Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Debate for Dancers - Hen Harriers

As I'm sure most of you hen harrier enthusiasts know, these raptors spend their summers up on the moors for breeding and usually winter in more low lying areas such as estuaries, favouring the salt marshes for feeding. 

Every year Parkgate Marsh along the Dee Estuary gets at least 2 or 3 wintering hen harriers and many other wintering raptors, however it is unusual for the area to get a male (usually it is just ringtails). Nevertheless for the last couple of weeks a male has been seen almost every day from the promenade wall at Parkgate.

Driven grouse shooting is due to be debated in parliament on Monday 31st October, in less than a weeks time, so I thought what better way to spend a morning than searching for this stunning bird and considering what the future might hold for them.

So on Sunday I arrived relatively early in the morning at Parkgate. I set up the scope and started scanning the seemingly endless marshland, searching for this Skydancer. After the first couple of sweeps I didn't pick anything of interest up, so I reverted to scanning a flock of waders that were roosting on one of the many secluded pools. About half way through the flock, a graceful pale bird flew into vision, I hadn't registered this until the bird had flown out of my field of view. Desperately I trained the scope on the bird's position and my jaw literally dropped when I confirmed the identification....

a male HEN HARRIER!!!!

The bird gave great views for more than a minute; quartering the marsh and flaring all the nervy ducks and waders up into the air, creating a magnificent spectacle; the harrier standing out clearly now as it soared effortlessly through the mayhem it had created.

I got three other great views of this hen harrier during the course of the visit and I couldn't help but worry yet again about the continued and unforgivable persecution of such an iconic bird.  Was the sighting of this harrier a good omen for next Monday?

There is still time to make a difference.  I urge all of you to write to your local MP and ask them to attend the debate. Provide them with why you think there should be a ban on driven grouse shooting and the problems with grouse shooting. The debate is less than a week away, but there is still time to get your MP involved, as we need all the support we can get.

Remember the unquestionable facts:

There should be over 300 nesting pairs of hen harrier in England, however this year there were just 3 pairs, none of which were on driven grouse moors.  Satellite tagged hen harriers have gone missing. The tags have been found on ones that died of natural causes as the satellite tags have continued to transmit. Other tagged birds that have gone missing have never been found, but the tags were known to stop transmitting on or close to driven grouse moors.

The people have spoken and they want to see this debated in parliament.  It is now for the government to decide if grouse shooting should continue. The government have the power to do something about the sustained raptor persecution taking place on grouse moors, even though hen harriers are protected by law.

So please, if you haven't done so already, make sure with just days to go before the debate, that you write to your MP, brief them and make it clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable.

No-one has the right to reduce a native species to the point of extinction. No-one has the right to deprive others of the grace, beauty and spectacle of our stunning hen harriers.


Sadly since writing this post another of this years hen harriers is gone forever. Rowan's body was found though, and the autopsy must have revealed something as the results have been handed to the police to investigate. You can read the press release here.


  1. Very well written Findlay. Short and to the point. I sincerely hope a ban will come about, but I fear not. There is too much vested Establishment interest.

  2. Very well written Findlay. Short and to the point. I sincerely hope a ban will come about, but I fear not. There is too much vested Establishment interest.

  3. I can understand your worry about this. I hope hunting will be banned. I think it is in Sweden. I have seen this one maybe only three times and it is a joy to see.

    Glad to learn you love the beauty of birds and nature, do never forget it :) I don´t count birds anymore, I take photos, but I want beautiful birds in beautiful settings :)

  4. It's a shame some think (or don't) it's ok to shoot such an amazing bird. Just to protect some grouse. We've all seen birds of prey snatch birds we enjoy and never have we sat there and thought "I'm going to shoot that bird". It's not right and even some of the people I know who shoot have said the nails are being banged into their coffins by the activity of gamekeepers. They are genuinely scared their hobby will be so tight regulated they'll have to stop shooting

  5. Hunting...period. Any bird all over the world. I just can't see it, when there are 'farms' that raise poultry for food...and the sport of just going out and shooting one for mounting or just for the 'thrill' of it should definitely be outlawed. There are just too many birds that are no extinct because of mankind. And more on the endangered list.

    You got me going!!!

    I think your photos are superb. And I'm sure getting photos of them in flight is even MORE of a challenge. Well done Findlay. Well done.

    1. that should read 'NOW' extinct, not 'no extinct'. Sorry.

  6. I'm glad you got such good views of the male Hen Harrier. Surely in our modern world we don't need to hunt - and the sporting reason should be outdated as well.

  7. Great in-flight photos of a beautiful bird!
    I hope these birds can be saved from extinction.

  8. Good for you Findlay for keeping up the good fight and I will be very interested to read from you about what happens in the debate. (Are people allowed to testify? or is it all just written...being from the other side of the pond, I have no idea how it all works.

    I am glad you spotted this beautiful bird. I wish you (and the birds) the best of luck coming up. (I hate hunting.)

  9. Great post - sitting here in Australia, seeing debates about climate change still happening it makes me wonder if politicians live in the same world as us!

    I think the solution to the issue of looking at my posts or visiting Australia, is to do both!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  10. I have everything crossed for Monday's outcome Finn. I'm just forwarding this brilliantly written piece to some of our partners to hopefully engage them and their members. I wish I could be with you tomorrow. Please keep us informed if you can and thank you for all you do. You're a great example to us all.