Just wonderful opportunities yesterday, I am thrilled that all my patience and planning came together so well. I spent 25 hours in this particular hide without one photo opportunity and now that the young peregrines have left the nest ledge the photo opportunities have increased, not only because the youngsters are not as vigilant as their parents but there are now 5 birds flying around! When I served in the Royal Marines we talked about the 5 "Ps". Thats Planning, Preparation, Patience, Perseverance which leads to good Performance…. there is a slightly more crude version of that but you get the picture.
If you listen to the audio clip below you will be able to share in the capture of this photograph. The youngsters have been left he nest for a few days now and are already able to fly strongly. What's more, they are able to land successfully which is a real skill that doesn't come easily. I knew that as soon as they had mastered this they would be using the old oak tree as a good resting place and so it proved today with the young tercel spending 1 hour and three quarters on the branches just in front of the hide that I erected there in anticipation of just such an event. The image below is just about how it was and trimmed a little for artistic effect but not cropped. In fact the big problem at the moment is that my 300 lens is broken and I had to use the 500 which is a little large and I could hardly get all the bird in the frame and compose it nicely. I base hundreds and hundreds of shots and some great movie as well.
I have started to use audio on the blog recently and today I recorded the comings and goings from the nest territory as some interesting behaviour took place, listen above. I use the word territory because the young peregrines have now fledged the nest ledge. It has been an incredibly interesting day and I have a tale to tell. Listen to the audio and also watch the movie but here's a summary of proceedings. When I arrived it was quiet but I quickly located one of the 3 youngsters. It was exactly where it had been yesterday, beneath the nest ledge and about 10 feet to the left. All 3 youngsters had vacated the nest and finished up here, but yesterday and today, only one remained. It wasn't long before I heard the familiar sound of a calling peregrine and this went on for a while with the youngster chipping in to answer. I felt absolutely sure that prey was going to be brought to the youngster and after the calling had gone on for at least 15 minutes it rose to a deafening crescendo as the adult falcon flew in with a magpie. The screaming was very loud because accompanying the adult was the young tercel! The magpie was duly fed to both young birds and after a short while the young tercel flew away strongly. This was the first time that I had seen any of the the youngsters fly and it was brilliant to see how adept he was, flying like a skilled adult already. He is no doubt, enjoying his new found freedom to fly where he likes. After the feeding had gone on for 10 minutes or so, the falcon attempted to take the prey away from the youngster but the baby peregrine was having none of that and a tug of war ensued with the both birds pulling as hard as they could from either end of the carcass. I filmed this with much excitement. The female gave up and left the young one to it. She landed in her favourite spot in the old oak and remained there for a while. Then I saw that the other young female was also in the tree, meaning that I had located all 3 youngsters and glad to see them safe. The youngster was right next to the other hide so I waited until the adult had left the tree and then went to take up a position there in the hope of a close up of the youngster. I waited and waited, in fact for 3 hours and I could hear the youngster calling now and then. Eventually the young bird moved on to the exact spot where I had the camera focused and with very little difficulty, recorded video and took photos of the young falcon. The excitement continued as an adult arrived to feed it and they both flew off, adult and youngster. No doubt the youngster took delivery of prey, seconds later the adult tercel was on the branch again but I couldn't photograph him this time though. What an absolutely superb day.
Here's the 43 day old youngster.
Listen to the Audio-Boo above and you will have an insight in to what feels like to be at a Peregrine nest site. Incidentally I am licensed by Natural England to photograph at this Scedule 1. nest site. (It is against the law to photograph without a license).
This morning the young Pergrines had well and truly fledged the nest with two being absent completely and the third on a ledge neaby. I never did see the other two but he adult tercel came in to feed the youngster still present. I a quite certain that allthree will be seen together in the territory over the next few days adn weeks.
Here is a picture of the remaining youngster.
The following photograph was taken as a Schedule license holder for peregrine at this nest site.
Listen to audio clip above, recorded within a minute of taking the photo below. I have been planning this shot for months and since I managed to get a hide errected which is overlooking this perch, I have put in a total of more than 25 hours just waiting. The perch is a favourite of the tercel (pictured). He likes to just sit there and relax as he keeps guard over his youngsters from a distance. He also uses this perch to pluck his prey. In the 25 hours or more of sat waiting for him, this is the one and only time that he has perched there. He was in the right spot for just 4 seconds or so before flying down to the youngsters beneath him. I can't be sure of what prey he has but I suspect it is a Greater spotted Woodpecker again.
Please listen to the AudioBoo recording below. This is another way to publish to the blog, rather than in written word I tell the story….it's the way ahead, a great way to publish content to the blog.
At 40 days, the young Peregrines have now fledged the nest and they begin the next stage of their young lives. It's been a mamoth task by the adults to reproduce this year and they have been involved in nesting activity since March. They are magnificent creatures and equally magnificent parents, intelligent, dilligent and persistent. Att every step, even with a disasster they have been undaunted and their persistance has paid off in the end. There is still a long way to go. Now they have the task of teaching the youngsters to hunt for themselves. I am looking forward to watching as much of this as I can. So, please listen to the audio clip below and enjoy. Photo's of the newly fledged birds to follow.
The oldest of the two falcon eyes, (females), now left the nest ledge and on the rock face nearby.
The adult tercel with a Great-spotted Woodpecker, on his favourite perch, plucking the kill prior to delivering it to one of his youngsters.
This is the adult tercel delivering his kill to the young tercel.
The handover takes place.
Having delivered his plucked woodpecker to the young tercel, the adult tercel flies clear of the ledge.
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.