Well, very sad to relate, all the harrier activity this spring eventually came to nought. The late immature pairing didn’t settle to nest, and although the young male was seen sporadically in the area throughout June, we had no more sightings of any females. This has been so disappointing, especially in view of the desperately poor breeding season that hen harriers have experienced across England in 2009. We can only hope that next year ‘our’ harriers will return to breed at Geltsdale a little sooner in the spring. Sightings from birders on the hen harrier hotline (0845-4600121 or e-mail email@example.com) will again be crucial in our efforts to locate and protect breeding birds as early as possible. The hotline is, in fact, in operation year-round, and sightings during the autumn and winter are also really valuable as we try to monitor and protect communal roost sites.
Other species on the Reserve, however, have generally fared very well this season. Breeding pairs of short-eared owl, dunlin, whinchat and ring ouzel are all up on 2008 figures – very pleasing. Our peregrines and ravens both successfully fledged young in close proximity (in the past, competition for the prime nest site has often meant that the ravens lose out). Numbers of breeding golden plover, curlew, merlin, wheatear and even cuckoo are all holding steady. Our number of lekking black grouse was slightly down on the 2008 counts, but after two consecutive ‘wash-out’ summers this is hardly surprising. However, with a dry June and early July this year, productivity is much higher, so we’re hoping for a big increase again in 2010. The only real ‘losers’ this year have been stonechat (down by over 60%) and spotted flycatchers (apparently a decline noticed in many places in the north of England). As residents, moorland fringe stonechats are particularly susceptible to cold winters – and last winter was certainly a chilly one. I wonder if that other cold-vulnerable resident, the Dartford warbler, fared any better down on the southern heaths..?
Well, finally, back to harriers again. August and September are usually good months for harrier spotting here at Geltsdale, as breeding adults and juveniles pass through as they disperse to wintering grounds. In the last few days we’ve already logged an adult male and a female heading south across the Reserve. We usually also get a number of marsh harrier sightings at around this time of year (largely juvenile birds), sometimes hunting in close proximity to their smaller cousins. So I’m eagerly looking forward to some good harrier action in the next month or two…
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