Batumi, Georgia, big birds of prey migration


This video from Georgia says about itself:

Honey Buzzard migration, Batumi 2013-09-03

A short film of migrating Honey Buzzards in Batumi. The bottleneck of Batumi is probably one of the best places to be if you wanna see a lot of migrating raptors. In early september, the peak time of honey buzzards occurs and thousands of Honey Buzzards migrate.

As this blog noted, bird migration counters in the Netherlands considered yesterday, 27 August 2014, a good day, including 451 honey buzzards.

However, there are always other days, better than good days.

Today, 28 August, in Saghalvasho near Batumi, in Georgia, 81,666 honey buzzards were counted!

Other species there today: black stork 5. White stork 20. Black kite 246. Marsh harrier 64. Pallid harrier 1. Montagu’s harrier 288. Booted eagle 3. European roller 108.

Birds of prey migrating in the Netherlands


This video is about raptor migration in Panama.

The Dutch SOVON ornithologists report about migration of birds of prey.

Yesterday, 27 August 2017, was a good day for raptor migration.

451 honey buzzards were counted. And 278 marsh harriers; though most individuals of this species migrate in September.

There were 38 ospreys. And four Montagu’s harriers; one hen harrier, and a pallid harrier (claimed; experts still have to find out whether it was really that rare species).

Marsh harrier flying


This is video from Poland about marsh harriers and their nest.

This morgen, near Nieuw Vennep, a marsh harrier flying.

Honey buzzard and Montagu’s harrier migration, new research


This video is called Montagu’s Harrier – Britain’s Rarest Raptor. It says about itself:

23 June 2013

This lovely male Montagu’s Harrier was seen at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen nature reserve in early May. I must admit, I was very sceptical that this was a Montagu’s at first, because I was too busy filming it ‘for the record’ with low-spec equipment in order to have a really good think as to the species. I thought it was ‘just’ a late-staying male Hen Harrier.

Fortunately, my two friends, Will and Nikki, knew better and ID’d the bird with confidence in the field.

Translated from the Montagu’s Harrier Working Group in the Netherlands, on Thursday, August 14th, 2014:

In recent years, researchers from the Treetop Foundation and the Montagu’s Harrier Working Group have used GPS loggers to, eg, find out about migration routes and migration strategies of honey buzzards and Montagu’s harriers. Together with the University of Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam), they then looked at the effects of weather on the performance of honey buzzards and Montagu’s harriers during migration. An article with the results of this research was recently published in the Journal of Avian Biology.

Ravens and hawks in the USA, new study


This video from the USA says about itself:

Raven’s nest with 6 eggs on window ledge of office building located in West Los Angeles.

From Wildlife Extra:

Raven populations rise in US as they turn man-made structures to their advantage

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), US Geological Survey (USGS) and Idaho State University (ISU) has revealed how man-made structures affect the nesting of a variety of avian predators.

The study took place on the sagebrush landscapes of the US Department of Energy‘s Idaho site and surrounding areas in the state, locating nest sites for all four species over a three-year span.

Researchers compared common ravens, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, and ferruginous hawks.

This video from the USA says about itself:

A family of wild Swainson’s Hawks (adults & juveniles) in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona encounter a lone coyote

The Wildlife Extra article continues:

Overall, the analysis showed that energy transmission towers and other artificial substrates (e.g. mobile phone towers, billboards and buildings) are overwhelmingly preferred by ravens as nesting sites, and are not at all favoured by any of the three hawk species.

“Raven populations have increased precipitously in the past four decades in sagebrush ecosystems, largely as a result of fragmentation and development of anthropogenic structures,” said ecologist and study lead author Peter Coates.

“Our study shows that in addition to habitat fragmentation, the addition of human-made structures benefit ravens, whereas some species of raptors like the ferruginous hawk have been impacted and limited in nesting areas.”

