July, 2017

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.
  • Competition: Help us name our hen harriers!

    You may remember last month I blogged about our 2016 Perthshire female, DeeCee and her fantastic brood of five healthy chicks (see here). Well, I’m now delighted to share that all five have fledged successfully from land owned and managed by Forestry Commission Scotland in Argyll – two of them sporting shiny new Hen Harrier LIFE Project satellite tags!

    Three of DeeCee's five chicks, July 2017 (Image: RSPB)

    The two eldest and biggest chicks in the brood, one male and one female, were each fitted with the tiny transmitters just days before fledging, by a trained expert, under specialist licence. It will be fascinating to see where they go. Will they follow the same movement patterns of their mum, DeeCee, or will they go their own way entirely? Only time will tell.

    For now though, we need your help to choose names for them!

    You have from today until midnight on 3 August to submit your suggestions to our competition website here. All ideas welcome (yes, even Henny McHenFace but I’m making you zero promises on that one!) and you can submit two entries, so use your entries wisely.

    Eight of our favourite submitted names will be selected and put to public vote on on @RSPB_Skydancer. The public voting will run from 7-8 August, and from 9-10 August. The winning two names with the highest number of votes will be announced on this blog on 11 August 2017. See here for the terms and conditions.

    So what are you waiting for? Get those thinking caps on and get suggesting!

    In the meantime, both our as-yet-nameless young harriers have been sticking tight to their nest site, still dependent on their parents for food as they get used to their wings and gradually practice hunting for themselves. Slowly but surely though, they’re starting to venture a little bit further each day and my guess is it won’t be long before one of them makes the leap and roosts away from its nest for the very first time.

    Details of our full Class of 2017 will be online from the start of September, however to protect sensitive breeding sites, maps of their movements will only be added as soon as they’ve dispersed away from their nest sites. With some of the birds this might be immediately, while others may hang about home until the start of November. So if you don’t see the maps straight away, don’t panic - if anything happens to any of them, we’ll let you know!

    Whatever else, I have a sneaking suspicion these two are going to be the stars of the show.

    ---

    If you want to do more for hen harriers, or even simply find out more, why not join hundreds of people around the country at a Hen Harrier Day event this weekend? I'll be speaking at the event in Sheffield on Saturday 5 August, but there are plenty more to choose from, across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Simply visit henharrierday.org to find the one nearest to you. #HHday2017 #StopKillingHenHarriers 

    To find out more about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit our website at www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or follow us on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer

     

  • Exciting times: Hen harriers the next generation

    We've received more brilliant news this week - in her first ever breeding attempt, our Northumberland female, Finn, is successfully rearing one chick at her nest in Southwest Scotland! The discovery was made by specially trained and licensed staff following up on Finn's welfare. 

    Finn's offspring - a single, large but still downy chick hidden in the heather. (Image: RSPB) 

    Hen harriers don't always breed in their first year, in fact historical records estimate only between 8-30% of first year birds make the attempt. And often when they do, the risk of failure is greater due to inexperience or laying infertile eggs. So although a single chick may not seem like much, for our young Finn, it's a fantastic achievement. 

    All being well, we expect that Finn's chick will fledge in the next 7-10 days. 

    Finn herself was named after teenage conservationist and blogger, Findlay Wilde, who together with energy company, Ecotricity, sponsored Finn's tag. As you can imagine, he was utterly delighted to hear the news.

    Findlay said: "I'm delighted to be able to shout from the roof tops about Finn's first successful breeding attempt.  She has proven to be a very determined bird since fledging last year.  Successes like this are treasures for everyone to enjoy and talk about, as silence will not protect these amazing birds of prey. Hen harriers are on an incredibly difficult journey, just like the one Finn's chick is about to set off on. There needs to be vision and foresight to ensure that more birds like Finn get the opportunity of life"

    Finn and her three siblings in their nest in Northumberland, July 2016. (Image: Martin Davison)

    Andrew Miller of the Northumberland National Park, heads up the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership*, which watched over Finn and her siblings as chicks last year.

