Category Archives: Hen harriers

Moorland encounter

Yesterday afternoon was unseasonably glorious, so I decided to head up to the Moor.

There wasn't an awful lot going on, but that's not why I go up to the Moor.

S4643

On my way down from the edge, a chap with a spade and sack spotted me and my camera: “Landscape or wildlife?” he called. Both, I said.

It turned out he was the local gamekeeper, laying out grit for the grouse. We chatted for about 15 minutes. He is clearly trying to engage in outreach, to win over the hearts and minds of the locals. He explained that the people who shoot on the Moor aren't a bunch of toffs, but a local group of hard-working enthusiasts; how they only shoot for six days a year; how they only took over the care of the Moor a few years back, and how he reckons the place is a lot better maintained these days. I agreed: it is. He then asked me for any feedback or ideas.

I suggested that a few more boggy patches and pools might be in order (he told me they're working on this), and that the best way to combat the boom-bust predator-prey population cycles of the grouse-parasite and grouse would be to throw a few more predators into the mix. I don't think he was quite with me on this one. I pointed out that, in the 20+ years I've been walking on the Moor, I've only ever seen two buzzards, one peregrine, and not a single hen harrier. The northern moorland, I said, should be practically swarming with raptors.

“Hen harriers numbers have plummeted drastically in recent years,” he agreed. “Nobody's been able to work out why,” he added.

“It's because game-keepers keep shooting them,” I said, calling a spade a spade.

He explained that he had seen a hen harrier on the Moor last summer, and had nearly shot it by accident. He was about to shoot some crows, when he realised they were mobbing a harrier.

He asked me if I'd ever eaten grouse. I said I had, but that I thought it was overrated, and much preferred duck. He confessed that he didn't like the taste of grouse at all—far too strong—but assured me that all the grouse which are shot on the Moor do get eaten.

He seemed like a nice chap, but I'll never understand the mentality of people who enjoy blasting wild birds out of the sky for fun.

On my way down the road towards home, I made up for the previous day's abject failure by managing to take quite a nice photo of a robin in full song.

Robin

Much better to bag wild birds with cameras than shotguns, I reckon.

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First sighting(s)!

No updates for a while. I have been busy, and the weather has been pretty abysmal. But I do have some recent sightings to report:

On 21st November, we had a day-trip out to Whitby. Walking along the pier, I spotted a bird fishing about 100 yards away. It was not a cormorant. I then overheard a chap behind me, who had a massive telephoto lens, tell his companion that it was a red-throated diver. Of course, by the time I got my own lens out, the bird had disappeared. This would have been my first red-throated diver, but I don't think it really counts, as I didn't see it well enough to be able to confirm the stranger's identification. I did, however, managed to get rather close to some turnstones!

Turnstones
Turnstones

And then, this Tuesday, I visited Burton Marshes. Before I had even turned off my car's engine, I spotted a rook half-heartedly mobbing something. I grabbed my spare binoculars from the glove box and was treated to two minutes worth of female hen harrier flying back and forth, hunting above the reeds. She was only about 50 years away. Fabulous views—and my first absolutely definite hen harrier. But, unfortunately, my camera was in the boot!

After the harrier had gone, I got out the car and got my camera ready, just in case she returned. Then I spotted some birdwatchers watching something through their telescopes a long way off. I'm pretty sure it was another harrier, but it really was a long way away. But, as I was watching, a short-eared owl appeared from the north and flew towards me. And this time I even managed to bag some photos as it hunted in pretty much the same place as the hen harrier had!

Short-eared owl
Short-eared owl

Not bad for 10 minutes' bird-watching.

… Oh, nearly forgot: I also took a rather nice photo of a stonechat:

Stonechat
Stonechat

Other photos from Whitby »
Other photos from Burton Marshes »