8th – 9th August: Hen Harrier Day and a Black Stork   Leave a comment

This post covers two things that occurred very close to each other on or near the Arne RSPB reserve over this weekend. The first was ‘just’ another vagrant bird turning up, albeit a very good one. A Black Stork was discovered flying over the Arne RSPB car park late afternoon. It was later seen in flight by a few local observers and seemed to be going to the Wytch causeway which is adjacent to the Wytch Farm oil field. Several observers went to the causeway, but I didn’t pick up the news until about 7.15 p.m. and I headed for the Wytch Channel, a great advantage as it meant I didn’t have to go anywhere near the traffic jams at Corfe Castle. I made the right choice as I arrived to find a handful of observers getting great views right in front of the hide. Not only that but it was in he company of three Spoonbills. A few Swallows, a duckling Shelduck and at least one Green Sandpiper can also be seen in the picture. There has been a small influx of Black Storks recently involving three or four birds (apparently from France as one seen in the north-east was colour ringed).

Bl-Stork Aiden Brown

This is my third sighting of a Black Stork in the UK but the first in Dorset. In my haste I left my camera at home, but I was given permission to use this nice shot by Aidan Brown: see his ‘Dorset Diary’ http://www.surfbirds.com/community-blogs/DD

IMG_9101 Middlebere

Margaret was busy with our granddaughter Kara on the 8th and opted not to go for the stork, but we returned on the 9th prior to attending the nearby ‘Hen Harrier Day’. From the heath near Middlebere we enjoyed a nice panorama but no stork.

IMG_9102 Middlebere

When we got to Wytch Channel where I had seen it the day before we learned that it had been present early in the morning but had since departed down the channel towards Poole Harbour.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-2

The poster for the second annual Hen Harrier Day.

So for the uninitiated, what is Hen Harrier day? In recent years it has become clear that the UK’s breeding Hen Harriers are being obliterated on their upland breeding grounds, but not all their breeding grounds, just those managed as grouse moors. Although persecution has probably always occurred the publication of a study about a decade ago showed that Hen Harriers will feed on Red Grouse (along with other things) has seen their numbers decline dramatically. In addition, to increase the size of the ‘bag’, grouse moors are burnt to provide fresh young heather shoots, this practice causes run off which affects water quality for those in the catchment area, all predators are ruthlessly slaughtered and even species that compete with them for the heather like Mountain Hares are disappearing.

I’m not against hunting per se, but feel that shooting interests can’t take the law into their own hands. Shooting of ALL birds of prey is illegal. The argument that they can’t make big profits unless they destroy raptors (as well as being an admission of guilt) is facile, what would be said if a road haulage company broke the law by forcing their drivers to speed, drive for more than the legal number of hours etc just to increase their profits, they would be prosecuted immediately.

Although the situation is bad in parts of Scotland, it is in northern England that this wanton slaughter is most acute. There is habitat enough for 300 pairs of Hen Harriers in England but this year (as far as I know) only seven pairs attempted to breed. Two of these were on Forestry Commission land but of the remaining five, all of the males disappeared away from the nest. Careful wardening has meant that those who wish to harm Hen Harriers can no longer risk approaching the nest but appear instead to shoot the males when they are foraging, the nest then fails as the eggs chill when the female leaves to feed. The shooting lobby is clearly on the defensive as deliberate misinformation has appeared on a spurious website called ‘you forgot the birds’ which claims that the RSPB’s monitoring of the nests has caused the nests to fail. Clearly not the case when it was the male who vanished away from the nest. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion over an issue it’s another to make up blatant lies.

It appears that other raptors (Peregrines, Golden Eagles) are targeted as well, but the situation with the Hen Harrier is the most serious. I can’t cover all the arguments here, but they will be presented in Mark Avery’s new book ‘Inglorious’ http://markavery.info/2015/03/05/16924/ or see http://www.henharrierday.org/

So back to Hen Harrier Day, this is the second attempt to draw attention to the plight of these birds just as the ‘glorious twelfth’ grouse season gets underway. The get together at Arne was just one of a series of events across the country. OK, perhaps it didn’t make the headlines on the BBC news but its a start.

Remember what Ghandi said ‘first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win’. We seem to have passed from stage two to stage three – just one more stage to go.

Hen Harriers used to be much commoner on their wintering grounds here in Dorset than they are now. We want them back!


A female Hen Harrier photographed in Italy by Lorenzo Shoubridge was taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

Pennine Way 002

Here at Edale in Derbyshire the well-drained, porous limestone hills to the south meet the impervious millstone grit hills in the foreground. This produces a blanket bog, covered in heather which is suitable for Red Grouse. From here, the start of the Pennine Way, all the way north to Scotland lie the grouse moors, in places raptors remain unmolested, but in others they mysteriously disappear.

IMG_9104 bath bombs

The campaign against the slaughter of Hen Harriers is led by various organisations, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, the RSPB, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and by our friends Mark and Mo Constantine of LUSH. To raise money for radio tags to monitor the lives and deaths of each years chicks, LUSH have produced a Hen Harrier ‘bath bomb’, all proceeds from their sale will go to this campaign.

IMG_9111 Hen Harrier Day_edited-1

About 120 protesters assembled at the Arne RSPB car park then marched to a nearby view-point to hear the speakers.Those at the very front of the procession from the car park got brief views of the Black Stork flying up the Middlebere Channel. Several of the attendees seem keener on scanning for it than listening to organiser Luke Phillips introduce the speakers. We were lucky and had distant views of the Black Stork soaring off to the west just after the event was over, but most birders here missed it.

IMG_9116 Mark & Paul HH Day

Mark Constantine describes how the Hen Harrier bath bomb will be promoted at every LUSH shop in the UK.

IMG_9113 Wildlife crime officer

Dorset Police’s Wildlife Crime Officer explains about the Police’s roles in combatting wildlife crime, saying that the police do not consider it a low priority and if a wildlife crime is ongoing then it is perfectly in order to dial 999.

Circus_cyaneus_0 Luuk Belgers

And finally another stunning photo of a Hen Harrier, this time a male. The photo from the Internet Bird Collection was taken in the Netherlands by Luuk Belgers – why would anyone want to shoot a bird as beautiful as this?

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