Archive for the ‘Hen Harrier day’ Tag

Summer 2017: a few trips away from home.   Leave a comment

As in 2016 I haven’t posted much to my blog during the summer and early autumn.

As I mentioned earlier I have lost all my edited photos from the Caribbean trip so haven’t been able to upload any of those, I spent much of July and August ringing and September was spent on a wonderful tour of Western Australia.

With my ringing paperwork up to date I’ll now attempt to edit the thousands of outstanding photos (outstanding in the sense that I haven’t touched them rather than that they  particularly good) that I have accumulated and get the blog up to date.

This post deals with a few non-birdy activities this summer (or rather should I say ‘less-birdy as birds creep in a bit)  and the next with the more birdy ones.


In early July we went up to Derby to see my brother and his family and then from there on to Leeds. The purpose of the visit was to meet up with my old friend Nigel (left) whom I have known since school and Uni days. Another friend from University is Dave (right) who lives in County Durham and caught the train to Leeds to meet up with us.


Nigel has a strong interest in art and as we all like a good stately home, we visited Temple Newsam House in Leeds which was quite near where I lived in 1976-78.


Temple Newsam is a Tudor-Jacobean house with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The estate was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, was once owned by the Knights Templar (hence the name), was seized by the crown and given as a present by Henry VIII to his niece Margaret. Today it is owned by Leeds City Council.


One of the most outstanding features of this grade 1 listed building is this highly decorative staircase.


The ornate rooms, carefully shielded from the rays of the sun are what you would expect from a house of this antiquity.


Later we all returned to Leeds for a spot of lunch. When I lived there in the 70s Leeds was a drab northern town (although still full of character). Today it is lively, modern and beautifully decorated (for example by these owls on the side of high-rise building).


However the old arcades have been preserved and in many case improved.


Dingy back streets have been covered over and turned into beautiful shopping malls. I lived in Leeds from late 69 to early 78 and am amazed at its transformation.


A particularly dingy area was along the banks of the River Aire but now decaying warehouses have been turned into luxury flats and pedestrian access along the old tow-paths allows for a pleasant stroll by the waterside.


As with our last visit we stayed at a hotel just south of the river. The following morning we set off on a long drive to Essex. We stopped for a bit of birding in Cambridgeshire and then visited Margaret’s friends in Suffolk before arriving at her daughter Anita’s house in Maldon that evening.


Anita, her husband John and Margaret on a coastal footpath in Essex.


At the park in Maldon is the statue of Byrthnoth, a Saxon Earl who rejected King Ethelred’s policy of appeasement towards the Vikings. He fought and was defeated by the Vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991.


The only bird photo in this post! Along the shore there were many Black-tailed Godwits. Nearly all the UK’s Black-tailed Godwits breed in Iceland, a few non-breeding birds spend the summer in the UK and in July these are joined by the first of the returning birds. At this time many are in their resplendent brick-red and grey summer plumage.


John and Anita had some business to attend to near Southend, so we went with them and took a walk along the seafront. Off shore several large sailing barges could be seen. In the distance is the Kent coast on the south side of the Thames Estuary.


The tide was out exposing a huge expanse of intertidal mud. This is an important area for wading birds but in early July relatively few had returned from their breeding grounds.


In the distance we could see Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. On a previous visit we walked to the end of the pier and I posted photos of and from the pier on this blog.


Rows of beach huts, he stereotypical image of an English seaside resort.


On another day we visited the area around Tollesbury, which lie to the north of Maldon on the Blackwater estuary. Unlike Suffolk and Norfolk to the north the Essex coastline is dissected by multiple estuaries. These have created a large area of saltmarsh (much of which has been converted into grazing pasture) but fortunately some remains, as seen here . I don’t like the phrase ‘reclaimed land’ as this indicates that farmland was once ‘lost’ giving farmers  the right to ‘reclaim’ it, which is far from the truth.


An old lightship and Bradwell power station (on the south shore of the Blackwater) are seen above the expanse of salt marsh.



The many creeks are enlivened by some pretty villages.



