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South West Peregrine

Cornwall & Devon Peregrine Falcon Study Group since 2007

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Study Work

The Ledge

A short film put together from numerous Trail Cam clips on a pluming ledge and cache used by an adult breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus). It was the groups first time using this kind of technology to aid our fieldwork and studies, therefore we are pleased with the results and the capabilities of the device. It is no doubt a useful tool.

In this short ‘Winter’ study we have managed not only to capture both adult birds utilising the cache, but it shows the Tiercel (male) was at times reluctant to share the spoils with his mate. The powerful neck muscles in the Falcon (female) are clearly visible in the clip and some interesting vocalisations are also picked up.

Clear evidence of nocturnal activities with the birds visiting the cache not only in dusk and dawn but also during the small hours as well were recorded. We did not pick up prey being delivered at this time, but it is an indication that birds are still active in these remote and unlit areas; on the lookout for nocturnal migrants such as Woodcock aided only by moonlight. These are regular prey species as recorded in the study by Nick Dixon and Ed Drewitt at Exeter (St.Michaels), the longest running Urban collection of prey samples.

The camera itself was hidden inside of a fake rock, so it was less obtrusive to the birds. In the first couple of frames it does appear that the birds are aware of the device, but they quickly became use to its presence and in some night shots it would appear they were even sat on top of the rock.

Field studies like this will hopefully lead us to a better understanding of prey taken at different sites, as well as the interaction between the adult pairs. It may throw up other interesting factors, such as intruding birds, the ability to pick up tagged birds or as in our case small mammals also feeding on the prey remains (below – image only).

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This was shot using the Bushnell HD Trail Cam, supplied by HandyKam of Redruth, Cornwall.

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An opportunity to witness Cooperative Attacks by Urban Peregrines on Common Buzzard.

Sunday 7th of June members of South West Peregrine joined Urban Peregrine researcher’s Nick Dixon and Andrew Gibbs, the co-authors of the British Birds Article ‘Cooperative Attacks By Urban Peregrine on Common Buzzard’ (May 2015 Issue), opposite the home of the study pair at  St Michael’s & All Angels Church, Exeter. A small team of watchers all alone on a multi-story car park roof, armed only with binoculars, scope, flasked coffee and notebook. 

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We had arrived early and already the Tiercel was in the air as we got into position, an alarm call being directed at the Falcon as he began to ring up (series of flaps and glide in a tight circle, gaining height on an early thermal) made him easy to pick out in the clear blue skies. The Falcon, now sat upright, alerted, on the gable end above the eyrie (a box installed and located behind a trefoil),looked on at her mate; calculating her route to join him. A Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) came into our view, effortless gliding and roughly following  the course of the River Exe far below; at this point still unaware of the dangers of drifting into this ferociously guarded territory.

It is worth noting that the two young are only days away from estimated fledging with the young male expected to go on Thursday 11th of June (42 days from hatching). So no threat is directly posed to the young eyasses from this passing raptor at this point in time.DSC_2481

The Tiercel quickly reached a height just above the Buzzard, still hecking his alarm, the Falcon had by now left her perch and with rapid wing beats headed on a looping course behind the Church spire, climbing quickly to join her mate. Before she arrived in position the first stoop from the male on the Buzzard was witnessed, not a full speed attack and not directly at it, but in doing so the Buzzard now knew it was in danger. A second and more threatening stoop this time by the female made this threat intensify. The Male was now almost instantly, back in position above the Buzzard, who was heading in a South Westerly direction, within seconds the Tiercel was in again, quicker and now more threatening himself this time around.

Nowhere to hide

Calling from the pair could still be heard from our vantage point and we watched in awe as the Falcon was once again diving at the helpless buzzard; It flipped onto its back presenting its talons has a means of defence. It began to lose height deliberately and wing beats where seen has it tried to make its retreat. We witnessed 14 stoops in all before the Buzzard made good his escape and the pair turned back toward the spire. 

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What we witnessed as a group over the next 4 hours will go down as one of the most remarkable accounts in our relatively short 8 years as a group watching Peregrine Falcons together. Nine attacks in all where witnessed, both Adults spent the majority of this time in the air defending this territory only briefly returning to pitch in on the Spire or Cross, always remaining on high alert. Attacks seemed to be called off once the intruder was approximately 1km away from the Church Spire (in any direction) A number of hits on Buteo buteo where observed, these seemed in the main to be by the larger and possibly more aggressive Falcon.

The Maximum number of attacks by the pair on this beautiful morning was 45 in total; one buzzard was sent spiralling to the ground, seemingly having flown its last flight. However on trying to recover this bird it was seen making an escape first to a nearby tree and then into a clump of trees in a nearby garden. During this time both birds remained on high alert and 2 level flight attacks were launched from the spire until the were certain any imposed threat had passed.

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We said our goodbyes at around 13:00, the afternoon watch was about to commence, what we had witnessed formed the basis of conversation all the way back to Plymouth.

Anyone wishing to read the full detailed account of the Dixon/Gibbs Study helped by local watchers should read the published Article in British Birds

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SWP thank Nick Dixon and Andrew Gibbs for the opportunity to join them and in their sharing so much knowledge.

Check out Nick Dixon’s profile as an Urban Peregrine research specialist on his website

Team install Kestrel Box

A short film has been produced to show the ease of installing a Kestrel box. We encourage anyone who has access to suitable habitat to give this a go for themselves. It is not only our garden birds that need homes at this time of year, many of our Birds of Prey also need our help.

The team are now looking to install a Barn Owl and Tawny Owl box along with artificial stick nests to encourage other raptors. We will keep you updated as to the progress of these projects in future posts.

Whimbrel on the menu

This was certainly a first for us, a falcon feeding 3 newly hatched eyasses on Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

She struggles to man-handle this smaller member of the ‘Curlew’ family. Often we watch prey items brought to the ledge, plumed with the head removed; therefore not only those long legs but that huge curved beak cause lots of issues, as can be seen in this video. One of the eyasses gets knocked over while another trampled upon under the falcons at times clumsy efforts. In the final shot as she fly’s of to cache the remains it could quite easily have knocked one of these small bundles of down to the waiting sea below.ave knocked one of these small bundles of down to the waiting sea below.

Assisting the last one out

This fantastic video footage shot by a group member  Peter Welsh wonderfully illustrates the care and attention that these devoted parents give to their offspring.

The videos opening sequence shows the Tiercel incubating the brood, he is startled by his mates arrival on the ledge/old Ravens stick nest, possibly due to her low and almost silent approach. After a while he relinquishes his attentive duties and she moves in to inspect another egg in the final stages of hatching. rather than go straight into sitting, she helps the newest arrival by careful removing the final piece of shell. Sit back and enjoy this lovely video from the Cornish coast listening to those glorious sounds of gulls and sea. This is what watching coastal peregrines is all about.

 

 

 

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