Flying lessons

A visit to St George’s at Saturday lunchtime was quiet initially, with just the adult female perched on the pole at the nestbox.  Slightly concerned that no juveniles were in view I went across the road to get a bit better view of the ledges, in case they were tucked up close to the walls, but there was still no sign.

Some calls from behind the Mapping Building drew my attention and two Peregrines came into view at some distance, soon followed by a third.  The female was still perched by the nestbox, so these had to include some of the juvs.

June 11 male and juvs 3

June 11 male and juv 3

Sure enough, it proved to be the male (the top bird in the photo above) and two of the juvs, indulging in some sparring and what I presumed to be fake food passes, as none of the birds were carrying anything.

At one point, the two juvs came quite close (above) before heading back away from St George’s to re-join the male and drifting out of sight behind the trees.

June 11 male and juvs 4June 11 male and juvs 5June 11 male and juvs 6

They looked quite confident in flight and have made good progress over the last week.  However, I didn’t see a third juv at any point, so the whereabouts of that one remained unknown.  My guess is that these two are the juvs that were a little later in leaving the church, and that the juv that had proven itself a competent flier has moved a little further afield.  That is, however, just my informed guess and there are plenty of other possible alternative explanations.  It would be good to see all three together at some point to know all is well.

Another reason I was down at St George’s was to meet Eleanor and her filming team, who are making a short documentary about the Peregrines for the forthcoming Sheffield Docfest.  They have been talking to people who are watching them and getting some good footage of the birds too.  Very much look forward to seeing it!

June 12 evening

The juvs continue for now to return to the church to roost for now, but probably won’t do so for that much longer as they become increasingly confident and begin to explore a little further afield.  Enjoy them while you can!

 

 

Drama encore

Not for the first time, the rollercoaster that is the fledging period threw up a sudden rise.  When I passed through the churchyard on the way to the office on Tuesday morning to check all was well, I spotted Steve C staring into the bushes at the E end of the church and my fears were realised when he said simply ‘It’s in here’.  He’d been on site since around 7:00, and had seen one of the young take flight from the tower and try to land in one of the large trees in the SE corner of the churchyard.  Unfortunately, this is the tree that a pair of Crows had used to nest in and have raised at least one chick, and they immediately began to mob the juvenile Peregrine.  They were quickly joined by a pair of Magpies that began to pull at the juvenile’s tail feathers, causing the Peregrine to flap out of the tree and drop to the ground.  From there it took off and headed back up towards the church, but couldn’t gain enough height in time and crashed into a metal window grating before dropping down into a row of dense, thorny bushes.  And there it was sat when I arrived.

We decided to leave it to see if it emerged of its own accord, as access was extremely difficult, and I headed off to a series of meetings.  I popped back down at lunchtime and bumped into Dawn (who had a new bird for Sheffield – a ‘Siberian’ Lesser Whitethroat – in her garden a couple of winters ago!), who told me that the young Peregrine had been rescued and was with the porters in the Mappin Building.  I headed down there and found that it had indeed be retrieved by Nick and, following an inspection of its wings, eyes and mouth in particular, we decided that it was in good condition and ready to be returned to the tower.  There was certainly nothing wrong with its grip, for as I was inspecting it, it grabbed my finger and sunk one of its talons deep into my flesh!

June 7 5

Before returning it, we carefully wiped the piece of down that had caught in the corner of its eye, just visible in the photo above at 10 o’clock in its right eye.

June 7 1

Nick and I then took it across to St George’s and released it out of the velux at the top of the tower, without going outside ourselves.  As a result, neither of the other juveniles on the tower were disturbed: a great result.

June 7 2

As you’ll notice from the image above, the juvenile clutched tightly with its left talons onto the primary feathers of its right wing, apparently a form of comfort, though it looked decidedly odd.   It had had quite a morning and seemed a bit stunned, sitting on its haunches rather than standing, though after a couple of minutes it stood up and looked more alert.