Two days after our return from Essex I undertook a far less successful trip, this time to western Cornwall. Earlier in the year news had broken of an Amur Falcon in Cornwall, but it disappeared long before I had a chance to go and see it. On 17th July it was rediscovered at St Buryan to the west of Penzance and was even seen to go to roost. Two of my friends joined me for the 200 mile overnight drive. We arrived about 0400 and waited from dawn until late morning at this vantage point but there was no sign of the falcon. This is the second time that this highly migratory east Asian raptor has been recorded in the UK It was a real shame that we dipped, partially because of the wasted effort but mainly because unlike the first UK record in the north-east it was in an easily identified plumage and had shown very well the day before. Also there was no ‘back-up’ rarities in the area to allow us to claw back some value from the twitch.


Later in July we had a day in London, Margaret needs to renew her South African passport and this required a trip to the South African consulate.


Situated near to Trafalgar Square this involved an early morning bus ride from Poole and a lot of queuing and form filling. Even now this simple matter is not fully resolved.


We later walked past the fortress that is Downing Street. On a visit to London as a child I remember you could walk up Downing Street and take a photo of Number 10, how things have changed.


We spent the afternoon in the impressive Victoria and Albert museum (usually known as the V&A).


Even the cafe is a historical exhibit in its own right ….


…. but the reason we had come was to see the Pink Floyd exhibition which charted the 50 year history of the band from its psychedelic beginnings ….


…. to the bitterness and remorse of ‘The Wall’ ….


…. to the post Roger Waters period.


I first heard ‘Piper from the Gates of Dawn’ in 1967, saw Pink Floyd three times between 1970 and 1974 and have seen Pink Floyd tribute bands many times recently. I have all of their albums. I can honestly say that few bands have given me so much enjoyment or given me so much food for thought. In particular I have come to love the interplay between Waters’ acerbic lyrics and Gilmour’s angry guitar playing on ‘The ‘Wall and ‘The Final Cut’ albums. I never saw them perform ‘The Wall’ live and I will always regret that, but I’m glad I saw them when I did and delighted that 50 years on a three-month long exhibition about their timeline can draw tens of thousands of fans.


After the exhibition there was only an hour or so available to enjoy all of the other exhibits at the V&A. These beautiful medieval triptychs are but an example of the countless treasures in this wonderful museum. We must return and spend the whole day here.


In early August, planned to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious twelfth’ I attended Hen Harrier Day at Arne RSPB. The purpose is clear, opposition to illegal killing of our birds of prey. Year after year shooting interests openly flaunt the law (and in most cases get away with it) and slaughter birds of prey just in to prevent them predating their precious game birds. This is most acute on moorlands where whole estates have been turned over to ‘Red Grouse factories’, with every predator exterminated, wet areas drained (so increasing erosion and flooding downstream) and birds even fed with medicated grit to avoid infections that result from overcrowding. The result is a hundred-fold increase in grouse numbers all to the detriment to all other species – just so people can blast the grouse out of the sky!


This raptor persecution is wholly against the law as the Police Wildlife Crime Officer reminded us, yet it still goes on seemingly unpunished. Although Peregrines, Goshawks, Buzzards and even Golden Eagles are targeted it is the beautiful Hen Harrier that comes off worse. Most years only 3 or 4 pairs in England raise young whilst enough habitat exists for 300 pairs.


Every year a few stalwarts like Chris Packham (above) and Mark Avery speak at Hen Harrier events but I’m beginning to think they are preaching to the converted and a new plan is needed to bring this iniquity to a wider audience. Over 100,000 people signed a petition to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting but the parliamentary committee that looked into it swept the facts under the carpet.


Our final trip away during the summer was our (almost) annual trip to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. This time we went up to Derby prior to the Fair to see my brother and his family. As well as meeting up with many people who I know, the main aim of the visit was to look into getting a new telescope. In the event I didn’t buy one but at least I know which one I want.


As well as visiting many of the stands and chatting to old friends we went to a number of talks. Perhaps the most interesting was from Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis who set a record for the most birds seen worldwide in a single year, an incredible 6,833 and gave an account of his non-stop race around the world.


Arjan got a lot of sponsorship for his record-breaking and was able to present a cheque to BirdLife International’s preventing extinction program of (I think) 24,000 Euros.



