It's Monday morning and I'm recovering from a fun, if slightly damp and muddy Sunday at Newton Rigg College's Countryside Day, near Penrith. There was plenty to see and do from all aspects of the countryside from den building to tractor rides, clay pigeon shooting to wildlife gardening, and I was there with an RSPB stall and my trusty hen harrier games and craft activities! A great opportunity to talk to a wide range of people, from students and families just out for the day, to wildfowlers, grouse moor owners, and college staff.
The Feed The Hen Harriers game never fails to attract attention...
The idea is to get the bean bags through the hen harrier's mouth while standing in the hoop... though there was a certain amount of cheating going on...!
A simple but effective moorland habitat display attracted attention and generated some good converations, while several new and interesting species were created through the build-a-bird activity!
After a successful day all round, I've also agreed to run some Skydancer workshops with the College's gamekeeping students in the autumn - something I'm really looking forward to! There are lots of events to come on the Skydancer roadshow so be sure to look out for for us! Next stops - Newcastle Green Festival and Glendale Children's Countryside Day...
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Not many harriers about in Bowland I’m afraid to say but there were plenty of these around on the spring bank holiday 'In search of sky dancers' walk.
This is the sun loving green tiger beetle or Cincindela campestris, which tells you something about the weather we enjoyed on the walk!
I’d not seen one before coming to Bowland. Clearly I’d not been looking in the right places as they’re pretty common, you find them on dry sandy soils so they particularly like heath land and dry rocky land rover tracks such as the one up the Langden valley!
These beetles are neat, they are fearsome predators equipped with huge jaws for crushing their smaller invertebrate prey – even their larvae are ferocious, digging pitfall traps in the soil in order to trap their prey! I also love the fact that they are able to move so fast (they are one of our fastest insects) that they become unable to see, meaning that they either have to visually lock onto their prey then catch it in one swift attack or run in really short bursts, stopping to reorient themselves!
So don't forget to look down at your feet every so often when your out and about ... there are some pretty amazing creatures to be found at ground level as well as in the skies!
The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, have launched the Heads up for Harriers scheme - their own version of the Hen Harrier Hotline - and are appealing for members of the public to send in their sightings of hen harriers across Scotland. They have said:
As the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) we want to stop all crime against wildlife. We are particularly determined to stamp out illegal persecution of birds of prey.
The hen harrier is one of these birds. It is also one of our most alluring raptors - with the male’s skydancing courtship display one of nature’s great sights.
Found mainly across moorland throughout Scotland, numbers were around 500 pairs in 2010. In many areas they are now struggling to breed, or absent. Elsewhere in the UK they are faring even worse. Factors accounting for these changes include land use changes resulting in losses of moorland nesting habitat and feeding range, predation of eggs and young by foxes, crows and other predators, and illegal persecution
To increase our knowledge, we need to know more about the hen harrier’s whereabouts. We are launching a pilot scheme to raise the profile of this special bird, and to help us develop a clearer picture of where harriers occur. We will continue to develop this work in 2014.
Information on where (including 6-figure grid reference) and when the hen harrier was seen, whether it was a male or female, and what behaviours it was exhibiting (eg flying high, skydancing, hunting, carrying nesting material) could be incredibly valuable in helping our Scottish colleagues to keep track of these birds.
You can find more information on the initiative here and records should be emailed to: HenHarrier@snh.gov.uk (it’s not case sensitive), or posted to: Heads up for Harriers, Scottish Natural Heritage, Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, Inverness IV3 8NW.
Two months into my summer contract helping to monitor hen harriers on the Geltsdale reserve, it is hard to imagine a more enjoyable way to spend my working hours. With winter’s icy grip on the uplands loosened and spring struggling through, there is always something to admire. Early morning starts reveal the bubbling spectacle of black grouse strutting their stuff; shrill golden plover mark slow progress across rough moorland terrain, the strange cries of the curlew adding to the feeling of wilderness; the melodious trills of the skylark giving hope to the prospect of warm and sunny days; and the slow return of summer migrants such as whinchats, grasshopper warblers and cuckoo. Above all, every hill scanned, every corner turned, especially when half clothed in a mysterious atmospheric shroud of wispy cloud or mist, offers the possibility of a sight of the elusive hen harrier. As yet, I have had just one sighting of this incredible bird; every day is spent in a state of suppressed excitement, with frequent momentary disappointments when possible sightings turn out to be more mundane buzzards or kestrels. But with the advent of warmer weather my hopes continue unabated that next time it will be the real thing!
The excitement was palpable 10 days ago when I took a call from Mick (the RSPB’s Assistant warden) to say that a food pass had been seen between a male and female harrier on the United Utilities estate. I could almost feel my pulse quicken with excitement, the first food pass in two years, this is it I thought, they’re back and it’s game on!
I shouldn’t have been quite so quick to let my excitement run away with me. Since then we’ve been having regular sightings of both male and female harriers but we’ve yet to see any further indication of any pairing up and settling down in territories. That said, it’s still only the 24th April and given the late spring this year it’s little wonder that these harriers are not fitting to the ‘typical’ timetable we have come to expect from them.
So nothing concrete to pass on to you all yet but you never know what the next day will bring.
I should also add that it’s been great receiving information about hen harrier sightings from local birdwatchers in and around Bowland. Thanks for sharing those with me, it certainly helps us to gauge how many harriers we have in the area.
Remember, if you see a harrier anytime, anyplace we’d really appreciate hearing about it – please give us a call on 0845 4600121. You never know, it may lead to finding a breeding pair in an area currently un-monitored.
Here’s hoping to bring you some good news in the near future!