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
One benefit of working in a fabulous place for wildlife is that there are so many chances to encounter new things. One evening coming out of the pub (the Hark to Bounty in Slaidburn) to be precise, a woodcock, flew over grunting and squeaking as it flew in circuits around its territory – a display known as roding.
I was in the pub, you understand, purely for the purposes of social networking, no other reason at all.
But as the warm, sunny spring continued the ‘odd pint’ was very welcome. On this particular day I was celebrating as I’d found another hen harrier nest and, under licence, had visited the nest invisibly to mark the eggs (the ink was invisible, not me).
When I started writing these guest blog posts – I had no idea (in common with the current Bowland team) that 2012 was going to look so bleak for hen harriers. Thirty years ago the harriers were just establishing themselves in England after Victorian intolerance and extermination. Bowland has been their stronghold for decades – nesting attempts in other parts of England infrequent and inconsistent. Bowland is still a safe place for hen harriers – there are just too few of them in the English uplands.
Spirit of the moors - a male hen harrier, plenty in 82 - few this spring. Photo Andy Hay, RSPB Images
A couple of days later I was checking out a short-eared owl territory – it was looking like food was abundant as shorties were well in evidence. I hadn’t long settled in the heather when one of the pair flew over and suddenly lurched in flight as it brought its wings together under its body in the frankly uncomfortable-looking wing clapping display.
Generally the breeding season was going well – there was one, now inevitable, disappointment. The peregrines were way past their due hatching date. The parents were now very distressed, flying passed the nesting ledge, calling; bring back food to the four eggs that were still clearly visible on the nest ledge.
Had they been disturbed at a critical moment and left the eggs to chill? Was it perhaps an echo back to earlier days and had the eggs failed as a result of toxins? All these thoughts went through my head as I watched the birds in their efforts to feed young that had failed to appear.
I was deep in thought as I trudged back to the car – I was brought back to the present by a ring ouzel calling from a new location, I settled down to look for the singer, only to discover a whinchat pulling off a passable imitation.
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