Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Miranda is keeping us guessing

Many thanks to Stephen Murphy for this update:

'I should know by now not to try to second-guess harrier routes. It appears the supposition made in the last update that she was primed for the crossing to Scotland was wrong, or at least premature, she is residing near the Garron Plateau in the Antrim Hills in Northern Ireland.

This is not the first time Miranda has visited this area. Between the 27th and 29th of October 2013 she flew from the Antrim coast at Cushendall to Slemish, so would have naturally flew over the Garron Plateau and surrounding hills.

In the last week, Miranda roosted near Loch Neagh, within 5km of a roost used by Heather in the autumn/winter of 2013. It was hoped the two satellite tracked harriers would meet up but this has not happened. However, given these two birds could travel anywhere in Europe, the 5km square that hosted both birds, albeit a few months apart must have something that is attractive to the species.
Miranda 20 day tracking data to 20th April 2014

15th - 20th April

Where to next? Data due in any minute so if you don’t hear anything presume she is in Antrim!
Data this am 23rd April shows Miranda is still in Antrim.

Meanwhile Hattie and Grainne are enjoying the sunshine (yes sunshine) on Langholm moor. This is one of the best seasons we've had at Langholm in several years in terms of early season harrier activity.. but we can only hope this will translate into breeding activity and success..
Composite image of female Hen Harrier(Hattie) skydancing (David Palmer)
We are lucky enough to have the support of two accomplished wildlife photographers - David Palmer ( and Bob Little  and will be sharing some of their images on this blog.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is Miranda heading home? 

Thanks to Stephen Murphy for this update:

Could Miranda be heading for home? She roosted on the 15th  high up on a heather moor above the River Glendun in County Antrim, the last landfall before Scotland. On the 15th transmissions began in Rathlin Island, County Antrim about 11am, a shift of 217 km from the last known location in County Sligo on the 13th, therefore the route taken from west to east Ireland occurred when the transmitter was sleeping and is unknown. I expected the following hours tracking would see her to cross to Scotland, but she could have started the journey at first light on the 15th and travelled many kilometres before we pick up the story. If so, rest and refuel would have been in order.  I would not try to second-guess her next move but Langholm looks a good bet, as it is only a 20km sea crossing to the Mull of Kintyre and a few hours flight home.
Of course, she may ignore that  theory and stay in County Antrim!

If she does leave the Emerald Isle then it is worth stating that Ireland has been good for Miranda. Those that hold Miranda dear could sleep soundly knowing she was in a safe landscape watched over by good people.

 Watch this space.. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Langholm Harriers

Many thanks to Stephen Murphy at Natural England for this update:

10th April
 I hope you have enjoyed keeping up with the birds since they fledged in July 2013 but as they have recently moved to where they may breed, the updates will continue with text only. Should any of the tracked birds move significantly then updates will recommence as usual.
All birds as they were in last update.
Miranda, or maybe O’Miranda, as she has spent more time in Ireland than her native Scotland, is still in County Mayo, approximately 457 km from her sister Grainne and near neighbour Hattie in Langholm, Scotland. A recent note kindly sent by Irene O’Brien may give a hint at why Miranda is staying in Mayo – “There has been a male seen roosting in the area over the Winter....It would be great if she stayed around, I don't know why hen harriers don't breed up here as there is plenty habitat for them”. It is interesting that Miranda did not use the nearest communal roost (B. O’Donoghue pers comm), this information suggests it is good habitat and prey availability that is holding her, as opposed to finding a mate and breeding. All can change quickly though and it may only take a passing male or a philopatric pull of home to get her on the move.
I was informed today that Hattie and Grainne were skydancing and nest building, so all being well they will attempt to breed in the next few days. I know, do not count your chickens but if the tracked females are successful and transmitters are fitted to their young, it will only be the second time that a parent and young harrier have been satellite tracked together. This is the best method for investigating whether the parents play a role in juvenile dispersal and for assessing sociality between tracked individuals (Jacobs Index). The transmitters will also provide data to map the parent females range as they start to hunt for their growing young.
That Hattie and Grainne have overwintered in the Langholm area is testimony to the management in place. It is vital that birds of local provenance along with any immigrant birds can find a safe haven for wintering and breeding in the Langholm area. It is important that birds such as Hattie and Grainne breed at Langholm, as lack of recruitment is the main reason the harriers have not increased as in the JRS.
With any luck, over the next few days, the fixes for the Langholm females will start to contract, and then clump on one circular spot, measuring about 60cm across, made of heather, lined with fine grass.

