I was reading the 2021 annual report of the Lothian & Borders Raptor Study Group the other day (sorry, this is not a public document) and was reminded that the group had donated funds to pay for a number of hen harrier satellite tags over the last few years, and that these have been fitted to young birds in the region by licensed experts in the RSPB.
[A hen harrier photographed in southern Scotland, photo by Ian Poxton]
As I was scrolling down the list of tagged harriers and reading about their fates, one name stood out – a hen harrier called Oscar.
Oscar had been fitted with a satellite tag when he was a chick in July 2019 at a confidential nest site in Tweedsmuir and his fate was given in the report as:
‘Disappeared in Eskdalemuir area in suspicious circumstances 14/12/19‘.
The reason Oscar’s name stood out was because, oddly, he does not feature on the list of dead/missing hen harriers that I’ve been compiling since 2018 (this list currently stands at 67 dead/missing hen harriers).
I checked for any media coverage of Oscar’s suspicious disappearance but couldn’t find anything so I asked the RSPB for any info it could provide. I’m grateful for the following response:
‘Oscar was one of two chicks tagged at this nest on the same day.
On 14th December 2019, we received a transmission from Oscar’s tag close to where he had been roosting since November 2019; then we heard nothing further. We originally presumed that this was a natural death, as the battery voltage had been dropping, however further analysis of the tag data in February 2020 showed that it should be classified as a ‘sudden stop, no malfunction’, and the incident was subsequently reported to police on 28th Feb 2020. A follow up search was carried out involving police officers, however no sign of Oscar was forthcoming.
The area is dominated by upland sheep farming and forestry – no gamebird interests we’re aware of. There was no media release as this was just when COVID was kicking off….
Oscar’s sibling, Fingal, also disappeared in a similar manner in May 2020, but was not found (RPUK blogged about that one here)’.
It seems I need to update the list…
UPDATE 24th March 2022: 68 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors (here)