Month: May 2014

Four Weeks and going strong

It’s hard to believe that it was four weeks ago that the first eggs hatched, and hard to believe too how much the chicks have grown and changed in that time.

Image

They are rapidly losing their downy all-white appearance and the feathers below are more evident every day down to a combination of the chicks preening away the down (as one is above) and the feathers breaking out of their sheathes (the white casing of the tail feathers is just about visible in the bird to the right above).  The chicks are also starting to show the powder blue colour of the eye ring and base to the bill, which will become more evident and remain a good identification feature of their immature status for over a year.

The heavy showers – and prolonged rain – of recent days have been challenging and the chicks have looked pretty sorry for themselves at times, huddling together for warmth.  The chick to the left below looks smaller than the rest, presumably the same reported as smaller by the ringers, but seems to be doing as well as the others.

 Image

On one occasion the female attempted to brood them, presumably in recognition of the very poor conditions, though this is well beyond the normal period for brooding.  Needless to say, the amount of shelter she was able to provide to a brood of four well-grown chicks was limited, to say the least!

 Image

The bright sunshine this morning was a welcome change and a chance to enjoy some first-hand views of the birds.  Not long after I arrived the female brought in a Feral Pigeon, which she prepared on the ledge next to the platform, watched by the chicks, which were often visible from below as they came to the front of the platform.

Image

They are no doubt learning a lot from watching the parents, and as I watched the male take off from the perch it occurred to me that it won’t be long before the chicks are taking their first flight and may be picking up the general sense of what they need to do: they were certainly paying close attention as he flew off.

Image

Something that was evident this morning was that the adults were often perching a little further from the platform that had been the case a week or so ago, although the female did also perch on top of the box.  All part of the process of getting them ready to gain their independence.  For his part, the male took up a new and rather unexpected vantage point on the arm of the crane, where he landed several times, even carrying some prey there to prepare for the chicks.

Image

This seemed to be opportunism as the cranes weren’t working for the bank holiday and I can’t imagine them being used during the week when they’re constantly moving to and fro.  He made a half-hearted drop from there towards a Feral Pigeon that passed underneath, but pulled out before fully engaging in a chase.

Something else I’d noticed on the webcam, but was able better to appreciate in ‘live view’ was the way in which the adults like to have both feet free to take off, preferring to carry food in their beak to lift off and then transfer the prey to their talons once in the air.

Image

Image

Image

The co-ordination involved here, all while taking off from a stone cliff-face, is pretty impressive – the chicks have plenty still to learn!

Best guesstimates suggest that the public talk on 5th June is going to be close to the date of the chicks’ first flight, and in the meantime they will be preening and looking ever more like their parents.  Enjoy the views while they last.

Image

 

Three Weeks Old – Halfway to Fledging

It’s now three weeks since the fourth egg hatched and with an expected fledging date at between 5 and 6 weeks old the chicks are at least halfway to leaving the nest.

Image

All four chicks continue to develop well and are growing rapidly.  Some significant developments have been evident over recent days: in the screengrab above the first of the chicks is standing upright on Monday, almost exactly as the literature would predict, with chicks documented as being able to stand at 22-23 days.  The chicks continue to spend a good deal of time ‘sitting’ on their bended legs but are now starting to walk (or wobble) around the platform, though they are still a little unsteady.

Image

Both adults are bringing food to the chicks, with the female taking the lead, and they are doing a very good job of making sure all four chicks receive a good feed.  The chicks are beginning to be a bit more assertive in reaching for food from the parents, or even pecking at the prey item themselves, and this is a trend that will develop further in the days ahead.

Image

Something that’s become apparent is that the chicks are now starting to do their own thing, as in the image above, where the chick in the middle is clutching in its talons a scrap of food left in the box from a previous feeding session, and picking at it for itself.  There is a lot of vigorous flapping going on now, and as this shakes off the initial covering of down the feathers growing beneath can be seen more and more clearly, especially at the wingtips and tail.  The position of the chicks in the image above is also fairly representative now, as the chicks spread out a little, often with two on each side of the box.

