Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Farewell our Fledglings

The final chick has flown the nest and we say a final and fond farewell to the 2009 Bowland Hen Harrier Project.`

I am sharing this blog entry with Stephen Murphy from Natural England our Hen Harrier Expert Stephen advises that "in all of England only 4 other chicks have fledged this year. We dont like to count our chickens etc but it looks like this year will be the poorest since 2003 for numbers of birds and their productivity.

This isn’t just in England, elsewhere in the UK the species is also having a tough time this year.

We can only guess why; coldest winter for 18 yrs? Lack of voles? Normal cyclic process? A small population such as ours is especially vulnerable so all reasons are plausible and probably all right to varying degrees. One thing is puzzling, in Bowland we usually have very high densities of breeding pairs (3-4 in say 5 sq km), which can lead to intra-specific competition (eg competition for food and space between same species, as opposed to inter-specific competition if another species is competing eg hen harrier and peregrine). This year the birds are nesting at lower densities but these generally haven’t prospered as you would expect, as they have the place to themselves so to speak e.g.little if any competition for prey and space. It looks like a case of the females not gaining good pre-breeding condition as the densities of pipits and grouse later in the year are in my opinion quite high, voles have (There is an exception, the nest on the Abbeystead has fledged 5 young, making it the most productive nest in England in 2009)."

Stephen has fitted a satellite tag to one of the males, so hopefully Stephen can track his whereabouts over the years to come.

We are having a best of edited highlights DVD made so I will let you know when this is available to watch the the Bowland Visitor Centre.

So finally it comes to say thank you's and goodbyes - huge thank you from all of us to our fabulous team of volunteers who provided such enthusiasm and knowledge in sharing the world of the Hen Harrier and what was happening on screen to our many visitors, without them there would be no Bowland Hen Harrier Project. Thank you so much.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The three chicks are growing bigger each day, its only when they have a little flurry and you see the impressive wing span which they already have at such a young age, that you realise it wont be long before they are ready to go.

Within a week they seem to have doubled in size and their snowy white down is now peppered with dark feathers. Mum is leaving the nest much more frequently as she tries to satisfy the seemingly never ending hunger of her fast growing brood.

If you have been putting off coming up to the Centre to see the birds up close, I would urge you to attend soon. Pete Wilson advises that the older chicks may start to fledge in the next 10 days or so - doesnt time fly while you're having fun (no pun intended :) )

Our Volunteer presenters are doing stirling work, their knowledge and enthusiasm for this bird of prey really brings the whole experience to life and is really worth the trip, so we would love to see you at Beacon Fell.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Now even the greatest Hen Harrier fan would be hard pushed to describe this bird of prey as beautiful, or cute - amazing, enigmatic, breath taking definitely, but cute ....... umm perhaps not - However cute is exactly the word I used this morning when I had the pleasure of seeing all the chicks for the first time on screen.

We are now blessed with 3 bundles of joy, all white, fluffy and typical of any new born their heads seemingly too big for their bodies; as they stumble around all bleary eyed with nothing more than sleep and food on their mind.

We do still have another egg in the nest, Pete Wilson (our RSPB expert and man in the field) tells me that this egg will now not hatch and mum will probably remove it from the nest soon.

Approximately 50% of all Bowland Hen Harriers are tagged, enabling the experts to track and learn more about them, as well as help in the protection of the birds. Interestingly this year neither of the stars of our show - male or female (mum and dad to me) are winged tagged, the odds of both birds being a Bowland bird and not being tagged would be slim to say the least (although of course not impossible) and may suggest that one or both of the birds do not originate from Bowland. Whilst it is a lovely thought that Hen Harriers who were not born in Bowland are choosing to come and nest here, as they recognise it as a viable and safe nesting area, it is pure speculation and it could quite well be that both do originate from Bowland. I will leave that one for the Hen Harrier aficionados Pete and Stephen to discuss and make educated determinations - good luck lads :)

Whilst coming up to the visitor centre to see the footage of these magnificent birds of prey on the big screen is a fabulous experience; it really is a privilege to be able to see these birds of prey up close. I would also recommend attending one of the Hen Harrier Safaris that our RSPB colleague Pete has been running. These have proved really popular and regrettably there are just 2 more in the series this year. So why not join Pete and take the chance of seeing a Hen Harrier and other birds (merlins and ouzels) in the wild, as well (of course) enjoy the expert commentary and knowledge of Pete (he didn't even have to pay me for that one :) ). There are only a couple of places left so if you want to book a place please click on the following link Hen Harrier Safari

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

3 chicks and a new camera. Welcome to the latest installment. 3 of the eggs have hatched with one solitary egg remaining, I am assured that there is still time for the last egg to hatch.

Those of you who have been up to the Bowland Visitor Centre may have witnessed the rather hazy images. At first we thought it was the glare of the sun on the camera, but as the grotty weather resurfaced it was evident that something was amiss. We have replaced the camera on the nest and the images that are coming through now are truly fabulous.