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’

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’ or see

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?

A tale of two harriers.   Leave a comment

There are 16 species of harrier in the world and five have occurred in the UK; two Northern and Pallid are vagrants and one Montague’s is a very rare breeder with just six pairs in 2013.  It is the the very different fortunes of the other two species that I want to highlight in this post.

When I started birding in the seventies Western Marsh Harrier (hereafter just Marsh Harrier) was a very rare bird indeed, declines due to pesticide contamination brought the UK population down to just one pair in 1971. Since then there has been a steady recovery and the UK population now stands at between 350 and 400 pairs. The fact that many males are polygamous and provision more than one nest makes the actual number of ‘pairs’ hard to estimate.

Marsh Harriers used to breed in Poole Harbour up to the late 50’s but since then up to a few years ago they were just winter visitors/passage migrants in the county. About five years ago nesting occurred at Lodmoor and Radipole in Weymouth and last year a pair bred on the western fringes of Poole Harbour. This year there were two nests, one nest fledged one or two young, the other a remarkable four!

Although Marsh Harriers have spread from their East Anglian strongholds, they have yet to colonise south-west England. Hopefully if the high productivity of the four nesting females in Dorset plus the birds on the Somerset levels continues then we will see them spread into Devon and Cornwall in the next few years.

This morning Margaret and I went down to Swineham where a footpath overlooks the area where they breed and had good views of a female and the four offspring. Unfortunately as I mentioned in my last post I am without a working camera with telephoto lens at the moment and have had to ‘borrow’ photos from elsewhere.



Marsh Harrier PM

Marsh Harrier, Swineham. photo from Peter Moore’s birding blog


Swineham+Marsh+Harriers Paul Thompson

In this stunning photo by Paul Thompson the female Marsh Harrier at Swineham can be seen arriving with food, closely followed by her four offspring. see  http//


On the other hand the fortunes of the Hen Harrier has been diametrically opposed to that of the Marsh Harrier. Since I have been birding Hen Harriers have been winter visitors to the south of England, although they may have bred in the distant past. Now their breeding range is restricted to upland areas of northern England and southern and eastern Scotland, plus other areas in the Hebrides, Orkney and the Isle of Man.

Unfortunately this beautiful bird has fallen foul of gamekeeping interests especially on driven grouse moors. It is completely illegal, but it is known that Hen Harriers have been shot and their chicks have even been stamped to death in the nest on moorland areas. It has been calculated that there is enough habitat for 300 Hen Harrier pairs in northern England, this year there were three, last year there were none. No-one ever gets prosecuted for these crimes as it hard to gain access and even harder to prove who did it, a few years ago one was even seen to be shot as it flew past the Queen’s estate at Sandringham, yet no-one was reprehended.

Fewer and fewer Hen Harriers are seen in southern England in winter and most of these probably come from the areas where there are no grouse moors.


hen harrier-pe

Male Hen Harrier – Poole Harbour. Photo by Phyl England.


So what can be done to help this beautiful raptor, must we see it slide into extinction over vast swathes of the country just because it might take the occasional grouse, a gamebird that is raised in large numbers for no reason than to give people something to shoot at?

There have been a number of initiatives recently. The RSPB has launched the Skydancer program (named after the males display flight) and a number of organisations and individuals such as Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Mark Avery and  Chris Packham are promoting a Hen Harrier day on 10th of August to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season. Various events have been planned in northern England, see the above website for details.  My friend Mark Constantine of Lush and the Sound Approach has paid for radio tags for the six Hen Harrier chicks that have fledged this year so it can be seen just where they go and where they might get killed in the future.

The RSPB recently launched an appeal for money to pay for radio tracking, monitoring and further research. I had mixed feelings about this and wrote to them to say so. Money of course is essential to the campaign, but above all I felt they should have been getting the million strong membership to write to their MP, sign petitions and generally campaign against this needless slaughter.


This old war time bunker is at the site of a former Hen Harrier roost on Sheppey Island. Who ever painted this male Hen Harrier is raising awareness with the general public and not just to a select few. Photo supplied by Peter Hadrill who has dedicated his time to monitoring our local harrier populations.