'Astonishing' journey of Lancashire's rarest bird

Wildlife experts have hailed a rare bird born in Lancashire which has flown to the other side of Europe.

By Mike Hill
Friday, 6th March 2020, 5:17 pm
Apollo and the route of his journey through Europe
Apollo and the route of his journey through Europe

Data from his satellite tag revealed the hen harrier born last year has flown more than 1,000 miles to spend the winter in Portugal.

Named Apollo, the male hen harrier was one of 22 chicks who successfully fledged from five nests being monitored by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team and partners on the United Utilities Bowland estate in the summer of 2019.

Hen harriers are one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK, and the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team have been fitting satellite tags to young birds to learn more about where the birds travel.

Apollo and the route of his journey through Europe

James Bray, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, said: “Each day was nerve wracking but after two long months we were really pleased to see the chicks start to fledge. We were not prepared for what we would see next though – it’s truly amazing that these young birds can make such long journeys and shows the value of satellite tag technology.

“We were astounded by Apollo’s movements as he travelled south. Crossing the English Channel in October, Apollo journeyed into Brittany before passing over the Bay of Biscay into Northern Spain - a journey over 400 miles long which remarkably only took him less than a day to complete.

“We are continuing to monitor Apollo and we’re excited to see whether this remarkable bird will return to his native Bowland for the summer and if we might see him sky-dancing above our hills again.”

Dr Cathleen Thomas, senior project manager for Hen Harrier LIFE said: “This is a spectacular piece of flying for a bird that was only a few months old on his first major outing. The joy of working on a project like this is that we’re learning all the time about the capabilities of these amazing birds.

“It also helps us to implement better measures to protect them and shows that we need cross-border collaboration across the UK and beyond to protect this species and preserve its habitat across its entire range before we lose it for good.

“Independent scientific studies have shown that the main cause of the hen harrier population decline is illegal killing associated with management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting. It vital that we work together to protect these birds, by licencing of grouse moors across the UK.”

The project team will use the data from the journeys of Apollo and other tagged hen harriers to assist with the future planning of suitable conservation management for hen harriers.

The use of satellite tagging technology to track the individuals also provides vital information to understand species and their ecology, including the reasons for the UK population decline.