June 7 3

I had work commitments that evening, but Andy J visited and reported that all three juveniles were on view and active, with no obvious ill effects of the earlier ordeal.  Below are a series of terrific images taken by Andy J on Tuesday evening, with increasing flight ability shown by the juveniles, which managed several ‘clean’ landings around the top of the tower.

And a visit this evening (Thursday 9th) found the female on the panoramic webcam, one juvenile in the nestbox, joined by the male that brought in food.  A second juvenile was on a building not too far away and flew in to join the adults, landing confidently on the ledge near the nestbox and then replacing the female on the webcam.  This evening, two juveniles are again set to roost by the nestbox, though the whereabouts of the third are a mystery.  Definitely still worth keeping an eye out if you’re in the area.

June 9 evening

Mostly quiet on the northern front

With a little more time to fill in some details, and a few more images following visits both of the last two evenings to make the most of some lovely light as it shines on the north face of the church, here goes.

June 5 BHG 1

Some of you may have noticed that this is not a Peregrine (!), so why post an image of a Black-headed Gull?  In recent years, there have been a few occasions when the adults have chased off Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the female even towing one backwards mid-air a couple of years ago (reproduced below).

Peregrine LBBG 2 June 2013

Since then, every time a gull passes the tower there’s a hint of excitement at the prospect of another pursuit, presumably as the gulls pose a threat to the eggs or young chicks.  So, when the above adult Black-headed Gull passed over at tower height I wondered if there might be some fireworks.  However, I was totally unprepared for what happened as the gull continued to call loudly and headed back towards the church tower, which it circled.  It decided to mob the Peregrines perched on the tower (all 5 at the time) and passed within a metre of two of the juveniles and then the female.

June 5 BHG 2June 5 BHG 3

This seemed to be asking for trouble, but none of them made any attempt to pursue it.  Without doubt, one of the more bizarre occurrences of recent days!

June 5 1

The female has continued seemingly to encourage the juveniles to fly by tempting them with prey items that are withdrawn as the young birds approach.  This strategy doesn’t seem to be working too well, as this evening two of the young remained steadfastly around the nestbox, and eventually the female fed them there, watched from above by the third.

June 6 12

This third juvenile continues to show good flying skills, and set off after the male when it brought in some food and then took off again, the young bird coming round to make a good landing near the top of one of the turrets.  The combination of peachy tinge to the underparts, streaking down (not across) the breast and pale blue eye ring and base to bill (yellow in the adults) can all be seen in the first image below, and will remain good ways to tell the young from the adults over the coming months.

June 6 6June 6 7June 6 8June 6 9June 6 10June 6 11

The other two show little sign of flight, and continue to exercise their wings vigorously on and around the nestbox, often under the watch of the female.

June 6 2

Another interesting piece of behaviour observed both last night and tonight was the birds cleaning their beaks after feeding, using metal on the frames of the webcam or nestbox to do so.  In the image below, it’s the male that is doing this, using the struts of the panoramic webcam to novel effect, but one of the young did the same tonight.

June 5 3

Finally, a couple of images that try to capture the thrill of seeing these wonderful birds overhead as they come and go from St George’s.  It’s been great to talk to so many people there over the last few days and share the enjoyment they bring to so many in our community.  One thing that emerged in conversation is a bit of an urban myth about the rings used on the young birds.  Some have worked out that the rings are on different legs and have come to the conclusion that this has been used to tell the sex of the young birds.  If it does, then it’s a pure coincidence!  When we ringed them we couldn’t be sure how many males or females there were, though we suspected two females.  In the first photo below is the male (with ring just visible on his right leg – perhaps part of the source of the urban myth), and then the unringed female.

June 5 2June 6 4

Weekend update

A quick post to report that all is well after a turbulent weekend.  Following the maiden ‘flight’ on Friday 3rd, and the subsequent rescue of the juvenile, a visit on Saturday morning found another of the young birds on the ground in the churchyard.  This time, members of the University’s Estates and Security teams had responded and had captured it by the time I arrived.  Great job guys!

