‘The Peregrine,’ read by Sir David Attenborough

The previous blog post mentioned J.A. Baker’s 1967 book ‘The Peregrine’ which is considered a classic of nature writing.  The book was re-printed for its 50th anniversary in 2017 and is as relevant today as it was when originally published.  Part behavioural knowledge through careful observation, part wonder and awe, the book is an evocative description of watching Peregrines in the big skies of his coastal patch over the course of 7 months.  It is beautifully written.

Blog reader sydsycamore pointed out that the book featured on Radio 4 as Book of the Week late last year, read by none other than Sir David Attenborough.  Baker’s stirring account and lyrical language delivered perfectly in Sir David’s soothing and familiar tones.  The 9 episodes are available on BBC Sounds website and App until December   https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07xhbdk

I urge readers to both buy the book and the download the podcast.  Thanks Syd!

 

It looks quiet down there

A nice view at sunrise this morning. If you are used to watching the webcam with the sound turned up you’ll notice how much quieter it is. Far less traffic than normal but still the odd emergency services siren. How much notice do the birds take of us humans? Have they noticed that there are less of us about? That there’s less noise and probably less pollution? Or do they have eyes only for the next potential meal or unwanted intruders?

There are some things which we will probably never know. It’s over 50 years since J. A. Baker published his classic and acclaimed nature book ‘The Peregrine,’ his careful observations made a huge leap in public knowledge and passion for these birds. It’s the advent of Nest webcams such as ours which is in part pushing knowledge of their behaviour on from Baker’s teaching. I wonder what he would have made of the 24 hour cameras?

Keep watching.

CG 20/3/20

Are you following the birds?

As expected the birds spent more and more time at the nest platform as February progressed and by the beginning of March the female was seen, on numerous occasions, shuffling down making potential nest forms – slight depressions in the gravel substrate in which, typically, the eggs can be laid.  This behaviour is something we are familiar with from watching the many urban Peregrine nest platforms across the UK and North America which are rigged up with webcams.

Most, if not all, of these man-made platforms are wooden ledges filled with a layer of small, smooth gravel.  In the wild we might expect to see this behaviour replicated by birds such as the Scarborough pair who nest on the soft cliffs below the castle.  Closer to home, birds I’ve seen in the Peak District breed on much harder, bare rock cliffs where forming a nest depression may not be so simple.  Such nests are viewed very carefully at long range so it’s not possible to tell.  I must remember to quiz the local raptor workers on this when I get the chance to speak to them.

 

As we haven not seen this female attempt to nest before, observing her display this behaviour is a positive.  It’s what we are used to seeing at this time of year but who knows whether she has even attempted to breed before?  There’s no way of knowing.  This week has seen numerous and increasingly frequent copulations from the birds –  Thanks as ever to Alan @doggie3132 for the screen grab video (scroll to about 2 mins 9 secs.)

So far, so good!  However given the events of 2019 I doubt any of us are taking anything for granted.  All we have to go on are the lay dates for the previous female who was as regular as clockwork from 2014-17, laying her first egg on the 19th or 20th March each year come rain, snow or shine.  She kept us waiting a little longer in 2018, laying on the 22nd.  It was a day later still in 2019 (23rd) but by that time we had already had the first intrusion by our present hen falcon and we’ll never know if the small delay was stressed induced or perfectly normal.

I wouldn’t say copulations are late this year but they certainly haven’t been early.  It’s worth looking out for signs of imminent egg laying from around the 19th of March but it wouldn’t be of concern if we had to wait until later in the month.  Anything could happen  this year, inexperienced birds can attempt to breed but fail at any stage.  We may get 3 eggs, 4 eggs, early eggs, late eggs or no eggs at all.  We may get chicks but will the parents raise them well enough to survive and fledge?  Or will we see another intruder enter stage left a precisely the wrong moment?  It may take more than one year and more than one breeding attempt for this pair to establish themselves as a successful pair.  The only way to find out is to keep watching!

