The heavy showers continue to pound the Bowland Fells, interspersed with sunny intervals. This makes life a bit more interesting! We currently have two surveyors here on the estate, Colin and Peter, undertaking moorland bird surveys for us. The methodology of the survey states that surveying shouldn’t be carried out in winds of greater than force 3, or when there is any rain. This immediately rules out any kind of survey work for half the time(!) though doesn’t stop us monitoring the birds of prey.
For the last two years we have had a camera on a hen harrier nest, showing recorded images of the activities of the harriers at the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell. This is a partnership between RSPB and United Utilities, and Lancashire County Council Countryside Service and Natural England. The nest camera is nearly ready to go into action this weekend, after a visit by contractors to service and check the equipment ten days ago. This revealed that two small, but very important, pieces of equipment were faulty. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any spares with them, but I did receive replacements the next day. A round trip of nearly fours hours to the equipment on the fell to replace the gear, and everything was working - phew. Lets just hope it stays that way!
Last time I mentioned a possible sixth hen harrier nest. I’m pleased to say that this was confirmed just a couple of days later. Now, I’ve just heard of a possible seventh nest… Again this needs to be followed up. A job for tomorrow, me thinks.
On the downside, one of our early nests looks as though it might have failed. Observations from a distance have shown the female spending long periods of time off the eggs, hunting. A male (possibly the same that paired with this female, but we can’t prove it) is still being seen in the vicinity, but is not providing her with any food, hence the need for her to hunt for herself. Observations early this week showed her visiting the nest for only a few minutes during a two hour period.
Merlin have now crept up to four confirmed nests.
Thanks for reading
Great to hear about hen harrier nests elsewhere in England but of course we are all very disappointed in Northumberland where our harriers haven't had a successful season.
We hoped that the male hen harrier would start displaying again and pull in a new mate, but that hasn't happened, so far. However, we saw a male hen harrier towards the end of last week which was uplifting. Of course, it would help if he stayed put on the territory and made a bit of effort with some skydancing!
While he roams the hills, we keep watch for his return every day.
Having spent the last two and a half months staring at one hill, two hillocks and a belt of high crags, I am now very familiar with every bush on the skyline, every contour and every rock. This means that if one morning there appears an additional grey-white object on the landscape, I get very excited. It's a bit like someone adding a new plant to your garden during the night. The following day, you'd instantly know that something was different.
Of late, those occasions when a stone on a hillside becomes a male hen harrier, have been less frequent, but we don't give up.
I am extremely fortunate to have the help of volunteer wardens at the North Tynedale site. The hen harrier protection project would simply not be possible without the support of these dedicated individuals. At the moment I have more offers of help than I need as it is quiet, but it has been fantastic knowing that there are people living locally who are willing to step in and assist with the monitoring - often at short notice.
Even when there is not much activity, they put in a sterling effort, scanning the hills and sky and keeping detailed notes. They also monitor the other raptors in the area and, if nothing else, at least we are helping to keep the peregrine nest safe from human persecution. It takes a lot of commitment to keep turning up and putting in the hours when the chances of seeing a displaying harrier are becoming very slim.
Of course, there are other birds to enjoy when things are quiet on the harrier front. The peregrines are always about as are buzzards and kestrels, and occasionally we see goshawks and, at dusk, long-eared owls. Warblers and swallows have been around for quite a while and there are many other songbirds including stonechats, linnets and crossbills. Cuckoos have been calling for a few weeks. I frequently see deer bounding into the woods when I enter the site, and sometimes I spot the odd mischievous stoat darting across the sand stones at my observation point.
I've been joined by many tens of bees during my observations over the last few weeks which are attracted to the pink bilberry flowers. A few bees usually come over and politely check me out with a few circuits of my head before returning to foraging. The bilberry flowers are past their best now, but the lime green of their leaves and new bracken shoots are bringing colour to the hills.
Time marches on, and spring along with it. The heather clad slopes still look a dull winter brown, but the bilberry is growing apace, and is a stunning bright, fresh green, in contrast to the heather. The first cohort of chicks is beginning to appear out of the nests of stonechat, dipper, grey wagtail, meadow pipit, etc. And the male green hairstreak butterflies do battle with each other over the bilberry on sunny days.
Last week I took a group of college students for a guided walk on the estate. The weather was a bit wet and windy, and got progressively worse as we went up the moorland track. Try to imagine the scene: I’m doing my hardest to try and enthuse them with the joys of the uplands, but people are getting wetter and colder all the time. The cloud level is low, and then, suddenly, there’s an adult male hen harrier working his way along the slope just above us.
He seems to make light work of the conditions, gracefully taking the very wet and blustery conditions in his stride. By now most people are watching him intently, and a quiet buzz of excitement is apparent in some of them – this is one of the rarest breeding birds in England. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he’s gone into the cloud.
These are the sort of moments I really enjoy, when you least expect something, you are rewarded for your patience.
Patience seems to be the key word this year. Last time I posted we had three nests with eggs confirmed, but this has crept up to five now, and we believe we have six nests – the heavy rain as I write preventing us from confirming this last one. Whilst we are still locating new nests, our first nest should now contain at least one or two chicks, and we will know for sure how many by the end of next week.
The first merlin nest of the year has also been located. This small falcon nests slightly later than many others, with egg laying usually starting in the first week of May.
Hopefully have a few more nests to report next week!
Grey clouds tumbled through the North Tynedale site for much of last weekend and this week, but we did see a female and male hen harrier which was uplifting. The female bird swooped along the top of some crags before dipping below the ridge and... straight past a peregrine nest. When the harrier came back into view, she was being shown the door, as it were, by our male peregrine.
After no sightings of a female hen harrier for over a week, it was a shame she was given such a frosty reception. Hopefully, she'll be back soon.
As for our male hen harrier. He has gone AWOL, again. You will recall that he was not seen for 5 days a few weeks ago and then he returned so we've seen this before. We did get a brief glimpse on Sunday, though he appeared to head towards a nearby grouse moor. It is one of his regular hunting grounds but we'd like him to return home soon!