The peregrines are now 37 and 39 days old and about to fledge the nest. Here is a short movie of them yesterday. Not the youngster with the most down is the youngest bird. The smaller bird with no down is a young tercel and other is a falcon. I expect when I return today to check, that at least one if not both the older youngsters will have fledged the nest.
Quite a dramatic difference in the appearance and size of the two oldest chicks now. Their sibling which at 34 days, obviously a falcon because It is even larger but is not as developed as the older siblings with still lots of fluffy down evident. In the image here the bird being fed appears to be a young tercel. It will not be many more days before this one fledges the nest ledge. I was quite surprised to see the falcon feeding the chicks today. this is the first time for several days that I have seen the chicks being fed. Prey has been delivered to the ledge and the chicks then left to fend for themselves. This seemed to be what I have observed before and I have a theory. The tercel catches smaller prey at a size that the young eyass can cope with whereas the falcon being a much bigger bird, catches larger prey such as Magpie and other corvids.
My quest for that photo of a lifetime continued today. I arrived at the site full of anticipation as normal. It was quiet and the light was perfect which added to the feeling of expectancy. Surely my hours of waiting will pay off? Before I moved over to the tree hide I scanned the oak and the favourite perches, neither adult was in the tree so after checking on the large chicks on the nest ledge, they are fine, I quickly made my way to the hide. Just as I moved off I heard the scream of the tercel in the distance from an area that they have been favouring just lately, it's always reassuring to hear them.
The falcon does a fly past after a Buzzard is heard nearby.
I have changed my tack at the Peregrines nest site now. Having taken literally thousands of pictures all from a distance of 40 yards or so, I have decided on a new approach.
To me, watching these Peregrines is the best free show on earth and today, even though rain was forecast I still went to check on their progress and safety. It's quite striking to see the delicate and good mannered way that Peregrine chicks feed and are fed. I watched one of the youngsters today with a small prey item, a bird of un identified species. As it fed itself, the other siblings made no attempt to steal it or even take a beak full, just quietly standing aside, preening and investigating their temporary home. At this age of 28 and 26 days, you can determine the difference, if not on size then by the noticeable difference in the emerging plumage. The older two have discernibly more "real" feathers, brown and buff, pushing through the down with a speckled appearance on both the breast and back being obvious now.
The female regurgitates a pellet.
When I first arrived I had heard and then discovered the female sat on the rock face nearby. She had given herself away by calling now and then. Peregrine calls to my ears are blood curdling screams. I quickly found her in my camera's viewfinder and then watched as she regurgitated a pellet which is something I know they must do but hadn't seen before. As I sat quietly, the male......that's the tercel......silently came in to the nest ledge with the prey that I mentioned above. I knew that was going to happen because of the reaction of the watching female who called almost maniacally, reaching a crescendo as her mate landed on the ledge. Hehanded over the kill and left just as quickly.
Later on, after I hadn't seen the female for a while there was a really harsh, almost frightening scream from somewhere beneath me and close. The youngsters on the nest immediately reacted, their calls are getting louder and stronger every day and it's now interesting to see that they recognise the calls of their parents and when they hear them they expect to be fed.
They were right, the female flew from near me to a spot under the old oak. She was carrying a large prey item and it seemed as though she could hardly fly with it. I suspected that she had gone to pluck it and when she still hadn't delivered it to the ledge I reasoned that she was eating it herself but she wasn't but It took 15 minutes for the female to deliver it to the very excited youngsters and then they gorged themselves greedily, fed by the falcon. It was a magpie yet again, a very popular prey item with the falcon. She is a Magpie specialist.! She had removed the tail and wings....and the head of course, this is the usual way of killing the prey.
I have a Schedule 1. license to photograph at this nest site.
The young Peregrines are 28 days old tomorrow, no longer looking like tiny defenceless chicks but bigger and stronger than ever. I watched one feeding itself like an adult earlier and it's almost incomprehensible to see how they have developed in such a short time. They seem now to have a body bulk at least as large as the tercel and look plump and well nourished. Still predominantly white with down, they have the makings of a proper tale and wings to match. I was incredibly lucky when I arrived, almost immediately, prey was bought to the ledge by the falcon. This time it was a Magpie, this seems to be a large part of the falcon's diet, I have seen 4 as prey now. This kill was an adult, the chicks made short work of consuming it. On this occasion he fed it to them.
I have a Schedule 1 License to photograoh at this nest site. It is a against the law to photograph at a Peregrine nest site and territory without a license.
Day 25 at the Peregrines nest and again, some changes in behaviour now. The young are getting adventurous, investigating their surroundings with more and more interest. One bird in particular seems to be more active than its siblings, not only moving around the ledge much more but also preening and stretching.
When I arrived I could see the youngsters on the ledge and then through the camera lens I saw that the female was there as well. She had obviously just fed them and continued to do this as I watched. The kill was a Magpie (pica pica), the second or perhaps even third that she has bought to the ledge, ( that I have seen). My observations seem to point to a large difference in prey between the two adults. The tercel seems to bring smaller prey such as, for example, Swallows, a Bullfinch and other small passerines, the largest prey being a Collared Dove and of course Great spotted Woodpecker......5 in total. The much larger female catches larger birds. Magpie, Jackdaw etc. and of course, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers of her own. Woodpeckers as prey is a surprise to me.
As the female continued to feed, the tercel flew in with a small prey item which he attempted to feed to the chicks but they were not interested in his offering, probably because they were well fed already by the falcon and it wasn't long before he flew off again. (See above). I could see that they were also losing interest in her prey as well and backed away from her as their crops began to bulge with food. The female finished the magpie off herself and then just like I had seen her do yesterday, she made her way to a high bank on the ledge taking a wing from the kill with her. Here she was above the youngsters. This area is probably warm and a little more sheltered than lower down. I watched her snoozing, I suppose this is as good a spot as any to rest after a feed. Here she remained for an age, reasonably alert with eyes closed only momentarily. Life must be good for a Peregrine.
One aspect of behaviour from both adults is well worth recording. I have said often that both birds do not seem to have any concerns about movement from the hide and even when I am entering and exiting, the birds are seemingly oblivious. They do react if they see movement anywhere else, even if this is further from them than the hide. With eyesight 10 times more efficient than ours, to me it is pretty obvious that they are fully aware of my presence but choose to ignore it. However, I have become aware that this is no longer the case. For example, yesterday, the female came in with it's Magpie kill and I am quite sure she was going to deal with it, quite close to the hide on a nearby ledge. However with much moaning and noise, she stared at the hide and then flew off again carrying the Magpie in her talons. She returned to the nest ledge a little later with the now plucked prey and fed the youngsters. I have now camouflaged the front of the hide to prevent any disturbance.
I hadn't been to the Peregrines since last Friday, it had been incredibly wet and had I allowed myself I could have been worried. It's now 4 days on and as I expected, any fear of them not coping with the wet conditions was totally unfounded. Not only have they survived, they are now 4 days bigger and stronger. Sleep is the order of the day and calm pervades. Adults are noticeable by their absence but from time to time I hear a Peregrine's distant call. I am not skilfully enough to identify either male or female by call when isolated but if they are together the male is more high pitched. This is due, no doubt to the size difference in the birds and specifically the organ that makes the sound. In music and sound production, smaller is always higher. Already I note a change in behaviour. The calls went on and the male flew direct to the nest with prey which was almost certainly a swallow. Instead of staying to feed them, which was happening until last Friday when the chicks were 20 days old, we have moved on now to the chicks learning to feed themselves. It's fascinating to see one of the chicks holding the prey down with its talons as it tries to take meat from the breast. I can clearly see now that it is a swallow. To describe the chicks: they are 24 and 22 days old. They are fluffy white, predominantly covered in down. Wing feathers are emerging and these form a dark band along both wings. There is the start of a tail in all three, at the moment a stubby dark band. As they feed, there is no sibling rivalry whatsoever, one is trying to feed itself as the other two look on, then one joins in. It's all quite a gentle affair with no grabbing and tussling, very good mannered and peaceful. From time to time they flap their emerging wings and preen regularly. To continue to paint the scene, there is again no sign of the adults apart from, as described, the occasional scream call from somewhere in the distance. I have yet to see the female today. This is typical behaviour and follows the pattern that I recall from previous years with glimpses of the adults a rare treat when the chicks are this age.