June 4 bagged

Safe in its sack, I helped Lee return it to the top of the church, where we released it inside the wall without venturing out onto the roof, so as not to disturb the young bird that was resting on top of the nestbox, although the female again went bananas.  By the time we got back down, two juveniles could be seen from below, with the third suspected still to be out of sight behind the wall around the top of the church tower where we’d left it – at least that’s what the female’s line of sight seemed to suggest.

A second visit in the evening confirmed that all three juveniles were indeed on the church, and signs that the female was trying to coax them into flight using food.  She brought in a feral pigeon and landed on the webcam housing, where she plucked it before flying off without feeding the young birds in the nestbox, producing much noisy complaint!

June 4 fem takeoff

However, one of the juveniles seems quite an accomplished flier already and had landed on top of one of the turrets with minimal fuss.

June 4 immJune 4 imm 2

As the female flew off with the prey, it followed and chased her around near the church before she headed off to a nearby University building, where she was joined by the more confident of the juveniles.  After allowing the prey to be taken, the female stood by as the juvenile enjoyed a good feed.

June 4 fem and imm

A more detailed post will follow, but this evening (Sunday) the three juveniles were back on St George’s, and hopefully the worst of the nervy few days of first flights is now behind us.

Taking the Plunge – Right on Time

Having seen reports that only two birds were visible mid-morning today (Friday 3rd), I popped along to St George’s at lunchtime to check on the situation.  Two of the young birds were flapping vigorously on the nest platform, exercising those wing muscles.

As ‘branchers’ (a term explained in the previous post), they were also heading out onto the webcam housing and generally half hopping, half flapping about, all under the watchful gaze of the male perched on the top turret.

June 3 DW 5

It didn’t take long to locate the third juvenile, which had made its way round to the W side of the church, facing the Diamond, where it was using one of the lighting structures to do similar exercises.

With all in order, I headed home to mark essays…

When I checked my e-mails later in the afternoon it became clear that I’d missed some serious action.  At 15:29 one of the two juveniles flapping on the perch pole had lost its grip and fallen off.  I must thank Andy J for the detailed account of what happened, and for the amazing series of images below.

June 3 1June 3 2June 3 3June 3 4

In an attempt to break the fall, it collided with the side of the church as it scrabbled to grab onto something.

On failing to cling to the wall, it took to flight and circled out over Broad Lane.

June 3 9June 3 10June 3 11

Fortunately, it came back towards the church and attempted to land in a tree, but failed and rather crash landed on the ground, where it looked pretty stunned.

The evidence of the collision with the facade of the church is apparent on the left-hand side of its beak, though this doesn’t look too bad and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.  Once it had gathered itself, it made towards the busy road, but quick action by Andy and a few others headed it off and it made instead for the doors of the church.  Perhaps it wanted to get back up!

June 3 13

Members of the University Estates team (big thanks to Emma) worked with Andy and Mike S to capture the bird and take it back up to the top of the church, where it was released onto the nest platform.  This was effective in securing the plunger, but spooked the other two: the bird I’d seen on the lights on the W side flew onto the roof of the Diamond, while the other flew across Broad Lane onto a block of flats.

June 3 15

In the meantime, the female understandably repeated her agitation of the ringing and flew around the tower calling noisily.

June 3 16

By the time I got down there this evening, the returned bird was sitting quietly on top of the nestbox and the two adults were perched up not too far away.  There was no sign of the other two juveniles, but fingers crossed they’re settled quietly.  So the time from hatching to fledging has again been remarkably consistent, with the prediction of 3rd-4th June coming good.  All seems quiet tonight, with the juvenile having dropped back into the box for the night.

June 3 night

This is always a nerve-wracking time, and we’re in for a fraught weekend I suspect, with further excitement to come no doubt.  If you are about tomorrow or Sunday, it’ll be great to have people around to keep tabs on the young birds, especially if they try to fly back towards the church.  Thanks to all those who sent me an e-mail to let me know what was happening this afternoon.  Do keep them coming if there’s a situation developing.

