Dr Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, reports on the sudden disappearances of four more tagged hen harriers in Scotland in suspicious circumstances. Following our recent blogs on the suspicious disappearances of Hilma, Octavia, Heulwen…
As the breeding season draws to a close, we take some time to reflect on the breeding success of hen harriers in England in 2018. Hen harrier numbers have been declining steadily in England over the past few decades. It is well known from independent research that the main reason for this decline is illegal killing of these birds associated with driven grouse moor management in northern England. Last year, hen harriers were very close to extinction as a breeding bird in England, with just three successful nests fledging 10 chicks in 2017, all in Northumberland. We were hopeful that this population would be bolstered when the birds we tagged in the Scottish borders, Marc and Manu , flew south into Durham and Northumberland respectively. However, this optimism was short lived and we were devastated to find that these birds suspiciously disappeared over grouse moors just months after fledging. This year, we’ve had a similar number of birds in Northumberland with three successful nests and 11 chicks fledging. This is the fourth consecutive year that hen harriers have successfully nested in the north east, so our national nature reserves are becoming a real stronghold for them. Fortunately this isn’t the end of the story – we were overjoyed to find that we also had nesting attempts elsewhere in England, with three successful nests on United Utilities land managed for grouse shooting in the Forest of Bowland and one successful nest in the Peak District on land managed for grouse shooting and owned by the National Trust. This is fantastic news and shows what can be achieved when grouse moors are managed sustainably and legally. Through partnership working with the estate staff, gamekeepers and local raptor workers, we were able to monitor and protect these nests too. I feel really proud that our team played a direct role in the protection of seven of the nine successful nests in England. Natural England also reported today that we had two additional successful nests in England: one on a hill farm and another one on a National Nature Reserve. This gives us a total of nine successful nests out of 14 attempts, fledging 34 chicks. Unfortunately, we did have five attempts that failed. Table showing successful breeding attempts in England in 2018. County Number of chicks Northumberland 11 Lancashire 13 Cumbria 6 Derbyshire 4 Total 34 However, whilst it’s great to see a small increase in numbers, we must continue with our conservation efforts as we’re still a long way from where we should be, with the government’s own study showing we have enough habitat for 300 nests in England. So where are our missing hen harriers? During a long summer of 24-hour nest protection and monitoring birds in all weathers, our Hen Harrier LIFE project team have worked hard to put satellite tags on hen harrier chicks from these English nests and we’ll be watching their progress very closely. With a survival probability of just 20% within their first two years, we wait anxiously to follow the fates of our young chicks as they make their way into the world. We also hope to understand what proportion of the birds are lost to natural causes, and what proportion to illegal persecution. If only we could have more estate owners like United Utilities and the National Trust, and their shooting tenants, who see the value of having hen harriers on their land. By allowing the birds to live sustainably alongside working grouse moors, these youngsters would have a much more assured future, allowing everyone the opportunity to see them in their moorlands. Imagine the joy of seeing skydancing hen harriers every spring across moorlands in the north of England – what a fantastic sight! Sadly for now, it’s clear that illegal persecution is continuing. This is why we are calling for licencing of driven grouse shooting and the introduction of vicarious liability into England and Wales, to drive up standards in the industry and ensure those responsible for breaking the law are held to account. If you’d like to do your bit to help our hen harriers, you should read our ‘ Six ways to help hen harriers ’ blog and help us secure their future, so that numbers can continue to increase in England and one day we might all have the chance to see a hen harrier. We can all play a role in protecting our hen harriers for future generations.