At last I managed to get a photo that I am almost happy with. In the wet and dismal conditions the tercel was sat in a reasonably dry spot. It looks like I have finally worked out how to get the best from the camera and lens. If you are not a photoggrapher then you may think that its just a case of pointing the camera at the subject and pressing the shutter. I can assure you that there is so much more to it than that! Fine judgements and adjustments are needed and getting to know how to get the best out of the camera and lens is very important.
It's a wet day again and a little damp in the hide to say te least. The inevitable drip is not the most comfortable so I don't know how the young peregrines are feeling, huddled together for warmth and with no shelter whatsoever, save for perhaps some shrubs above the nest scrape and a slight overhang above. The parents have made no attempt to shelter them for the time that I have been here, preferring to sit either next to them on the ledge, a foot or so away, or in the case of the tercel about 50 yards away on on the rock face as you can see above. I find it incredible that the adults are seemingly oblivious to the wet conditions that the youngsters are having to endure. But they dont seem to be doing too badly. They were fed several hours ago at 11 0'clock, sorry to say but it was another Great spotted Woodpecker, that makes 6 now! I had just missed the tercel feeding before I arrived. I know this because I could see that he not only had a full bulging crop but also blood from the kill on his breast. I f you didn't know or realise this, birds have a sack in the throat which is part of the digestive system. Food is packed in to this sack, called the crop, before it then passes down in to the stomach. This enables birds to gorge on food which is then stored in the crop. Perhaps this is not that important for peregrines but birds are able to take food "on board" quickly and then fly to safety to begin the digestive process. This is a good strategy that enables vulnerable birds to feed quickly to escape predation. ...... by a peregrine perhaps!! Even though it's raining, as I have said, I still waited for some action. I have a remote camera set up on the favourite food exchange spot and I was hoping to record some better video of this exciting part of their behaviour. (No luck I am afraid).
I was very keen to discover how long it was going to be between a kill being brought, I remained for almost 6 hours because thats how long it took, yet another woodpecker! Oddly the female seems to be doing most of the hunting now.
She definitely caught the woodpecker because the male had spent most of the afternoon sat on the rock face. Even when she brought in the kill he didn't react, choosing to sit up there probably digesting the meal that he had consumed just before I arrived.
Now with the chicks at 19 days the adults are likely to be away from the nest ledge for longer and longer periods and that's just the way it is now. At the beginning of the visit, prey was brought and exchanged as normal, that was 2 hours ago and since then the adults have been away. From time to time the distant sound of a peregrine scream breaks the silence and no doubt patience is all it is going to take before they return yet again, and for certain they will.
The young chicks, now at 18 days continue to thrive. They are more mobile on the nest ledge and I watched one flapping and moving around the scrape this evening. In spite of a 2 1/2 hour session not a great deal took place for long periods, quietness mostly being the order of the day. But patience always pays dividends. Suddenly the tercel arrived with a small plucked bird which was possibly yet another woodpecker, it had remains of white feathers on the wings and I can't think of any other bird that fits the description. The hand over, which I nearly photographed, took place in the oak tree and then down she came to the nest to feed the chicks, all pretty routine stuff. The feeding took just a fraction of the usual time, a minute or two. On completion, she left the ledge and came to a perch very close, but out of sight of the hide and screamed loudly, flying back to the oak tree she continued to scream which I took as a sign to the tercel to get more prey. In her usual position she seemed to wait for his arrival.
All photographs of Peregrine Falcon on this blog have been taken legally as a holder of a Schedule 1 License. No disturbance whatsoever has taken place . For the protection of these birds the location will never be divulged. Further, in discussion with an official from the BTO licensing team I was given the all clear and a strong endorsement to post photographs on the Blog and I quote, "tell their story". Further to this I have been in close contact with environmental academics from Exeter University and asked for advice. I have been told that there is absolutely no problem with what has already been posted.
The chicks are now 17 and 15 days old. The falcon (and I) sat waiting for the tercel to return with prey. She is perched quietly on her favourite branch beneath where the tercel is inclined to land with his kills. She will then excitedly fly up to him and a frenzied exchange will take place. Exchange is too polite a word in fact because the falcon will grab it from him before taking it off to the nest ledge and the youngsters. This has happened already since my early arrival in the morning, it was another swallow, a tiny morsel for three now large chicks. I expect he would l be back with more before long. Interestingly this is the second swallow that I have seen as a kill. Quite remarkable when you consider the acrobatic flight of the species. I can't be certain, but this one looked as though it was a newly fledged juvenile so I assume at wasn't a fast flyer. In the end she gave up wating and flew off strongly. Sometime later she came back with much excitement as usual. She had made a kill and it was a Jackdaw. She flew in to the oak and then preceded to pluck and eat some of it. All the while the tercel was on a nearby perch and nonchalantly preening and seemingly took no interest whatsover apart from keeping out of her way. After the Jackdaw had been well and truly plucked, it was delivered to the chicks and fed to them.
Ascertaining the species of kills can be difficult, especially smaller prey items. However so far, I have seen a reasonable list of prey which has included Swallow* Great-spotted Woodpecker* Collared Dove, Bullfinch, Blackbird* Jackdaw, Magpie, Pigeon and unidentified*. Species marked* indicate more than one of each.
I returned later in the evening to see if I could discover anything new. I was surprised to see that the female was on the nest, obviously ready to stay with them for the night hours. The tercel was on the nearby tree obviously keeping watch. Suddenly a Buzzard came a bit too close and he called his alarm, launched himself from his perch and flew at the Buzzard (Buteo buteo), it seemed as though contact was made, the Buzzard taking as much evasive action as it could. They both disappeared from sight and I don't think the Buzzard fell. I was half (well less than half expecting the tercel to return with the buzzard as prey….. sure that would never happen! Meanwhile the falcon remained on the nest with her chicks.
As I sit here watching and waiting at the peregrine nest site, the oldest chicks are now 16 days. I have been searching my limited vocabulary for a suitable word to describe the adults behaviour now. Words like dramatic, extreme and sea change spring to mind but I think marked fills the bill. In what way is this, I guess you are asking? Well for example, it's quiet now, very quiet. When I arrived I could see the chicks on the ledge and there was no sign of either parent but after a search of the area with binoculars, I could see the falcon in the old oak, but hidden. But after only a minute or two she had slipped quietly away. That's the first change, parents are spending less and less time on the ledge with them. Brooding appears to have finished completely, not only that but in between feeds the tercel is away from the nest site for increasingly long periods. I arrived early this morning and so far the only activity worth noting is the sight of three comatose, sleeping chicks. A buzzard calling nearby and my own rather boring company! I suspect that at this age the chicks are easily catered for, they eat every few hours, it was 5 between feeding yesterday, and sleeping. Their growth is dramatic and they are now plump and fat the size of a quail. the bare skin around the dark eyes, yellow in adults, is a delicate powder blue. The beaks are white and the feet and legs are already a deep egg yolk yellow colour. The talons are already impressive weapons, long sharp and steel blue. Annoyingly there is a growth of grass just in front and to the right of the nest bowl which limits viewing quite often. This growth of both grass and naval wort plants perhaps proves that this is a regularly used nest ledge (as I know it is). This is the only area of the face where plants flourish proving perhaps that years of peregrine guano is a good fertiliser.
As yet, they are not moving around the nest ledge and exploring but I have seen them mouthing feathers that litter the ledge. They instinctively preen increasingly more regularly. Their voices are getting louder, first heard when they were 12 days old.
I have just witnessed some amazing, remarkable behaviour, probably one of my best ever wildlife experiences. As I sat here with no sign of either parent, there was suddenly the sound of both birds circling around in front of me, calling and screaming. I immediately sighted the tercel on a ledge. He continued to scream as usual. The falcon came to him with a really large prey item and delivered it to him. , He proceeded to pluck and eat from the kill. As he dealt with it, plucking and feasting, the falcon was on her favourite perch, calling loudly. 15 minutes went by when suddenly the female left her perch, flew towards the tercel and grabbed the now half eaten prey from him and flew back to her favourite tree. She had second thoughts about landing there but went with the carcass deeper past the old oak and beneath to a spot where I couldn't see her, presumably to feed on the remains. The kill was too large for the tercel to fly with as I saw him struggle as he dragged it to a better position. All this is remarkable because the falcon had obviously killed the prey and flown in with it but the tercel, too small to carry it himself, was then offered it by the larger female.
