Tag: hen harrier

Blog Post: 7 Bird of Prey Challenge

Ribble Reserves Blog w/c 02.12.19 The Ribble Reserves blog combines news from all our Ribble reserve sites; Marshide, Hesketh out Marsh and the Ribble Discovery Centre. Providing the latest information on sightings, events, shop offers and educational visit Black Redstart – Banks Marsh This bonnie start has been bobbing around Banks Marsh (Ribble NNR) cattle pen over the frosty days. This is quite a scarce visitor locally. Blk RdStart at Banks Marsh Photo Credit: Stuart Darbyshire Seven Raptor Challenge Seven birds of prey still frequent the Marshside reserves and Hesketh Out Marsh . We have seen many people complete the 7 in a day challenge, some picking up the final species as the sun set, and a few dipping out at 5 or 6. Will you take up the challenge before the year is out ? Merlin at Marshside PhotoCredit:WesDavies Sparrow Hawk at Marshside Photo Credit: WesDavies Hen Harrier- Marshside Photo Credit : Stuart Darbyshire Hesketh Out Marsh As birds and GWE Approching HOM Photo Credit:WesDavies Great White Egret on HOM approach Banks Marsh Reed warbler nest Willow bark ap hid Ribble Discovery Centre Recent sightings include some quite exciting birds. There were 36 curlews counted over at Lytham Moss, which is a fantastic number. Curlews are easily identifiable as being the UK’s largest wading bird and have a long curved bill. Perfect for reaching those delicious lugworms in the mud or indeed earthworms in the soil! There has been 3 snow bunting spotted up at Fleetwood marine lake. A beautiful larger bunting, probably migrated down from Alaska or Greenland for the winter. In keeping with the title of the blog there has been several raptors spotted over this side of the estuary also. A juvenille female merlin was observed hunting over the saltmarsh at Church Scar earlier in the week, alongside 50 or so godwits feeding on the estuary. There are also lots of buzzards buzzing around too, frequently being mobbed by crows. It is a theory that this occurs when juvenille buzzards are finding new territories. The crows become unsettled by the intruder in their patch and so try to ward the predator off. A ringed necked duck has also been listed as a spot on Fairhaven Lake. This single male has been observed with the tufties, as is often the way. The ring necked duck is of a similar look to the tufted ducks but has a grey flank, a larger head and an obvious (with binoculars or scope) white ring on its beak. Let us know if you spot it! A male and female pochard have also been spotted. Snow bunting photo credit Ben Andrew RSPB-images Education and Visitor Centre This week has been all about our volunteers. We had our learning team get together, an opportunity to thank them for their service this season, plenty cake and cupsof tea were had. But, we also looked back on our season. We have delivered our education sessions to over 1500 children since April this year and received 95% outstanding feedback. Much of this is down to our team of dedicated learning volunteers. It was also time for our Christmas together! We had a good turnout, with a competitive quiz hosted by Liz and volunteer Ray. Our area manager was in attendance and delivered our successes to the team, which is positive and inspiring to hear. We also had a number of long service awards to present, for 5 and 10 years service in volunteering with the RSPB. The Jacob’s join also went down well! Volunteering with the RSPB can be a rewarding experience and we have many roles across the organisation. It’s a great way to gain experience across a variety of fields whether it be in the retail sector, the education team or hands on fieldwork at Marshside and Hesketh. The RSPB offer all relevant training, uniform and references if relevant. We have many young people who have gained vital experience and have then gone on to secure work within the conservation sector, or have have upskilled to the point of securing other permanent work. We also have students undertaking university courses that require placement and being on the learning team is fantastic experience for anyone wanting a career working with children. Outdoor learning is a hot topic at the moment and where better than to gain experience than with the UK’s largest conservation charity? For further information on roles please contact jo.taylor@rspb.org.uk Volunteer photo credit Ben Andrew RSPB-images Shop After the success of our binocular and telescope open weekend it’s a wonder we have any left! But do not fear there is still time to purchase before Christmas. Our retail manager Ben has superb knowledge and is more often than not on hand to help with any queries you may have. He will also provide honest, impartial advice and is always super helpful! We have still got a fantastic 50% off 10 super suet cakes with meal worms, a sure fire garden bird favourite (they are in my garden anyway!). Perhaps grab a pack to keep those birds well fed over the coming winter, I’m sure they will go down a treat with your feathered friends.