On the 13th April Miranda left the area she has been loyal to for 25 weeks and flew 75km to the east into Sligo before making a u-turn and returning towards County Mayo. By her recent standards, this was a significant journey. The distance covered over time was more similar to a migrating harrier. So has that natal pull kicked in, has she followed other harriers heading east, or was it just a bird prospecting around? We will know tomorrow.
The most recent run of data covered the 13th of April from early hours at roost near Carrowmore Lake in County Mayo to the last fix was at 11.50 am heading west back towards Mayo, for all we know (now) she could now be back at Carrowmore.
Fig 1 shows the places we know she visited during the 10 hr transmission period because it is based on fixes guaranteed to be within 250m of the birds actual location. Fig. 2 shows the same data set without filtering including two fixes over sea at 09.43hrs and 10.11 hrs. These low class fixes could be accurate and probably shows a more realistic route taken.

Skydancing male Hen Harrier John Wright

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

April on Langholm Moor

The moor is a very exciting place at the moment, there is so much activity. Red Grouse can be heard all around chuckling their territorial displays and Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover are filling the moorland skies with their wonderful calls. Skylark and Meadow Pipit dash here and there and the vole activity is amazing.. hopefully a good indication of a good season for our resident Barn Owls and other breeding raptors. The Harrier activity is keeping the team of staff and volunteers very busy, it is looking promising but will this early activity translate into breeding attempts / success? 

The weather is mixed to say the least with the odd sunny day mixed in with our more usual wet and foggy days. We've enjoyed superb sightings of Hen Harriers, Merlin, Short Eared Owls, Red Kite and even sightings of Ring Ouzel, Osprey and Marsh Harrier on passage. With southern migrants like Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Swallows appearing and yet we still have the odd Brambling about at the feeding station - who must surely be heading north soon?

Brambling  - John Wright

 April 9th and all three tagged Harriers are alive and well. Miranda is showing no signs of leaving her wintering spot, will she stay and attempt to breed? 

Check out Hen Harrier Ireland blog to see how Miranda's movements vary from her Irish-born neighbour Heather more details 

Grainne and Hattie are getting stuck in to Spring . We'll have to wait and see if Grainne & Hattie attempt to breed this year.. watch this space. In the meantime enjoy these stunning shots by Laurie Campbell who took these photographs a couple of years ago at Langholm.

Laurie Campbell

Laurie Campbell

Laurie Campbell

If you would like an opportunity to see displaying Hen Harriers and other fantastic moorland wildlife - we are running some guided sessions over April as part of the D&G Wild Seasons Spring Festival. Every Sunday in April 9am - 1pm . Please contact Cat Barlow on  or 013873 80914 for details.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Watching the moorland skies

The weather couldn't have been much worse for our first D&G Wild Spring event at Langholm - 'Watching the Moorland Skies'. The morning began with thick fog down to the ground which didn't bode well! Understandably most folk had decided to not venture out onto the moor so our group was not vast.  The intrepid few that ventured out onto the moor this morning were rewarded with fantastic views of a whole suite of raptors. The calls of Curlew, Golden Plover, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Red Grouse serenaded us in the thick fog as we waited for conditions to improve. For a while I thought this northern eggar caterpillar may be the only thing we saw.
I have since been reliably been informed that this is a drinker moth caterpillar (apologies for my inaccurate ID).
 At last a brief glimpse of a male hen harrier hunting over the heather, but so fleeting, not everyone saw him. In between the waves of think fog and heavy rain that swept across the moor we (and the birds) made the most of the brief interludes of brightness. The Harriers didn't disappoint and we had excellent views of male and female, at one point Skydancing together .. superb! Short Eared Owl, Red Kite and Buzzard all put in appearances over the morning and Merlin. Fantastic morning