What happened next was not unexpected. The falcon emerged and flew from her hidden perch with the remains of the carcass to the nest ledge where she proceeded to feed the 3 youngsters. After several minutes and after they had all had their fill, I witnessed some remarkable behaviour. I photographed her on another ledge with the leftovers, she picked a spot and then stashed it deep in a hole in the rocks. I had heard that they do this but I haven't witnessed or photographed it before. With feeding over, she went back to her favourite perch, the chicks were asleep and the almost ungrateful tercel flew off as if he felt uneasy about being near his mate. So the female today provided food for herself, her mate....who she fed first, the 3 chicks and still had some to stash for later. She is one hell of a successful bird!
Before I start my post for today I wanted to just note that the page views for my blog have now exceeded 200000. I have posted 1750 posts..... That's three times more pages than War and Piece! Blogging is a fantastic way for ordinary people like myself to communicate with the world around them. Thank you Sir Timothy Berners-Lee.
Immediately on arrival today I could sense a change. As I parked the car I saw a peregrine flying strongly over my head, it was the tercel and the first time I had seen one well away from the nest site.
At the site and now from my hide, the falcon was in the favourite tree, nothing new there. I looked through the binoculars at her but was surprised to hear the guttural clucking that is associated with feeding. The tercel was on the nest ledge! This is the first occasion that I have seen the male feeding the chicks this year. Last year when the chicks were much older both birds had fed the youngsters. It seems that we have reached the stage where this duty is shared. The female remained on the tree, calling grumpily throughout. When feeding was over, he then flew up to the tree to a perch above her as normal and they continued to grumble to each other.
Now the sad part. I had said when I left yesterday that the younger chick which had hatched two days later and was 12 days old , looked a bit worse for wear. It seems as though it has succumbed overnight because when the observed feeding took place, all I could see was 2 strong heads taking food. This is a massive shame but if it proves to be accurate then it's not unexpected. Sad as I am, there is also a sense of relief that the two older birds have survived and with the forecast predicting less rain in the coming week it looks like the remming two will go on to fledge successfully.
I am observing the nest with "live view" on my camera as I write this, hoping to see the third chick which was not tiny. However, obviously getting wet and chilled had been too much for it to cope with. There is just the slight chance that the bird has survived but this is unlikely because surely it would have been taking food like its older siblings.
Both parents have been spending increasingly extended periods off the nest these last two or three days and this, coupled with the wet conditions, has proved too much for the younger chick. Further proof, if it were needed, of the vulnerability of these birds. Nature takes its course, one Peregrine Falcon has fallen at the first hurdle.
The two adults stayed in the old tree for 45 minutes until the tercel departed silently. I expected him to return with prey but he didn't have a kill with him when he came back a while late. The falcon, then after more than an hour, coinciding with a rain shower, came down to the nest ledge where she fed the youngsters unenthusiastically with the remains of a previous kill. Then very surprisingly and perhaps unusually, she departed the nest area totally or that is what it seemed, although she could be sitting on a perch that I a not aware of. The male was also away during that period and there was no sign of either adult for an hour and a half. The young birds were not only unbrooded but unprotected from any predators.
Eventually when she came back she went straight to the favoured tree and called out as if to try and communicate with the tercel. She still didn't go down to the chicks but instead continued to call. She left the tree yet again and this time the male returned but without prey. She joined him again and the calling continued. They continued to call to each other from different perches but still no prey! Then minutes later he left again (1553) followed 3 minutes later by the female, minutes later she was back again. The tension was building and I was pretty sure that very soon the male would return with a kill? I would describe the falcon at this point as agitated. Various alarm calls where being sounded around the nest area including a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Blackbird. It will be interesting to see what prey gets brought. My session had lasted for more than 5 hours and frankly I was hoping that this drama would come to an end. But the situation continued with both birds back in the tree and still no kill. I wish I knew what was going on.
I was quite sure that the male was on a hunt now as I saw him then fly off strongly in to the distance. Then something really different happened. A corvid landed on the tree and with much calling the female flew down to protect her chicks. She remained on the ledge with the chicks who were by now starting to call out with hunger perhaps.
The tercel was getting almost frantic now, her screams becoming even more agitated and intense as she circled around and landed back on that favourite perch. Eventually here he was with a kill, yet another Great spotted Woodpecker (thats four now) and then as a lovely end to my session.....I saw three chicks, it seems that all have survived after all!!!
Just a reminder that all photographs have been taken under the terms of a Schedule 1. Photograph License which allows me to legally photograph at this nest site. Without such a license it is illegal to photograph at a Peregrine nest site.
The tercel leaves the tree carrying a pigeon kill. The foot you can see on the right is in fact the pigeon's foot not the Peregrines.
The day's watching began with both birds off the nest ledge. The three chicks endured last nights heavy rain but I wasn't concerned having seen how they had shrugged off the heavy showers of the previous 24 hours. It's still very showery and in spite of rain falling, the falcon was content to be on the favourite tree with the tercel just above her. The male never seems confident enough to sit next to her, she is considerably bigger than him and in the world of Peregrine Falcons, size does matter.
My hide now has a waterproof cover which is making life for me quite comfortable. I have to confess that the birds tolerance to the rain and obvious wet is a surprise and has added to my knowledge of the species. As I worked on the hide yesterday, both parents ignored me completely yet they must have been aware of me. I discussed this with Professor Tyler the other day and we talked about the eyesight of these birds which is 10 times more effective than our own. Simply put, these birds are most certainly aware of my presence in the hide and on the walk to and from it. They are acclimatised to me and choose to ignore me. This was illustrated the other day when I left some equipment in the hide, I came back to get it and was dressed in every day clothes. This was noticed by the tercel who grumbled noisily, I left quickly.
In terms of food, their prey seems to be varied and opportunistic. The other day, woodpeckers featured but I haven't seen them being brought in the last few days. Small prey items make up the majority of kills. These kills are quite hard to identify once plucked. Plucking seems to start with wing feathers. I watched the falcon plucking the swallow the other day and she vigorously removed the wing feathers before moving to the breast. She removed feathers and skin from that area before feeding small pieces of meat complete with black down to the chicks.
Even though it has rained, on and off all day and sometimes very heavily, life on the nest ledge has gone on as normal. I was there for 4 hours and in that time the chicks were fed just once. This was a small song bird which I couldn't identify. Later the tercel arrived on the old tree with a larger kill which was already half plucked but he continued to pluck and then eat it. This was a big surprise, I expected the female to take it and then feed the chicks again but she didnt, instead allowing him to consume most of it even though she was not on the nest but on a branch beneath. All the time this was happening, the chicks were on the nest in the cool rain. I am sure the falcon knows what she is doing but I did expect her to spend more time sheltering the youngsters. The youngest of the three chicks did appear to be wet. Time will only tell if the siblings continue to do well. There are still at least two weeks to go before fledging.
This little video shows from 17 secs to 1.25 the chicks being fed on a Magpie.
As I travelled out to the Peregrines this morning I was at a low ebb. It was still raining and had been, on and off for the last 24 hours with more of the same forecast.
I trudged along towards my hide and I was already wet through, how could the youngsters endure this?
How resilient are they?
How clever is the falcon?
Would she see the need to try to keep them dry?
At the hide, I barely dare even look, I lifted my binoculars and through the gloom I could see the falcon on the nest ledge and next to her, a bundle of white fluff. I prayed for movement... and there it was, the chicks, well at least one of them was OK!
As you can see from today's pictures, I need not have fretted because all three are still as strong, well stronger in fact, than ever. They had pushed under the her as much as they could and obviously by huddling together they have avoided getting chilled and also been protected from the rain by the falcon and possibly an overhang above them.
I am learning all the time about this species. It is my third year of observing this nest site and every day I discover something different. It is a fabulous way to spend a day. Sat comfortably in front of a Peregrine Falcons nest, observing their lives and recording it on film and photograph. The only way to really learn about wildlife is by observation. You can read as many text books as you like but seeing things first hand and coming to your own conclusions is the only real way.
The male is not seen all the while at the site and on the face of it, he seems to have an easy time. He never visits the nest ledge alone. I never saw him incubating this clutch of eggs, but I did see him on the first failed nest. He has taken no part in the brooding of the chicks when I have been watching. However, he has caught, to my knowledge, all of the prey for the three chicks. He rarely delivers his kills to the nest but instead he will perch on a favourite tree or opposite and scream to the falcon who will come to him and take the prey. Thi is quite often preceeded by her screaming for him to bring food. I am told that his duties will include patrolling the large territory and he will have favourite perches well away from the nest site.
