High hopes for intrepid Bowland raptor after it flies two 1,000 mile round trips to Spain

Apollo the Hen Harrier has defied expectations by flying over 1000 miles from the UK to Spain - twice.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 10:17 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 10:20 am

Scientists at the RSPB made the discovery thanks to cutting edge satellite-tagging technology.

It is hoped that Apollo will return to the UK to nest in the coming months.

The two-year-old Hen Harrier has become the first Lancashire bird to migrate over 1,000 miles to Spain where he has spent the past two winters.The young male was fitted with a satellite-tracking device before he fledged from his nest on the United Utilities Bowland estate in 2019.

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Apollo the Hen Harrier.

The RSPB works with United Utilities, their farming and shooting tenants, and the AONB, to protect close to a third of England’s hen harrier breeding population.

The satellite tag has allowed scientists at the RSPB to follow his incredible journey, taking him all the way to Extremadura, on the Portuguese border, where he spent his first winter in 2019/20.

Apollo then flew back to Bowland the following spring, returning to breed with a young female just a few miles from where he himself had hatched.

Incredibly, Apollo then repeated his journey to Spain in autumn 2020, following a dead-straight line to the exact spot in Extremadura – a landscape of steppes, forest, and farming between Lisbon and Madrid, and one of the most biodiverse places in Europe.

Apollo flew to Spain for the winter.

Meanwhile, Apollo’s brother Dynamo, who was tagged at the same time, hasn’t ventured more than 50 miles from Bowland.

Hen harriers are rare, protected birds of prey that breed in upland areas of the UK.

Males are grey with black wingtips and around the size of a gull. Their population declined by 24% between 2004-2016 in England, largely due to human persecution.

James Bray, Bowland Project Officer at the RSPB, said: “Initially we believed that most of our tagged hen harriers stayed in the British uplands all year-round.

"However, it’s become clear that around 10% of birds cross the English Channel for the winter, some bound for France and a few for Spain.

"None of the tagged RSPB birds that traveled to Spain had made it back to the UK, until now.

“Clearly Apollo’s Spanish wintering ground has everything he needs, but how these birds find their way back to the exact same spot, almost 1000 miles away, with such precision, remains a wonderful mystery.”

Sadly none of Apollo’s chicks are known to have survived.

However, the RSPB is hopeful that Apollo will return to Bowland in the coming months and nest once more, and send a new intrepid generation out into the world.

Apollo was one of 22 hen harriers that fledged from nests in the Forest of Bowland in 2019.It was the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully in Bowland, after 13 chicks fledged from three nests in 2018.

This follows six years of little or no consistent breeding success in the AONB.