One of the North’s rarest birds has been spotted in the hinterlands of Strabane.
A Hen Harrier, also known as a the Grey Ghost to twitchers – due to the distinctive plumage of the males – was spotted by local wildlife photographer, Christine Cassidy.
Christine, who lives in Derry, captured this image of the elusive bird as she was driving in the Sperrins earlier this month.
However the exact location of the Grey Ghost cannot be divulged as the species’ survival in Ireland remains under threat.
“It’s a gorgeous bird,” Christine remarked this week. “Just beautiful.
“We were surprised to see it. We had seen the female about six weeks prior to that.
“We knew the male was about, because they would obviously be a pair.
“We were just driving along and the next thing I said stop, and there it was skimming over the heather.
“It’s a phenomenal sighting. The adrenaline went through me. I could hardly hold the camera.”
Known for their majestic skydancing ritual, Hen Harriers nest on the ground amongst heather on upland moorlands and winter in the lowlands. They feed on small grouse and fowl – hence their name – which traditionally brought them into conflict with gamekeepers and farmers.
“There aren’t many breeding pairs, so this sighting is a real rarity at the moment,” Christine continued.
“The last time I saw a Hen Harrier would have been about six years ago. There would be a couple of them down in Inishowen.
“It’s one of our rarest raptors.”
According to a latest survey, Hen Harriers are on the decline in Northern Ireland.
There are now 46 breeding pairs left in the North – a fall of 22 per-cent since 2010, when there were 59 pairs – and the numbers are also declining elsewhere in the UK.