As the cold weather sets in and Christmas approaches, it’s clear that winter is truly upon us. My thoughts at this time of year, as ever, turn to our young harriers out on the hills.
Over the last two months, the number of hen harrier sightings at roosts and hunting grounds in southern and coastal areas has increased dramatically, as many of these birds seek to escape the harsh upland weather. Hen harriers have been spotted at a number of RSPB reserves across the country including Saltholme, Burton Mere Wetlands, Blacktoft Sands, Wallasea, and Rainham Marshes, not to mention the National Trust's Wicken Fen reserve in Cambridgeshire and the Wildlife Trust's Upton Warren reserve in Worcestershire, amongst others. Several birders and photographers have been kind enough to share some of their incredible photographs of these birds with us, and stunning shots they are too!
Male hen harrier at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands on the Dee Estuary. Image ©Andy Davis (flickr.com/photos/twodees)
Female hen harrier at Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Upton Warren reserve, Nov 2016. Image © Martin Clay (@ClayGaseous)
Male hen harrier at RSPB Wallasea reserve, Essex. Image © Andrew Armstrong (@drumon25)
Some of our satellite-tagged harriers are clearly following this trend with Aalin, Harriet both on a mission south, while Finn moves ever closer to the Ayrshire coast. However DeeCee, Carroll, and Bonny seem to be sticking resolutely to the upland ground they’ve come to know, while Wendy has made herself at home with island life over on Mull.
Unfortunately, it saddens me to report that our young male, Beater, has gone missing and is presumed to have died. Beater fledged from land owned by Wildland Ltd, on their Glen Feshie, Glen Tromie, and Gaick property in the western Cairngorms. He was named by children, Lejla and Cuillin, after their mother, and was the second chick to be tagged on this estate after another young male, Lad, was tagged and fledged from the same location in 2015.
Beater as a chick, shortly before fledging in July. Image © Ewan Weston
After spending his early months sticking close to home in the Cairngorms, Beater spread his wings at the end of September and headed south towards England, stopping just short of crossing the border. He spent October and most of November in the central Scottish Borders. Sadly, no data has been received from Beater since his tag last transmitted on 14th November. His last known location was on an area upland pasture in the central Scottish Borders. We have no information to suggest anything illegal has happened, the transmissions did not stop abruptly as in other recent cases, but we do now think it most likely that he has died.
Beater’s last known location is highlighted by the large red circle.
As we head deeper into the winter, the Hen Harrier LIFE Project team will be working closely with the raptor study groups NERF and SRSG, to monitor and protect important hen harrier winter roosts throughout the north of England and southern and eastern Scotland. The data from our satellite tags is helping with that but there are so many more birds without tags, we need your help to keep track of where these birds are spending their time.
If you’re lucky enough to see a hen harrier in England, please report it to our dedicated Hen Harrier Hotline, with information on the time, date, and location of the sighting (six-figure grid reference if possible), a description of the bird and it’s activity (eg hunting, roosting, flying over).
Tel. 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rates)
If you tried to report sightings in the last month and had problems with the phone line, please accept our apologies. This was down to some technical issues which have now been resolved, so it would be great if you could try resubmitting the information. If you still experience problems, please use the hotline email address and include a description of the issue encountered.
For sightings in Scotland, please report these to the Heads Up for Harriers hotline on:
Tel: 07767 671973
The more eyes we have keeping a watch over these birds, the better the future will be for them.