Last week Paul Stagg described the challenging process of locating hen harrier nests and the cunning plan that involved acclimatising the birds to the presence of the camera using a screwdriver, a paint-roller, gaffer tape and a little imagination.
This week I am pleased to be able to say that we now have three very healthy looking harrier chicks on the monitor in the Visitor Centre.
When the nest was first discovered we initially had four harrier chicks. The eggs are laid by the female at intervals over a couple of days and the resulting chicks therefore hatch at slightly different times. This means that there can be quite a size difference between the oldest and youngest chicks. As with any group of siblings the oldest and biggest tends to be the one that demands the most food and unfortunately this sometimes means that the youngest does not get fed enough and can perish (especially in poor weather conditions where exposure can be a real danger!). This seems to have been the case with our camera nest and so as it went live on Monday we found ourselves coo-ing (in a very manly kind of way!) over three healthy looking harrier chicks. Harriers can have between four and six chicks so hopefully the remaining chicks will all stand a good chance of making it through the season.
With the camera in place we will now be able to show visitors to the centre the antics of our loveable bundles of fluff as they grow into a bunch of juvenile hooligans crashing around the nest and eventually we hope to see them all take their first flight!
Before anyone asks, we will not be able to stream the hen harrier footage on the internet. Forsinard is a very remote location and to be honest I struggle to check my emails and write these posts let alone get live footage down our historical communications system.
So if you want to see our harriers, I’m afraid you will just need to come and visit us...we don’t bite (honest!).
All the information you need to plan a visit can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/forsinard
Forsinard Visitor Centre (located in the old station building)
Live footage of our harrier nest in the visitor centre
Damp bundles of fluff (already with some proper feathers coming through)
All the import items required for carrying out a moorland bird survey (MBS) - Obviously the caramel digestives are the most important!
Never mind "big-sky country" this is Skylark country!!
We've asked one of our residential volunteers, Paul Stagg, to tell you a bit about some of the work he has been undertaking over the last week or two...
It’s June and at Forsinard, as with RSPB reserves across the country, the survey season is in full swing. This is the time when the success of management that has been carried out through the rest of the year is measured through monitoring the breeding success of the species found on our reserves. At Forsinard this almost always means long walks following a zig-zagging transect across the open bog. Hen harriers however demand the opposite; stillness and a great deal of patience are the order of the day. Remain motionless long enough and, in the eyes of the local wildlife, you begin to merge into the hill. Then it’s just a matter of waiting, as still as a rock resting on the peat – although possibly not quite as comfortable. From a suitable vantage point you look out across the landscape, where brash and felled trees mark the progress of a bold conservation program to turn back an invasion of geometric conifer plantations and restore the region’s native peatbogs. You hunker down into the heather, shivering as sleety showers test the resilience of your waterproofs. The proximity to wildlife makes even the quietest harrier watch worthwhile, skylarks singing their bubbling songs nearby, a raven passing low overhead, a meadow pipit flitting just an arm’s length away to land amongst the nodding cotton sedge.
Then there are the harriers themselves. Somewhere within sight of my vantage point there may be a female sheltering her clutch of eggs or brood of chicks. Until the young are at least ten days old they rely on the glamorous, ash-grey male to do the hunting. Prey is then transferred to the female through a spectacular mid-air food pass.
Sadly this, and the equally magnificent “sky-dancing” courtship displays, are becoming an increasingly rare sight. Between 2004 and 2010 the UK population of this bird fell by 20% and, in England at least, extinction is a very real possibility. Here in Scotland the population is greater but hardly healthy, hence the importance of monitoring and protection. With disturbance – and even worse deliberate persecution – being such a threat to these birds it’s hardly surprising that the location of their nests and territories are a closely guarded secret. Visitors to Forsinard however are in for a treat as work is already under way to bring close up views of these birds to them. Soon a live feed should be in place bringing footage of a brood of chicks directly into the warmth and comfort of our visitor centre.
The first stage has been the installation of a fake camera near, but not too near, to the nest – in order to get the birds used to its presence. This strange looking contraption – built from a screwdriver, a paint-roller, gaffer tape and a little imagination – will be moved slowly closer to the nest until the birds have acclimatised to it and it can be replaced with the real thing without causing disturbance. So far the birds seem quite relaxed, returning to the nest with food within minutes of the fake camera being installed so hopefully it won’t be long before visitors to the reserve are being treated to close-up views of the next generation of these rare and exciting birds.
To accompany the blog, Paul has also given me some lovely photos which we hope you will appreciate.
Hen Harrier chicks on the nest
Carnivorous Sundew - In the nutrient poor soil sundew catch insects (and children), which they "digest” in order to get the nutrients they need to survive
Well what an amazing period of weather we have had recently. It has allowed our brilliant volunteer force to carry out a huge amount of survey work on the reserve, but rather than listen to me talk about it we have asked one of our volunteers to tell you all about what has been going on...
Hello! My name is Sergio and I'm a residential volunteer at Forsinard, primarily assisting with survey work over the busy field season. I'm here to experience life in the Scottish Highlands, to learn more about British wildlife and to be a part of the RSPBs work. So far I've had a fantastic time, and would recommend residential volunteering at Forsinard to anyone wanting to get a good range of survey and practical experience, and who wants to participate in a fun and hardworking team environment.
We've enjoyed some really nice weather recently, with some members of staff sporting some very innovative sun burns, and the first midges of summer have arrived with the sun. The midges and other insect life support the large populations of birds like meadow pipits and skylarks, which in turn feed the spectacular birds of prey. We've had a lot of exciting sightings recently, including an osprey fishing and pine martens in the volunteer house's roof! The setting is spectacular and a hike up onto Ben Griam Beg in the heart of the reserve gives an idea of the vastness of Forsinard. The dramatic peaks of Ben Loyal and Hope to the West and Morven to the South are visible from almost anywhere on the reserve, often capped with snow.
View from Morven looking back across the peatlands towards Ben Griam and Forsinard
Survey work is focused on long term monitoring of upland habitats, measuring ecosystem responses to on-site management initiatives, or assessing the populations of key species of national conservation importance. Aside from birds, the major management and research activities at Forsinard revolve around the restoration of the natural landscape in this area, the bog, by removing non-native forestry plantation. Saying that we do, on occassion, get involved in some native planting in appropriate areas too.The RSPB is attempting to restore original, biodiverse ecosystems in areas such as Abernethy and Forsinard. This results in the strange situation where the RSPB is undertaking tree planting and afforestation in some areas, and felling non-native conifer plantations in others! Research at Forsinard is assessing how different clearance methods, such as mulching, affect the way the bog recovers.
As well as reserve management and monitoring, people engagement is a very important part of the RSPB's activities. School visits began this month, with local primary school children heading out to the bog with our field teacher in search of "mini-beasts", before returning to the visitor centre for a wildlife based arts and crafts session. More mature visitors are invited to join our guided walks, or follow the Dubh Lochan or Forsinain trails. (Details on the reserve page of the website www.rspb.org.uk/forsinard)
Lets finish this blog with some views of those crafty Pine Martens...