When the chicks first hatched it seemed that they were fed three times a day and this continued for the first week. Now feeding has increased dramatically and they appear to have food brought to them every 2 to 3 hours or so. Prey items have included Great -spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Bullfinch, Swallow and Blackbird with a couple of kills unidentifiable due to the plucking that takes place off the nest quite often. If the falcon is impatient she will grab the kill from the tercel and complete the plucking on the nest ledge making it easier to identify the bird.
I am writing this at the hide and I can see that the female is off the nest and in a tree nearby. She had been in that spot for at least the last 30 minutes. As the chicks get older she will spend increasingly longer periods away from the nest. As I write, she has now joined them on the ledge and is feeding them on the left overs from a previous kill. Closer examination of my pictures taken earlier shows that this kill is in fact a Magpie - pica pica. I saw this as a prey item last year. It seems that the tercel is not particularly selective when it comes to choosing prey.
Back again for more at the Peregrine nest site today. I had decided on a different strategy from the outset and it was quite hard to maintain my discipline. I wanted to stake out the obvious plucking perch that had become apparent yesterday. I am thinking that with patience I will be able to see, film and photograph some good stuff. I have constructed a new hide that is above the nest ledge.....but I can't see it....overlooking the original hide and the plucking station just beneath. This is obviously used very regularly because not only is there a nice safe secure perch but underneath there is a ledge that has caught so much guano that it looks like the decorators have been in to whitewash. Underneath there is further evidence of plucked prey with bones and enough feathers to stuff a cushion. From the original hide I have seen both birds fly to this spot but I can't see it from that position even though it is only around ten feet away which is a real shame.
My arrival this morning coincided with the delivery of a prey item to the nest ledge, the hand over taking place off the ledge in the old tree. Then the falcon was seen to feed from a pigeon carcass which had been on the ledge from a previous delivery. After that it was quiet for more than 3 hours but eventually there was much excitement and commotion with an obvious kill delivery to the nest. From this position I had good views of both birds flying around screaming as they interacted. We now have rain which may possibly be changing their behaviour to a degree but I am unsure of that. Certainly the chicks will need to be protected from this rain, if they get wet then thy will chill, this is the biggest danger to them particularly at the age they are with just fluffy down to insulate them. If this gets we,t, then any protection that provides will be useless.
Just prior to leaving the light rain had turned to a serious downpour. I have to say that the falcon didn't appear to be protecting the chicks from the rain whatsoever. I am somewhat concerned. There is rain forecast for the next couple of days and I can only hope that the falcon gets to grips with the situation and does protect the youngsters.
This image may go on to cause quite a stir. It is quite obviously a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) I have no idea how often this species is taken as prey by a Peregrine but I now have photographic evidence that this is the case. Can you image the skill that woudl be necessary to catch a swallow in flight.
Todays session was quite significant at the Peregrine site. The chicks are now some 11 days old with the youngest one two days behind but physically not noticeably smaller. As far as behaviour was concerned, the tercel was perched on the old tree when I arrived and the Falcon was on the nest ledge with the youngsters but not brooding them. It was around midday and I was expecting some feeding activity. It was quite a wait and I was not encouraged because there was a visible large bulge in the crop of the adult bird meaning that she had fed recently. The male left the tree after a short while and wasn't seen back again for well over an hour. I first heard him call which was answered by the female, he flew in to the nest and delivered a small bird which looked to be a Bullfinch, there was an obvious white rump and I can't find another bird that would fit the description. This small finch was not going to satisfy the youngsters so it wasn't a big surprise when later on yet another prey item was delivered, this time to my utter astonishment, a swallow. In the meantime, I heard what sounded like the flapping of wings from just beneath the hide. I went out of the hide to an area that gives a good view beneath the hide and was surprised to see that this has become an obvious plucking perch. This is a favourite place that is used by a bird to despatch and then pluck the kill before it is either eaten or delivered as prey. This is going to offer some great photo opportunities in the weeks ahead. It was worth noting today that two new species were brought to the nest in the shape of the Bullfinch and Swallow. Also, it is obvious that there is no pattern to the hand over of prey. Sometimes the female will leave the nest ledge to collect a kill from the tercel or the male will bring it to the ledge. There seems no pattern as to which method of delivery is executed. It did occur to me though that the female and male not only have different sounding calls. the male being slightly higher in pitch than the female but I suspect that there is also a trigger in the male's call that indicates that he has made a kill.... and here it is!
Not really too much to be said about todays 4 hours watching Whinchats on Dartmoor. This is a bird that I always get a thrill out of seeing. It is an African migrant that I have seen them in their winter territories in Western Africa which was a thrill. On Dartmoor they are not too hard to find if you know where to look. The male is a very smart bird with the female not quite so colourful as is the norm.
With the chicks now 8 and 6 days old I returned as normal for a late afternoon and early evening session. I think there is a pattern of feeding. Logic tells me that the chicks are going to require food to get them through the night, obviously this gives a good chance of seeing this interesting part of the life cycle.
When I arrived I could see a peregrine in the old tree even before I had focused on the eyrie. It was the tercel. The falcon was on the ledge, shielding the chicks from the strong sun, panting with beak open and using her outstretched wings like a parasol. I got organised and sat quietly as normal. It wasn't very long before the tercel flew strongly away from his perch. I was sure that he had gone on a hunt. What magnificent and perfectly evolved animals these birds are.
Obviously, as I hadn't been watching for the whole of the afternoon I can only guess at behaviour but I would assume that both parents and chicks had spent a very quiet time in the strong sunshine and heat of the day. As soon as the sun had started to dip, the heat dropped a degree or two and this was the trigger for the tercel to leave to carry out his particular parental duty, that is, to catch prey for the chicks. Yesterday, even though I couldn't see him, I knew he was somewhere in the old tree because downy feathers were rising to be blown gently in the afternoon breeze as he plucked and ate a kill. I have seen this before so I knew that nothing else could be the cause. I was correct because when the tercel eventually delivered the prey it was partially, if not almost entirely eaten. So much so that, apart from a few remaining wing feathers there was nothing to indicate the species but it looked very much like a gull of some sort.
After nearly 3 hours of waiting this afternoon and as it got cooler and cooler, still the tercel hadn't returned. It seemed as though my original guess at behaviour was well off the mark. Wildlife watching is very much like that. One day, yesterday for example, within minutes you will witness some excitement and have great photo opportunities, then the next day there is nothing to see at all. Both the falcon and I listened intently for the characteristic screaming of the tercel which would indicate his return but all I heard was a nearby Great spotted Woodpecker, proving that in spite of the Peregrines predating two of these recently there are still more, I wouldn't want to be a woodpecker living near here!
Then at around 8, the falcon left the nest and seemed to be calling for the tercel to return. The young birds in the eyrie stretched for food but still there was no sign of his return. We had all started to run out of patience.....even the cameras battery started to run out! But I was really interested to see if they would be fed before dusk turned to real night.
Mu wait was rewarded when suddenly at 8 20 the tercel returned. There was a great deal of excited screaming as the hand over of prey took place, not on the ledge this time but on the favourite tree. I quickly trained my camera back on the eyrie to see the female frantically plucking a bird. One of the chicks was even pulling at the tail of the kill which was yet another Great spotted Woodpecker. This species seems to be easy to catch. I am told that they are a particularly stupid bird, more common than they have ever been, so obviously a good food source.
I returned on Monday to find the falcon on the eyrie and the youngsters in the nest scrape as normal. The falcon is now not brooding but just stays with the chicks on the nest ledge. I never see the tercel on the ledge, he is sometimes perched nearby but usually there is no sign of him. After a short time waiting, suddenly again I heard the distinctive sound of the males scream . It was quite obvious that he was perched out of sight and beneath me. The female left her ledge flew over to him and took delivery of a female blackbird and carried it back to he chicks. She plucked it as normal and began to feed the chicks as before.
