Day one, back on my run of four night shifts. On my way, as usual, I slow down at the Red squirrel feed box that I pass in the car. There are two extremely orange squirrels running up and down the tree playing. One is the chubby round one (though she does seem to have slimmed down a wee bit since the big feeder box was swapped for a smaller one), and the other is a mischievous, energetic youngster. Scrumptiously cute.
As I walk over the Old Water bridge I stop as usual to scan for Grey wagtails. Oh my goodness, one on a rock just below me. He was glorious. I never realised how magnificently long their tails are.
Further along my walk I startle a whole Stonechat family. That was a surprise. I thought they’d all long gone from the moors. Daddy Stonechat, in his glamorous plumage was ‘chatting’ at me. Mummy Stonechat was making a prettier more bird-like call, at me. Fledgling Stonechat, well he disappeared into hiding.
Seconds later, I startle a female Roe deer. She hovers a moment in the tall grass, to check me out, then slinks away into invisibility.
I hear my beloved Red grouse. Hearing them afresh after being away, and it occurs to me that all these little people hidden in the vegetation, well the sounds they make remind me of E.T.
Arriving at the hut I am welcomed with a lovely view of the male Hen harrier through the scope. He’s becoming rather glorious with all his manly pale grey feathers.
Watching the female. She’s out and about most of the time now. She begins to post hop. Flying from one to another to another. Only stopping a few seconds on each. She’s agitated. Something is disturbing her. And then she makes her chattering call. Something really is worrying her. I hear the man approach the hut before I see him. It’s impossible to walk quietly and quickly on this moorland terrain. I engage with him. I tell him that there is a rare bird’s nest nearby and that we’re politely asking walking to avoid disturbing the birds.
His response was “Oh the Hen harrier. I’d shoot them if I came across one. I’d shoot the damn things.”
I did not respond. As he marched away aggressively.
Whether his threats were hollow or not, it was a brutal reminder of why I am here. Of why there are so few Hen harriers in England. Of why they are on the brink of extinction here in England. Again.
I’ve been asked to keep a video diary of my time up here (and the H family’s too of course) for Autumn Watch. Exciting huh. Well what a first entry that was. Telling the camera about Mr Angry.
Watching the Hen harriers some more cheers me up after that ghastly incident. I find Mr and Mrs H hanging out together on an old grouse butt (the mounds upon which shooters rest their guns). After their little rendezvous, they fly in opposite directions. Mrs H lands on a nearly bare patch of ground. I laugh. She’s feeding on insects on the ground. Running around, unusually not hidden by tall vegetation, I can see just how long-legged she is. Hen harriers are exceptionally leggy for a raptor. Her legs are a wonderful bright, rich, egg yolk yellow. Organic, free-range, egg yolk yellow.
Mrs H then spends the rest of the evening preening, scratching, plucking and stretching. Moulting must be an itchy business. Every now and again she plucks a small cream feather. From where I’m sitting it honestly looks like she blows the feathers out of her beak. Quite a few times, she gets so carried away with this whole business of preening, scratching and stretching, that she loses balance and nearly falls off her post.
The midges this eve. Aaaargh. Each time one flew into my eye, I was ecstatic. It meant another had died. Mrs H, sitting on her post is obviously also surrounded by a cloud of the little demons. Through the scope, I watch her catching lots of ‘somethings’ in her beak. The ‘somethings’ are all about her head. She must be eating them. What a darn good idea. I might try it too.
She reminded me of Buckbeak, when he’s catching birds in the Forbidden Forest.
I’m in the tent tonight. Between 10-11 pm, I could hear distant gunshots.
4.50 am and the grouse dawn chorus began. All around me, in the tent. It was magnificent.
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