Image

Something I’d not seen before is one of the chicks attempting to regurgitate indigestible remains of what it had eaten.  This could look as if the chick is ill, but is not a cause for alarm and quite normal.  I found one of the ‘castings’, or pellets of regurtitated material, below the platform earlier in the week, but I guess this will have been from one of the adults.

Image

By night, the chicks are still huddling together for warmth, but there’s no sign now of the parents attempting to brood the chicks, even when the temperature drops, as it did last night when this screengrab was taken.  Over the next week this type of huddling is likely to decrease as the chicks become more independent from each other, though aggressive behaviour between the chicks is not to be expected and is atypical in Peregrines.

Image

The heavy rain overnight and this morning has left the chicks looking rather bedraggled, but the parents are leaving them to their own devices in terms of shelter and warmth, though they have been feeding them well.  If you want to see the birds for yourselves, early mornings or evenings can be quite active and is when the light is at its best, coming from the side rather than being behind the tower.  For anyone hoping to try some photography in particular, this is crucial.

Image

I’ll hope to arrange another Peregrine watch, this time in the evening, and will keep an eye on the forecast for a decent slot.

Also, advance notice that there will be a free public talk on the 2014 story of the Peregrines at St George’s on Thursday 5th June, with a watch from 6-7 (weather permitting!) and the talk in the church from 7-8.  There will be contributions on different aspects of the project from Phil Riley, Jim Lonsdale and David Wood.  For those who want to know more about the Peregrines, and other species in the Sheffield area, copies of the recently published SBSG Breeding Atlas will be available on the door, as will the latest SBSG annual report.  Hope to see you there!

Peregrines Ringed and Watched

Behind the scenes there has been considerable activity in the last couple of weeks to try to get everything in place so that the chicks could be ringed.  Thanks to the combined efforts of many people, this all came together and the chicks were ringed on Friday morning by qualified ringers from Sorby Breck Ringing Group with the specialist licenses (and experience) that enable you to approach the nest of a Schedule 1 species such as Peregrine.  Some of you may have noticed that the webcam went offline for a while, which was done deliberately to coincide with the ringing so as not to cause undue concern to anyone watching a hand reach into the nest!  Everything went very smoothly and all four chicks were ringed.  They were found to be in very good shape, all well fed and with full crops.  They are too young for meaningful weight differences to determine their sex, but one was clearly smaller than the others, perhaps a small male, perhaps the last to hatch, who knows.  The priority was to get the chicks back into the nest as quickly as possible, and the parents were soon back to tend them.  Having the chicks ringed will help greatly to keep tabs on sightings once they have left the nest and will hopefully contribute to our understanding of the species.  The fact that last year’s young male was ringed when rescued meant that we could be certain of his fate; unfortunately his story did not have a happy ending, but helps us to appreciate the high mortality rates among Peregrines (and most species) in their first year.

I would personally like to thank Steve, Karl, David, Phil and Jim for taking the lead in making this happen: great work!

Image

This morning saw the second Peregrine watch coincide with bright sunshine and blue skies, the early morning session meaning that the sun was still on the north side of the church, allowing the birds to be appreciated to the full.  The shot above was digi-scoped (digital camera held to a telescope) and gives an idea of the views we were all able to enjoy as both adults sat on vantage points around the nest platform.  There were a few opportunities to see the birds in flight too, but they seem less inclined to chase off Crows and other potential threat species, maybe because the chicks are now of a size where they are no longer at risk of being taken.

Image

The female was the more active of the two adults, bringing in some previously stashed prey for a feed but also allowing for great views as she sat on the corner of the church calling up to the male on the nest perch.  Apart from the size difference, it was also easy enough to see the male’s dusky cheek (top photo) compared to the female’s white cheek (above) that sets off her black moustachial pattern.

Image

Over the space of a couple of hours around 20 of us enjoyed the sight of the Peregrines in the flesh and the chance to experience some of what it’s impossible to gauge from the webcam, in particular the extent to which there’s always an adult in attendance, usually within a few metres of the nest.  

