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NH’s state-endangered Harriers have a tough year

NH’s state-endangered Harriers have a tough year

(by Chris Martin)

Despite extensive fieldwork since May, the 2021 Northern Harrier breeding season in NH has turned out to be a rough one.  With work now concluded in Coos County, and after conducting at least 146 formal field surveys, it appears that in 2021 only five NH pairs held breeding territories, with four incubating, only three hatching, and just two successful, fledging a total of three young.  Biologist Katrina Fenton worked part-time on the project since May, and biologist Levi Burford officially joined the effort in early August.

Photo of 2021 Harrier field techs Katrina Fenton (left) and Levi Burford (right) by Phil Brown.

This poor reproductive showing in 2021 is reminiscent of 2019, when we found just one successful nest that fledged three juveniles in the entire state.  On the other hand, results in 2020 were considerably better with ten breeding territories scattered across the state, including three found south of the White Mountains.  Last year we confirmed six successful pairs that fledged at total of at least nine young.

Once again in 2021, we did not find any territorial pairs in seemingly suitable habitat in Pittsburg, at Umbagog NWR, or anywhere along NH’s seacoast.  Harrier sightings were also scarce to non-existent in several spots that had breeding pairs in 2020, including at Pontook Reservoir, a wetland in Lyme, and at Copps WMA.

Summarizing their last-ditch efforts on August 11 to find more evidence of successful nesting where they had activity during the Spring, Levi wrote: “Katrina and I worked together, tag-teaming Bungy Road, Upper Coos Rec Trail, and Bennett Hill Road.  At Bungy I kept an eye on the nest area while Katrina worked the road to the north – no activity observed.  At Upper Coos Rec Trail Katrina dropped me off up on a northern section … and she walked a section of trail further south in Colebrook – we both came up with nothing.  We closed out the day with some nest-searching at Bennett Hill, also coming up with nothing, neither on the nest front or on the fledglings front.  Our guess is that Bungy failed with nestlings … before July 27 and that Bennett Hill Road failed during incubation sometime after June 14.”

Cinnamon-breasted juvenile harriers stay concealed in dense vegetation until fledging in August. Photo by Katrina Fenton.

With support provided by a State Wildlife Grant from NH Fish & Game, we are already looking forward to mounting another full breeding season survey in 2022.  Thanks to both Katrina and Levi for their outstanding efforts in 2021, especially in working to follow-up on breeding attempts which seemed to have failed.  Thanks also to volunteer Tom McShane for investigating several areas of potential breeding habitat in central NH.  Funding for this work in 2021 comes from grants provided by NH Fish & Game and by the Knopf Family Foundation.