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South West Peregrine

Cornwall & Devon Peregrine Falcon Study Group since 2007

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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.

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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’.

Ed Drewitt Author, Naturalist and Peregrine Fan

Peregrines have shown a remarkable recovery in the past two decades and our fastest bird in the world, reaching 180 miles per hour in a stoop dive, has attracted huge attention in recent years. They have become more accessible in terms of web cameras and simply being viewed from footpaths and shopping centres. There are now over 60 pairs of Peregrines in towns and cities across the UK, and another 40 pairs can be added if you include more industrial sites and pylons.

If we turn back the clock to the early noughties the urban Peregrine picture was a very different one – back then there was only a few sites where Peregrines were breeding in cities, and only a small number of people watching or studying them in any detail. I first became involved with Peregrines when I realised they were eating interesting and unusual birds for the middle of a city like Bristol. I was a student at the time and I loved finding skulls and feathers. I soon realised Peregrines were hunting at night, taking species such as Little Grebes, Woodcock and Water Rails as they migrated over Exeter and Bristol at night. They were behaving like owls darting out from the shadows to catch their prey lit up in the glow from street lamps. Since 2000 I have liaised closely with Nick Dixon who has been watching Peregrines that use a church in Exeter since 1997. Nick regularly collects the prey remains of the Peregrines here and we have a data set spanning 17 years and comprising 5, 000 separate prey items. Combined with data from Bath and Bristol we published the first paper of its kind in British Birds and attracted the most media attention the journal magazine had ever had! Journalists and the public were amazed that Peregrines lived in cities and that they hunted at night.

Since 2007 my work on Peregrines has also focused on colour-ringing young Peregrines while they are in the nest. The colour rings, in my case blue with black letters, mean that once the chick has left the nest it can still be spotted and identified months or years later. To date over 90 Peregrines have my blue colour rings on their legs, and across the UK another half a dozen colour ring projects apply different colour rings. In the past few years the Peregrines that Nick studies in Exeter have also been colour-ringed thanks to the climbing antics of Jason Fathers who is able to reach the nest box using ropes and climbing kit. You have to be patient with colour ring recoveries as it can take time for birds to be spotted and for you to go out and look for them. However, so far I have heard back from around 10% of the chicks I have ringed – some alive and some dead. Those alive have ventured away from the west and reach the Malvern Hills, Staffordshire, Bognor Regis, Salisbury, and Suffolk. The birds tend to be nomadic in their first few years of life, with females travelling further than males.

To spot a Peregrine you need to look high and check churches, cathedrals, and office blocks. As well as looking up, you want to be looking down. On the ground, distinctive white falcon poo looks chalky, and is often concentrated in certain places below a favourite perch. Look for feathers too – not necessarily from the Peregrines, but from their prey. They eat mainly birds and below their perches you will find feathers, legs, heads, wings, and whole birds killed and eaten by them. It is often assumed Peregrines just eat pigeons, but in fact pigeons only make up a third of their diet. The rest is a huge variety of birds from ducks to terns, gulls to Redwings, and Greenfinches to Chiffchaffs.

With the opportunity to study urban Peregrines in more detail than we have ever been able to with their rural counterparts it became possible to write a book solely on them. My new book ‘Urban Peregrines’ is for both readers who would simply like to find out more about Peregrines and for those who would like to study them in more detail. With beautiful, professional photographs by local Peregrine fans, and insights that have never really be written in any detail before, this book fills a much-needed void.

Ed Drewitt is a naturalist, broadcaster and wildlife detective, enabling others to enjoy birds and other wildlife. His book ‘Urban Peregrines’ has just been published.

http://www.pelagicpublishing.com/urban-peregrines.html

South West Peregrine thank Ed for this months guest contribution to ‘A Pilgrim’s Tail’

‘Junior’ and the new chicks

So the chicks at Cann Quarry (Plym-Peregrines) are now one week old; they will  of course be reliant upon their parents to provide food, shelter and protection for the next month whilst they are in the old Raven stick nest, a home they must occupy until they are ready to take that first leap of faith and find their wings.

They will remain dependant and will be continued to be fed over those next few weeks; then as they gain confidence they will be encouraged to try a food pass high above the quarry; once mastered they will accompany a parent or both parents on hunting forays up or down the valley until finally they will take live prey, having watched and learnt the skills needed for that next big step, independence.

Yet these three young eyasses will also have one other challenge to contend with; and for once that threat is not man. It is older sibling brother by a year, ‘Junior‘ (HA, darvic ring Id) as he has been ‘tagged’ by the watchers. On the morning of Sunday the 25th May we watched the adult tiercel fly up the valley from Plymbridge, he carried with him a morning meal, a male blackbird from the looks through our binoculars. He headed to a favourite branch high in the oaks to the west of the viaduct, the opposite side to the stick nest containing the three chicks and the Falcon. just above the adult tiercel at two o’clock sat Junior.

The next ten minutes passed and then a call across the valley to let her know a meal was about to be delivered. As soon as he took flight he was hotly pursued by the young tiercel and by the time they were both overhead he had managed to grab this meal for himself and head to the south oaks of the quarry were it was devoured. The adult tiercel sat above him. The Falcon on seeing this left the nest immediately and after checking 3 caches on the quarry face, returned to feed the three hungry chicks, all now clearly visible in their fluffy down, as they were each fed in turn meticulously by their mother. The meal lasted 20 minutes and was uninterrupted as Junior was still occupied and looking magnificent. We asked the question, ‘Are these new tactics being employed by the parents to ensure meal time passes without fuss?’

Just a little later in the morning as she sat and brooded the young, a small flock of pigeons flew up the valley hugging the high tree-line; they were spotted immediately by the Falcon who left the stick nest and flew hard up the valley on the river side in pursuit. Her flight path was low,following the river, ensuring she remained undetected by the cover of the trees as she left our sight.

We speculated she was after them and how she may try and intercept the unsuspecting prey further up the valley at the next viaduct. We cannot be sure, but this was the probable conclusion to the fate of one unlucky pigeon as within 2 minutes she had returned to a favoured pluming ledge, where after only a few minutes her only issue was that once again Junior felt a little hungry. Sit back and enjoy the morning watch of 3 hours condensed into 4 minutes of YouTube time. Watch and witness for yourselves just some of the amazing scenes we are being treated to on an almost daily basis now.

 

 

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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