It doesn't get much better than this, a really exciting couple of hours….wildlife watching and photography at it's very, very best. The 3 chicks are progressing well. The falcon fed all 3 chicks very diligently starting with the oldest first and then carefully making sure that the 3rd and smallest was fed well. Surprisingly for such seemingly aggresive birds it is not a free for all on the nest ledge. After the feeding, which took 10 minutes or so, the falcon picked up the remains of the kill and left the nest ledge, returning a few minutes later to brood the chicks. They are now 7 and 5 days old. Yesterday they had fed on a Great-spotted Woodpecker and the re was evidence of that around he eyrie with feathers of this species really noticeable but it was impossible to say what tis evenings kill was except to say that it was considerably larger than a woodpecker.
This is a great way for me to quickly add video to the blog, its not high quality HD but none the the less interesting for that. It's basically a screen shot of the live view from the back of my Pentax camera filmed with my iPad.
It shows the "falcon" tenderly feeding the youngsters with small pieces of meat from a kill. There was some really interesting observations today. Normally I wouldn't visit around noon but other commitments today dictated that this was the only time that I could visit.
I made my way to the hide and could see the female on the nest ledge with the white fluffy chicks very noticeable. When I had gone last evening the sun was beating down strongly on to the ledge. It was interesting to see how the female shielded the young from the heat with her wings. I wonder, is this learned behaviour or instinctive? Today, it was much duller with the ledge in the shade and with warm ambient temperatures, the chicks were not being brooded and I could see them very easily. I had been trying to discover if the 3rd egg had hatched and it wasn't long before I discovered the good news…. all three eggs have produced chicks.
It is obvious that the incubation commenced after the laying of the second egg and when the 3rd was laid the others would already be 2 days in to development. The 2 eggs hatched on Saturday and when the 3rd hatched it was already 2 days behind. With the chicks 6 days old, the 4 day old sibling is considerably smaller. As I watched the falcon feeding the chicks it was obvious that she is a good mother because I observed her feeding the younger chick very carefully.
At first there was no sign of the tercel and the falcon seemed to be wondering what to do. She left the nest several times, returning each time without a kill. Finally she left again and I heard some screaming, she then returned with a prey item and fed the youngsters which took around 10 minutes. I was surprised that she didn't fly off with the remains as I had seen before.. The ledge must already be a smelly, fly attracting area. To my utter surprise, some 30 minutes later, or perhaps longer, suddenly the tercel announced his presence with much screaming and commotion. Nothing new there. She immediately left the ledge and flew to the nearby tree where she took delivery of a female Great-spotted Woodpecker (sadly). What was going on? The answer was obvious, she flew down to the ledge and then fed the chicks again with the unfortunate woodpecker. All in all, a very interesting 2 hours with many good photos and video recorded.
We went out to watch for Cuckoos again today but things have already changed. Instead of the usually regular visits to what was obviously their favourite perch, not one Cuckoo landed there today. Having said that, a male called both to our left and then later to the right but in spite of seeing, probably that bird fly past us, it didn't choose our tree to land in. It was disappointing but not a surprise as in previous years June 19th was the last day that I photographed a Cuckoo. It is known that some of the tagged UK Cuckoos have already departed on their southern migration so I guess our birds may be doing the same already.
We had the usual small birds land in the same tree today, apart from the male Pied Flycatcher which was noticeable by it's absence, four new species landed in the tree. A Great spotted Woodpecker, Willow Warble, Linnet and Stonechat came to the tree to add to the great list of birds that have visited these four hawthorn trees while we have waited for Cuckoos.
At the end of the afternoon I went out to the Peregrine Falcon site. (I have a Schedule 1.license to photograph at this site). The Falcon was sat brooding the chicks taking great care to protect them from the sun with her extended wings acting as a a good sunshade, interesting behaviour. From time to time the little kicks could be seem either underneath the female or poking out from the side of her wings. I waited as long as I dare but by 10 past 7 the Tercel hadn't delivered a kill for the falcon and the chicks. I had to leave at that point with the promise of a good game of World Cup football on the TV….. I really shouldn't have bothered and should have waited for the tercel to catch the "evening meal" which I am sure would have proved much more entertainment.
I am a Schedule 1. License holder to photograph at this Peregrine nest site.
The site is top secret and the location will never be revealed.
The Peregrines at my licensed site hatched their first chicks last Saturday. I returned last evening to observe and photograph. I was hoping to establish how many of the 3 eggs had hatched. I was staggered to see the progress of the two "eyases" which seemed to have noticeably grown. This wasn't immediately noticeable for me though because they were being brooded by the Falcon and hidden from view. However, I could hear the tercel (English spelling), screaming from nearby. I was expecting it to fly to the nest ledge because I could see the Falcons eyes (the female that is), following him as he circled around. Eventually I was able to train my camera on to him and I could see why the Falcon was excited…..he was carrying a kill in his right talon as he nonchalantly perched on a rock with his other foot (see above). Its quite often hard to determine the species of the kill because the head is usually removed and then it is plucked making identification almost impossible. I was primed and ready for him to fly to the eyrie which he did after another few minutes of screaming, why they do quite so much screaming I have no idea. Eventually he left his perch and swooped in to the ledge with his prey which caused even more excitement from both him and his mate. She screamed even louder as he landed.
He lands with the kill and the falcon screamed at him.
After the prey was taken by the falcon the tercel remained for a short while and they both tore off little bits of flesh to feed the tiny chicks which as yet, I hadn't seen properly. But I had my first real look of one of the chicks. The female is on the left and the male on the right, note the difference in the plumage.
The tercel left the ledge after a a minute or so and flew to a nearby branch, still screaming as they always do, this left the female to feed the chicks. I could now clearly see that there were two and the third egg, probably now not going to hatch.
Here the tercel leaves the nest ledge.
You can see one chick and the falcon behind the flying tercel. Now the falcon is left on the ledge to delicately feed the chicks, clearly two with the unhatched egg visible.
Here is a short video from the live view on the back of the camera filmed with the iPad. When you consider that the distance is around 75 yards, this is quite a good way of seeing some close up activity.
We had hatched a plan to get some better photos of Cuckoos which involved sitting on a tiny seat under cam netting for 3 hours (and a few minutes more!) It was a success. We set up in front of the trees which we had noted was a favourite perch. Several small interesting birds came to feed before suddenly a Cuckoo flew quickly from right to left and then a minute or two later we heard one call. Then suddenly there was the female followed by a noisy male who called loudly from what we have called "the Cuckoo Tree". She was obviously fed up of being chased by him and left very quickly. The male remained and we got some good shots before he left again making a noise almost like a dog with asthma from the tree behind us!
This is the male (above), note the difference between the smaller female below and her noticeably browner iris which is yellow in the male.
I am licensed by Natural England to photograph at a Peregrine Falcon nest site, which is a Schedule 1. bird. Without a Schedule 1. photography license it is against the law to photograph in the nest territory.
This is my 3rd year of photographing at this nest site and in that time I have enjoyed some memorable sessions. This year has been up and down. The first clutch of eggs was predated just prior to hatching which was very disappointing to say the least. It is unusual for Peregrines to go on and produce a replacement clutch if they lose their first clutch so late on. They chose to use the same ledge that had been so successful for them last year. After another 32 days of incubation, 60 days in total with a break of 2 of the eggs hatched yesterday (14 June). I watched a wet but lively little chick in the nest scrape yesterday afternoon and when I returned in the late evening…..I couldn't resist another look…..the chick had dried out and was able to raise it's head. When I returned again today I was pleased to see that there were two very strong snowy white and active little chicks.
One of the big problems I face as a photographer is the distance from the nest which makes it quite difficult. I have been looking for a way to get good close up views, almost asking the impossible really but I have an excellent live view on my Pentax K3 camera. This means that I can focus on the nest and then use the digital zoom to get an incredibly close-up view of the birds on the eyrie. I then realised that with the my iPad, I could take good video of the cameras's live view, and there you have it and you can see the results above.
But, back to the birds. As I sat watching and waiting I could see the Falcon brooding her clutch, suddenly she left the scrape and I could see the two chicks in the nest. She quickly returned with a prey item, it looked like a Blackbird and then proceeded to feed the young birds, pulling small pieces of meat off the carcass I was immediately taken with the tender, carful and very dainty way the parent fed the chicks. After a few minutes she lifted the carcass and flew off the nest with it in her beak. A few seconds later, in came the Tiercel to brood the youngsters. What was interesting about this was that the Falcon left the nest to take the prey item from the Tiercel and then took it to the chicks. Afterwards, while the Tiercel brooded the chicks the Falcon was perched in a nearby tree before eventually flying back to the nest to take over her brooding duties.
