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Blog Post: Skydancing with Gill Lewis

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Community Engagement Officer for England, Aimée Nicholson, talks about her experiences of working with children's author Gill Lewis. One of the greatest parts of being a Community Engagement Officer for the Hen Harrier LIFE project is being able to go into a school on a morning with children who know nothing about hen harriers and leave the same children, at the end of the day, Skydancing and singing about Harry the Harrier. It is a wonderful thing to behold a future generation of naturalists getting enthused over a very special bird of prey. Children’s author Gill Lewis has spent the past few years doing the same whilst researching and writing her book Skydancer. This is a story about young people living on the moors and their experiences when they encounter hen harriers on this moorland, which is managed for driven grouse shooting. The tale is told from the perspective of Joe, the son of a gamekeeper, and revolves around his friendship with wealthy landowners daughter Araminta and his ‘towny’ neighbour Ella with whom he shares a big secret!    Sky Dancer book cover   When I was asked by Gill to accompany her on her book tour in autumn, across Northern England and the Borders of Scotland, I jumped at the chance. Gill was visiting schools to tell children all about Sky Dancer and what it is like to be an author. I went along and introduced the children to the birds by presenting an interactive assembly prior to Gill’s talk to explain to the pupils how important and special hen harriers really are, with the aid of our trusty hen harrier puppets!     Aimée and Harry the hen harrier (Thomas Jefferson, Scottish Book Trust)   The first day of the tour was organised by the Scottish Book Trust and took place in the borders of Scotland with four primary schools. We had some very entertaining displays from the school children showing us how food is passed from the male to the female accompanied by some excellent bird calls and lots of laughter! The children were so enthused by the story of Sky Dancer that many went home clasping hold of their very own copy of the book, signed by Gill at their own personal book signing after the talk.   Gill Lewis with pupils from Kingsland Primary School (Aimée Nicholson)   Gill’s book tour continued across England and Scotland in October, where Gill attendedmany events spreading the word about the issues hen harriers are facing in the UK and engaging as many young people as possible. These school visits were an excellent opportunity for the Hen Harrier Life Project to work alongside Gill on her tour and allowed us to engage with over 500 young people, in the Borders of Scotland. Aimée and Gill preparing to Skydance –(Harriet Bayly, Oxford University Press)   It was so rewarding to see hundreds of pairs of eyes watching our presentations and I would like to think that at the end of the day the pupils Skydanced their way home - I know I did!  Aimée flying for pupils at Tweedbank Primary School  (Thomas Jefferson, Scottish Book Trust) Sky Dancer is published by Oxford University Press  and can be found in all good bookshops.

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Comment on Two more hen harriers go missing

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Satellite tagging birds and monitoring nests gives excellent data which can be used to help these birds. It also shows that these birds are persecuted to the severe detriment of the species in the U.K. which will not change until those killing the birds stop doing so. Please keep monitoring nests and fitting satellite tags, the more the better.

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Blog Post: Two more hen harriers go missing

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RSPB's Project Manager for Hen Harrier LIFE, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, provides an update on the class of 2017. Through a career in conservation, you have the privilege of working with some amazing wildlife, but you also have to face the reality that most individuals will never fulfil their full potential, due to the threats they face on a daily basis. As I’ve followed the journeys of the juvenile hen harriers in the class of 2017 , it’s been difficult to remain hopeful for our youngsters, in the face of an uncertain fate. First we lost Calluna , whose satellite tag transmissions stopped abruptly on 12 th August on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, then on 14 th August there was Mannin ’s failed sea crossing from the Isle of Man. I’m sad to report that we have now lost a further three birds. Sirius was a male hen harrier, who along with his sister Skylar was one of three chicks to fledge from a nest in Argyll, on land owned and managed by Forestry Enterprise Scotland in July 2017. Sirius and his siblings were the first offspring to be produced by our female, DeeCee, who fledged from Perthshire in 2016.  On 11 th October, our Investigations team monitoring Sirius’ tag saw that he had stopped moving. The team carried out a search and were able to locate and recover his body from a hillside near Loch Lomond. He was taken to the veterinary laboratory for post-mortem tests and we’re still awaiting the results, which we will share in due course. We now also have two missing birds. Manu was one of two male hen harriers to fledge from a nest in the Scottish borders this summer. He explored the area around his nest for a few weeks before moving to the Northumberland coast in early August. His tag data showed that he quickly moved back inland to explore the uplands of Northumberland, where he was also seen several times in the field by local raptor workers. In mid-September, Manu moved west towards the Cumbrian border. He settled in an area of moorland near Denton Fell, and was briefly joined by one of our 2016 satellite tagged birds from the Cairngorms, Harriet. Manu’s tag was functioning perfectly, with his last known fix at 09:58 on 18 th October on Blenkinsopp Common, before transmissions abruptly and inexplicably stopped and we haven’t received any transmissions since. Northumbria Police were informed but their enquiries have so far yielded no leads as to what might have happened to Manu. Our Investigations Team searched around the area of Manu’s last known location, but found no sign of him. We have now put out an appeal for information, alongside Northumbria Police and the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, and urge anyone with any information to come forward.   Manu (image by Tim Jones)   A map of Manu's final journey We then also lost Tony. He was one of three chicks to fledge from a nest at HM Naval Base Clyde’s Coulport site in July this year. The security at the base that protects the submarine service also provides a sanctuary for hen harriers and the local MoD Police help to monitor nests, alongside experienced local raptor workers. Tony was named by MoD Police Officer John Simpson, in memory of his brother. After fledging, Tony headed west towards Dunbartonshire, where he spent some time exploring central Scotland.  In early September, he headed down to south Wales, then he continued on to Cornwall. We then watched in awe as he continued his journey southwards and on 23 rd September, he began a long journey, heading south away from the UK and over the next five days Tony travelled through the Brittany region of France, across the Bay of Biscay and ended up in the Galicia region of Spain. Tony’s tag was functioning perfectly, with his last known fix on 22 nd October on a peninsular west of Cambados, before transmissions abruptly and inexplicably stopped and we haven’t received any transmissions since.      Tony (image by Dave Anderson)    A map of Tony's final journey By satellite tagging birds, we can build up a picture of the lives of hen harriers, yielding new insights into their behaviour and identifying their roosting and foraging areas, but they also allow us to learn more about the fates of these birds. In cases like Sirius, the tag is a powerful tool that allows us to locate the body so it can be sent for a post-mortem and we can investigate the cause of death. However for Manu and Tony, it is sad and frustrating that tags that are functioning perfectly suddenly and inexplicably stop, and we may never find out what happened to them.    

