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
June thirty years ago started wet - not as wet as this year – but at least it gave me an excuse to catch up with the season’s paperwork, nest sights transferred to maps and transect results extracted from my note book.
The rain didn’t last long and I was soon off on my rounds. One of the ring ouzel pairs on my route now had four young – looking good.
As I skirted a peaty pool a bird suddenly flopped out of the rushes, a female teal with wing hanging uselessly by her side as she made a pathetic spectacle of herself. I think I said out load ‘I know what you’re doing!’ Working a lot of time on your own in remote places does, I’ve found, encourage talking to yourself – or ducks.
I struck off the path up hill and settled down in the heather to the duck. She quickly regained her composure and returned to the pool, as she swam out eight tiny ducklings. Her distraction display explained.
As I approached one of the harrier nests – the behaviour of the pair had changed. I settled down to watch and soon saw the male heading purposefully for the nest location. He suddenly rose up and stalled and I noticed the female had come off the nest calling, in moment he dropped some food and she rolled in flight to catch it before wheeling and quickly dropping down to the nest.
A few days later I visited the nest (under licence) to check on numbers, and the picture below is of those very birds. Long way to go, but a great moment in my spring with the harriers. The size difference is really obvious as harriers start incubating with the first egg - this is a survival mechanism if food is in short supply the biggest and most strong survive ... I'll let you know how they got on.
Spring was now rapidly moving into summer, but still not too late for a new migrant, a spotted flycatcher was now in residence in a small wood near my cottage. I don’t think I’d overlooked them, though they can tuck themselves away.
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Our icon is missing - planning for the return of hen harriers
I’m sure you’ll have a variety