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
The cold, sodden weather of June 2012 is in sharp contrast to the endless sun of my recollections of the late spring 30 years ago. I know it always seems that the sun shone more in the past. But for once my memory is accurate.
I set off early to make the most of the cool of the day - and as the temperature rose I unwisely shed my shirt. Half an hour later my shoulders were lobster coloured and my shirt was nowhere to be found, lost in the heather. I was miles from the car and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Even a hastily woven bracken shawl was entirely ineffective and by the time I reached cover I was in some considerable discomfort.
The cool of the night helped but little and I couldn’t sleep so went for a nocturnal walk down to the shores of Stocks reservoir. The moon was bright and when I arrived at the water’s edge there were several great-crested grebes fishing and over their heads flew Daubenton’s bats.
A light breeze eased my burning shoulders and my head was clearing. I returned to try to get some sleep and must have managed a couple of hours before my local redstart started singing just outside my bedroom window ... it was still dark for heavens sake.
Heading out onto the hills was temporarily out of the question until after a shopping trip to Clitheroe for creams to rub on my peeling skin.
Properly protected and I was ready to set out once again. Young wheatears were starting to appear and crowds (too unruly to be called flocks) of juvenile starlings swirled across the hills.
Juvvy wheatears were beginning to appear Photo Ben Hall, RSPBImages
A lone crow caught my eye as it tried to evade a mob of seven curlews driving it away from their recently fledged young – there’s strength in numbers when you are a ground-nesting wader.
Pied wagtails were common around farms and buildings and along dry stone walls – now they seemed to be everywhere as wagtails with beaks stuffed with food busied themselves raising newly hatched families.
And the headline act, the hen harriers were looking good. More nests now contained hatched young and male harriers were now increasingly visible as they ferried food back to the nest. The larger females were still appearing only to collect food from the males, sweeping up from their nests to grab food dropped by their partners.
Sadly one of the merlin nests I was monitoring had clearly failed ... no idea of the reason, but disappointing.
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