Today we have a guest blog from Dara McAnulty, the young Fermanagh naturalist , who reminds us that there’s always something we can do to help hen harriers. I remember the first time I wittingly saw a raptor, I was five and I became entranced. The RSPB visited my school soon after to talk about red kites and the fascination grew into obsession. I constantly scanned the skies for a glimpse of majesty. The hen harrier was the holy grail, but I didn’t catch my first encounter until I was 12. After that point, my life was irrevocably changed. It wasn’t just the beauty and sheer brilliance of flight engineering – it was the iconic nature of the species. It was a symbol of the desecration of our wildlife and our countryside. I followed these birds through the seasons and rejoiced in their offspring and their ever giving wonder and joy. Each visit made my life so much better. They never failed to amaze me. I kind of felt they were ‘my’ birds, I wanted to give them something back. Something for their persecuted comrades. Relentlessly targeted and killed to fuel the grouse shooting industry, I followed in the footsteps of other campaigners to add my voice, my words, my determination. This determination was stifled though, I wanted to do more! I really wanted to help. When I heard about how raptor satellite tagging could act as a deterrent at best, at worst give good data against wildlife crime, I hatched a plan with the help of Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group. There were no tagged birds here in Northern Ireland – I wanted to change that. I wanted to do something more! In January I walked thirty miles in the depth of winter, over mountain, bog and uplands – a hen harrier saluted me on my way, always inspirational, always uplifting – the sight of it kept me going. Thanks to the generosity of many, I managed to raise £6,000 – which will be used to help fund the first raptor satellite tagging project ‘Hawk Eyes’, (including hen harriers) in Northern Ireland. A feat which quenched my appetite to help. Although I’m getting itchy again and feel the need to do more – there is always so much more we can do. Dara raised just over £6000 through crowd funding towards hen harrier satellite tagging There’s no Hen Harrier Day in Northern Ireland this year, but I, like always, will be supporting you all from afar and I will continue to campaign for hen harrier conservation and against persecution. We Will Win. Dara McAnulty Age 14
Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, shares the sad news of the loss of a second tagged hen harrier in Wales in suspicious circumstances. At this time of year, our Hen Harrier LIFE project team are very busy monitoring birds, protecting nests and satellite tagging juveniles. As we get caught up in the elation and optimism that a new generation of this rare bird brings, it was a timely reminder of their potential fates when we received the post mortem results for Lia, one of our Welsh hen harriers. Hen harriers were once widespread in Wales, but following a long history of illegal persecution and eventual extinction on mainland Britain as a breeding bird, the hen harrier finally came back to Wales in the 1950s. Since then, the Welsh population has slowly recovered, but it continues to vary greatly in size from year to year due to a number of factors, including food availability and weather conditions. The latest survey in 2016 showed the number of pairs had fallen by more than a third over the past six years, from 57 to 35 pairs. This is the lowest population that has been seen in Wales for over a decade, hence our devastation when Lia met her demise. Lia was one of four chicks born on a nest on the National Trust’s Ysbyty Estate in north Wales in 2017, and we fitted her satellite tag at the end of June. After fledging, she headed south to the Brecon Beacons National Park, and in October she had a brief two-day trip across the Bristol Channel to Somerset, before returning and settling in mid-Wales. Lia (image courtesy of Guy Anderson) Her tag was functioning regularly, showing us that she spent most of her time in Wales, until 18th April 2018, when RSPB staff monitoring the tag became concerned she had stopped moving over an area of lowland farmland near the village of Tylwch, south of Llanidloes. An initial search of the area yielded nothing. However, on the 17 th May 2018, a further transmission confirmed she was dead, and RSPB Investigations staff searched again and found her lying face up in short grass in a sheep field. A map of Lia’s final journey and last known location RSPB Investigations staff retrieved both the bird and her tag, which were immediately sent to the veterinary laboratory at ZSL for post mortem. Although the bird’s body was ‘mummified’, the vet’s main finding of interest was a fractured tail feather. The report stated that fractures of this type “have previously been found in a hen harrier proven to have been shot with ammunition (Hopkins et al., 2015). No other signs of shooting were detected in this bird.” Lia’s fractured tail feather (image courtesy of ZSL) Sadly, we’ll never know for sure what happened to Lia due to her state of decomposition, but her death was reported to Dyfed Powys Police from the outset as suspicious and they have been investigating, as she was found in an area with a history of illegal raptor persecution. Lia was the first hen harrier ever to have been satellite tagged in Wales, and we had high hopes she would help us better understand the dispersal of Welsh birds. Alarmingly, she is the second bird to be lost in Wales this year in suspicious circumstances. Aalin , who was tagged on the Isle of Man in July 2016, spent last winter in north Wales, and disappeared in the Ruabon mountains near Wrexham in February 2018. The loss of both of these birds is heartbreaking, but the more we can learn about the fates of our hen harriers, the more measures we can put in place to protect them. If anyone has any information that might help us find answers to how Lia died then please contact Dyfed Powys police on 101 quoting the reference number 47 24 04 2018 or alternatively speak to the RSPB confidentially on 0300 999 0101. The Hen Harrier LIFE project team are tagging more birds in Wales this summer, so watch this space to follow their fortunes. Hopefully they’ll have a bit more luck than Lia.
Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, reports on the sudden disappearance of three tagged hen harriers in suspicious circumstances With the arrival of spring, we look forward to the warmer weather kickstarting the growth of new flowers as buds burst into life. Animals start to appear again, some rousing sleepily from their hibernation. We dust ourselves off after the long winter, ready for a summer of activity. Our hen harriers become more active too as they begin to move away from their winter roosts, making longer flights towards upland areas to scope out potential nesting sites, ready to pair up and raise a brood of their own. Here at the Hen Harrier LIFE project, we already have reports of skydancing males, pair bonding and nest building. We watch with anticipation to see if our tagged birds will settle and try to raise a family. Sadly, the more active and visible they are, the more vulnerable they are to illegal persecution. Whilst 95% of their diet comprises small mammals, hen harriers also eat a small proportion of other birds, including grouse, which brings them into direct conflict with moorland that is being managed for grouse shooting, and particularly those with intensive grouse rearing for driven shooting. I’m devastated to report the sudden disappearances of three birds in suspicious circumstances, two in Scotland and one in England, reminding us of the perils they face every day. Saorsa was one of four chicks to fledge from a nest on a private estate in Ross-shire in June 2017. After fledging, she headed north towards Lairg then on to Wick, and stayed in this area until the end of October before heading south and visiting our RSPB reserve at Insh Marshes. By November she had headed further south to the Angus Glens and stayed there for the rest of the winter, until her tag suddenly and inexplicably ceased transmissions in this area on 16 February 2018, with no indications of any technical problems with the tag. A search was conducted by Police Scotland, assisted by RSPB Investigations staff, but no tag or body was found. A map of Saorsa’s final journey Balnagown Estate, near Tain in Sutherland, expressed their sadness at losing this special bird. They told us: “Saorsa hatched and fledged from Balnagown Estate and it was an honour and privilege to be able to follow her progress online since she was fitted with a satellite tag in June 2017. Saorsa’s loss is deeply felt by all concerned as we strive hard to assist with conservation and protection of our wonderful wildlife.” Saorsa’s last known location Finn and her three brothers fledged from a nest on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland in 2016, one of only three successful nests in the whole of England for that year, and we fitted her satellite tag in early July. After fledging, she travelled west into southern Scotland and spent her first winter in Ayrshire. She successfully raised and fledged one chick in the summer of 2017. She then remained in southern Scotland, making a couple of brief trips over the border with England, and her tag was giving us good data. Then on 25 March 2018, transmissions suddenly and unexpectedly stopped near Moffat. RSPB Investigations staff conducted a search, but again no tag or body was found, and her disappearance was reported to Police Scotland. A map of Finn’s final journey Finn was named after young conservationist Findlay Wilde who told us “I always knew following Finn’s journey would be a rollercoaster of emotions and felt she was probably living on borrowed time, but she seemed to soar through all the challenges that came her way. In the short time we followed her, we went through every emotion possible; from the excitement of knowing she had safely fledged to the nagging worries that she was settling in high risk areas; and then of course to the worst news of all. Finn isn’t just another statistic in growing listing of missing hen harriers. Her life mattered, and she mattered to me.” Having survived her first year and even raised a chick, we had high hopes for Finn going into 2018. We had only three nests in England in 2017, and we were waiting with anticipation to see if she might pair up and settle with a male there to raise her own brood, but those hopes are now sadly dashed. Finn’s last known location Blue and his two siblings fledged from a nest in South Lanarkshire in 2017 and his satellite tag was fitted in early July. After fledging, Blue remained in south west Scotland until October, before settling in Cumbria. In January, Blue headed north again, back to Dumfries and Galloway where he remained until March and his final journey saw him head back down to Cumbria. His tag was functioning perfectly, until 31 March 2018, when transmissions suddenly and unexpectedly stopped near Longsleddale in Cumbria. RSPB Investigations staff conducted a search, but no tag or body was found, and his disappearance was reported to Cumbria Police as suspicious, due to the sudden stop of transmissions. A map of Blue’s final journey After the sudden disappearances of satellite tagged brothers Marc and Manu in similarly unsettling circumstances just a few months earlier, parts of the north of England are a dangerous place for our hen harriers to visit. Blue’s last known location Dr Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said: “As we followed our tagged birds, we were overjoyed to see they had survived the winter, showcasing their adept hunting skills to find prey even in deep snow, so it’s difficult to put into words just how devastating it is to lose so many in such rapid succession across the country and with no explanation – it seems our hen harriers are not safe in many parts of the country due to illegal persecution, and taking action to protect them is more important than ever”. If you want to help hen harriers, there are lots of things you can do: you can support our work by sharing your sightings , purchasing hen harrier pin badges, volunteering with the RSPB, your local raptor group or conservation organisation, contacting your local MP or MSP to raise your concerns, talking to your friends and family, finding out more about the LIFE project on our website , and joining the conversation on twitter to help raise awareness. Tackling raptor crime is a priority for the RSPB. Through the Hen Harrier LIFE project, we are tracking hen harriers, and protecting and monitoring them at roost and nest sites, as well as documenting and reporting incidences of wildlife crime. We are working with communities to raise awareness of hen harriers. We work alongside Police Wildlife Crime Officers to follow up reported incidences of wild bird crime and develop new strategies for tackling this conservation problem. We work with UK Governments to develop policies for sustainable moorland management. The RSPB is completely opposed to brood management of hen harriers in England and has applied to the High Court for permission for a judicial review of Natural England’s grant of consent for a hen harrier brood management trial. If you have any information relating to any of the incidents described above, please call the Police on 101. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous. If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed in England and Wales, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551 or in Scotland call 0131 317 4100. Alternatively, you could fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx
Today we have a guest blog from Findlay Wilde, a 16 year old conservationist, ringer, birder, environmental blogger and campaigner. Findlay is working hard to protect nature, and raise awareness about hen harrier persecution. Whenever I get asked to write a blog about my thoughts and feelings towards hen harriers, I start with such enthusiasm, but as I get into the detail I feel my energy start to fade, in just the same way our hen harrier numbers are fading away. As I write this, the news that Aalin has gone missing is fresh in my mind. News like this instantly turns my thoughts to Finn , and when I heard about Aalin going missing I automatically checked my emails to see if a recent update had come through on Finn’s whereabouts. Fortunately she continues to do well; against the odds. When this blog is posted, I can almost sense some of the words from certain people saying “oh here he goes again, same old story, same old words”. But guess what, it is the same old story, as the persecution just doesn’t let up. It would be amazing to be able to write about a positive change, about how hen harrier numbers have started to increase, about how more prosecutions are taking place; but that time is sadly not right now. In November 2017, Findlay was invited to 10 Downing Street to talk about environmental policy with the prime minister’s environmental advisor. Skydancers should be starting their dances, if not already, then very soon across our uplands. They should be soaring in good numbers, they should be pairing up with ease, but this is not the “same old story” we can tell. But do you know which “same old stories” I am fed up of hearing? Well for one it’s the denial that raptor persecution is even happening. Let’s think about that for a minute. The habitat is available in England to support over 300 pairs of hen harriers. We know the food source is there. We hear that grouse moors are great for ground nesting birds. So where are the hen harriers? Just 3 pairs bred successfully in England last year. Such a disgraceful statistic. Another “same old story” I am fed up of hearing is that global hen harrier numbers are not at risk, so there is no need to worry about the UK decline. I can’t believe that people think this is okay on any level. Firstly, there are reports that indicate European numbers of hen harrier are actually in slow decline. Secondly, and more importantly, this in no way excuses allowing a species to become almost extinct as a breeding bird in England. If that theory was acceptable, then why try to protect any species in the UK if it is a species that is native to other countries. It is the most infuriating and small minded argument that I repeatedly hear. We are so quick to criticise other countries for declines in iconic species, and yet we have serious issues on our own doorstep that are being caused by illegal activity. We must keep calling this out. So when this blog gets posted, I will be ready for the excuses some people will tweet, I will be ready for the insulting private messages that always follow, I will be ready for the people that will tell me I am wrong; but as I have already said, I have heard these “same old stories” too many times. The tide is turning. Awareness is building. Change is coming. The story is being re-written. Findlay recently created this card to raise awareness of hen harriers, capturing the words that came into people’s heads when he said ‘hen harrier’.
Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager explains that today we have more sad news about another bird, this time from the Hen Harrier Class of 2016. The population of hen harriers on the Isle of Man almost halved between 2004 and 2010, dropping from 57 to 29 pairs. No one was quite sure why this might be, but one theory was that young hen harriers could be migrating to the UK mainland and not returning, so we hoped that putting satellite tags on birds born on the island would help us to solve the mystery. In July 2016, we tagged a bird named Aalin, on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the island that year, and spent the winter of 2016 in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017. The regular transmissions we received from her tag showed that she stayed in north Wales, until the tag suddenly stopped transmitting on the morning of 9 February 2018 in an area of moorland around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham. Our project team headed out to search for her, but no tag or body was found and she has not been seen or heard of since. Sadly her loss has shown us that some birds move away from the Isle of Man, never to return. We were hopeful that heading towards the breeding season Aalin would have nested in Wales and successfully reared chicks this summer, so her loss is also devastating for future generations of this rare and beautiful bird in Wales. Aalin (Image by James Leonard) and the location of her tag’s last known transmission near Wrexham A map of Aalin’s final journey Neil Morris, Managing Director at Manx Birdlife, explains what the loss of Aalin means to him, and the community on the Isle of Man. It is with a heavy heart that I sit here writing this post. In the last month, I have witnessed the best and worst of people’s interactions with wildlife. My Twitter feed is abuzz with news of disappearing golden eagles and hen harriers and is brimming with images of wildlife persecution. Thankfully, it is also peppered with stories of the tireless endeavour by many caring souls to protect, rescue, nurture, conserve – and to simply enjoy observing the antics of – the creatures that share our natural world. Every one of you deserves a medal. The disappointment (dare I say outrage?) I feel at the continued loss of our wildlife and wild places came well and truly home to roost this month when I learned of the loss of Aalin. Aalin was satellite-tagged in the summer of 2016 in the hills of the Isle of Man. She has been successfully tracked ever since. Having quickly gained her strength after fledging, Aalin left the island. A late summer sojourn took her past Blackpool, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and on into Wales. She took up residence in the north-east Welsh uplands for more than a year, surviving two harsh winter seasons. This year, with her second summer season within reach, hopes were high that Aalin would settle to nest. After a brief dalliance with a potential mate last spring, it looked highly likely that she would stay to breed in Wales. Of course, there were a few of us that wondered (nay, hoped) she would return to her native uplands in the Isle of Man. What a fantastic story that would have been! And what a novel and valuable insight we would have gained into the behaviour of the island’s hen harriers. As with so many bird of prey disappearances, the circumstances are worrying. The tags employed by RSPB’s LIFE Project are proven to be robust and reliable over long periods of time, so the sudden loss of signal is highly unexpected. And the pattern of disappearances in areas where grouse shooting takes place speaks for itself. Everyone associated with Manx BirdLife is deeply grateful to the RSPB’s dedicated staff. It is our sincere hope that as the Hen Harrier LIFE project continues we can achieve our shared goals of learning more about the lives of these wonderful birds and how best to protect them. If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor crime hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous. If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx
RSPB Investigations Liaison Officer, Jenny Shelton, sheds more light on the disappearances of two hen harrier siblings, Marc and Manu, in similarly unsettling circumstances. Manu (left) and Marc (right) as nestlings (image by Tim Jones) If a mother hen harrier could give her chicks any words of wisdom, it might be this: stay away from grouse moors. Moorland is the natural habitat of these birds, but a number of them have disappeared over moorland areas managed for driven grouse shooting. The latest casualty is Marc, a bird who was satellite tagged in the Scottish Borders in 2017, along with his brother Manu, as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project. Marc’s tag had been functioning perfectly, showing him flying around hills and upland farmland all winter. Then, at the end of January 2018, he decided to explore a new area, moving 10km north west to a grouse moor near Middleton-in-Teesdale in the North Pennines. On 5 February, this is where his tag suddenly stopped transmitting, with no indication of any technical problems with the tag. If the bird had died naturally, we would expect to continue to receive transmissions from its tag, with the data signal showing the bird was stationary. We’d also expect to be able to recover the tag, as we have done with many of other birds like Mannin and Sirius , yet when investigations officers searched the area of Marc’s last transmission, they found no sign of the bird or his tag. Marc’s last known location, with the circle indicating the area of his last known transmission What’s worse is that this has happened before and to Marc’s brother Manu, who were both named after a colleague’s grandchildren. The siblings grew up together in the Scottish borders, then fledged and went their separate ways, but both flying south into England: Marc settling near Durham and Manu in Northumberland. We’re devastated to see that the two brothers disappear in similar circumstances. In October 2017, Manu’s tag stopped transmitting over a grouse moor on the Northumberland/Cumbria border. After a search, neither his body nor his tag were found. As well as Marc and Manu, a number of other hen harriers have gone missing in similar circumstances both in England and Scotland since the Hen Harrier LIFE project began in 2014, most recently Calluna , who disappeared on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park on 12 August 2017, coinciding with the first day of the grouse shooting season. Sadly, our hen harriers are facing a difficult future as the population continues to decline. In England, there were only three successful nests in 2017. This small English population could have really benefited from additions like Marc and Manu. Losing them less than a year after they hatched also means losing any young they and their potential partners may have had. Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, says: “It’s absolutely devastating to have both siblings disappear, one in Northumberland and one in Durham, particularly with the low number of hen harriers in England. Not only were we down to a tiny number of successful nests last year, but even those birds moving in to help bolster the population are vanishing. You can’t help but wonder, is there any hope for the English population, or will we be facing the very real prospect of their extinction as a breeding bird in England in 2018?” Tim Jones was the RSPB Investigations Officer who tagged Marc as a chick. “I got to visit my first hen harrier nest in 2017 and it was such a privilege to protect and monitor Marc and Manu’s nest, seeing them when they were still white and fluffy at a week old to just before fledging when we fitted their tags. I’ve watched closely as they grew and spread their wings, checking on where they were and if they were ok every day for the last seven months. The loss of Manu was a real blow, and now knowing that Marc has disappeared too is completely gutting.” Currently there are fewer than half of 2017’s satellite tagged chicks still alive after six months. We really hope these birds stay safe: we’ll be keeping a close eye on our remaining hen harriers, and undertaking protection and monitoring of birds across northern England and Scotland.
RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas gives an update on the class of 2017. The winter months can be hard for young hen harriers, and it’s a worrying time to monitor them. With poor weather, difficult foraging conditions, and the risk of illegal persecution, every day they survive feels like a small victory. That’s why I am sad to confirm the natural demise of more of the class of 2017. Back in August 2017, we proudly added the journeys of 12 young hen harriers to our project website where we provide regular updates on their movements. First we lost Calluna , who disappeared on 12 th August on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park. We were able to retrieve Mannin after his failed sea crossing from the Isle of Man on 14 th August. On 18 th October, Manu disappeared over moorland at Blenkinsopp Common, whilst Tony disappeared in Spain on 22 nd October. We also reported that Sirius died on 11 th October, and we had managed to retrieve his body, but were awaiting the outcome of tests. Sirius was a male hen harrier who, along with his sister Skylar, was one of three chicks to fledge from a nest in Argyll in July 2017, on land owned by Forestry Enterprise Scotland. 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. The post mortem examination revealed that Sirius had a fracture of the left radius and ulna, and indicated that trauma was the likely cause of death. A map of Sirius’ final journey. Sirius (image by RSPB) During Sirius’ short life, he didn’t venture very far from his nest site in Argyll, in contrast to his sister Skylar, who travelled across to the west coast of Ireland before returning back to south west Scotland last autumn. It would have been interesting to compare the journeys taken by these siblings to see how they differ, especially since we are also tracking their mother, DeeCee, to see what it told us about the stories of related birds. Sadly, we won’t get the chance to do this anymore, but we will certainly be watching closely to see whether DeeCee or Skylar are able to raise chicks this year. Sirius’ demise was compounded with the loss of Eric at the end of January. Eric was tagged on Orkney in July 2017, and after fledging remained faithful to mainland Orkney. He travelled to neighbouring islands Shapinsay, Stronsay, Copinsay and South Ronaldsay but spent the majority of his time in the east mainland of Orkney this winter. On 27 th January 2018, data from Eric’s tag, which continued to transmit as expected, showed that he had made a sudden and unexpected journey eastwards, away from the islands and out into the North Sea. Data from later that day then showed that he had gone down in the water, and shortly afterwards the tag ceased transmitting. All the evidence suggests that Eric drowned. Alan Leitch, RSPB Site Manager for the Orkney reserves, said: “The loss of Eric is sad; it coincided with a period of bad weather on Orkney, so it appears likely the strong south westerly winds blew this young bird off course. The loss is particularly felt on the islands, as the bird was named in memory of our late friend and colleague Eric Meek.” Eric’s journey Eric (image by Alan Leitch) The continued loss of these birds shows just how vulnerable this species is and the challenges they face even without the additional threat of illegal persecution. We will keep a close eye on our remaining female hen harriers from the class of 2017 and don’t forget that you can help by reporting your hen harrier sightings to us at email@example.com This helps us to focus our monitoring and protection work in the right places, which is particularly important as we head towards the spring, when these birds will start their amazingly acrobatic skydancing and pair up with mates to produce the next generation of chicks.
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.