Well, another winter has gone round without my finding any new Hen Harrier roost sites. In fact, I'm not at all sure whether, until quite recently, harriers have been present at the height of winter in the same numbers as we're used to. The RSPB has a couple of roosts they monitor , but no large numbers are involved. I now know of no others although there must be the odd bird present in odd corners of Islay and, of course, there are some birds on Jura ( I haven't tackled that situation yet ! ). Speaking with the Warden at RSPB Gruinart recently he agreed that the numbers were somewhat lower than previously and this had been reflected in the breeding season returns too. This is something I have been saying for at least a couple of seasons, although it's hardly a surprising situation given the concerted efforts that have gone into their persecution on the mainland in the last couple of decades. Thankfully no such actions appear to occur on Islay but, of course, many of our birds move off the island in winter and are subject to the targeted depredations in their winter quarters or on passage.
The trouble we have on Islay is that, with the island sustaining reasonable numbers of harriers still, visitors see a few birds and conclude the situation is quite normal and healthy. Far from it , even to the extent of reduced numbers of passage birds in autumn in my opinion. But such messages and conclusions take time to establish and that is why it's so important for this monitoring scheme to continue. Should anyone be interested in contributing then contact Anne Cotton ( BTO Stirling office ) or Chris Rollie, ( RSPB, Dumfries and Galloway) as they are the organizers of the survey in Scotland and England respectively. Full instructions and count dates ( Oct-March ) will be sent direct to you each season.
In the meantime I shall plot and plan and pore over OS maps, as previously, in anticipation of what next winter might bring, although this was perhaps never the time to try and find new roosts anyway!