Why the difference in nest selection between ravens and large hawks? The answer may be linked to the availability of preferred prey.

“Ravens are opportunistic foragers, eating just about anything, including carrion,” said co-author and USGS ecologist Kristy Howe.

“In addition, they tend to be highly intelligent birds that adapt quickly to changing environments and have been shown to transmit learned behaviours from one generation to the next.

“Conversely, hawks tend to be strongly territorial, intolerant of human disturbance, and prefer prey like jackrabbits that occupy similar habitats.”

Ravens were classed as an uncommon breeder within this area as recently as 1986. They are now the most pervasive predatory species nesting in this area, accounting for 46 per cent of nests among the four.

Transmission towers are the tallest objects in the study area. Nesting on or near them may afford ravens myriad advantages, including a wider range of vision, greater attack speed, and greater security from predators, range fires, and heat stress.

While this is good news for ravens, it could be bad news for sensitive prey species, including the greater sage-grouse.

Howe speculates on the study’s other implications and directions for future research: “Since ravens are important predators of young birds and eggs, and hawks are predominantly predators of adults, these landscape changes could shift ecosystem dynamics.

“Predation risk would now likely be greater for sage-grouse eggs and young, and correspondingly lower for adult sage-grouse and other prey species.

“This adds new insights for ecosystem managers who seek to understand the complex relationships between ravens, hawks, sage-grouse populations, and habitat changes.”

“Industrial development, wildfires, invasive plant species, and other disturbances are changing sagebrush landscapes throughout the western United States,” concluded Peter Coates.

“Our results shed light on how these avian predators might change with them.”

English grouse shooting kills hen harriers


This video from Britain is called Hen Harrier – An appeal for help.

From the blog of the British Ornithologists’ Union:

Hen Harriers: going, going …

6th August 2014

The English Hen Harrier population is in terminal decline and action is urgently needed to stop the species being driven to extinction. But what does the science say to support the claims of persecution and for the species recovery in an anti-raptor climate on grouse moors?

Arjun Amar, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, South Africa. Formerly RSPB, UK

In a paper published in 2010, ecologists (including myself) from various organisations such as the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Game & Widlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) found that there were only five pairs of successful Hen Harriers on driven grouse moors in the UK, whereas our data estimated that in the absence of illegal persecution these areas should have supported 500 successful pairs (Redpath et al. 2010). Since then the situation for this species has worsened still, and in 2013, for the first time in over 60 years, there were no successful breeding Hen Harriers in England. Like most ornithologists, and I suspect most people, I find the near annihilation of the Hen Harrier in England and on grouse moors elsewhere in the UK deeply depressing.

I have been lucky enough to have spent several years studying a non-persecuted population of this species on the Orkney Islands (Amar & Redpath 2005, Amar et al. 2008, Amar et al. 2012), and I really feel for the birders, ramblers, climbers, artists, children, teachers and others who have never had the opportunity to experience the joys that come from having these magnificent creatures in their local upland areas.

Hen Harriers are not the only raptor species that suffer on grouse moors – my own research on Peregrine Falcon breeding success in the uplands of England showed that because of persecution, Peregrine Falcon pairs nesting on grouse moors fledge only half the number of chicks of those which nest away from this kind of habitat (Amar et al. 2012). This work suggested that persecution was widespread on grouse moors in almost all areas of England, findings that run counter to the claim that raptor persecution is only occurring on few ‘rogue’ estates. Other research has highlighted similar problems for Golden Eagles on the grouse moors of Scotland (Whitfield et al. 2004).

Moorland managed for grouse © Ailith Stewart

So, why are birds of prey persecuted on grouse moors, despite the fact that they are legally protected? The simple reason is because they eat Red Grouse and much of our upland moorland is managed for the recreational shooting of Red Grouse.