Yesterday we were privvy to a very rare sight with dad swooping into the nest dropping off dinner. It is rare that you see dad in or near the nest, more often the female will go and meet him and if you are really lucky you can see a stunning ariel food pass as the male gracefully passes the morning spoils to the female.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

As the sun has been well and truly cracking the pavements in Bowland over the last few days, we have experienced some cracking times in the Hen Harrier Nest as well (do you like the smooth link lol), as two of our chicks have hatched. Both chicks are very sleepy and hungry (as is the life of all new borns) and mum is at her nurturing best.

With the start of the feeding frenzy, mum and dad will work tirelessly to ensure their brood have enough to eat. It is this hive of activity that with a wry smile I am reminded of David Crystal's poem The Merlot Mix in which he proffers
"A Hen Harrier swoops catching nothing but wind". I think our Hen Harrier dad will have to be more successful to ensure that his catch is a tasty morseful for his new family.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

As Pete searches in vein in the suitcase for his lost youth (sporting a rather fetching hat I must say), the 2009 Hen Harrier Project is rocking and rolling and cooking with gas!!!

Tomorrow its lights, camera, action as we will share the first footage of the Bowland Hen Harrier Project 2009 at the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell. Our presenter David will be on hand from 10am to share all the latest news as well as everything you would want to know about Hen Harriers and the Bowland project.

Pete, Stephen and Richard installed the camera on the nest yesterday evening and wait for it ....... it worked! Phew - not only is the weather truly shining upon us but the technology gods love us to!

I can think of nothing better on a glorious summers day to take a leisurely drive upto Beacon Fell enjoying some of the best scenary Lancashire has to offer. When you get there, take some shade in the cool visitor centre and catch a very rare glimpse of this stunning bird of prey. The Bowland Cafe is open every day and sell some rather fine icecream - quite possibly the perfect day!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Whilst the weather this morning was a bit grim, this afternoon the glorious sun shone down on Bowland. Not only is the sun shining on us, but the technology gods have equally been kind (those who will remember last years project will be all too familiar with that particular technological saga!!).

The nest has been identified, the technology is in place (working and everything - hooray!!!) Mum is new to us in that she is not wing tagged so I have no information regarding her. She has laid 4 eggs and Pete (or should I say Mystic Meg) advises that the first egg should hatch on Saturday 30th May (I don't know how he knows, just jolly impressed that he does).

We have decided to start filming the nest from Friday 29th May and the first screening at the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell will start on Sunday 31st May. The screenings will only be available for about 5-6 weeks every day at the centre from 10am. We are very lucky to have a small army of volunteer presenters who are all too happy to share with you their impressive knowledge and enthusiasm for the Hen Harrier. So please do take advantage of this very unique and priveledged insight into this rare, enigmatic and fascinating bird of prey.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Well this is it the first day of my regular witterings on the latest happenings of the Bowland Hen Harrier. Today I share the sentiments of the late Jim Morrison when he stated "I am, to a degree, just a puppet, controlled by a lot of forces I understand only vaguely."

So with this in mind I must let you into a secret (that if you become a regular reader will become all too obvious). I write this blog with a cursory level of knowledge in respect to Hen Harriers or in fact birds in general. I mean I can tell you the difference between a bird and say a sheep, but my ignorance on the subject is all too transparent.

I hope that this ignorance does not detract from your enjoyment of this blog and that you will join me on a journey of discovery, learning all about this fascinating bird of prey,the progress of her nest and chicks as the weeks unfold; as I do have a cunning plan (a plan so cunning if it had a tail it would be a fox! - thank you Black Adder)

Despite my personal failings I am priveldged on this project to work with two people whose expertise and knowledge regarding Hen Harriers is amazing. Pete Wilson from the RSPB and Stephen Murphy from Natural England both Hen Harrier afficionado's who I will rely upon heavily in the writing of this blog.

So grab yourself a cuppa and keep logging on and follow the activity over the next 6 weeks. Post a comment and ask me anything, I will do my best to find the answer for you. Cx

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

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Friday, 15 May 2009


Well a very warm welcome to the 2009 Bowland Hen Harrier Project Blog. In partnership with RSPB, Natural England and United Utilities, Lancashire County Councils Countryside Service is playing host to the Bowland Hen Harrier Project at the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell.

Continuous footage of a Hen Harrier nest in the Bowland Fells can be viewed seven days a week at the Visitor Centre on Beacon Fell Country Park near Preston.

Volunteers and staff from the Lancashire Countryside Service will be available every day from 10am – 4pm to talk to visitors about what the birds are doing and the Hen Harrier project in Bowland.

Viewing is possible 10.00 am to 5.00pm every day, the Bowland café is also open for drinks and light snacks.

The unedited footage comes from a hidden camera which will be shown on the big screen at the Bowland Visitor Centre. Viewing starts on Monday 25th May and will run until the young have left the nest around the end of June.

Daily updates on the bird and her chicks progress will be posted on our blog - so save us to your favourites list.

We look forward to seeing you at Beacon Fell where you will enjoy unique footage of this magnificent and rare bird.