Written for Eurosite, 08-mei-2021
While what seemed like winter everlasting slowly turns into a cold and wet spring our migratory birds are not slowing down and arriving in full force. Yellow wagtails, barn swallows and common redstarts are finally colouring our landscapes again and filling our skies with joyous chatter and song. The migrants eating insects are surely followed by the ones eating others birds and voles, our migratory raptors soaring from Africa crossing deserts and seas alike.
Saturday May 8th is World Migratory Bird Day, and in addition for us – the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation – start to a new season of breeding harriers. Together with volunteers we will be searching the province of Flevoland for breeding pairs of; one of our most vulnerable breeding raptors (hen harrier), its scarce cousin (Montagu’s harrier) and declining nephew (marsh harrier). When these pairs are located in due time a protective fence will be placed around their nests against ground predation and risks caused by agricultural activities.
That these birds need protecting was once again cruelly demonstrated last year when the last breeding Montagu’s harrier female in Flevoland was assumedly shot and subsequently died on her nest with three young chicks. Due to commendable attentiveness of volunteer Johan Janssens observing distressed male ‘Abe’, nothing short of a miracle happened and one of the chicks survived. After recuperating in bird sanctuary ‘de Fûgelhelling’ it was fostered in another nest in the province Groningen, where volunteer Hilvert Huizing visited it regularly to leave supplementary food, which resulted in the young harrier successfully fledging weeks later. Where raptor persecution turns out to be not only a thing of our past but sadly relevant today, we still have this small victory to celebrate. And with it an even greater victory, because protecting migratory and farmland birds is in essence a story of collaboration with hundreds of volunteers, farmers, site managers, researchers and everyone else contributing in any way.
Although harriers may not sing like the yellow wagtails, swallows or redstarts will, they sure fly and soar unlike any other. They crown our farmland with their hovering presence and urgent calls and even when their return is far from guaranteed we will be waiting with open arms every time.