimism. At least one adult female and one adult male are showing more than a passing interest in the most historic, and therefore the most likely, breeding areas. The muirburn deadline for upland keepers has now passed (as of the 15th of April) so, hopefully, potential disturbance is now at a minimum. Meadow pipits, skylarks, lapwings, curlews, golden plovers, red grouse, etc – all are back on their breeding grounds, all are calling, displaying and breeding, and it provides a wonderful, rewarding background to monitoring. Now if only the male and female harriers could meet and get it on, their hormonal instincts would take over and we will be in business. Let’s hope my next blog bears this out……