Wednesday, 14 October 2015

October 2015 update

In general, it has been a chilly and bright start to Autumn and the gamekeeping team have been making the most of the dry weather to do some heather burning.

Langholm Moor

It has been fairly quiet bird-wise up on the moor but there have been several sightings of Wheatears in the last week or so - looking very out of place amongst the frosts. I had a wonderful experience last week when I encountered 14 Ravens interacting together up on the high ground. I heard them before I saw them, that characteristic 'cronk' a real giveaway but I wasn't expecting such a large group. A couple of Buzzards made the mistake of getting too close  and quickly moved on to another part of the hill. 
Raven - the superb wedge tail clearly visible (John Wright)
 I watched the group for 15 - 20 minutes or so playing on the wind, displaying to each other, twisting and turning upside down, absolutely stunning. Having watched myself in the past as they carried off young chicks and eggs, Ravens are most certainly an opportunistic predator, but they do not seem to deserve the term - an 'unkindness' of Ravens - as on this occasion at least they were a joy to watch.
Tarras Valley (Tom Hutton)
 Hattie and Grainne, our 'resident' harriers continue to hunt Langholm moor for voles and small birds. Cyan (the young male harrier tagged at Langholm this summer) has been down in North Yorkshire for the last few weeks but a few days ago he returned home to Langholm. He didn't stay long but journeyed briefly over to the Moffat hills before returning to Langholm once again.

Cyan returns home to Langholm

It has been quite a busy few weeks with educational activities - we were joined by Gretna Scout group a few weeks ago on an expedition onto the moorland edge and a visit to our bird hide.
Gretna Scout Group approaching
Gretna Scout Group setting up for a delicious lunch

We have  enjoyed several activities with Langholm Academy over the last month including multiple visits with the S1 Biology students having a go at freshwater sampling in the Tarras. Working with the local schools to try and find practical opportunities to parts of their curriculum - like these students  learning about Indicator Species and Simpson's diversity Index.
Langholm Academy students collecting data

Langholm Academy students learning that even on a fairy bright dry day the moor can be cold and bleak place.

Project stand at Canonbie Day of the Region

 We are pleased to welcome new part time member of staff Beckie Davies who did a work placement with us back in June. Beckie will be leading some education events in the coming months including two events this school half term.

Check out this link to our website for information on upcoming events:

After an exciting encounter with an adder on the moor, enjoying a snack in the woods

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Cyan on the move

Over the last couple of months Cyan has made various short forays away from his natal site but over the weekend he has made his first significant move away from Langholm, travelling over 130km south into North Yorkshire.

No change for Hattie and Grainne who remain on the moor at Langholm.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Harrier and the Hare

One of the challenges young harriers face after fledging is learning to hunt effectively and feed themselves. I have been sent some great photos of a young harrier at Langholm attempting to take on a little more than it could 'chew'. The more typical prey for Hen Harriers are voles and small birds, but with the vole population at Langholm currently very low this young harrier has been experimenting with other slightly larger prey.
 These photos were taken  from the roadside at Langholm, the activity was some distance away but show some interesting behaviour.
The young Hen Harrier took three passes at the Brown Hare and eventually gave up, the last image in the sequence shows the Harrier and the Hare sitting side by side in the heather. The Hare was unharmed and looked rather non-plussed by the whole event.
Many thanks to Guy Broome for these images. Click on any of the images to see them enlarged.

 A few Short Eared Owl shots - why not?

 Check out Guy's website

No news to report from Hattie and Grainne our 'resident' harriers, they are doing their usual thing.  Cyan recently made a move towards Hexham but he did not stay long and has spent the last 10 days or so exploring Eskdalemuir.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

August 19th Cyan comes home

Just a quick update to let you know that Cyan (the young male harrier tagged at Langholm this July) has returned from Northumberland and spent the last few days back on Langholm Moor. Tagging at Langholm and elsewhere has shown us that young harriers can be very variable in their movements after fledging. Hattie and Grainne our 'resident' female harriers appear to be the exception so we are not expecting Cyan to hang around long.