Recent Sightings & Connecting Young People to Nature

 While there are still a few bearded tits entertaining the crowds as they visit the trays, I think it’s fair to say that ‘gritting season’ is certainly coming to an end. As we’d expect by the beginning of November fewer bearded tits are being seen gathering grit and they become increasingly, typically elusive once more. As always, if you hope to see these dazzling reedbed dwellers, morning is best (as with almost all birds) and avoid coming on days that are windy or very wet.

Should you have missed this year’s gritting activity, don’t despair as these birds will still be present through the winter and can, with patience and luck, often be encountered in the reeds along the Causeway or on the path to Grisedale . Learn their distinctive call and you’ll be in with a good chance of finding your own ‘beardies’! Keep up to date with sightings by checking our Facebook group. Photo of bearded tit by David Mower.

Thanks to all of the photographers and birdwatchers who have passed on their information regarding colour-ringed bearded tits – this information is invaluable in the study of these rare birds and helps us better understand, and consequently conserve, them. There is still plenty of time to email us your observations. Please send ring combination info to johnwilson711@btinternet.com

Just as the bearded tit bonanza draws to a close so too does the red deer rut. Once the stags have asserted their authority and gathered their harem, things rapidly quieten down on the reserve. It takes a lot of effort and energy to bellow and challenge other male deer so once the need to do so is over the dominant animals wind down and concentrate on the serious jobs of mating and relaxing. The deer will still be seen from time to time as they stray from the sanctuary of the reed beds so it’s always worth keeping an eye out.

As winter continues to creep ever near, we also see the arrival of two Leighton Moss specialities; bitterns and marsh harriers. As most readers of this blog will know both these species breed here during the summer. Research has shown that young bitterns usually disperse in their first autumn and these birds are replaced by bitterns arriving from further afield. As a consequence, we can have many more bitterns on the reserve in winter giving visiting birders the opportunity to see them at any point on the site – cold, icy conditions can often be ideal for seeing these cryptic herons as they emerge from the reeds.

Following a successful nesting season our breeding marsh harriers and their young departed in late summer; some of these will have migrated to southern Europe or Africa while others stay here in the UK. Last winter we had five marsh harriers spend the winter months with us and already this year eight have turned up; it would be fascinating to know where these individuals spent the summer months!

 Other highlights in recent days include a couple of spoonbills which touched-down on the Eric Morecambe Pools on Wednesday (and are still present at time of writing), continued sporadic reports of hen harrier, a well-watched red kite, the very unseasonal garganey and the pair of scaup at Lilian’s. Added to this of course is the annual arrival of lots of wildfowl with numbers changing on a daily basis. Cetti’s warblers (photo by Mike Malpass) are becoming increasingly vocal and birds may be heard just about anywhere on the reserve.

As many of you will know, Leighton Moss hosts multiple school, college and university visits throughout the year. Engaging with young people is absolutely essential for the future of nature conservation and we are committed to connecting children and young adults to nature through learning. Here our Learning Officer Carol Bamber summarises the year so far… 

End of a busy season with high praise

It’s been another successful summer at Leighton Moss for school, university and youth group visits. Since April the team have delivered outdoor learning sessions to 70 groups, engaging with over 2,250 participants – that’s a lot of pond dipping, minibeast safaris, Living Things and their Habitats trails and sensory walks, as well as discovering brilliant birds, plus lectures and guided walks to degree-level students.

