Friday, 24 January 2014

Hen Harriers

It was good to see the issues surrounding Hen Harriers were brought up on Winter Watch.  I’d been waiting with anticipation to watch this footage and hear what was said.  Great that it was that this piece of footage was included, I can’t help feeling that the BBC in typical fashion were rather loathe to say too much about the problems of persecution and the reasons for it and I think that the brief comments made will have gone over many viewers heads unless they were already aware of the situation.  Having heard Iolo Williams in full swing whilst speech making, I reckon if he had been left to his own devices he would have had some very strong comments to make.  At least it will hopefully ensure that there is much discussion on the forums. 

I did enjoy Winter Watch as a whole, which included some interesting points and some very good photography.  I don’t subscribe to the thought from some that the programme is dumbed down nature on the box.  Anything that reaches the masses and involves them gets high marks from me.  For those thinking that is below them there are always some good books to read!  Now on the subject of books………….

I’ve almost finished reading the Poyser edition of The Hen Harrier by Donald Watson.  I feared that it might be dry and full of facts and figures, but very much to the contrary it is a very enjoyable read.  Donald Watson was of course an artist as well as ornithologist and in the accounts of his study areas you can almost feel that he is seeing the birds through an artists eye and some fine detail is given, especially of birds on the nest watched from a hide.  Donald Watson began to watch Hen Harriers in the 1940’s so you can’t expect the latest facts and figures, but that does not in anyway negate what is an exceptional read. I have a tendency to skim read books on first reading, so it will be lined up for a second reading soon, but not before I’ve read the more recently written The Hen Harrier-In the Shadow of Slemish by Don Scott.  This provides some detail from Don Scott’s study of Hen Harriers in Northern Ireland over more than two decades and includes some information on tree nesting Hen Harriers.  Whilst yet to begin reading this book a cursory glance has shown rather interestingly that sixteen species of harrier are now recognised worldwide in comparison to the nine or ten species recognised  by Donald Watson’s book.  Splitting seems to have provided some with a number of armchair ticks!  My aim is to eventually to move on to Harriers of the World: Their Behaviour and Ecology/OUP.

Some memories of very memorable harrier sightings have flooded back to me including the Northern Marsh Hawk (Norfolk), Pallid Harrier (Zambia and possibly ranking as the most exciting, found just before torrential rain and high winds sent us scattering back to out huts for shelter from the storm), African Marsh Harrier, numerous sightings of Montague’s Harrier in Europe (one of the best seen harassing a Golden Eagle in Extremadura), several Hen Harrier sightings in the UK and my first ever harrier, a Marsh Harrier seen at Leighton Moss many years ago on a hot summer evening when I had came across Leighton Moss completely by chance.  I fell in love with reed-beds and harriers that evening.  Great memories of great sightings.

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