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Hen Harrier Day

Today is Hen Harrier Day. A day primarily about raising awareness of wildlife crime and the persecution of a protected bird of prey. The Hen Harrier, also known as the Skydancer, should be a common and widespread bird of prey in the UK. But intensive management of upland areas and relentless persecution for the sake of driven grouse shooting has driven these birds to near extinction in England, where just three pairs bred in 2014, while there is habitat for 962-1285 more pairs in Scotland. But they are missing and we know why.

The illegal killing of these beautiful birds must stop. Support Hen Harrier Day!

Hen Harrier Day Overview: http://birdersagainst.org/hen-harrier-day-overview/

Petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the UK: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627

Red Kite

Red Kites are beautiful and distinctive birds of prey, ones I particularly enjoy watching in action. There’s something about the way they move, so elegant and powerful. It moves me. As the death toll rose in Ross-shire earlier this year in what would amount to a particularly disturbing incidence of persecution, I was appalled. Each individual killed was, to me, as innocent as a child. A wild little brother or sister lost to us all.

I decided to create a piece of artwork to commemorate the sixteen Red Kites (and six Buzzards) that were killed, focussing on the beauty and spirit of these birds. I have had twenty A3 limited edition archive quality prints produced, they are signed and numbered and £85 each (including P&P). I will donate all the profits from the sale of these prints to the RSPB, whose investigation and species protection work may help prevent future incidents and may help bring any who were involved in this or other wildlife persecution to justice, and whose education work teaches current and future generations to view our wildlife with due respect and care.

If you are interested in a copy then contact me by email at janice.duke@hotmail.co.uk or contact the RSPB on 01463 715000

On Saturday 19th of July I spent the day teaching Seashore Wildlife Art at the Seadrift Centre in Dunnet. It was a fun day and a great venue, with plenty of bones, shells, taxidermy and information to use for inspiration, as well as a lovely view of the beach and some real life wildlife (mainly Terns). It was a drop in session with student’s ages ranging from young children to adults, which kept things interesting. Here’s some of what they got up to:

The Seadrift Centre itself is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Whaligoe Steps

Whaligoe Steps is a gem of a place to visit. Descending into a harbour surrounded on three sides by 250ft cliffs that form Whaligoe Haven, the steps take you past the nesting sites of Rock Doves, Fulmars and many other seabirds, with wildflowers flourishing all around. At the bottom I sat amazed and looked across at nesting birds for quite a long while. I’ve never been so close to a Razorbill or Shag and they seemed completely calm about it. One Razorbill even flew over to take a closer look at me. Black Headed, Black Backed and Lesser Black Backed gulls swooped through and above the harbour, along with Kittiwakes and Common Gulls, and Fulmars riding the air currents up and down the cliff sides with easy grace. Guillemots fluttered by. Cormorants and Divers swam out in the bay.

Harbours are scarce along the Caithness coast, and so the story goes that the residents were forced to use Whaligoe as a fishing station, apparently naming it after a dead whale that washed ashore there. The steps themselves are an impressive feat and well maintained. There are supposed to be somewhere between 330-365 of them, but I forgot to count in my excitement. I was escorted down by a local cat that seemed to come from the very conveniently placed cafe at the top and was very friendly company.

I recommend going in good weather, those steps could be very slippery when wet!

Saint John’s Pool

Whenever I visit the north coast of Scotland I try to visit Saint John’s Pool, particularly in the bird breeding season. If you are interested in birds or wildlife at all I highly recommend it. Sitting in hides sketching birds is becoming a bit of an addiction of mine, and Saint John’s Pool is a particularly good spot for this.

Saint John’s Pool and The John Corbett Memorial Hide are situated on the north side of St.John’s Loch between Thurso and John o’ Groats. Access is free and open to the public all year round.

After coming back from my adventures in Tenerife, feeling gloriously filled with sunshine and inspiration, the theme of sun worship continued. My next stop: the north coast of Scotland and a beach a party to celebrate the Summer Solstice. As well as a barbeque and bonfire there was fire poi, fire breathing and bagpipe playing courtesy of our multitalented Viking pyromaniac host. We stayed up for sunset and sunrise and got very merry. It was fabulous and many a curious grey seal bobbed about in the sea observing our capers…

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