Sunday, 19 January 2014

Just when you think you're getting to know Hen Harriers, they show you how much is yet to be learned

After many priviliged years of watching and working with Hen Harriers since a young age, the only thing that this blogger can say for sure about this magnificent and often enigmatic species is:
"Never say never and never say always!"

A male Hen Harrier glides gracefully at a winter roost in Kerry as a surveyor looks on in search of harriers!
Hen Harriers continuously show us how much we have yet to learn about them
 This weekend saw visits to the farmers that look after the fields that Heather hunts on a daily basis, catching rats and mice in amongst the stubble fields and oil seed rape. It was important to let the farmers know all about Heather's amazing travels since she left her nest in Kerry last summer, visiting so many different places since including Wicklow, Meathe, Lough Neagh, South Cork and more. Oftentimes, scientific conservation research can leave the most important factor out of the equation - the person who looks after the habitat. In this case, it was also important to see if the farmers could adopt a safe practice in regard to rodent control around the farm. This is just one of the many applications to which the satellite data derived from Heather's tag can be put to direct consaervation use.

After visiting the farmers, it was off to an elevated vantage point in the mountains to see if we could see her come into roost as she has done night after night for the past month. Four of the finest volunteers on the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey watched in anticipation of her slender wings held in a shallow 'v' shape glide into roost. Waiting, waiting waiting... Heather did not appear, nor did any of the 4-5 other harriers that have joined her here since she arrived over a month ago. So where was she? Where were they all? How did they all decide that on this particular night, they would roost elsewhere? We have so much to learn.

Just how much we have yet to learn was brought right home when the satellite data from Heather's tag came in that evening. She was back at her roost on the south coast of Cork, over 50km away! She spent 3 months here from September to December, but had opted to travel further north to where she has spent the past month. So why the turn around? Will she stay at her roost in South Cork? Will she move on again? Have the others joined her? Heather's travels continue to astound!

Go on Heather!! :-)

It is funny to think that the intrepid four travelled some distance to see Heather, yet all the time she was very close to the homes of three of the surveyors back in South Cork!

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