The moor feels very quiet harrier-wise at the moment. This time last year vole numbers were very high so there was plenty of food about for the 47 fledged harriers and sightings were frequent throughout August and September. This year, however, both vole numbers and sightings of harriers  are right down. With food availability limited - it is likely most harriers have moved elsewhere. 

We'll keep an eye on Cyan and let you know where he goes next.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

August 12th 2015

The Glorious or Inglorious 12th?

 Well the Grouse season has certainly started with a  bang this year and  I'm back from a couple of weeks of annual leave to hear the the awful news that a post-mortem has confirmed that Annie who went missing in March had been shot.

Police Scotland have asked anyone with information to contact Police Scotland on 101.  Alternatively CRIMESTOPPERS can be contacted on 0800 555 111.

Annie 2014 - 2015

Concerns about Annie arose in mid March, her last transmission was received around the 19th of March. At that stage, as protocol dictates, the matter was handed over to the relevant authorities. 
Frustratingly even this post mortem evidence does not allow us to identify the person who shot her and bring them to justice. Will Annie be just another dead harrier?...

Sadly I don't have any more information, only anger and frustration that anyone would want to end the life of such a beautiful bird.

No doubt in death 'Langholm Annie' as I have heard her called in the last day or two will join 'Bowland Betty' in helping to raise awareness about her species.

 While this storm rages, life goes on for Hattie, Grainne and Cyan (the new boy, Hattie's son). Hattie and Grainne are still safely settled here at Langholm, but Cyan has begun his journey, leaving Langholm moor and heading north towards Hawick before moving east into Northumberland. There is growing awareness and admiration for this beautiful species but still some who can not bear to share their world with a harrier...

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

July 2015

It has been a busy few months and we've had a real scramble for funding on our hands so apologies for the lack of blog posts.  I am pleased to be able to announce that we have secured funding for a new two year phase of the Making the Most of Moorlands Project, so many many thanks to our funders including The Holywood Trust, Heritage Lottery and Robertson Trust.
The cold and wet weather and a drop in vole numbers have meant a much 'quieter' season than last year, with Barn owls and Short Eared owls numbers way down but six successful harrier nests have fledged 17 young which is just fantastic.
This last month has been hectic to say the least but I have had the pleasure of a full time placement student  to help out. I have been surprised and humbled by the energy, hunger for learning, incite and level of dedication exhibited by Beckie and can only hope that half of her cohort graduating universities across the country in the next few years are like her.

Local lass and Stirling Uni student, Beckie Davies, shares her work placement experience:

Growing up between Langholm and Canonbie, the outdoors has been my playground for as long as I can remember. By the time I finished high school I had worked with Cat and the moorland project a number of times, including building and putting up bird boxes and helping run the stall at the adventure festival. After a gap year I headed off to Stirling University to start a degree in Environmental Science with Outdoor Education where I had the opportunity to select work placement as a module option. Having worked a lot with young people primarily through Scouting and Guiding I was keen to work a placement that combined the education side with a greater environmental focus. It was an easy decision – back home to Langholm and The Making the Most of the Moorlands Project.

Project Manager Cat Barlow kindly accepted my request to join her for a month and the more research I did the more fascinated I became with the whole grouse-raptor conflict and was keen to get out and see the birds for myself.

Beginning mid-June I was thrown into a time of year that is notoriously busy for the project as we race around to check nests before birds fledge, run the last of our school activities for the year, transition into summer holiday activities, and squeeze in the odd adventure festival too!

My first week got off to an incredible start when on day 2 I had the privilege of visiting a merlin nest, two hen harrier nests and a barn owl box all in one day. The birds were ringed so they can be identified later and a nest camera was also put up to monitor the harriers. One young male hen harrier was later satellite tagged and we look forward to following his progress soon.


