This seems to be the time of year when hen harriers become quite conspicuous in unexpected places. I see most of them on the Chayne during January and February, but in late December each year I seem to come across one or two in what I would normally imagine would be far from harrier country. In December 2010, I saw a white cock flying over the main street in Castle Douglas, and in December 2011, I saw two cocks flying together over the remains of a barley stubble field about three hundred yards in from the Solway coast. I am possibly seeing a similar amount of hens each year, but there’s every chance that they just don’t stand out enough for me to notice them. I also saw a cock harrier flying across the Solway from the Lake District in December 2011, making determined headway due north into heathery hills near the village of Dundrennan. I suppose that there’s a great deal going on behind the scenes when it comes to harriers, and given that they are a species I know very little about, perhaps there’s a perfectly logical explanation for the fact that they always turn up in funny places during December.
Yesterday, I followed a young cock bird as it flew over the road in farmland which I would describe as typical lowland Galloway arable country. I noticed it over a field where there were sheep nibbling at the remains of a wet cut of August silage and lost sight of it as it landed on the mud behind a ring feeder surrounded by charolais cross cattle. The way it was moving suggested that it was hunting, but there was nothing much to be seen in the way of prey. Perhaps it was skirting through the wet fields in the hope of catching out a snipe or a peewit from one of the ditches. Odd to see it land – that must only be the second time I have seen a harrier on the ground.