There are two forms of grouse shooting practised in the UK:

  1. Walked-up grouse shooting in which people shoot grouse that are flushed up by dogs. This form requires lower densities of grouse and raptors tend to fare much better.
  2. Driven grouse shooting, involving people flushing grouse over a line of static shooters. This form requires higher densities of grouse (c. >200 per km2) and is associated with heavy raptor persecution.

Many are now questioning the legitimacy of an industry that relies so heavily on illegal activities.

Research has now shown that the concern expressed by grouse moor managers and gamekeepers was not without basis as in certain circumstances Hen Harriers can make driven grouse shooting economically unviable  (Thirgood et al. 2000; Park et al. 2008). These circumstances relate to when you have high density of harriers that settle on a moor, which is influenced by the number of Meadow Pipits (Redpath & Thirgood 1999) and the number of voles (Redpath et al. 2002 ); and also on the state of the grouse cycle, with low to medium densities particularly vulnerable, due to variation in predation rates by Hen Harriers on grouse chicks (Redpath & Thirgood 1999).

Landowners and grouse moor managers argue that Hen Harriers cannot be allowed to reach high densities otherwise their grouse shoots will become economically unviable (Potts 1998). They will then have to make their gamekeepers redundant and as a result the benefits to some other (non-predatory) biodiversity that accrues from grouse moor predator control will be lost (Baines et al. 2008). Furthermore, the argument is made that if management of Red Grouse ends, these heather moorlands will become degraded, lost to forestry or intensive sheep grazing and therefore their overall conservation value will be reduced.

Within the framework of human-wildlife conflicts, one could argue that we are currently in a lose-lose situation (Redpath et al. 2013). Conservationists are the biggest losers; because there are currently almost no Hen Harriers in England and very few elsewhere in areas managed for driven Red Grouse. Conservationists are also wasting a huge amount of valuable conservation resources on trying to protect the few pairs that do settle, or on satellite tracking the few juveniles that fledge, only for these to mysteriously disappear over winter in the English uplands (Natural England 2008).

Male Hen Harrier  © Isle of Man Government

Many would argue that landowners and grouse moor managers, whilst not winning completely are losing less. However, they are still facing some costs. For example, grouse moor managers currently have bad publicity for their sport, with the threat that public opinion could turn against them and ultimately their sport could be more regulated or even banned completely. Furthermore, estates are apparently reluctant to let any harriers settle, because they have no safety net that will enable them to legally manage harriers so that they do not reach levels that would threaten their ability to have driven grouse shooting (Potts 1998). Thus, with the current status quo, they are being forced to break the law to maintain their interests.

So, despite the fact that we know more about the biology and ecology of this species than almost any other bird of prey in the UK, and despite the fact that scientists, conservations, government representatives and grouse moor managers have spent decades trying to find a workable solution (Redpath et al. 2004, Thirgood & Redpath 2008, Thompson et al. 2009, Sotherton et al. 2009), we currently have fewer Hen Harriers on driven grouse moors than at any point in my lifetime. Redpath et al. (2013) recognised that ecological science can only take you so far in human-wildlife conflicts and within this conflict we have perhaps devoted too much time and resources to understanding the birds rather than addressing the underlying conflict between those defending raptor conservation objectives and grouse moor managers.

However, for the first time I now sense that there is something of a seed change in the arena of this human-wildlife conflict. I always hoped for change in momentum and now it really seems to be happening. I have been involved in trying to find a resolution to this conflict for the last 15 years – working for organisations on both sides of the conflict (GWCT and RSPB), and I can honestly say I have never seen so much activity and impetus to resolve this issue , one way or another, as there has been in recent months. These include:

    1. Over 10,000 people signed a petition that called on the UK government to consider licensing driven grouse moors. This activated a response from government. However, many people were upset by what they viewed as wholly inadequate, shallow and dismissive response from the UK government. View
    2. Mark Avery (former RSPB Conservation Director) launched a new petition calling on a total ban on driven grouse shooting which has currently garnered over 10,000 signatures in just 10 weeks. View petition