This is a female Cuckoo. Note the brown breast which goes all around the neck but the extent of brown varies in individuals. They are smaller and more delicate than the larger males. Both birds have a yellow eye ring and the inside of the mouth is red. This bird has a white patch on the back of the neck which is thought to be a mimic of the white on the neck of young Sparrowhawks, yet another amazing fact about these amazing birds. Look at the feet, 2 forward and 2 backwards like a parrot.
I went back to Dartmoor again today really excited about the prospect of seeing Cuckoos and being able to photograph them for the 3rd day in a row. I am learning more and more about this amazing species that is not nearly as well researched as you would imagine. Speaking with an Environmental Scientist who is a real expert on the species I have discovered that there is still so much to learn about the species. The on-going tagging study that started 3 years ago has been a revelation but there are still many questions to be answered. It has only recently been discovered for example that some males spend just a few weeks in their UK breeding range before moving back south again. Females remain to lay their 20 or so eggs, one at a time in a single host nest, that's obviously 20 different nests, having been copulated by her chosen male. Then the juveniles undertake perhaps the most amazing journey. They migrate south to an area south of the Sahara, totally unguided, to over-winter in the same territory as their parents! How do they do that?
This is the male, one of two in the area. It's feeding on a caterpillar, their usual prey item.
Today I watched and photographed both male and female, there is also the possibility that I photographed two different males, I can't be sure of that but I am sure that as I photographed one of the males, in a Hawthorn just in front of me, another male was singing not too far away. At one point I had the impression that all three birds were right in front of me but I couldn't be 100% sure. My session started very interestingly, even as I approached the area I could see Cuckoos in their favourite trees and one (the female I think), even remained as I quietly got inside the cam netting hide. This was a big surprise, Cuckoos are very shy birds with very efficient eyesight so I can only assume that she didn't consider me a threat and the attraction of the good feeding opportunity was more powerful than the usual flight response. I have noticed this before, I almost got the impression that I was accepted and not seen as a threat, could this be correct? Both the male and the female were feeding by sighting caterpillars in the short grazed grass. They would glide down, pick up the prey and fly up to a perch close to where they had left. Protein levels of caterpillars is probably very high which would explain why they are such a good food source. It also illustrates, and I have said this before, that the habitat to provide the right environment for large caterpillars is vital. When it comes to conservation, habitat is the key factor be it Pandas in China or Cuckoos in the UK. If the moths were not able to produce eggs and larvae, then the Cuckoos would not have enough to enable them to flourish.
I have already had a really good day's birdwatching. In fact I could hardly believe what I was seeing at one point. I was sat inside a cover hide waiting for the Cuckoos to appear, I was quite confident that they would appear and when the female did I wasn't in the least bit surprised. In fact I knew it was in the tree right above me, I could hear strange but quiet noises which was the start of the female's bubble, a kind of sub-song I suppose, then she flew in to the tree and landed right on the perch exactly where she had been yesterday. I well remember in previous years when a Cuckoo had repeatedly returned not only to the same tree but also a favourite part of the tree. What I have learnt from that is that Cuckoos are creatures of habit so when I go back tomorrow I am quite confident that I will see them again. But what was amazing was the birds that I had already seen in the same tree! Between 1110 and 1125 there was a Redstart which was followed by an amazing female Pied Flycatcher (she came back twice), the next visitor was a spanking Bullfinch and then a Mistle Thrush….. and then the Cuckoos and all within 15 minutes.
My photos of the Cuckoos today were approaching the standard that I had hoped for. They are very photogenic when in flight and this is 3 years out of the past 4 that I have been able to get some good inflight shots and one of my Cuckoo in-flight shots taken in 2011 is in the top 10 most popular photos out of 259730 on the famous Birdguides Web Site.
I often say on my blog that putting together a plan to get a good photograph and then having success is one of the most satisfying things that I ever do. Last week I had been photographing Redpolls on Dartmoor which meant that I had been sat for long periods of time between nest visits by the adults. As I sat, I repeatedly heard a Cuckoo not too far away and I was quite certain that it must be holding a territory and whats more, now I knew where it was! I investigated and found not only the singing male but a female and they were both feeding. I hatched a plan that involved getting myself concealed near the trees that they were both using to sight their caterpillar prey from. I used large fallen branches which I proped up around around one of the trees and then used cam netting to create a good cover. I set it all up yesterday and went back this morning. Female Cuckoos are known to lay in the afternoon and evening and consequentlly they spend the morning and early part of the afternoon feeding. It seems to me that the caterpillars that they feed on are not as active earlier on.
Only when the sun has warmed them up are they active and the cuckoos can see see them much more easily. This is a big help because it means that there is a window of activity when it is easier to see the birds. So when I sat myself in my rather uncomfortable hide I was really hopeful of success. Quite early on I could see a Cuckoo feeding in the normal way and just knew that it was only a matter of time before either the male or female used the trees just a few feet from where I was concealed. When it suddenly happened and a Cuckoo was calling in the tree right next to me, a mixture of excitement and smug satisfaction were my mixed emotions. It was frustrating though because it was a little high in the tree and the background was bright leaving the bird as a silhouette. Now that the male was here it was only a minute or so before the female showed up and that is her in the picture above. Note the brown suffusion on the breast. As well as this though, the male is a bigger, more elegant bird with longer wings.
I really like shots of seabirds in their environment so when I knew that I may have the chance to take photographs whilst at sea yesterday, I took my camera along and spent an hour on the upper deck as we left France from Roscoff on the way back to Plymouth. I was really hoping to see and photograph Skua sp. or/and Shearwaters but It was quiet and only the occasional Northern Gannet put in an appearance. I ran out of patience after an hour and the draw of joining my friends in the lounge bar beneath proved to be more of an attraction I am sorry to confess.
The young Redpolls were 11 days old yesterday and when I went to visit the nest briefly in the late morning, as you can see they are almost fully developed and in full feather. I could not visit today unfortunately because of musical commitments. (I am the musical director of a Brass Band who are competing in the French Brass Band Championships over the weekend and we leave later today.)
At the nest site it was very windy and it had been raining heavily over night. I feared for their safety because not only was the air quite cool for the time of year it was also extremely wet under foot. If the juveniles chose to leave the nest in these conditions it would not have been ideal. I need not have worried though. The gorse bush was swaying in the strong wind but the young birds were not phased at all and looked very fit and strong. It wasn't long before the female came to the nest to feed them followed 35 minutes later by the male, only the 3rd time I had seen him at the nest. Young birds are very resilient.
The more I think about this post the more upset I become. It is an absolute privilege to have as many wild and beautiful birds of prey in the skies now a days.. When I grew up in the 1950's it was a massive event to even see a bird of prey with the exception of Kestrels which were quite common and seen very regularly. Now they are not as common as formerly but you will see a Buzzard on every trip to the countryside. Not only Buzzards but Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites (I saw one yesterday for example) and Osprey. Buzzards are now the enemy of the shooting fraternity and they want to kill them. Its as plain and blunt as that. Buzzards may or may not take the odd pheasant chick (this is doubtful I wold say and I think Tawny Owls would take far more, are they next). Now, we all know that any drive down a country lane will eventually bring you to a pheasant carcass, run down and left to die. This is because Pheasants are released in massive numbers every year so that they can be blasted out of the sky. Pheasants are not native to this country, they are only here because they make good quarry to shoot at. While I except that a lot of people rely on the shooting industry for their livelihood it must be understood that Pheasants are not native to the UK. The presence of them probably has a lot to do with the predation of millions of caterpillars of both Butterflies and Moths...... could this be why Butterflies are in decline? Who knows, but leave the Buzzards alone, they are native to the environment, were here first and if you release a stupid defenceless pheasant chick from captivity and in to the wild, then you must accept that it is going to be an easy target.
Below is an extra t from the BAWC website , visit by clicking on the link. It talks of Natural England planning to give a license to gamekeepers to shoot Buzzards. This is an absolute outrage and if it goes ahead we should picket the Natural England HQ...... please read the article.
"The news that a shooting estate had applied to Natural England to remove up to 10 Buzzards that were dangerous to growing pheasant poults came as little surprise.