    Andrew said, "It's wonderful news and so gratifying to see one of our birds not only surviving well but contributing to the next generation of hen harriers. It's been fascinating to watch her progress and this is further proof that hen harriers in England and Scotland aren't isolated from one another. I wish her and her chick well and have my fingers crossed for plenty more successful breeding seasons to come." 

    It's absolutely true that what happens on one side of the border has the potential to influence the population as a whole. That's why this year, the Hen Harrier LIFE Project has been fitting satellite tags to more hen harrier chicks, across a wider geographical range than ever before.

    More on that to be announced in the coming weeks, so watch this space...

    ---

    *the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership includes Northumberland National Park, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, RSPB, MoD, Northumbria Police, and the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF). 

    For more information about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife, and follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer

      

  • Guest Blog: Stunning hen harrier chase on Isle of Man

     Peter Christian is a birdwatcher and photographer with a keen eye for detail. Here, he describes how he was lucky enough to capture an incredible photographic series of a hen harrier in pursuit of a meadow pipit, providing a rarely glimpsed view into lives of these extraordinary birds. All photographs are kindly reproduced with Peter's permission and remain his copyright. 

    As a keen birdwatcher and hobby photographer on the Isle of Man, it's thankfully not too uncommon to encounter Hen Harriers. On a walk on an upland track recently however, I witnessed something I've never seen before. 

    Initially distant in the valley below I spotted the unmistakable presence of a male Hen Harrier. A striking bird to say the least. What's more, it was hunting a Meadow Pipit - wow!  They looked to be heading my way, so I grabbed the camera and tried to capture something of it. 

    I was surprised at the sheer agility and perseverance of the Harrier in its efforts to catch the Meadow Pipit. At one moment they were quite close to me but I found it almost impossible to focus the big telephoto lens on them.

    As they climbed and dived moving farther away I persevered and got a burst of frames away. 

    I hoped these would at least capture something of this life and death pursuit. 

    As they disappeared further out of sight I put the lens down and reflected on something special. Then, as photographers usually do, I flicked through the images and hoped I'd at least have one or two that weren't blurry! To my surprise I'd actually managed to capture something of it. Not the best shots I've ever taken, but a Hen Harrier hunting, it doesn't get much better. 

    I have a feeling that the Pipit escaped that day, it looked like it found cover, but I'll never know for sure. 

    For more fantastic photography, follow Peter on Twitter  @manxmannin.

     Such encounters are increasingly rare on mainland Britain, where last year’s National Hen Harrier Survey revealed a 14% population decline since 2010. By contrast the Isle of Man population of this threatened bird appears to have been holding steady over the last few years.

    Neil Morris of Manx Birdlife, explains the history and importance of hen harriers to the Isle of Man.

    In 1977, the first Hen Harriers bred on the Isle of Man in Glen Rushen plantation. Numbers climbed to a possible all time high of 51 pairs in 1998. More recently, breeding censuses indicate the population has fallen from this peak to a (perhaps) stable 30 'nesting attempts' per annum. This represents approximately one nest per 7.4 sq miles, which compares to just four pairs in the whole England (50,000 sq miles compared to the island's 221 sq miles).

    Clearly, Hen Harriers like the Isle of Man; and the island's community likes its Hen Harriers! In a recent fundraising drive through the Groundwork Trust and Tesco's 'Bags of help' scheme, Manx BirdLife received 57,000 'votes' to support Hen Harriers. The second-placed charitable cause received 37,000 votes. But we must not be complacent. Research is needed to understand exactly why the island offers such a stronghold for the species, and to ensure the potential risks to its continued fortunes are understood. It's a salutary thought that if the brood management plan proposed by Natural England were implemented in the Isle of Man, then we would be required to remove up to 27 out of our 30 nests (i.e. 90%).

    The island’s continued interest in its birds and other wildlife is crucial to their protection. Peter’s fantastic series of images will do much to help keep Hen Harriers uppermost in the community’s hearts and minds.

    Following on from the successful satellite tagging of young Manx female, Aalin, last year, two more hen harrier chicks have been tagged on the Isle of Man this summer and we can’t wait to share their journeys with you.

    Keep watching this space for further updates and be sure to follow us online at www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer.