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South West Peregrine

Cornwall & Devon Peregrine Falcon Study Group since 2007

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Burrator Discovery Centre

The Discovery center at Burrator reservoir celebrated it’s fourth Anniversary this weekend. South West Peregrine were there for the initial opening back in 2014 and were lucky to be involved again this year, with their annual fundraiser. As well as Letter-boxing, rope making,nest box building and a host of other outdoor craft and lifestyle activities, South West Peregrine were able to put on an informative display for the general public whilst having 3 of the team there to answer lots of questions about the local birds of prey and some of the field work that is carried out. There are numerous pairs within the National park boundaries, which are monitored as part of our annual Survey work. Children and Adults alike, as always enjoyed the interactive tools and video used in the display. The team will be back later in the year to give an evening talk at the Discovery Centre, spaces are limited so get in touch via their website to book yourself a spot

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The Burrator Discovery Centre – full of facts
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Talking Birds of Prey and Wildlife Crime
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Explore Burrator’s history, flora and fauna on one of the lakeside walks
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Answering the publics questions
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Peregrine Ringing

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Roger working on the deceptively large ledge

Sunday 4th June, another three young were colour ringed along with the metal BTO rings; this was a tricky site to reach, but the ledge was large enough to allow the ringing to go ahead in-situ.

Peregrine Falcon Ringing 2017 from South West Peregrine on Vimeo.

This is a fourth consecutive season the pair have bred  and over that period 11 Chicks have all been raised to fledging. The ringing carried out under licence and with landowners permission went once again without a hitch, due to good teamwork and planning the climb in advance.

Falcon, protecting her young from the Devonshire summer rains.

A short sequence taken from Bushnell camera trap footage, over an hours period in June 2016, Devon, UK.

The Falcon does her best to protect three young chicks from a summer downpour. Weather play’s a huge part in the young’s survival; however with a good food source, and a well drained ledge, all three went onto successfully fledge in July.

This was this particular Falcons third successful breeding season, now having reared eight young in total.

A drenched Peregrine Falcon – Summer 2016 from South West Peregrine on Vimeo.

Difficult climb is worth the efforts

Wednesday the 1st of June 2016, saw the ringing team back on the clifftops of North Cornwall at a particular tricky coastal site. A first attempt to climb was aborted,due to some technical issues. After a very difficult climb, the second assault proved a major success. Three very healthy eyasses bagged up in spite of only one adult being present for the past two weeks. The young birds were now at 25 days of age, slightly older than the desired ringing age by a day or so, but due to the their location on a very large ledge it was not a problem for the experienced team. They were a  bit of challenge to handle and ring, however the team prevailed. All three healthy young Peregrines, were then returned safely to their ledge some 100  feet below the cliff top. The adult male was soon back to inspect the goings on and in due course feed the ravenous young.

SWP would like to thank Chris Adams for photographing the team and allowing us to use his images on this post.

Helping with Buzzard Project

Roger Finnamore  of SWP gets his hands on some young Buzzards (Buteo buteo), he takes up the story

‘The Peregrine is obviously the core species of our field work, that said however, we do have other strings to our bow. The 1st of June, and I had kindly been invited to meet with George Swan. George has been carrying out a colour ringing project on Buzzards, the venue a large estate in mid Cornwall. Not quite knowing what to expect, George and I met at the appointed hour. He agreed to do the driving, an interesting journey followed as Cornish hedgerows flashed by. We arrived at the first chosen site and George was soon on his way up a substantial tree. A single chick was found at this site, duly bagged, lowered to the ground  ringed and  swiftly returned to the large stick nest. 

Again at break  neck speed, it was off to the next nest. Concentration of Buzzards took me by surprise and it wasn’t long before we were at the foot of our next nest. This nest held two much larger chicks,these were weighed, measured, ringed and returned. A completely new experience for myself; getting introduced to a new species a under the watchful eyes of  George was one which I most  definitely would like to repeat. Very many thanks to George for the opportunity’.

A Cornish buzzard study

In early August this year I finished five months of fieldwork studying the breeding biology of the common buzzard. Over this period I located the nests of 36 buzzard pairs and followed their fortunes through the breeding season until they either failed or fledged. ‘South West Peregrine’ have kindly asked me to write a little about this monitoring project and the aims of the research.

Two Young Buzzards
Two young buzzard chicks with the remains of a squirrel in the nest

To start, a little about me. I have been interested in buzzards since first being introduced to the world of raptor research by BTO ringing trainer David Anderson during my MSc. One of the things that attracted me to studying this species was that, considering that they are one of the most abundant large predators in the UK, these birds have been little studied. Buzzards are also an excellent model species to investigate wider questions concerning predators and prey selection. In 2013 I was given the opportunity to come down to the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter to study for a PhD with the supervisory team of Professors Robbie McDonald, Stuart Bearhop and Steve Redpath.

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Myself at one of the nests following ringing. You quickly get used to heights when working on buzzards, this nest was 50ft high and the tree was swaying horribly.

One of the areas that we are interested in is how buzzards, with such a broad dietary range, decide what to hunt given that each prey species will require different searching, hunting and handling strategies. Ultimately it would be great to try and answer the question: do individual buzzards display preferences for certain types of prey? These are known as foraging or dietary specialisations. There has been anecdotal evidence of this from elsewhere (see this BTO blog from earlier in the year). The observation of individual foraging specialisations would create further questions, for example: what are the costs and benefits of specialising against staying a generalist? The question of whether buzzards specialise on certain prey is also pertinent to the on-going debate surrounding buzzard predation on released gamebirds. Impartial evidence as to whether these specialisations exist and how they develop may help inform this debate.

Three chicks and Rabbit

A chick with it’s back to food is a rare sight on any buzzard nest, to have three chicks ignoring food is quite remarkable. This pair of adults achieved it by bringing in lots and lots of rabbits. Here, the female is standing on a pile of three young rabbits all brought in over the last few hours.

In order to look at dietary specialisations in a predator you need to understand two things: (1) what they could eat (prey availability) and (2), what they are or have been eating (diet). Although there are various methods to estimate the abundance of prey species, observing the diet of known individuals can be very difficult. The great thing about buzzards is that during the breeding season they bring prey back to the nest whole. This allowed us to explore the diet of different pairs through both the prey remains found on the nests and through recording the adults returning with prey using surveillance equipment.

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One of the nest cameras in action

While collecting this information, the welfare of the birds was paramount. To ensure there was no danger of chick explosions (when the chicks fly from the nest early due to disturbance) we gave ourselves a conservative ringing window of 8 days when the chicks were between 18-25 days old. To further minimise harm we also avoided any work in wet or cold weather conditions. This meant that all the sunny days through June and July I was racing round as many nests as possible ringing the chicks and setting up cameras. Now that it’s over, I can look back on the 2015 field season with rose-tinted glasses but at the time it was hard work!

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 Watching buzzard nests over hundreds and hundreds of hours of video you get to see some pretty interesting things. Here the female had bought a large grass snake back and proceeded to feed the chick the 10+ eggs she pulled out of it!

The following month was spent lugging huge batteries around the Cornish countryside to keep the cameras running. One of the nice things about our cameras (Supplied by Mike from HandyKam.com) was that the recording box was at the bottom of the tree. This reduced time spent near the nest during the weekly battery changes. The cameras recorded footage every time a chick or parent moved on the nest. Within a month I had over 200,000 videos, consisting of over 4000 buzzard hunting hours and over 1500 prey item deliveries. I don’t want to give too much away here as I’m just starting to analyse the dataset but I’ve included some nice snippets from the footage above. If you’d like to see some more nest camera highlights you can find them by searching #buzzarddiet on twitter. I’ll keep SWP posted with further results as and when we publish them.

In the mean time, we colour-ringed over 40 chicks with an orange ring with a 2-digit code on their right leg, if anyone spots one of these birds please get in touch g_swan@exeter.ac.uk

George Swan

Three birds

Both Adults on the nest present a chick with a mole.

“If you’re interested in this study, here’s a link to George’s 2011 MSc Thesis on buzzard breeding ecology in Scotland. “

Thesis

Rory Carr – Bird of Prey Collection

From an early age Rory Carr 27, has been fascinated by wildlife, particularly birds and insects. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the natural world has become a major influence and source of inspiration for this up-and-coming artist. He is currently putting together a British Birds of Prey Collection.

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Rory works primarily in watercolour, but prepares his work by first drawing the subject using pencil. Once painted, he adds extra definition and emphasises areas of texture using ink which serves to strengthen the composition. This multi-disciplinary approach, combining drawing skills with wash techniques, Rory has developed while working towards his A-level in Fine Art at Kelly College.

During his school years he studied the famous wartime artist John Piper and Robin Armstrong, a local well-established wildlife artist who also works mainly in watercolour. As well as working towards a career as an artist, Rory is strongly motivated by wildlife conservation efforts and has trained as an ecologist, having graduated from the University of Reading with a Master’s degree in Species Identification and Survey Skills. Rory hopes that his work will help to reconnect people with nature by encouraging an awareness and respect for the countryside and its wildlife.

For more details on his work, prints and commisions, you can contact Rory by visiting his Facebook page Rory Carr – South West Artist

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.

A Pilgrim’s Tail

We have made a few changes to our blog ‘A Pilgrim’s Tail’ as we were rapidly running out of storage space.

So we hope that you enjoy the new layout, it has lots more going on than the old blog and links to many more items of interest to all you Peregrine enthusiasts out there, and from the responses we get there are quite a few of us!

You can view all of our latest post from our own fieldwork and studies, along with the guest posts such as that from Charlie Moores of BAWC.

We have a new Gallery section displaying some lovely images from around this majestic coastline, as well as a link to the YouTube Channel that offers you an insight into watching these birds along our shores.

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