Hen Harrier exclusive, the Skydancers are back on station in the Forest of Bowland.

Today (Thursday 19 March) at just after 10am, Raptor Politics was contacted by text by a member of the North West Raptor Group reporting that two raptor workers in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland were observing a remarkable event taking place. They were watching a wildlife spectacle unprecedented so early in the season. They were witnessing the aerial display of two skydancing hen harriers which ultimately lasted throughout the late morning and into the early afternoon.


The SkyDancing valley as the mist begins to clear . 

What both raptor enthusiasts were seeing, but never expected, was England’s first two hen harriers engaged in their pre-season aerial skydancing display, a prelude before settling down to breed at this historic moorland nesting territory on estates owned by United Utilities in the Forest of Bowland. It was within this same moorland location in the Croasdale valley where last year under the 24/7 protection of the RSPB, possibly the same pair being watched today, had successfully reared their brood of young.


The male SkyDancer passing over-head

As the sun began to shine brighter and the temperature rose to a staggering 14 degrees in the valley, the two enthusiastic observers settled down to enjoy this remarkable aerial spectacular unfolding before their eyes. This included both harriers locking talons before spiralling head over tail tumbling towards the valley floor. The pair were also seen power flying upwards before coming together their breasts touching  momentarily, a truly remarkable exhibition of flying acrobatics.

The morning blanket of mist having slowly lifted from this moorland vista, both spellbound observers were reminded of the problems this very special bird is still encountering, now facing extinction in England the result of persecution of red grouse moorland. The observers were also reminded that it was only yesterday they had watched huge swathes of heather moorland ablaze to the west from their present location; the smell of burning heather could still be detected in the air as the acrid aroma of new heather burning elsewhere in Bowland drifted  into the valley. The two men recalled that not all that long ago the moorland they had observed ablaze yesterday just a few miles away, had once contained up to three breeding pairs of hen harriers most seasons, but alas not anymore, despite the moorlands SPA protection .


A Hen Harrier sign reminding our followers that in the early 1970’s forty pairs of Harriers were found breeding in Bowland, last year only two pairs reared young.

Hen Harrier isle of manThe RSPB will be introducing a 24/7 guard within the Croasdale valley for a second season once the pair observed on Thursdale settle to breed laying their eggs sometime in early April. We are confident that with this important RSPB strategy, ensuring the safety of the harriers for another season, and with the support of United Utilities, the pair will once again successfully rear a new brood of hen harriers helping to ensure a new beginning for this endangered raptor on red grouse moorland throughout northern England. Well that’s the plan, but will it succeed that is the important question?



7 comments to Hen Harrier exclusive, the Skydancers are back on station in the Forest of Bowland.

  • Macaris

    Wonderful news! Wish I’d been there instead of with the curlew and skylarks on Pendle Hill.

    Editor’s Comment. Any time you would be welcome

  • Tim Sarney

    This was the first time I have witnessed a full blown “sky dance”. It was certainly a day to remember. We had bonus sighting of a male peregrine passing through. It has been a good week so far; on Monday I was priveliged to observe two short eared owls displaying at another location in the Forest of Bowland.

    Unfortunately reality came home to roost today with the extensive burning of the heather taking place to the west / north west on the adjoining estate. Harriers displaying at one site, burning at another…..

  • Robert Curtis

    Had a male flying over this evening in South Lincs,was fairly high but getting lower as it moved south east.The light was poor but no mistaking the long tail and black tipped wings with the silver grey and white plumage.Really really special.

  • John Miles

    Great ANOB planting daffs as a non native species!!!

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    What would happen if hen harriers were located breeding on any of the private estates in the Forest of Bowland? Would the estate owners allow the RSPB to establish 24/7 protection to make sure those sites were not interfered with I wonder? What would happen if an estate refused resulting in the loss of the breeding harriers and the sites destruction?

  • Kevin moore

    When was the last time hen harriers were succesful in breeding on a private estate in bowland ?

  • Chris Gumm

    Saw the two calmy sat on a stone wall yesterday morning at about 8am and again saw one this morning at 7 perched at the top of a tree before flying away.