Five Weeks Old – Almost There

Having been away for a week, I came back yesterday to find the young Peregrines transformed from fluffy white chicks to immatures that look like browner and streakier versions of their parents.  It all seems to have happened so quickly!  This brown plumage on their upperparts and vertical streaking on the breast/ belly will be the easiest way to recognise the immatures from the adults when they leave the nestbox, which will take place in the next few days.

In two of the last three years (when we’ve known the dates for laying, hatching and fledging) it’s been 38 days after hatching that the chicks have left the nestbox.  The exception was 2015, when one of the chicks left the nest 35 days after hatching – though this wasn’t planned, as the young bird was blown off the edge of the box in strong winds when exercising!  My calculations suggest that we should expect the first departure on 3rd or 4th June, and this weekend should see all of the young birds take the plunge.

May 28 AJ 1

Thanks to Andy J for the picture above, taken while I was away, and Andy also captured a great image of one of the young birds peering out onto the world it will soon inhabit.  They’re now regularly visible from below as they exercise or just chill.

May 28 AJ 3

At this age the young raptors are called ‘branchers’, as species that nest in trees take to branches around the nest to exercise and flap/ jump from perch to perch.  The adults will soon begin to tempt the immatures out of the nestbox with prey brought to the ledges around the box, and this seemed to be happening yesterday afternoon as the male arrived and the young birds rushed to the corresponding corner of the box.

May 31 2

There was a report that one of the young birds had jumped out of the box late yesterday, but by lunchtime there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary, and all three were back in view via the webcam.

May 31

It’s always a nervy time as they flap and totter on the edge, though the photo below by Andy J shows how firmly they are clinging on with their talons.

May 28 AJ 2

They look to have a bit too much down at present compared to how they looked in previous years when they fledged, but those young feathers are shaken out as they exercise their wings and can come in handy as they fall.  Not only did Andy get some great pictures of the Peregrines, he also managed to photograph one of the local Swifts making off with one of the shed feathers for its own nest lining.  Impressive!

Swift-feather AJ

The Swifts also find the church to their liking for the flies that are present, some no doubt attracted by the meat of the prey items brought in.

Swift2 AJ

So if anyone wants to share in the excitement over the weekend, do get down to St George’s.  It’s always great to have several pairs of eyes (and hands) in case one of the young birds ends up on the ground after its first ‘flight’.  If anything does happen that requires some action, send me an e-mail (david.wood@sheffield.ac.uk): I’ll be checking in on a regular basis.

Four Weeks Old

It’s been great to see the positive comments about Nicola’s post: delighted others have found it as interesting as I have.  As part of her research, Nicola would be keen to analyse other failed Peregrine eggs, so if anyone with connections to other Peregrine nests where failed eggs have been removed is reading this, do get in touch!

Despite the disappointing weather, a quick post to mark four weeks since the chicks hatched.  They’re increasingly left to their own devices between feeds, and are starting to take a greater interest at feed times.

May 21

Something to look out for in the days ahead is them beginning to look to feed themselves.  They’ll also continue to change their appearance apace as the down is lost and replaced by the emerging feathers that are already visible when they stretch their wings.

As ever, even when the chicks are left (apparently) alone, one or other of the adults is nearby.  The female likes to perch on top of the church’s turrets, from where she can crane her neck and look down into the nestbox.  Behind you!

May 22 4

A visit early in the morning on Sunday (with sun!) allowed for some observation of behaviour and a few photos.  The female flew in with a loose primary feather.

May 22 2

As she preened on the perch, the feather fell out and dropped.  It looked as if it was going to fall to the ground, which would have enabled a direct DNA sample, but it didn’t quite make it over the lower wall and dropped onto the lower roof of the church.

May 22 3

As she left, there was no discernible gap (unlike in the immature bird that visited recently) and it didn’t affect her flight in the slightest, as you’d expect.

May 22 1

The panoramic camera has come into play as a perch too, as occasionally in previous years, and it appears to have left a bit of a smudge on the lens, judging by the atmospheric effect created in the evening drizzle.

May 23 dusk