First Visit To the Uplands Of North Wales Since Lockdown Was Eased 10 July

A female Hen Harrier calls out over a moorland photo by Frank Wildman copyright.

Since lockdown was eased here in Wales and we can now travel more than five miles from home the weather has been pretty grim, either high winds or low cloud or rain and sometimes all of these at once!

Today the weather forecast was better though looking out of the window first thing it was raining and windy, have a cup of tea and then see what it looks like. Well the rain had stopped and the tops of the hills of Snowdonia were visible in the distance so worth a go to visit the uplands of North Wales.

A Sparrowhawk flashed across the road not far out of Llandudno and driving south first Red Kite and then Common Buzzard were added to the raptor day list. Climbing up hill, very steeply, we left the woodlands behind and climbed higher onto moorland. First bird here was a Kestrel hovering near the track and soon followed by Skylarks, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits. Parking up the wind was strong and dark clouds were massing, hmmm, better wait a bit before setting off on foot! The wait proved a good idea a violent shower of rain rattled over the moorland but luckily driven by the wind didn’t last long.

Out into the very fresh air, just 10C temperature according to the gauge in the car and this is July! Really should have put on more clothes and packed gloves and a woolly hat. Still it was good to be out and walking in this dramatic and beautiful landscape even in the cool of an early July morning. Walking and scanning a vast upland landscape is difficult as the target bird can be anywhere, behind, above, hidden, anywhere. Especially difficult today as this is the first visit to the site all breeding season, were the birds even using the area this year? Only thing to do keep scanning and then some more scanning.

Another fantastic photograph of a female Hen Harrier by Frank Wildman copyright.

Then from nowhere there was a Hen Harrier! Not far away low over the heather but wait, not one but two Hen Harriers flying close together. Through the binoculars it was an adult female and a recently fledged juvenile! Wow this was just fantastic, from not knowing if the birds were even in the area this year to proof of breeding and successful breeding at that in seconds. Heart racing adrenalin pumping magical moment. Both birds kept low in the strong wind and twisted and turned so fast it was tricky to follow them, the female gained height and moved off towards a distant ridge while the juvenile landed on a wooden fence post. Here it looked really buff and the white tip to the long tail showed off in the sunshine both features of a juvenile bird. The adult female Hen Harrier had been a colder brown and no white tip to the tail.

The juvenile bird stayed in view moving from one post to another, flying low over the moorland as if practicing hunting and providing amazing views. The adult female returned briefly but we did not see any food brought in, the juvenile followed the female across the moor someway but then returned to the area of the first sighting. A little more fence post sitting and practice hunting, this wonderful bird in view the whole time, and then suddenly the harrier was off. Climbing quickly and soaring it moved up to the ridge above the moor here it was joined by a second juvenile Hen Harrier and the two raptors chased each other in a fantastic game of aerial tag! This was breath-taking stuff as the birds performed wonderful manoeuvres in the blue sky, twisting, turning and diving at amazing speeds. At one point one of the juvenile birds picked up something from the ground, too far away to see what it was, and flew around with it in its talons chased by the other youngster. Several times it dropped the item only to pounce on it and carry it off again, it seemed just to be play?

After a long game of chase over the ridge both birds dropped back down to the area of the first sighting and landed on fence posts. Then another lovely surprise a third juvenile Hen Harrier joined them and it was possible to see all three of them in one binocular view just fantastic! The haze was now increasing as it always does on moorlands even on chilly days like today so it was time to leave these rare and sadly much persecuted birds and head back home. A very memorable encounter with three new Welsh Hen Harriers and we can only hope that they will stay away from Grouse Moors giving them the chance of a long life where they can make our hearts beat faster with their sheer beauty and grace.

Oh and don’t forget Hen Harrier Day Wales on 18th July streamed live on Facebook and free for everyone to join in! Please get involved and make some noise for our wildlife. End the illegal killing of our “protected” birds.

Another of Frank Wildman's amazing Hen Harrier photographs copyright.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales, and once the world returns to normal, we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you.

We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

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