If you do see anything of note do let the Twitter feed know @SheffPeregrines and/or myself on @1ChrisGreenwood

Speaking of dates: the SBSG Review of the Birding Year (and AGM) takes place tomorrow, Weds 11th March, 7.15pm in the University of Sheffield Diamond Building (downstairs – Lecture Theatre 2) located right next to St. Georges.  All welcome and entry is free.  Drinks afterwards in the University Arms.

SBSG logo 2019

CG 10/3/20

 

 

 

 

Get involved in 2020

Welcome to Sheffield Peregrines 2020.  A new year and a new beginning.  Buckle up for the ride and fingers crossed this year is memorable and eventful for all the right reasons!

The birds have been around St. Georges regularly throughout autumn and winter, perhaps more so than in recent years.  They have been spending more and more time on the tower as January has crept into February although not always visible on camera.  It looks likely the female has overnighted on the nest platform once or twice already.  With 4 sides to the tower and numerous ledges for the birds to loaf about on, it is always worth a trip into the city centre if you need a Peregrine fix.  Be sure to tweet @SheffPeregrines to let everybody know what you see.

The nest platform was given a good clean-up in late November to get rid of the weeds and detritus which had built up.  As ever thanks go to Phil for organising this and the University of Sheffield Estates & Facilities Management team for carrying the work out.  Top job.

As the birds have been seen regularly on the cameras there’s no reason to think that these birds are not the two who finished the 2019 season (after all the drama) but as the birds are not marked or ringed we can never really be 100% sure.  They’ve been faithful to the site so far, let’s hope they’re as faithful to each other this year.  If things go as nature intended we should start to see more courtship behaviour in the coming weeks, hopefully resulting in copulation attempts, it will be interesting to see how things develop for this new pairing.  Who knows, the mild (so far!) winter may mean things start to happen a little earlier than is typical?

In the meantime one thing for everybody to look out for is what our birds are bringing back to eat and report it to help with a national research project. Dr Deborah Dawson of the University of Sheffield (Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences) is collaborating Bristol based naturalist Ed Drewitt on his research into the prey items of urban Peregrines.    Ed has studied the Peregrines in Bristol for many years and is now hoping to gather prey information from 20 urban Peregrine sites.  If you would like to help then please email d.a.dawson@sheffield.ac.uk and Deborah will provide details of how to record the kills.  It will be basic information of date, time, prey species (including age and sex if possible) and it might be worth considering grabbing screenshots of the items to verify ID if you are observing the birds online rather than down at the church.

We know from previous work done at the Derby, Nottingham, Norwich and Wakefield (amongst others) that urban Falco peregrinus have a remarkably varied diet and can take unexpected species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher and many nocturnal migrants such as Coot, Water Rail and even Corncrake.  It’s not all just pigeons as you might think!  Indeed it’s always worth checking out what the Wakefield birds have been munching on –  https://wakefieldperegrines.com/prey/ – what were the odds on getting Leach’s Petrel I wonder??

More info on Ed Drewitt can be found at https://www.eddrewitt.co.uk 

So all the more reason to keep watching the cameras!  If you like watching and learning about the Peregrines please tell your friends about them, share what you see with the @SheffPeregrines twitter feed.  If you want to get to know more about birds and birding in and around the Sheffield area head over to SBSG www.sbsg.org Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 7.15pm in the Diamond Building, right next to St. Georges.

Twitter @ShefBirdStudy

FB https://www.facebook.com/SheffieldBirdStudyGroup

SBSG logo 2019

CG 11/2/2020

 

 

 

 

When no news is good news

Had this been a normal year at St Georges now would be the time we would be watching the chicks make their first tentative, uncertain, often downright dangerous forays into the air. A time of anticipation, excitement and no small amount of trepidation.  Across the country there are Peregrine broods at various stages of development, a few, such as the Cromer chicks are still white and fluffy, the Norwich brood are properly fledged but most of the urban monitored sites have chicks just starting to fledge in the last week – such as the Wakefield pair, where the genes of Sheffield Peregrines live on.  Pop over to their website and Twitter feed to follow their misadventures!

