Our last Skydancer blog focused on the sad fate of the young satellite-tagged hen harrier, Lad, who barely a month after fledging, was found dead in the Cairngorms National Park, brought down by injuries “consistent with the damage caused by shooting” (see here).

Today however, I’m delighted to have a much happier story to share – our remaining satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, has returned home!

Chance is a female hen harrier who was satellite-tagged by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and fledged from a nest in Southwest Scotland in June 2014. Although this was just before the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project began, the project has been following her movements since it launched and the story that has unfolded is a remarkable example of just how wide-ranging and unpredictable hen harriers can be.

Chance displaying her satellite tag at RSPB Wallasea reserve, October 2014. Image (c) Tony Orwell

Having spread her wings in the late summer around the Scottish borders, she slowly made her way south, exploring the uplands of Northern England before being spotted at RSPB’s Wallasea reserve in Essex in October 2014. There we thought she’d stay but the south of England clearly wasn’t far south enough for this adventurous bird and by the end of that month, she had crossed the Channel and set up home in the Pay de Loire region of Northern France!

Come April 2015, Chance was showing every sign of staying put but in late May, she surprised us all by crossing the Channel once more and heading north, briefly to Scotland and ultimately settling down to spend her summer exploring the hills of Northeast England.

  

Chance's route south from Northumberland to France took only three days, in October 2015.

Her rapid return journey north from France to Scotland took just four days, in May 2016.

When autumn came this time, there was no hanging about. In October 2015 Chance flew from Northumberland, via South Wales, back to Northern France in the space of just three days! Now, after another winter of watching and waiting, Chance has returned to the UK once more, this time taking just four days to travel up the east coast of England and back to where she started in Southwest Scotland.

From Scotland to England, Wales, and France, the remarkable journey of this young female is an important reminder that if we want to truly secure a future for hen harriers in any one part of the UK, they need to be protected throughout the whole of it. Increased satellite tagging through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project is playing a vital role in this by helping us to better understand where hen harriers go and to highlight where they're most at risk.  It’s incredible to think that without satellite tagging, we would never have had the faintest idea of the incredible journey our Chance was undertaking every winter.

So now she’s back, what next? As a second year bird, there’s every possibility Chance will attempt to breed this year but with her late arrival on the scene, will she find a mate in time? Follow her fortunes on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website as we map her movements every two weeks and follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer