Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Mull Hen Harrier Day...With Harriers!!

One of my roles for Hen Harrier Day was to provide hour long tours in search of the wonderful raptors throughout the day. In our location here on Mull we are fortunate to have an increased chance of seeing the birds on short tours due to the lack of criminal activity and destruction of the iconic species. 

Prizes to raise money on the day...
HH Day Cake made by Sarah Padders!
Owl not forget you!

The first tour left Craignure Bunkhouse at 11:00 and within five minutes of arriving at Hen Harrier habitat to the south we got onto a Short-eared Owl hunting high up on the hillside. We all watched the bird for around ten minutes before it disappeared out of view. A wonderful start and just like the Hen Harrier this species gets illegally shot, trapped and poisoned on Red Grouse moors due to their predatory instincts towards the game birds so it was very relevant to see this bird as well on a day where we all stand together in stance of criminal activity in our uplands. 

Within forty five minutes of the tour we had a Hen Harrier on Hen Harrier Day! As all aboard turned to watch a Hooded Crow fly over the road, a female Harrier suddenly appeared just afterwards as I was turning the van round! We lost sight of the bird but parked up and persevered for five minutes as the bird appeared again and flew right in front of us, silhouetted in the 'scotch mist'. 

Rise for Raptors...
Rain does not stop play...

The second tour started at 13:00 and with a full vehicle we headed south to spend an hour observing everything we possibly could in a Hen Harriers world with the top prize being the Skydancer itself of course! 
Good proper Scottish rain throughout the second tour as were joined by naturalist John Miles who has a lifetimes experience living and working in the uplands with Hen Harriers alongside grouse moors. He talked about all the wild flora in a Harriers upland habitat and after fifty minutes persevering he spotted a female Hen Harrier from a distance, hunting in the rain! 
Minutes later we got a male Harrier hunting on the opposing hillside working his way up the slope and out of view. All the passengers managed to see at least one of the birds so it was another great success!

Studying the open moors...
Hen Harrier Hat-trick!

Our third Hen Harrier Day tour departed Craignure Bunkhouse at 14:30 with another full van load all set to search for the majestic 'ghost birds'. After views of a distant pair working the hillside we had a memorable encounter on the way back in with an adult female Hen Harrier quartering the roadside habitat, providing incredible views! A second ringtail appeared from nowhere and interactions were observed between the birds as the Red Deer hinds grazed all around them. A wonderful finish to our final tour of the day and seeing these birds in the wilds reminds us what we are fighting for and provides more fuel and urgency to help protect them in the future.

What a photo by Luke Hasler -

Lord of the Wings

A lot of people do not realise that the Hen Harriers which breed on Mull are still under great threat from persecution. In the non-breeding season young birds will naturally disperse to cover new grounds and also adult birds can travel nationwide depending on food availability. A Hebridean Hen Harrier could pass through dozens of Red Grouse moors on their journey south. The fictional equivalent is Frodo Baggins trying to define all the odds to avoid mass evil on route to Mount Doom.
In the movies the good guys always seem to win so lets hope in the near future that this moorland monstrosity ends and there is a fairytale finale for the majestic Hen Harrier. 


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