Cyan, young male harrier sat tagged at Langholm

The Muckle Toon Adventure Festival was a busy weekend with a stall at basecamp as well as activities out on the moor. Cat’s dawn chorus walk battled on through the fog and enjoyed views of a male hen harrier, as well as finding a meadow pipit nest and ringing some barn owls. Stream dipping was blessed with a sunny spell and a bus full of youngsters and adults enjoyed discovering the creatures of the Tarras Water.

The next couple of weeks continued with more bird ringing including this adorable nest of meadow pipit chicks. We attended the new Langholm Academy S2’s “Share” event of their John Muir Award. They’ve spent the last 8 weeks working towards the award: discovering, exploring, conserving and were now very keen to share this with us and the new P7’s. We also got out on the moor with a biology class for a vegetation sampling session.  
Meadow Pipit chicks
The summer holidays were fast upon us and we began our holiday activities. Two stream dipping sessions, geocaching, exploring and an art session. We battled on through some pretty rainy weather and had a great time. Over the two weeks we saw a whole host of wildlife including a brilliant view of an adder on the moorland edge near the roundhouse.

Celebrating John Muir Awards

exploring the underwater life of the Tarras

Geocaching on the moorland edge

exploring on our 'Naturally arty' day
close encounter with and Adder

Following on from my month’s work placement I have gained a far deeper understanding of the grouse moor-raptor conflict and just how complex the issue is with the number of different grouse predators and also the need for driven shooting to occur in order to finance the continued habitat management and predator control. The moor extends far further North than I realised and the five gamekeepers do a fantastic job of managing such a large area.

Stream dipping as part of the Muckle Toon Adventure Festival

Ault male and Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Due to the time of year I was lucky to be able to watch and assist with a wide variety of bird ringing, from small birds including meadow pipits and redstarts, and also raptor species including merlins, buzzards, barn owls and of course – hen harriers! Not only was it amazing to see these birds up close, I also got a chance to learn more about ringing and get hands on experience in setting up mist nets and handling a range of birds. I was fascinated by brood patches, a patch of bare skin used to incubate their eggs.

While ringing birds and also when out on the moor I have been surrounded by a wealth of knowledge about the species around us and have tried to take in as much of this as possible. I am better at identifying hen harriers from a distance and telling apart the sexes – the male being much smaller and having a distinct black tips on a grey body compared with the larger brown female. I have learnt new species, both flora and fauna, and which species use which nest building materials. Of course nature always throws us curve balls and we found redstarts (commonly use dried grass and oak leaves) in a nest box full of moss.

Working with school groups and children on summer activities I have been able to put a lot of my previous experience to good use. I have been given a lot more autonomy with the project than I have in other jobs so have enjoyed designing, planning, advertising and running activities. This has increased my confidence and efficiency in taking an idea from start to finish. I am now constantly thinking and planning for future activities, noting down ideas as they come to me. Not having to follow scripted session plans has been a great opportunity and as a result I feel more engaged as a leader. I have also had plenty opportunity to adapt plans to suit wet weather – always a useful skill in Scotland!

a shelter from the rain

toasting marsh mallows

Overall it’s been a great month, I’ve learnt a lot and had a lot of fun along the way. A huge thank you to Cat Barlow and The Making the Most of the Moorlands project for hosting me and I hope to see you all again soon.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


Nearing the end of May, we are still waiting hopefully for summer to arrive. The sprinkling of Roan trees on the moor have finally begun to green up after looking decidedly lifeless for many months. New life can be seen popping up all over - from the first Red Grouse broods, to broods of Lapwing and Oystercatcher, Owls and Thrushes.
 Despite the cold and wet and occasionally snowy conditions Hattie and Grainne (two female Harriers hatched and tagged at Langholm moor in summer 2013) have both incubated successfully are now feeding young chicks. Diversionary feeding begins as soon as chicks hatch and both females are readily taking the food from the posts while their mates bring in an array of natural food including voles and small birds.