Amar Hen Harrier Day image

  1. A new organisation – Birders Against Wildlife Crime – have launched National Hen Harrier Day for the 10 August (the Sunday before the glorious/inglorious 12th, the start of the grouse shooting season), to draw attention to the on-going persecution of this species on English grouse moors. View
  2. The Ethical Consumer magazine launched a campaign encouraging consumers to boycott companies associated with driven grouse shooting, until persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors ends. View Linked to this, other campaigning saw UK retailer Marks & Spencer abandoned plans to stock Red Grouse as they were unable to secure enough “responsibly sourced” birds. View
  3.  The RSPB released a statement arguing that the time has come for driven grouse moors to be licensed to protect British birds of prey. View
  4. Defra’s Hen Harrier recovery programme was outlined by GWCT (who also launched a petition to government to have the programme released), this wide ranging scheme would include a brood management scheme, which would involve actively moving harrier nestlings away from grouse moors once they attained densities at which they could threaten driven grouse shooting (see Amar et al. 2000 for details of a similar scheme used in France on Montagu’s Harriers), alongside other measures designed to improve the conservation of harriers and minimise the impact on grouse shooting, such as diversionary feeding (Redpath et al. 2003, Amar et al. 2004). However, as yet this scheme is still to be ratified by all consenting parties and is yet to be released by government – despite some pressure. View GWCT petition

These approaches therefore span the full spectrum of solutions from 1) an outright ban of driven grouse shooting to 2) a licensing scheme with conditions in place that allow for the sporting rights to be removed where illegal persecution continues, to 3) a brood management scheme. Personally, I think any one of these three approaches could well work to provide a conservation success (i.e. more harriers) at least in the short term. However, the implications for land management from these different options are less clear, and will be the focus of much intense debate going forward. Either way, hopefully over the next few years at least, one or even a couple of these proposals will be implemented. Something has to change and I sense, finally, that something is about to….

References and further reading:

Amar, A., Arroyo, B. & Bretagnolle. 2000. Post-fledging dependency and dispersal in hacked and wild Montagu’s Harriers Circus pygargus. Ibis 142: 21-28 View

Amar, A. & Redpath, S. 2005. Habitat use by Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus on Orkney: implications of land use change on this declining population. Ibis 147: 37-47. View

Amar, A., Arroyo, B., Redpath, S. & Thirgood, S. 2004. Habitat predicts losses of red grouse to individual hen harriers. Journal of Applied Ecology 41: 305–314. View

Amar, A., Arroyo, B., Meek, E., Redpath, S. & Riley, H. 2008. Influence of habitat on breeding performance of Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus in Orkney. Ibis 150: 400–404. View

Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davidson, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, T., Pickford, T. & Raw, D. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145: 86-95. View

Amar, A., Davies, J., Meek, E., Williams, J., Knight, A. & Redpath, S. 2011. Long term impact of changes in sheep Ovis aries densities on the breeding output of the hen harrier Circus cyaneus. Journal of Applied Ecology 48: 220-227. View

Baines, D., Redpath, S., Rochardson, M. & Thirgood, S. 2008. The direct and indirect effects of predation by Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus on trends in breeding birds on a Scottish grouse moor. Ibis 150: 27–36. View

Natural England. 2008. A Future for the Hen Harrier in England. Natural England. View

Park, K. J., Graham, K. E., Calladine, J. & Wernham, C. W. 2008. Impacts of birds of prey on gamebirds in the UK: a review. Ibis 150: 9–26. View

Potts, G. R. 1998. Global dispersion of nesting Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus; implications for grouse moors in the UK. Ibis 140: 76–88. View

Redpath, S. M. & Thirgood, S. J. 1999. Numerical and functional responses in generalist predators: hen harriers and peregrines on Scottish grouse moors. Journal of Animal Ecology 68: 879–892. View

