Nov 22, 2010

Hen harrier roost

On a notion tonight I shot off to the biggest west mainland Hen harrier roost to see if there was anything doing. On arriving I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only one with the same thought. Pulled in to a passing place was a car and a land rover both with scopes sticking out of the windows. It was an RSPB crew who were out for their monthly Harrier count. Now this was a piece of luck. The views here are distant and there is a large slice of hill to cover so four pairs of eyes are a definite boon. With the failing light the first birds had already been seen coming in over the heather. They were still flighty and not yet ready for settling. As they landed here and there we would try to keep an eye on their position so as not to confuse them with more arrivals. Slowly more and more were spotted. In the main we were seeing males coming in , the ones that landed mostly took positions on stabs or prominent heathery tussocks so they could view the hillside and new arrivals. Ringtails soon started to be spotted, many settled straight in to the heather whilst others quartered the hillside of the traditional roost. There was some interesting interactions between the males and females, between the males as well. Every so often a male would put up another male and a short squabble would ensue. Things were settling well when a Short eared owl entered the game. Now Short eared owls and Hen harriers are not the best of friends on a good day and the fear was that this owl would put all the birds up and the count would get scrambled. The SEO was chased by several males and a ring tail before finally heading off out of the area. It provided some entertaining flight and fortunately didn’t cause too much confusion to the count. This was the first Short eared owl I had seen for a while. They are a bird that gets rarer as the winter progresses. There has been some debate as to whether they all migrate south or a small population remains here and drops their diurnal feeding pattern in favour of a nocturnal life style, but that’s a debate for another day!!. The light was failing fast now and the last of the ringtails seemed to have arrived. With the youngsters and females settled over the hillside The males that had been sitting on the high spots seemed satisfied it was time to roost and one by one they moved off to claim their spots for the night with a slow circle over a favoured patch of heather before a quick plunge take them instantly out of sight. All in all it was a cracking spot of raptor viewing.

The totals for the roost were 8 males possibly 9 and 7 ringtails possibly 9.

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