I’m walking to my back door carrying my rucksack with my heavy camera inside it. I glimpse a shape over the wind-burnt sycamores at the side of my garden. It’s a Hen Harrier. I recognise it instantly. It’s flying low, only five feet off the ground, eyes down, looking for voles. My heart almost explodes. I’ve spent all week carrying my telephoto lens around nearly 50 miles of coastline because of the fear that I might see one, and miss it. I see it for the most split of split seconds as it flies, visible only in the small gap between my house and the outbuildings. What is the chance of it being there just now?
I put my rucksack down, unclip both clips, squeeze the toggle to release the drawstring and take my camera out. I take off the lens cap while beginning to run, extend the lens, turn the camera on and reach the wall at the back of my house just as the Hen Harrier flies across from right to left. I try to focus on it and take as many shots as I can:
It’s a juvenile. It sweeps along the top of the garden, almost brushing the stalks of the Dock flowers as it glides:
It rises up at the end of the garden:
It’s heading away now. Is that my last chance to see it?
It turns and I see it looking towards me:
Then it sweeps away. feet tucked neatly underneath, over the wall and over the field of golden barley:
I run to the side wall of my garden. It’s there, still hunting, glorious against the blue sky, wings outswept, hunting over the barley.
What an amazing sight.
I check the times of the photographs. The difference between the first shot and the last is just 25 seconds.
Hen Harriers are persecuted birds. There should be hundreds of them in England but there were just nine successful nesting attempts in 2018. Many of the adults and juveniles are illegally killed and their eggs and nests destroyed by gamekeepers on driven grouse moors to increase the profits of the business. Here are six ways you can help Hen Harriers (RSPB link).