Shooting organisations are routinely lobbying to have Buzzards added to the General Licence, a list of species that may be shot or trapped on sight without the pain of having to fill out a few forms.
While the rest of society quite correctly is obliged to heed the legal protection that Buzzards were given after their numbers declined hugely after decades of persecution by gamekeepers (and then the spread of myxomtatosis in the 1950s which killed huge numbers of rabbits), the shooting industry feels they should be exempt.
In 2012, as many of us will never forget, Defra revealed a plan to research various options to reduce Buzzard predation on pheasants by destroying nests or taking (presumably rogue) Buzzards from shooting estates and into captivity. Public outrage caused the plans to be dropped – at least publicly.
Shooting estates were never going to go away though. They are fixated on the minute numbers of the 40 million plus reared non-native birds they release into the countryside every year that are predated by Buzzards. Interestingly, they have not yet started on banning cars near shooting estates, even though vehicles kill far more pheasants than Buzzards ever will. No, far easier to have a go at a native British bird species that – as the conviction of a gamekeeper filmed beating two Buzzards to death in 2013 proved – is already on the hit list of an industry that apparently wants to believe that the rules don’t apply to them.
Well, the rules and the law of the land do apply to them. And that’s what really sticks in their craw. How much more profitable things would be if the law DIDN’T apply.
There is no doubt that changing the law is what is at stake here. Lobbying for a change in the laws protecting wildlife is extensive, and applications to ‘remove’ a few Buzzards are as much ‘testing the water’ as they are serious attempts to circumvent wildlife protection. These licence applications will keep coming in until – will be the hope – they are no longer newsworthy or no longer commented on.
That day, as far as BAWC and numerous other groups and organisations are concerned will never come. It will never be right to kill protected birds and we will never stop saying so.
The one thing that stops an open season being declared on Buzzards and other birds of prey is the law. It may not be perfect, it is often weak in fact, but it is vitally important. We must protect it, and we must be continually vigilant that it is not eroded. Both are up to all of us to ensure, because make no mistake there are powerful interest groups that loathe raptors and right now are working to have that protection removed."
Juvenile Lesser Redpoll at 1 days old.
It's now 4 days since I was taken to a lesser Redpoll nest by Mark Perry, a very skilled and talented nest finder. I mentioned in my previous post when talking about Cuckoos how I had learnt something new today. I can honestly say that I have learned something else new today! I have been staggered by the speed of development of the young Redpolls, it's quite amazing how rapidly these young birds have developed. Compare the photos of the juveniles over these last 4 days. I was told by Mark that on Sturday that the chicks were 7 days old, their eyes were barely open and pin-feathers were errupting. They easily found space in the surprisingly small cup nest. But just 4 days on and at 11 (or perhaps 12 days), they are on the verge of fledging the nest. I estimate that when I return tomorrow, if I get the chance, they will have fledged. What is remarkable is that seemingly they are fed on seed which has a relatively low protein content. They will continue to be cared for by both parents once they leave the nest. This is a very crucial time in their lives and it is fraught with many challenges for survival. Predation is more likely to happen in the nest which is why they have evolved to spend as short a time as possible there but once out of the nest, the first few hours and days will be a equally dangerous. They must quickly learn to avoid predation. Magpies, Jays , Crows and Sparrowhawks all search for young fledglings at this time of year. I actually saw a Jay today that was almost certainly searching for ground nesting birds.
I also took a few nice photographs of the female today as well. I am extremely pleased with this portrait.
I enjoyed a great wildlife experience today, really special! It's not often that I am close enough to a Cuckoo to get a photo but today was different. It was almost by accident but I knew that there had been a Cuckoo regularly singing in this particular part of the moor and it wasn't a massive surprise to suddenly see one as we walked along a ridge towards some old hawthorns and a well grazed grassy area. This is so typical of a Cuckoo territory. Cuckoos like to feed by sighting large caterpillars on the grass from a high perch, I have seen them feeding like this previously. We quickly got down low to the ground and made our way nearer, crawling towards it, using the safety of a very low wall to conceal ourselves. We snapped off photographs all the while hoping that it would come closer to us and then suddenly....... we realised that there were two. One was definitely a female which is great news. There was some interaction between both birds and I heard the female bubbling from deep beneath a hawthorn before it flew out and perched in an exposed perch. It's sex was really obvious, being smaller and with a more delicate head somehow but I wouldn't know how to describe this with any accuracy. However, if that wasn't enough, the bird had brown hues on the neck and parts of the wing coverts although it wasn't really obvious to see in the field.
Peering through the viewfinder of a camera makes it hard to keep track of whats going on around nearby so as I concentrated on the female, the male had flown to trees a little further away. The female continued to sight caterpillars and then fly down to them which I always enjoy watching. After a while and disappointingly, it flew off to join the male and then the excitement was over leaving us with lots of photos and thankfully, after an evening sorting through them I have got a few photos worth keeping as a reminder of a great encounter and experience. I have taken photos of Cuckoos before and many of them are better than this series but I will take these pictures as a record of a good day. I also learnt even more about Cuckoos. I discovered that females "buble call" and that males, as well as making the the two sylable call which gives it's name..... incidentally this an onomatopoeia........males also make a "whacka...whacka" call which is quite distinctive once you have heard it.
I returned to the nest site today and was pleased to see that the juveniles are doing really well. The pin feathers have now pushed through and there has been quite a noteable development in the last 24 hours. Eyes are now fully open and full of life, like black jewels! Both parents brought food to the nest and the male was seen to carry away a faecal sack although they now seem to be struggling to keep up with this duty and several dolops are drying on the edge of the nest rim. The chicks are believed to be around 9 days old and it will be interesting to see when they fledge the nest. (Fledge is the term used to describe the vacating of the nest by juvenile birds). Visually, one or two, or perhaps three of the five chicks appear to be larger and more advanced than their siblings which would point to a asynchronous incubation. That is when the incubation commences before all the eggs have been laid. This is normal for small species. The benefits of this means that the older stronger juveniles fledge before their siblings. If there is a shortage of food the older and therefore larger and stronger chicks will have an advantage over their siblings. If there is a good source of food then all the chicks will prosper and survive to fledging. As a strategy to escape predation, many small birds develop rapidly in the nest to fledge at a very young stage. These young Redpolls will leave the nest in the next day or two, probably Wednesday, at only 11 or 12 days old, its going to be interesting to see for myself. The first photograph (below), was taken yesterday and you can clearly see that in comparison with the photo taken today, the development is remarkable.
You may remember that I said previously that the female has a duller more orange crown than the red of the male. I have also seen male Redpolls with a reddish breast and I have read that older birds, perhaps birds in their 3rd year are more likely to be coloured in this way. Compare the pictures below, the female is in the first picture. Note in the photograph of the male that there is also a more pronounced black bib.
There has been some extremely interesting and rare birds in the West of England this weekend. Bee-eaters, Whiskered Tern and Short-toed Eagle not to mention the Ross's Gull. All birds that I would love to add to my galleries, or see again but you can't be in two places at once so I continued with what I had enjoyed so much yesterday and that was photographing at the nest of a lovely pair of Lesser Redpoll.
If you look back at my previous post you can read about how I managed to have the great pleasure of photographing at Lesser Redpoll nest. Today I made my way out to the site and set up in front of the gorse bush where a nest contained five healthy juvenile birds. I quickly checked that the birds were OK and had survived the last 24 hours, I was pleased to see them. . Before I left yesterday I had discovered that if I positioned the tripod very low and in the exact spot, I had a clear view to the nest which is basically a cup in the fork of the bush and quite high up. I used cam netting and vegetation from the vicinity to fashion a crude, but very effective hide and then tucked myself in with a gillie suite hood on just to make sure. I had great view of the chicks in the nest and It was only a matter of minutes before the female came in to the bush, called for a while from on top (see above) and then approached the nest carefully and quietly from beneath.
I could see when she came in that she wasn't carrying anything in the beak and at first, I was confused but when I saw her feeding the chicks I could clearly see, as the photo shows, that she was actually regurgitating seeds and then feeding them in an almost frenzied manner. After just a few seconds she picked up a faecal sack and flew off, returning just 10 seconds or so later to pick up another. This is interesting behaviour. I had watched the chicks deliberately defecate on the edge of the nest rim. The parents then remove this faeces away from the nest not only to keep it clean but to remove any evidence of chicks.
