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South West Peregrine

Cornwall & Devon Peregrine Falcon Study Group since 2007

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Prey

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’.

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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).

Screenshot 2015-08-29 at 15.51.36

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

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’

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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