Hen Harriers at The Loons

I’m going to London for the weekend. That means getting the ferry from Westray to the Mainland first. No, not the mainland of the UK, The Mainland of Orkney. I’m taking my van over and sleeping in it for a couple of nights as I’d like to do some walking on the coast and attempt some photography of Hen Harriers and Short Eared Owls. The ferry takes an hour and a half. It’s glorious weather. Then, after a few days, I’ll be getting the ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen overnight. I’ll be sleeping in a chair on the ferry. I’ll then hot-foot it over to Aberdeen rail station for a direct train to London King’s Cross, which takes seven hours. After a couple of nights with my son it’ll be birthday celebrations with the Puffin Whisperer and then I’ll do the whole journey in reverse.

I’m at RSPB The Loons on the mainland of Orkney hoping for a glimpse of Hen Harrier. I’ve been here before and seen nothing all day, apart from spotting a Short Eared Owl for a few seconds:

The owl was worth the wait. Will today be worthwhile? I have a pot of coffee bubbling in my van and the prospect of making a delicious aubergine curry with Punjabi spices later.

There’s heat haze over the wetlands, and it’s difficult to tell what birds are flying in the far distance until I get my binoculars out. Then a Hen Harrier appears over the wetland:

Hen Harrier - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

That’s very exciting. It approaches and I can see it turning, swooping, diving and then flapping slowly to a cruising height. It circles the reeds and I get glorious views.

Hen Harrier - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

In Orkney, Hen Harriers have fledged over 100 chicks for the past two years. In England they have been almost eradicated due to organised crime linked to driven Grouse Shooting, where these magnificent birds are persecuted for profit.

I see it sweep past the hide with the most majestic glide. I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, but if I had to have a spirit animal, the Hen Harrier would be it.

Hen Harrier - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

After this experience I’m going to be on a high for weeks.

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