Hattie and Grainne are among five active harrier nests on the moor this season. After the monumental twelve breeding attempts last year it is easy to be disappointed, but five nests is still brilliant and there are a few birds about with potential to settle. With a bit of luck and a herculean effort from the keepering team here at Langholm to control the ever increasing fox numbers we could still be seeing good numbers of  harriers fledge Langholm this year (I will resist the temptation to count any chickens/ harriers before they have hatched).
Check out the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project site for official updates and news.

Hattie's nest (Sonja Ludwig)
The group of volunteers who worked towards a John Muir Award as part of their efforts building the new moorland bird hide received their certificates and celebrated with a visit to the hide and a close encounter with some Tawny owl chicks. So proud of you guys, well done James, Amy, Alasdair, Ralph and Adam!

Young volunteers receiving their well deserved John Muir Discovery Awards

Ralph helping to ring a brood of Tawny owl chicks in a nest box

We have been working with Langholm Academy over the last month or so introduce their S1 group to the wonders of the moor. It is a tricky time of year to explore without disturbing nesting birds but we have managed to discover a few hidden corners of the moor and learnt about moorland management and wildlife from freshwater invertebrates such as the Cased Caddis fly and Golden Ringed Dragonfly Nymph to the wonderful Whinchat, Goosander and Buzzard.
 Last week the group learnt all about nesting birds; where they nest, when they nest, the materials they use to build their nests, how they keep hidden during incubation and the dangers they face. With the help of some chicken and quail eggs the group had a go at building their own nests from hay, straw, wool and bracken and learnt just how tricky it is to find the right spot and build a safe nest for their eggs.

not many nests can boast a supportive stone wall, like this one!

Here is a fine example of one of the weird and wonderful nesting sites the group learnt about.

Oystercatcher nesting on a stone wall ( Tim Chamberlain)

 Pied wagtail nest - under a bridge but still very exposed spot

young Song Thrush
First owl rescue of the season - Tawny

The Academy group also learnt about what to do if you find a young bird (generally best to leave well alone as adult birds will most likely be lurking nearby ready to feed them). Sadly this young tawny had wandered into a busy garden/ farm yard where it was in real danger of a close encounter with a dog or a vehicle, so it was returned safely to its nest tree. Young Tawny owls usually leave the nest before they can fly - doing something called 'branching' - exploring the branches of the nest tree and surroundings.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

May 2015 Waiting for summer to arrive

It is mid may and the moor still has a very wintery feel. The first grouse broods of the year have been spotted and it is several weeks since we ringed the first Short Eared Owl chick of the year but we are still regularly getting frosts, hail, torrential rain and very strong winds. The moor feels like it is several weeks behind the rest of the surrounding countryside and definitely not as far along as this time last year.  The young grouse face a challenge finding enough insects to eat in these cold temperatures and with the first harrier broods due to hatch soon we have fingers crossed that summer is not far away.
'The Owl man' has been back for another stint of SEO watching and he has shared some great photos  of his time on the moor along with some amazing shots of SEO in snow at the end of April.

Langholm Moor (Bryan Benn)

SEO (Bryan Benn)

SEO hunting in snow April 2015 (Bryan Benn)

SEO in snow April 2015 Bryan Benn

Short Eared Owl chick in nest (Bryan Benn)
Waiting for a school group to show up a few days ago, I heard that familiar sound of young birds food begging, after a quick search with my binoculars I spotted this brood of Stonechats fresh out of the nest with fluffy heads and stubby tails, they were surprisingly agile (and difficult to photograph) already.

Brood of Stonechats

Road kill Red Grouse

As if we needed a reminder to go steady on the roads at this time if year - I watched as this female Red Grouse was killed on the road a few days ago, -  in good breeding condition, (you can see the egg she was carrying crushed beside her) her mate waited patiently at the side of the road.  Sadly dead wildlife including Black Grouse,  Lapwing, Skylarks, Adders and Toads are all too common a sight on the roads. The moor roads are important driving routes for many rural people, but please take a little extra care over the next couple of months as tiny chicks and egg-carrying females need a little extra time to get out of the way and our wildlife needs all the help it can get.

Lapwing chick
Check out this surprise visitor in an old Buzzard nest at Langholm..