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Blog Post: Introducing Cathleen

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Our new(ish) Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager Dr Cathleen Thomas reflects on her first few months in the role. Avid followers may have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. Some of you will know that Blánaid Denman left the Hen Harrier LIFE project in August to become the RSPB’s Area Conservation Manager for the North East and Cumbria. Blánaid has done some great work on the project and we’re sad to see her go, but the baton has been passed on and I now have the privilege of managing the Hen Harrier LIFE project through to its end. I’ve had a mind boggling couple of months getting up to speed with our hen harriers as the project reaches the halfway point. This year we satellite tagged more birds than ever before and it’s amazing to see how much we’re learning about their dispersal and range, providing vital evidence to help protect this beautiful and threatened bird of prey. It’s particularly interesting for me as during my PhD I studied movements of ladybird populations. Since we didn’t have the technology to put tiny tags on ladybirds, I had the laborious task of analysing DNA to estimate movements between populations, so I’m really excited to see the amazing ecological insights we can gather as technology advances. Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas - image by Nicola Thomas As we follow the birds we can start to explore individual differences and build up a picture of how they move around the UK and beyond. You may be familiar with DeeCee, a female hen harrier who was born in Scotland in 2016 and was fitted with a satellite tag just before she fledged from her nest last summer. We’ve been able to follow her movements and saw that she spent the winter at a roost in Mull, travelled down to Argyll this summer, then returned east to Aberdeenshire where she successfully raised three chicks with her partner, two of which we tagged this year -  Sirius and Skylar. Whilst DeeCee remained in Scotland, other Scottish birds have travelled to the continent, such as Chance who travelled to France and Tony who travelled to Spain. This is an amazing feat, particularly when you consider that these birds are often only a couple of months old when they make these journeys. Following the birds during their lifetimes shows us some interesting things, but sadly we also see that first year mortality is high for hen harriers. Satellite tags allow us to build up a picture of the lives and fates of hen harriers. Whilst some have gone missing without explanation, the birds we are able to retrieve allow us to investigate the cause of death. Birds that have been found shot in recent years and video footage of hen harriers being persecuted serve as reminders of the risks faced by these young birds. Tagging so many birds will hopefully allow us to better understand the risk factors for young birds, where they face the biggest threats and what proportion of them survive their first year and beyond. The project focuses on seven Special Protection Areas in the UK, and to support this direct conservation work we’re in the process of carrying out a public attitudes questionnaire, to help us understand how much people know about hen harriers in and around areas where they are protected. This will help us to target our community engagement work to make the biggest difference for our hen harriers and find more hen harrier heroes to champion the species. All in all, it's an exciting time to be joining the Hen Harrier LIFE project and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds over the coming years!           