Once the chicks master their aerial skills and can feed themselves they are off on their own and little is known of what happens to them as they disperse from the natal territory but news did come in last week about one of the previous Sheffield youngsters….

Several weeks ago a dead bird had been seen on the roof of a building in Netherthorpe and was reportedly of a Peregrine.  Not the best news given that we have a missing, displaced female Peregrine however we’ve had false alarms before.  Besides not much could be done without photos and a precise location.  News filtered through to two helpful chaps at the council buildings maintenance office, John and Sean, and they arranged for the bird to be recovered.  The bird was indeed a Peregrine.  It had been dead a good while and in a very decayed and mummified state but was still identifiable as a sub-adult peregrine bearing the orange leg ring ‘PRF.’  Sadly this identifies the bird as one of our 3 male 2017 fledglings.

May 18 ringing PRF

PRF being ringed in 2017

This is the first we’ve heard any of the 2017 brood and perhaps on the face of it confirms the old wisdom that no news is good news.  It is with sadness that the first news received about them is bad news but perhaps not unexpected.  The measure of breeding success for any bird species is getting chicks not just to fledge but to get them to breeding age and condition so that they may have offspring of their own and keep the population stable.  Such rates of success in birds of prey vary greatly from species to species but are all quite low when viewed as a percentage of chicks hatched, and are lower than the success rates you may witness from the small birds nesting in your garden.  Small birds will all breed the year after they are born whereas birds of prey take several years to reach maturity, a figure which varies species to species and to some extent from bird to bird but generally the bigger the bird, the longer the road to adulthood.  We can perhaps think of PRF as a having made it to his “teenage” period before his unknown and as yet unexplained end, not far from his place of birth.

The state of decay means that not much can be deduced about his life or death at this stage, there are no obvious signs, but an examination will take place in due course to find out what we can.  He’d obviously been dead for a while but it would appear he lived for perhaps 12 -18 months.  Perhaps he struggled to master hunting adequately?  Collided with something? Was attacked by another bird?  Something else?  There are numerous possibilities and it may not ever be possible to tell given the state of the bird.  For now he is in safe storage at the university and anything learnt will be disclosed here, as and when.  Thank you to Sean, John and colleagues at the council for getting in touch, recovering the bird and passing it on.  They didn’t have to do this and it is very helpful.  It is only with the help and cooperation of ordinary people that we learn more about the birds and have Sheffield Peregrines as a success story.

So not good news but useful news nevertheless.  We have heard back from very few of the fledged birds from St. Georges down the years. As we know a 2014 bird is the breeding male at Wakefield, one of 2016s offspring was found dead 55km away in West Yorkshire as a two year old bird – death unexplained, one of the 2018 chicks was spotted hanging around the Dearne Valley earlier this year as previously reported… and now the deceased PRF.  All birds identified via their rings which shows the value of ringing the birds….  without ringing we would have no idea that any of these birds were Sheffield born Peregrines.  Or looking at it another way, without ringing we would not be able to confirm that the dead bird is not the ousted female as some have speculated and so, as far as we know, she is still out there somewhere.  Which is good news of sorts.

The last photos of Orange PRF, with thanks to Sean.

 

CG 19/6/19

June 2019 Update

Last time we updated you a month ago there were still ongoing ructions around the nest as the resident male Peregrine and the “new” female (formerly known as “the intruder”) continued to show their dislike and mistrust of one another.    In the intervening period the two birds started to first tolerate and then accept one another to the point where regular bonding could be seen in and around the nest platform.  Further evidence of their establishment as a pair could be inferred by the broody nesting behaviour displayed by the  female, her scraping out of nest depressions characteristic of that we usually see in March just before eggs are laid.  All this augers well for the continuance of breeding at St. Georges, if these two birds stay together then it may well be business as usual nest spring.  The birds have certainly been very faithful to the platform and perhaps have stayed around longer than we might have expected without chicks to rear.  It’s a long time between now and the next breeding season and anything could happen in the intervening period but there’s no doubt that this territory remains occupied. The circle of Peregrine life carries on.

