For a split second yesterday afternoon, I came across a young female hen harrier. Set against the blue haze of Corserine, the bright silhouette worked slowly downwind over the reddening rushes and vanished behind the trees. After a phenomenal winter for harriers on the Chayne last year, this was the first bird I’ve found on the hill since March. The local nest failed towards the end of May, and this is the first harrier I’ve seen in Galloway for a fortnight. There will be more harriers over the winter, but a poor year for voles will prevent anything like the exceptional build-up I enjoyed between December and February.
I’ve written before on this blog about how alienated I feel from participating in discussions about hen harriers. The summer’s fury has been perpetuated by politically motivated point-scorers, and as the breadth of the debate has widened, it has become less about the birds themselves. Harriers have become the rallying point for a more general malaise towards shooting and grouse moor management, and the birds themselves are decidedly secondary. To some extent this is frustrating, since having lived and breathed both sides of the argument for the past seven years, I feel like I should be able to contribute.
As it is, the issue has been commandeered by absolutists on both sides with no interest in anything that does not wholly support or endorse their argument. With a foot in both camps, I don’t seem to suit the easily digestible template. In an environment where people can decide how they feel without ever seeing a harrier or a grouse, what value does first hand experience have?
Still, the first harrier of autumn is enough of a notable moment to warrant inclusion on this blog.