 Here are some recent quotes from participating group leaders:

‘What a wonderful day we’ve all had! So much learning that could never have happened inside the classroom.’ Reception class teacher

‘This has been an incredible child-led experience. You have ticked so many curriculum objectives in a very hands-on way.’ Year 3 class teacher

‘Thank you so much for the session. It was just right for our first visit.’ Specialist School teacher

‘As always, this was an excellent trip. Lots to see – pupils interested and engaged.’ Year 8 science teacher

‘Brilliant introduction to the RSPB and the wider conservation industry. Related well to the students’ aspirations.’ University lecturer

‘A really good evening and very engaging activities provided for the group.’ Cub Scouts leader

Wow! 99% of respondents on our evaluation forms rated our educational offer as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’. It’s a massive team effort, we thoroughly enjoy what we do and we appreciate the urgent need, now more than ever, to connect people of all ages with wildlife and the great outdoors in a fun and interactive way. 

If you are interested in booking an educational visit to Leighton Moss at any time of year, please contact Carol on (01524) 703015 or carol.bamber@rspb.org.uk

Floods recede & sightings surge!

 I’m very happy to report that the water levels have almost returned to normal (whatever that is!) and there is now access to all the hides (except Lower Hide which remains closed to the public) for those visitors who may have forgotten their wellies. Obviously the pools are still holding more water than we’d expect them to at this time of year but that doesn’t seem to be deterring the wildfowl – duck numbers continue to climb with each passing day. Lilian’s Hide is great at the moment with two scaup still present along with pochard, tufted duck and scores of shoveler, teal and gadwall. Little grebes too are easy to see here as are mute swan family flotillas.

Elsewhere, the bearded tits have been entertaining the crowds as they come to gather grit from the trays at Causeway and along the path to Grisedale. With a camera streaming live footage of the trays to the café, visitors can enjoy a spot of lunch or cake and coffee while watching these amazing birds preparing for their winter diet of seeds!

Red deer are another focus of the season and the stags can be heard roaring from deep in the reed beds, particularly in the mornings and again at dusk. Our Facebook group page has been inundated with fabulous photos of impressive males as they display their imposing antlers. Occasionally a couple of the boisterous testosterone-fuelled stags will clash with one another, providing a breath-taking spectacle for those lucky enough to be in the hide.  

 With autumn truly upon us it’s no surprise to see redwings and fieldfares around in recent days. These attractive Nordic thrushes are a real treat to see as they pass over in flocks or descend upon hawthorn hedgerows in search of the plentiful berries. Other highlights this week include a couple of very late swallows and a ring-tailed hen harrier which was photographed jousting with a male marsh harrier at Grisedale on Wednesday morning.   

It really is a magical time of year to visit Leighton Moss, as one of our wonderful Live Interpretation volunteers, Kathleen, knows only too well. Here she shares with us her experience of being on the reserve during the recent floods…   

A walk through the Leighton Moss flood.
Leaving behind tick list, camera and the like, I pulled on my wellies and set off, happy to enjoy the unique experience, using only eyes, ears and nose! As I waded off in the direction of Grisedale Hide, it quickly became clear that normality had been flipped; nature had reclaimed the space and I was the intruder, confined to a narrow path. Progress was very slow through the deep water, and I envied the ease with which the two ducks, whose patch I was entering, swam along the path ahead of me.
Navigating the route needed more thought than usual, and there was more time to observe and to chat to the robin on his usual perch. Was he/she confused by the strange conditions, or didn’t they much affect life in the trees?
I was startled by the call of a water rail from the reeds beside the path – not because this isn’t a regular occurrence, but because it seemed to be much closer than usual.
Emerging out of the trees I was greeted by bright sunlight glinting on the water.  Looking more closely at the path surface beneath I could clearly see pond life which had escaped from its pond-dippable pools – whirligig beetles and pond skaters, amongst other things, busily rushing to and fro. Dragonflies skimmed over the reed tops in the sunshine; nothing had changed for them.
Now I was assailed by the quiet rustle of stems, and an exaggerated, overwhelming wet smell of reedbeds. What a surprise to see a single meadowsweet stem in full flower at the edge of the almost-invisible path!
Looking ahead it was hard not to smile at the sight of one of the benches stranded amongst water – as though it had floated out from its normal position. Adding to the surreal moment were a couple, relaxing on the bench in the sunshine, with lower legs and feet stretched out into the water. The only life visible at the grit trays was a confused dunnock, normally a ground feeder, forced to hop along the wooden fence rail looking for food. Perhaps my hope for bearded tits on the trays was a bit greedy, though…
With a feeling of relief (wading through water certainly flexes a few unused muscles) I reached the hide.
And what a great sight from within:  wigeon, teal, shoveler, mallard, gadwall, a very fine male pintail, tufted ducks. A splendid red deer stag briefly emerged from the edge of the reeds, then quietly vanished from whence he came, followed by a deer hind. A female marsh harrier quartered the reed tops nearby.  She seemed agitated; had the high water level created fewer or more hunting opportunities for her?
After a brief rest it was time to wade back, passing Cetti’s warbler, robins, dunnock, marsh tit, coal tit, great tit, blue it – and not forgetting a stunning nuthatch.
Was the reserve closed by the floods?  Not at all; it simply offered up a truly magical experience.
Kathleen Robertshaw