One constant during this period of entente cordiale has of course been the remaining unhatched eggs. Plans are afoot to recover these eggs for examination and analysis at the University of Sheffield Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences as has happened in previous years to any unhatched eggs.

Although the nest has been deemed a failure this year it is still subject to the laws which protect Schedule 1 bird species from disturbance during the breeding season and, as the breeding season is still officially ongoing, the recovery must be done under licence by a trained and permitted person.  Plus there’s rope access to arrange and the accompanying H&S protocols, all to be performed by volunteers in their own time.  Once arrangements are made it is hoped we will be able to share a guest blog here from the team who will be doing the lab work on the recovered eggs, with a further blog later in the year once the results of the egg analysis are known.  Watch this space!

 

There will also be a further blog post here in the next few days regarding other Sheffield Peregrine related news…

Keep Watching.

How long?

IMG_2390

On Monday 13th May the male Peregrine was still attempting to incubate the eggs whenever he hadn’t been dislodged from the nest.  Today is 40 days since full time brooding began and perhaps  as many as 8 days since they “should” have been expected to hatch.  We watchers know the eggs won’t hatch at this stage, regardless of the long periods they’re left unattended, but the question is ‘why doesn’t he?’  Birds don’t think and rationalise like humans do, they don’t ponder and reason, or count the days back to laying, they act on instinct, especially raptors.  The Peregrine’s urge to breed keeps him there, it’s hard wired into his DNA.  Factors such as hormones and length of day triggered him to return to his territory in mid-winter, to re-bond with his mate, to provide food for her, to copulate, to defend the territory, to incubate eggs.  The same urge keeps him trying to incubate eggs in vain and it is only a waning of this instinct which will cause him to give up.  That waning may be through time as hormones lower, it may be stress from all the intrusions and physical threats or he may be forced off physically once and for all.  He’s not sad because he’s lonely and he’s not looking at his watch thinking ‘I’ll give it till Thursday,’ but its difficult viewing as he doesn’t yet appear to “know” what we know.  We can’t help feel sorry for him, even though it won;t help him at all.  It’s made all the more difficult watching other Peregrine webcams and seeing chicks arrive and grow, Wakefield have 3 chicks so far and Derby finally have their first.  Be sure to check these out sites and follow their fortunes – we wish them luck between now and fledging.

But that’s not the end here.  There will be plenty to watch here over the summer and it will be fascinating and be important for the future of our nest site.  It may not be a summer of watching fluffy white chicks but it will still be a summer of learning about and being entertained by these amazing birds.  For a site with doomed eggs and a missing resident female there’s still peregrine action all day on the webcams!

IMG_2392

Signs that the incubating will end soon are the feathers and carnage in the nest platform from two recent pigeon kills.  Rarely do we see such a mess even with hungry chicks to feed!  The diligence required to keep a habitable home must be receding.  Once the eggs are truly abandoned we will see what happens around the platform.  It may be that the birds stick around much more than we might anticipate in a bid to retain/takeover the nest.  Possession is undoubtedly 9/10ths of the law in Peregrine land!  Or it may well be that the action, the battle for territory, moves to a wider arena around St. Georges, in which case visits to Broad Lane in person will be the order of the day.  I cannot envisage either bird giving up on their claim and prize perches will be coveted and watched.  Look out on the top of the Arts Tower to see who is holding the upper hand, the tops of the construction cranes are worth a scan too.  Binoculars essential.

This blog will continue too, keeping a periodical eye on events and talking all things Falcon.  After all Peregrines are for life…