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Blog Post: Mannin’s failed sea-crossing

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RSPB Scotland’s Investigation Intelligence Officer Jenni Burrell provides an update on Mannin, the Isle of Man sat-tagged hen harrier.   Monitoring satellite-tagged hen harriers can bring many positives – following an individual bird from the day it was fitted with a transmitter until its first flights away from the nest area, its travels through the UK (and beyond in some cases ) or even hopefully until its own first nesting attempt. Unfortunately, however, it can also bring some negatives. Sadly, here, we report on the death of another of our 2017 birds.  Mannin, along with his sister Grayse, was tagged on the Isle of Man on 3 rd July 2017 by trained & licensed members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and Manx Ringing Group in partnership with Manx Birdlife. After fledging in July, Mannin explored his home island until 14 th August, when the tag data showed he had departed the island and headed north towards the Galloway coast in SW Scotland. Sadly he never completed this journey, and the data showed that he had gone down in the sea, approximately 5km off the Scottish coast. Mannin and sister Grayse - image by James Leonard   We have not lost one of our tagged birds at sea before, and while we were almost certain he had died, we were unsure if the tag would continue to function or when we would eventually lose track of Mannin, if the voltage in the tag’s battery declined or if his body sank to the bottom of the sea? A few days later, on 24 th August we had our answer. The satellite tag had continued transmitting, and the data showed that Mannin was now located on the shoreline. After a brief search of the area, near Kirkcudbright, my colleagues soon found Mannin’s remains and the tag. As with all recovered birds we submitted his body for examination, at the SRUC Veterinary Laboratory. Their subsequent post mortem report said that there was no evidence of trauma or health problems and that Mannin had eaten a small mammal recently. We’ll never know what caused Mannin to go down in the sea. Maybe he was caught in heavy rain, and with nowhere to land, became waterlogged and was unable to complete the sea crossing? Whatever the cause, it was a sad end to his short life.   Map of Mannin’s movements  Sadly, Grayse has also died, also just a few weeks after fledging. She was recovered on the island on 9 th August after her tag showed that she had died. Her body was examined by ZSL whose interim diagnosis did not implicate human interference as a cause of death. Neil Morris from Manx Birdlife said “Obviously, everyone involved in the project here in the Isle of Man is desperately sad that Grayse and Mannin have perished. Their early demise highlights the vulnerability of young birds learning to fend for themselves once they have fledged the nest. It also underlines the need for a large healthy population that can withstand such losses. “At the same time, it’s wonderful to see Aalin coming through her first year so well, and to get such an insight to her behaviour. We need to know so much more about these wonderful birds of prey in order to formulate ever better conservation strategies. We shall continue the work to study Hen Harriers on the Isle of Man.” Whilst the deaths of both of these birds through natural causes is disappointing, the finding of their bodies and recovery of them and their tags was straightforward. As you would expect, their transmitters continued to provide us with good location data, even after one of them had spent ten days in the sea. This is, however, in marked contrast to the disappearance of “ Calluna ”, whose perfectly-functioning tag’s transmissions ended very abruptly on 12 th August. Her last recorded position was on a grouse moor, a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park, and her disappearance can rightly be regarded as highly suspicious. Here’s hoping that the ten remaining birds from the Class of 2017 continue to thrive and provide us with many more positive stories. You can follow them here .            

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Comment on Meet the Hen Harrier Class of 2017

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Good luck to them all. Is this statement on the BBC website about Calluna missing Chris "Scotland remains a stronghold for the birds, with 80% of the UK population. Current estimates suggest there are about 600 breeding pairs across the UK."

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Blog Post: Meet the Hen Harrier Class of 2017

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RSPB Scotland’s Investigations Intelligence Officer Jenni Burrell introduces the new class. This year the Hen Harrier Life Project website has been improved to provide a more interactive experience for visitors. You can choose to look at individual birds, track their journey and look at any points of interests that appear. The profiles of twelve of this year’s satellite-tag hen harriers are now online and what a brilliant bunch they are. Take a look on the website to learn more about their stories and meet: Calluna (image by RSPB) Eric (image by Alan Leitch) Heather  (i mage by Brian Etheridge)   Lia  (i mage by Guy Anderson)   Mairie  (i mage by Paul Howarth)   Mannin  (i mage by James Leonard)   Manu  (image by Tim Jones)   Rannoch  (i mage by Brian Etheridge)     Saorsa (i mage by Brian Etheridge)   Skylar  (image by RSPB)     Sirius  (image by RSPB)     Tony  (i mage by Dave Anderson)   Sadly Calluna is no longer with us. Calluna’s sat tag transmissions abruptly ended on 12 th August, with no further data transmitted. Her last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park - Jeff Knott has written this blog about her. You’ll be able to follow the progress of the other birds as we map their movements online. To protect sensitive breeding sites, maps of their movements will only be added as soon as they’ve dispersed away from their nest sites. We have already been able to share the first movements of Heather, Eric, Skylar, Sirius and Saorsa who have already proved to be adventurous and spread their wings. We’ll add the remaining birds as soon as we can.  You may notice that only one of last year’s birds is back on the website. After a very successful breeding season, DeeCee has moved away from the nest site so we are able to share her movements again. Don’t worry, the other four are safe and well, but have yet to move away from breeding areas. We will keep you updated and will begin to map their movements in due course. In the meantime, see what they have been up to in a previous blog . It’s going to be an exciting year following these birds and seeing what they get up to and we can’t wait to share it with you.  

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Source RSPB Skydancer Project

Comment on Calluna has disappeared!

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Whilst I do hope that no more hen harriers are lost like Calluna, it is more realistic to hope that enough hen harriers will be tagged to give an estimate of the first and subsequent year losses to persecution just as has happened with golden eagles. My expectation that