Blog Post: Tagging success in Scotland this summer!

Our project team have fitted more than 10 young hen harriers with satellite tags this summer in Scotland. We have worked hard this summer to tag birds from the Scottish Borders up to the Scottish Highlands, with the generous support and assistance from of a variety of partners, volunteers, landowners, their managers and staff, and licenced taggers from the raptor conservation community. One of this year’s Scottish youngsters (image courtesy of Steve Downing) Hen harriers are one of our rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. The satellite tags allow us to follow the lives of the young birds as they strike out on their own. The last British Isles hen harrier population survey in 2016 put their numbers at just 575 territorial pairs, an overall significant decline of 24 percent since 2004. Estimates suggest there should be over 1,500 pairs of hen harriers in Scotland alone, yet only 460 pairs were recorded in 2016. Before tagging could take place, we monitored hen harrier nests across the country to understand more about how their breeding success varies year to year and why nests sometimes fail. The information gathered from birds tagged in previous years has revealed important information about how they spend their first few years of their lives. Two of the birds tagged in Scotland last summer headed over to Ireland for the winter before returning this spring, and one of the chicks tagged this year is the offspring of a female tagged in a previous year by the project, providing an opportunity to follow the species through two generations. Tagging also reveals some worrying turns of events, with some birds either suddenly or inexplicably disappearing or being illegally killed – almost always on or close to grouse moors. Earlier this year RSPB Scotland appealed for information on the disappearances in areas managed for grouse shooting of two birds tagged by the project – Marci, tagged in 2018 at Mar Lodge and last recorded in the Cairngorms National Park near Strathdon, and Skylar, tagged in 2017 in Argyll who disappeared close to Elvanfoot. In May this year, Rannoch, tagged in 2017, was found dead in an illegally set spring trap on a Perthshire grouse moor. Dr Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for Hen Harrier LIFE, said: “It’s a real privilege to work with and follow the journeys of these incredible birds of prey and the sight of one of them skydancing never fails to take my breath away. “However, very few people get to experience such a spectacle as the British Isles are missing 80 percent of the breeding hen harriers they could support. These birds face enough natural challenges in their first few years of life trying to avoid predators and learn how to hunt without the added pressure of illegal killing, shooting and trapping by humans. “With Scotland being the stronghold for the British hen harrier population, tagging these young birds here and understanding what is happening to them is crucial for our efforts to create a more secure long-term future for the species.” An independent enquiry commissioned by the Scottish Government is currently undertaking a review of the environmental impact of grouse moor management and possible options for regulation. RSPB Scotland is calling for licencing of the industry to be introduced to bring an end to the continued illegal killing of birds of prey, including hen harriers as well as golden eagles, red kites and others, which is threatening some of the country’s most iconic species.