You can rest assured that absolutely no disturbance has been caused to this nest. Both parents were coming to feed the youngsters regularly and had they been disturbed this would not be the case. I want to reiterate that I am licensed by Natural England to photograph Schedule 1. birds at the nest site. All of these photographs were taken with due consideration to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
This is a female Redpoll, I would expect the male to be much more reddish, but I may be wrong. I was very fortunate this weekend when I had some contact with an ornithologist from Exeter University, Mark Lawrence, (sorry if I am incorrect about this Mark). They are doing a detailed study on the breeding of birds at an area on Dartmoor. Last year I had been asked to try and get good photographs of a particular Stonechat that was ringed and it was important to get the ring number of the bird so that the scientific picture could be understood. I was successful and able to contribute to science in my own small way. I had been told that this year, when interesting nests were found I would be able to go and photograph them. Incredibly, dozens have been found in recent weeks and amongst them was a Lesser Redpoll found by Mark Perry. I met Mark out on the moor and he expertly directed me to the nest.
A few facts about Lesser Redpoll. This species used to be, until recently, a sub-species of the Common Redpoll but was reclassified as a species in it's own right. They are a small finch related to Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Siskin etc. in the family carduelus. They are seedeaters but feed their young on invertebrates unlike the closely related Twite and Linnit which both feed exclusively on seeds.
The nest is remarkeable in several ways, firstly much, much smaller than I imagined it could ever be, so small that it is almost incredible to imagine it could be large enough to contain the 5 chicks within. It is an open bowl with a diameter of a breakfast tea cup. These chicks are around 7 days old, their eyes are just open and feathers on the wings are just emerging. The position of the nest is such a surprise. This species is described as arboreal, that is, they favour trees but the nest is low down in a gorse bush and quite open. The bush is isolated in the usual Dartmoor terrain, that is, scattered bushes, the odd Rowan tree here and there and grass withes with gorse and bracken. It is placed near to the top of the sparse gorse in the fork of of small twiggy branches and quite open to the elements and therefore predators.
It is hard to photograph without disturbance and the ideal is to cause no disturbance whatsoever. I am licensed to Photograph Schedule 1. birds at the nest so I fully understand the need for lack of disturbance and the need for good filedcraft. I had to show proof of this to acquire the license. You can rest assured that at all times the birds interest and safetly is the main priority.
I plan to return to the nest site again today so check back latet for further photographs.
I was late rising this morning and when the phone rang and rang and then rang again I wa quite certain that there must be a special bird about. I was right, Dave Stone excitedly told me that there was a Ross's Gull at Bowling Green Marsh. Ross's Gull is an extreme rarity here in Devon and this one is in fact the first record for the Exe Estuary and one of just a handful ever recorded in the county. I dont particularly like these "twitches" being a a bit of a contradiction to what I like about about wildlife watching but if you want to see really rare birds then needs must.
Ross's Gull is a small gull which is an Arctic breeder and named after a Naval Officer, James Ross. It is a true bird of the far north and breeds in the north of Siberia and the North American continent in Northern Canada. When it has finished breeding it then flies even further north. Quite how this one came to be here in the South West of the UK is one of those mysteries that can never be solved. This lonely individual is a young, non-breeding bird in it's second year. I was expecting to see a much more attractively marked bird and have to confess to some disappointment in this regard. The legs are fleshy red and the beak is delicate and solidly black. The tail is distinctive in flight being wedge shaped with a noticeable blackish band on the end. As a young bird it has black markings on the wings remeniscent of a LIttle Gull. Adult birds lack these markings but in the summer and in breeding plumage, have a noticeable black band around the neck and also have a pinkish suffusion on the breast. This bird was feeding on small flying insects around one of the pools on Bowling Green Marsh which is apparently typical behaviour.
This is now species 209 for my Devon Bird Gallery which can be perused here.
Peregrine Falcons are extremely hard to photograph in flight so you can imagine that I was pleased to get this shot yesterday. This is a female….the "Falcon"…. males are called "Tiercels"….. they are hard to seperate in my opinion but at my Schedule 1. license site I had been watching the pair for a while and I knew which was which. Males are smaller than females but when they are not together I dont' find them easy to separate. In the evening I met up with Dave Stone who has a good Blog look here. There are some nice pictures as well. I took him to where I had seen Tawny Owls the evening before, they are not all that easy to see let alone photograph and I knew that Dave hadnt even seen one this year. When we got to the lane, I have to confess that I was hopefu and quietly confident. But then we started to hear a bird, we knew immediately that it was close by. There was a right commotion coming from a nearby tree, 2 Jays were going mad, obviously unhappy about the owl which was also quietly calling in a massive old oak tree. It was hard to locate even though I was certain it was there. Then it flew and landed in another tree, it was hidden, or so it thought but we could see it through the oak leaves and tucked tight to the trunk as it peered at us. Dave got his photos and he was elated. (See them on his blog.)I have to confess that it gave me a great deal of pleasure to be able to give him some success.
I was on the way back home this evening, it was well after 8 and I was half way along a very old quiet and narrow country lane. This is one of those very deep lanes with high Devon banks. The lane is fringed with old oak trees which makes the lane very dark even in the middle of the day. I suddenly saw a Tawny Owl fly cross the lane, that doesnt happen often. Tawny Owls are common (probably) but they are nocturnal and secretive so you dont see them even when you know they are somewhere nearby. Even in flight I saw it clearly, a rich brown colour with long wings and a round head. Quite a treat and perhaps a good opportunity for a photograph? I immediately pulled the car in to a gateway and walked back to where it had been. I realised that it was still there for certain because a pair of Robins where going crazy, mobbing something in one of the old oaks…. I was certain it was there. I have to be honest, I was surprised when I looked up high in the oak and I could clearly see a silhouette looking down at me. The Robins were still going crazy, now joined by a blackbird or two. I can say without hesitation, if you hear birds alarming constantly in a tree or shrub, then they have become aware of an owl and its a good way for you to find it. The only problem was that it was getting dark and the bird was just a shape high in a tree. I tried very hard to get a decent photograph but conditions were not in the least bit favourable. I have photographed Tawny Owls before but regardless of the low shutter speed and equally low light, this improves on my previous attempt to photograph an adult bird. However, I did photograph 3 youngsters recently at my friends woodland.
A great opportunity presented itself recently when we discovered an active Great-spotted Woodpecker's nest in my friend's woodland. When they are incubating its quite hard to find an active nest because they are quite secretive. Even though its not hard to find woodpecker holes in trees, some are from previous years and others have been worked on in the current year and then been abandoned when the breeding birds have chosen another hole. I thought I had cracked it when I saw a bird disappear in to a fresh looking hole andwe set up hides to overlook the tree. I spent hours watching but only occasionally saw a bird entering. I put this down to one of the birds spending hours incubating before being relieved by it's partner. Then we realised that we were watching the wrong hole all along because a bird was arriving constantly and entering a hole much higher in the same tree!
This was a mystery, I still have no idea what was going on and have no idea why the bird was from time to time going in and out of a different hole. Incubation is relatively short and eggs hatch after only 12 days but the youngsters stay in the nest for around 3 weeks. It seems that these young have a few more days before they fledge because as you can see in the above, the feathers have yet to fully grow and the beak is not fully formed yet. There should be some much better photo opportunities in a few days just immediately and prior to fledging. At the moment the chicks are very noisy and are constantly calling. This rises to an excited crescendo when the parents arrive with food. When the chicks are at this stage their nests should be easy to locate.
You can tell the male from the female by the red patch on the nape which is absent in the female but weirdly, youngsters have a red forehead which is absent in adults. Iterestingly, therefore, newly fledged Great-spotted Woodpeckers are more colourful than their parents. I can't think of any other specie where this is the case. Just to summarise, you will see three differently marked Great-spotted Woodpeckers. Red on the nape, a male, no red on the nape, a female and red on the front of the head is a newly fledged youngster... either male or female.
This is an interesting photo because it shows the male leaving the nest burrow with a beak full of fecal material which is collected from within the nest burrow and then dropped away from the nest hole. I have yet to see the female at this nest site. Quite why this is I have no idea. Is the female in the nest burrow, brooding the chicks, quite possibly? The male is constantly bringing food to the nest but so far I have had no sight of the female. It could mean that the female has unfortunately succumbed to a predator and the male is doing a grand job feeding the chicks with no assistance?