Comment on Blood brothers: Manu’s brother Marc also disappears

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This relentless illegal thuggery must be stopped, and in my view the only way is to ban driven grouse shooting. The 'disappearance' of these two birds from Scotland also shows just how cravenly ineffective will be the government's 'Hen Harrier Action Plan. Itself probably unlawful you can help support a bid to get it changed here: www.crowdjustice.com/.../justice-for-hen-harriers

Blog Post: Blood brothers: Manu’s brother Marc also disappears

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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.    

Blog Post: Class of 2017 update: Sirius and Eric die of natural causes

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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 henharriers@rspb.org.uk 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.  

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.

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.

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.    

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!           

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 .