Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Coquetdale branch

The Coquetdale branch of the Wildlife Trust was treated to a wonderfully illustrated and enjoyable talk on hen harriers by RSPB manager Blanaid Denman, who is in charge of the Skydancer four-year project monitoring hen harriers in the northern UK.

The aim of Skydancer is to save and protect hen harriers as last year there were no nests in the UK, compared to 806 pairs in 2004.

Hen harriers live in open heather moorland and nest there while they winter on the coast. The male bird is pale grey and black whilst the female is brown flecked so as to be camouflaged in the heather when she sits on her eggs. The birds have many nicknames. the male is often referred to as ghost bird while the female is known as a ringtail.

They were first recorded in Ireland in 1544 and are found in the UK and Russia. During courtship, the male skydances by making between 30-40 dives to attract the female’s attention. The female will not leave her nest whilst feeing her young and so relies on the male passing food to her in mid air. The chicks are ringed by the RSPB and Natural England.

Skydancer is a grass roots project informing local people and schools about the harriers and finding solutions to save the birds by working with the keepers of the grouse moors and with the general public.

Our next talk is by Harold Dobson on the red kites following our AGM on Monday, April 7, at 7.30 pm in the Jubilee Hall.