Blog Post: Joy at new English hen harrier chicks is tempered by spectre of illegal killling

The Hen Harrier LIFE project team are delighted to announce that we have been involved in protecting and monitoring nine successful hen harrier nests in England this year, with the successful fledging of 33 chicks. This marks the continuation of a small increase in hen harrier breeding success in England and we hope this progress continues, as the hen harrier is one of the UK’s most threatened bird species. In addition to those supported by the team, a small number of other hen harrier nests were successful in England this year. We look forward to public confirmation of this year’s total hen harrier breeding season numbers from Natural England in the near future. Northumberland hen harriers have now made it five in a row, with 2019 being the fifth year they have successfully bred and raised chicks, making it the most consistent nesting place in England for this rare bird of prey. Nine young have fledged from three nests on Forestry England and nearby private land. Originally six nests were located, and we had hoped we might surpass last year’s total of 11 fledged young from three nests, but unfortunately it was not to be. Two broods of chicks were lost in the spring due to the very wet weather, which would have soaked the nest and made the young chicks too wet and cold to survive. Another brood of chicks was lost to natural predation by a fox, which is unfortunate but is one of the inevitable risks facing ground nesting birds. The success of hen harriers in Northumberland is supported by a combined effort from the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, which consists of a team of people from Forestry England, RSPB, Northumberland National Park Authority, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Ministry of Defence, Northumberland Police and local raptor experts. We are all proud to work together to find and monitor the nests. Gill Thompson, Chair of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership said: “It is great to see hen harriers nesting and fledging young successfully in Northumberland for the fifth year in a row. Thanks to the team from all the organisations that worked hard to locate and watch the nests. It was particularly satisfying to see a tagged bird breed in Northumberland after we had watched her during the winter elsewhere in the county. Let’s hope the class of 2019 fair just as well.” In Bowland, 22 hen harrier chicks have fledged from five nests on the United Utilities Estate. This is the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully at the East Lancashire site, after 13 chicks fledged from three nests in 2018. Following six years of little or no consistent breeding success in the Forest of Bowland, we are now hopeful that this could mark the start of the return of these rare and beautiful birds of prey to an area once considered a stronghold for them in England. The success of hen harriers on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland is also supported by a unique partnership. Since early spring, RSPB’s staff and volunteers, together with United Utilities, their shooting and farming tenants, and the Forest of Bowland AONB, have worked hard to protect and support the five hen harrier nests on this estate through close monitoring, diversionary feeding, habitat management, and careful avoidance of disturbance. Matt Upton, Catchment Manager for the United Utilities Bowland Estate, said: “I would like to thank everyone involved for their continued conservation efforts. All the hard work and dedication has paid off again this year and it’s a real joy to see these magnificent birds of prey are one again choosing to make Bowland their home. In the Peak District, two hen harrier chicks fledged from a nest in the High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park. This also marks the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully on this National Trust-owned land, after four chicks fledged from one nest in 2018. Again, the key to this success has been partnership work between the National Trust’s ranger team, their shooting tenants, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, Natural England and the RSPB. The success of the hen harriers in this area is very much seen as a symbol for the future direction of the uplands. Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District, said: “The hen harrier has been one of the most persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands. We hope this will be a positive model for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see. We know how fragile any recovery of hen harriers is. We want to see uplands richer in wildlife and beauty, widely enjoyed and providing huge public benefits. For this to be a reality we need to see birds returning in following years to breed”. Prior to fledging, a number of this year’s chicks were fitted with satellite tags and colour rings by the project team. What is crucial now is that the strong, positive partnerships continue with landowners, land agents, their tenants and gamekeepers to help to continue to protect these young birds as they leave their nests and fly around the country, to ensure that they remain a key part of the future of a growing hen harrier population. One of this year’s hen harrier chicks, whose nest we have helped to protect and monitor (image by Steve Downing) Hen harriers are on the verge of disappearing as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal killing associated with driven grouse shooting, and they aren’t doing much better in the rest of the British Isles. Scientific research published in March this year, based on data from Natural England, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were considered or confirmed to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors, and the birds were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor than any other type of land use. Chris Corrigan, RSPB’s Director for England said: “We are fantastically proud of our team having played a role in the successful fledging of 33 hen harrier chicks this year. However, this success is tarnished by the clear evidence that illegal killing of this rare bird of prey continues with little sign of it coming to an end. This must change. We should have over 300 pairs of hen harrier in England, yet shockingly only nine pairs have successfully bred here this year and this species remains on the brink of local extinction. If all of this year’s chicks were to survive and breed, it would more than double the current English population. However, in our tagging study under the Hen Harrier LIFE project, none of the chicks we tagged in England in previous years are still alive: to date over half of them have died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances. The pervasiveness of illegal killing means many of this year’s young hen harriers will not get the chance to raise a family of their own and so the population continues to decline. Until something is done to stop illegal killing it is hard to see a bright future for this year’s chicks.” In Bowland, in 2012 a tagged hen harrier named Betty died from an injury resulting from a shot gun wound and in 2014, barely two months after leaving their nests, Sky and Hope disappeared without trace when their tags suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting within a few miles of each other. Two young hen harriers tagged in Bowland in 2018 died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances – Thor’s tag stopped transmitting near same the location as Sky and Hope, and River’s body was found in North Yorkshire, lodged with two shotgun pellets. In Northumberland three tagged hen harriers named Finn, Athena, and Vulcan, all disappeared when their tags stopped transmitting in suspicious circumstances in March 2018, August 2018 and January 2019. In January 2017, Northumberland-born Carroll was found dead with two shotgun pellets lodged in her body. Octavia and Arthur who were tagged as chicks in the Peak District in the summer of 2018 both disappeared when their tags stopped transmitting suddenly and inexplicably in August and October 2018. We believe grouse shooting needs to change, that’s why we are calling for licencing of grouse moors. This will ensure they’re managed sustainably and legally, to secure a future for the next generation of hen harriers before we lose them altogether.

