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Looking back on Hen Harrier Sorrel’s journeying to date
Author: Hamish Smith

As the Hawk and Owl Trust’s Hen Harrier Satellite Tagging project enters its fifth year, we can look back on what has been a fascinating and informative project involving this Red-listed species.

With the vision of the late David Cobham, a female Hen Harrier hatched in 2016 [named Sorrel by David] was satellite tagged on behalf of H&OT by Stephen Murphy, Natural England’s Lead Advisor on Hen Harriers, in an area of moorland in the Scottish Borders managed then by the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, a partnership between Buccleuch Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England.  H&OT was represented at the tagging by Jemima Parry-Jones, the Trust’s key advisor on Hen Harriers and the Project Lead, and by Hamish Smith, the Trust’s Hen Harrier Satellite Tagging Project Officer, who photographed the event, and who has subsequently monitored, downloaded and processed Sorrel’s sat-tag data, liaising with Stephen, Jemima and the many ‘boots on the ground’ providing local support.

Sorrel continues to provide a fascinating insight into Hen Harrier post-fledging behaviour.  Analysis of the data we are receiving is allowing us to establish her location, the rate of change of that location and distance travelled, as well as her daily cycle of roosting and foraging/hunting.  The satellite-based location information is highly accurate, allowing us to direct our colleagues on the ground for the location and protection of Sorrel.

The Google Earth based map and its associated key below have been constructed using accurate GPS data, but in the interests of the safety and security of both Sorrel and other Hen Harriers using the roosts she has visited, a very low level of granularity has been employed in the map.  Follow the alphabet and reference the key to provide you with an idea of the locations visited and the overall journey Sorrel has taken us on to date.  When considering the information in the key to the map, please bear in mind that this tag is set to a 48/10 cycle [solar battery charges for 48 hours then the tag transmits data for 10 hours] which will explain some gaps in the dates.  Further, in inclement weather the tag will take longer to charge than in bright sunshine.

Serial

Detail

A

Langholm Moor [Jul thru Oct 2016]:  Stephen Murphy of Natural England, working in conjunction with Dr Cat Barlow of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, tagged Sorrel on 13 July 2016 with Jemima and Hamish present.

B

Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire [Oct 2016 thru May 2017]:  Sorrel overwintered here under the watchful eye of the Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Group.

C

Langholm Moor [May thru Aug 2017]:  Sorrel returned to Langholm for the spring and summer of 2017 and was monitored by Dr Cat Barlow and her team.

D

Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire [Aug 2017 thru Mar 2018]:  For the second consecutive year Sorrel overwintered under the watchful eye of the Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Group.

E

Between the end of March and mid-April 2018 Sorrel began to range wider from her overwintering area, flirting with all points of the compass until she eventually committed and headed north, settling briefly to the east of Loch Kirkcaldy, County of Nairn in the Highland Region.

F

On 18 April 2018 Sorrel’s tag showed her to be within the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.  Here Sorrel was under the watchful eye of a National Trust for Scotland ecologist.  During her stay [18 April thru 9 Aug 2018], Sorrel bred and successfully reared and fledged three offspring.

G

Langholm Moor:  By 11 Aug 2018 Sorrel’s tag was showing her to have returned to Langholm Moor, very close to the nest site from which she fledged in 2016, but by 14 Aug she had headed off again.

H

Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire:  By 16 Aug 2018 Sorrel’s tag was showing her to be back in her overwintering area of the previous two years, but by 15 Sep she was off again.

I

On 17 Sep 2018 Sorrel was in Perthshire, a few miles south of Glenshee, where she stayed until 20 Sep.

J

By 22 Sep 2018 Sorrel was back ranging over Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire where we anticipated she would settle down to overwinter, but by 24 Oct she had moved on again.

K

Isle of Man:  Sorrel’s tag showed her to be on the south-west of the Isle of Man and then the Calf of Man on 27 Sep 2018 before heading off again.

L, M & N

Ireland:  Sorrel arrived in Ireland on 29 Sept 2018 and during her overwintering here ranged extensively before leaving on 30 Mar 2019.  During her stay she was under the watchful eyes of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, the Hen Harrier Ireland initiative and the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey.  Dedicated individuals, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, who travelled far and wide in inclement weather to get eyes on her on many occasions.

O

Sorrel spent 1 thru 9 Apr 2019 on Arran, and was very active during this period extensively exploring the island.

P

On leaving Arran, Sorrel was next recorded during 13/14 April 2019 as having made a visit to the area of her 2018 nest site in the Cairngorms.

Q

Sorrel was next recorded on 18 Apr 2019 on the hills above the northern end of Loch Striven.

R

Back on Arran, Sorrel spent 23 Apr thru 10 May 2019 exploring the island, but despite their best efforts the boots on the ground didn’t manage to get eyes on.

S & T

Already recognised as being a very active female, Sorrel headed north again and during the period 13 thru 15 May 2019 she was ranging over the area between north of the Cromarty Firth and, once again, her 2018 nest site in the Cairngorms.

U

Sorrel returned to Arran, and during the period 18 May thru 19 Jul 2019 she became very loyal to a particular area in the centre of the island.  She exhibited what was interpreted on the satellite trace as potential breeding behaviour, but once again boots on the ground failed to get eyes on.  Very abruptly she left, so we suspected some form of intervention but whether natural or otherwise we will never know.

V

On 21 Jul 2019 Sorrel was recorded as making a short stopover in East Renfrewshire before heading south to Dumfries & Galloway.

W

Sorrel remained in Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire 24 Jul 2019 thru 18 Mar 2020.  Clearly she overwintered there, but as it was not possible to get eyes on we don’t know whether or not she bred in 2019.

X

On leaving Dumfries & Galloway, Sorrel headed back to Arran for the period 20 Mar thru 1 May 2020 before heading north once again.

Y

Between 4 May and 16 Aug 2020 Sorrel settled herself back into the Cairngorms where it was once again confirmed that she had paired up and bred, subsequently fledging three young before heading back to Dumfries & Galloway, presumably to overwinter.

Z

On 20 August 2020 Sorrel was recoded to be back ranging over Dumfries & Galloway and South Lanarkshire.  She has stayed there to date with the most recent data observations being into Dec 2020.

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