Redpath, S. M., Thirgood, S. J. & Leckie, F. M. 2001. Does supplementary feeding reduce predation of red grouse by hen harriers? Journal of Applied Ecology 38: 1157–1168. View

Redpath, S. M., Thirgood, S. J. & Clarke, R. 2002. Field Vole Microtus agrestis abundance and Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus diet and breeding in Scotland. Ibis 144: E33–E38. View

Redpath, S. M., Arroyo, B. E., Leckie, F. M., Bacon, P., Bayfield, N., Gutierrez, R. J. & Thirgood, S. J. 2004. Using Decision Modeling with Stakeholders to Reduce Human–Wildlife Conflict: a Raptor–Grouse Case Study. Conservation Biology 18: 350–359. View

Redpath, S., Amar, A., Smith, A., Thompson, D. & Thirgood, S. 2010. People and nature in conflict: can we reconcile raptor conservation and game management? In: Species Management: Challenges and Solution for the 21st Century. (Eds J. Baxter & C. A. Galbraith). The Stationary Office, Edinburgh. View

Redpath, S.M., Young, J., Evely, A., Adams, W.M., Sutherland, W.J., Whitehouse, A., Amar. A., Linnell, J., Lambert, R.A., Watt, A. & Gutierrez, R.J. 2013. Understanding and managing conservation conflicts. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 100-109. View

RSPB Skydancer project. A four-year project aimed at raising awareness and promoting the conservation of hen harriers in the north of England. View

Sotherton, N., Tapper, S. & Smith, A. 2009. Hen harriers and red grouse: economic aspects of red grouse shooting and the implications for moorland conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 955–960. View

Thirgood, S.J., Redpath, S.M., Haydon, D.T., Rothery, P., Newton, I. & Hudson, P.J. 2000a. Habitat loss and raptor predation: disentangling long- and short-term causes of red grouse declines. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 267: 651–656. View

Thirgood, S.J. & Redpath, S.M. 2008. Hen harriers and red grouse: science, politics and human–wildlife conflict. Journal of Applied Ecology 45: 1550–1554. View

Thompson, P. S., Amar, A., Hoccom, D. G., Knott, J. & Wilson, J. D. 2009. Resolving the conflict between driven-grouse shooting and conservation of hen harriers. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 950–954. View

Whitfield,  D.P., Fielding, A.H., McLeod, D.R.A., & Howarth, P.F. 2004. Modelling the effects of persecution on the population dynamics of golden eagles in Scotland. Biological Conservation 119: 319–333. View

Wilson, M. W., O’Donoghue, B., O’Mahony, B., Cullen, C., O’Donoghue, T., Oliver, G., Ryan, B., Troake, P., Irwin, S., Kelly, T. C., Rotella, J. J. & O’Halloran, J. 2012. Mismatches between breeding success and habitat preferences in Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus breeding in forested landscapes. Ibis 154: 578–589. View

Arjun Amar

About the author:

Arjun Amar’s PhD focussed on the cause of the Hen Harrier decline on Orkney. Following this he undertook a post-doc with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust working on research aimed at helping to resolve the Hen Harrier – Red Grouse conflict and on understanding habitat use by the species on Scottish Special Protection Areas. Arjun worked for the RSPB between 2005-2011 as a Senior Conservation Scientist where his research included exploring the impact of grouse moor management on raptors and wader populations. Since 2011 he has been a Senior Lecturer at the Percy FitzPatrick institute at the University of Cape Town, where he continues research on raptor conservation.

View full profile

Photo images:

All taken from Wikimedia Commons:

MIDDLE: moorland managed for grouse © Ailith Stewart
BOTTOM: male Hen Harrier © Isle of Man Government

Driven Grouse Shooting Destroys Moorland Biodiversiy: here.

A number of countryside organisations, including The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, CLA, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, and the Moorland Association have joined forces to call on Defra to publish a plan for the recovery of hen harriers across England: here.