Blog Post: Hen Harrier Day 2019

If you’re wondering how you can support hen harriers, why not pop along to a Hen Harrier Day event? Hen Harrier Day returns this month for the fifth year running with one main event taking place on 11 August at Carsington Water in Derbyshire, hosted by Wild Justice. There will be a range of speakers including Chris Packham and Iolo Williams, as well as members of the Hen Harrier LIFE project team. The event is family friendly and open to everyone, with lots of different activities planned to keep you entertained, including storytelling and puppet making. You can find out more information here . In support of Hen Harrier Day, there are also three other events planned, all of which will be attended by the project team, so do come along and say hello. Tomorrow, 3 August, in Perth, Scotland, the Revive Coalition will be hosting a one-day public conference to explore the impacts that grouse moors have on birds of prey and animal welfare, our environment and natural landscape. The event is free to attend, but please do book a ticket here if you’d like to go. On 10 August, there will be a Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day hosted by the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) at Goathland Community Hub in North Yorkshire. The event will be attend by the volunteer raptor workers from NERF, North Yorkshire Police, Operation Owl and the RSPB, who are happy to chat to you about the issues affecting birds of prey and their commitment to bring illegal persecution to an end. You can find more details here . Also on 10 August, the RSPB will be hosting a Birds of Prey Day at our Saltholme reserve, where lucky visitors recently got to spot a hen harrier for themselves. This will be a family friendly day, with activities and talks from those passionate about protecting our birds of prey. If you want to know more about what we’re doing, you can find details here . The aim of these events is to highlight the plight of hen harriers and other birds of prey, with a show of public support for ending their illegal persecution, which is largely linked to management of moorland for grouse shooting. Hen harriers are a key species in our moorlands, but sadly, they are becoming an increasingly rare sight in the UK as hen harriers are continuing to decline. A wealth of evidence including Government reports show illegal killing as the primary reason the population remains in trouble. A recent study concluded that 72% of tagged hen harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors and that the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. There is enough habitat for over 2,500 pairs of hen harriers in the British Isles but the 2016 hen harrier breeding survey revealed that there are only 575 territorial pairs left, down by 87 pairs from the last UK survey in 2010. Just four of these were in England, where the population remains on the brink of local extinction. It’s not just hen harriers which are facing threats on intensively managed grouse moors. Many protected birds of prey and other species are being killed illegally and other damaging practices are widespread, such as the burning of internationally important carbon-rich peatlands. As a result of the ongoing managed burning of peatland habitats in the uplands, carbon is being lost into the atmosphere, making the UK Government’s ambition of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 ever more challenging. Why not come along and support us and our partners to spend a day with like-minded people, raise awareness of these problems and find out what we’re doing to address them?