Thirty years ago I started working for the RSPB on a six month upland bird surveying contract – with the additional challenge of helping to protect England’s only regular nesting hen harriers. The Forest of Bowland was the only stronghold for hen harriers in England in 1982 – it still is. I’ll be contributing a series of guest blogs over the spring and summer and tweeting in real time on @andrefarrar

Early in my spring contract I’d made the fundamental error of trying to walk through deep heather in shorts.  Never again – very sore legs. I was reminded of this rather old fashioned survey technique when looking at the fascinating detail provided by a female hen harrier and her satellite tag – 74843 (as she’s known) has been all over the place, but hasn’t settled in Bowland. The worrying shortage of harriers in 2012 is in some contrast to 1982 – it still isn’t too late for pairs to settle but prospects are not good.

Walking transects and monitoring the harriers involved some yomping through heather, interspersed with sitting and watching.  The scenery was changing – and drifts of white; last week, late snow, where now the nodding heads of cotton grass.

My task of surveying an entire estate meant that I covered a lot of ground and on one section I found a patch of plants that I’d not encountered before ... it was cloudberry, an uncommon relative of brambles.

All seemed right with the world – but my anxiety was rising about the peregrines. Hatching was due – or had I got the dates a bit wrong?

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