Image

In addition to the Peregrines, we also saw a few Swifts, Swallow, a pair of Bullfinch, several Goldfinch as well as the Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Mistle Thrush and Starlings all breeding around the church.  Oh, and a few daredevil Woodpigeons that flew up onto various parts of the tower and lived to tell the tale.  Final mention though must go to the Peregrine watcher who came up from Dudley especially to join us and see for herself the St George’s pair: I hope you enjoyed the day.

Image

In the days ahead, the chicks will hopefully become more visible as they become too big to squeeze into the hidden corner of the box and the need to shelter from inclement weather (hopefully!) decreases.  They should also start to develop their plumage and start to look more like their parents as they preen out their white down.

A Moving Experience?

At a fortnight old the chicks are becoming increasingly mobile, though they are not yet able to walk on their feet, still shuffling on their folded tarsi (equivalent of moving around on your shins).  Now that the adults leave them unbrooded for most of the time, as predicted in last weekend’s post, the chicks are using their mobility to seek the most sheltered part of the platform, especially with the brisk westerlies and rain we’ve had this week.  The result has been that they’re spending much of their time huddled in the corner of the platform that is hidden to the camera, which has disappointed some, but the key thing to bear in mind is that they are keeping warm and improving their chances of survival.  In the end that’s what this is all about, and if we get to enjoy some great views of them along the way it’s a bonus.

Image

So this is a typical view via the webcam for much of the time at present, but you can see the tail of a bird.  One of the adults has taken to perching on top of the box, which is a bit of a surprise, though last year’s chicks also liked hopping up onto there before they fledged.  Perhaps it’s a better vantage point and gives a sense of security.

Image

Both adults continue to do a good job in providing food for the chicks and ensuring that all four get fed.  In the screengrab above you can see three of the chicks at the same time and the female seemed keen to carry on feeding even when the chicks seemed to have had enough.  It’s behind you!  One chick in particular shuffled to the edge of the platform and was keen to have a look at the world beyond the platform, clearly thinking outside the box (sorry!).

Image

Something else that was evident during this feed was that the chicks were showing the first signs of an interest in the food.  As you can see above, one of the chicks was pulling at a feather on the pigeon that had been brought in.  Over the next week or so, we can expect them to start to feed themselves, though it will be a gradual process, with the parents taking the lead in feeding for a while yet.  And the final thing we’ve learned at a fortnight is that wing-stretching and even flapping have begun in earnest.

Image

This will begin the strengthening of the wing muscles ahead of flight, and will also start to dislodge the down to reveal the feathers that are growing through and are visible towards the wing tips above.  As they do this more and more (preening will also remove the down), and continue to grow, they should spend less time sheltering in the corner (out of sight) and give more views.

With this proving a quiet week on the webcam, it’s worth mentioning that at least one adult is present around the church and there’s comings and goings on a regular basis.  An evening visit resulted in a few decent shots as the male arrived at the church.

Image

The weekend weather looks pretty good for the most part, so another Peregrine watch seems in order: I’ll be there on Sunday morning from 7.30 to 9.30 with a telescope and binoculars if you don’t have any – an early start will mean the best light from a good angle before the sun moves behind the platform and makes viewing more difficult.  Spread the word and hope to see you there.

Image

 

 

 

An empty nest…?!

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 15.38.21

I’ve just received a number of worried messages asking why there seems to be an empty nest on the webcam… don’t worry! The right hand corner of the nest box is a blind spot for the camera, with more than enough room for the chicks, who are currently nestled in there to shelter from the rather windy weather.

As you can see from the picture above they’re currently (at the time of writing) being tended there by the female. It’s a bit frustrating if you were hoping to watch the chicks in action, but thankfully nothing to worry about!

Growing weather?

There’s been quite a lot of rain over recent days in Sheffield, but the chicks seem to be unaffected by it, with both parents attempting to protect the brood.  The comparison below shows how much they’ve grown in the last 10 days.

Image

The adults have been doing a good job in providing a steady food supply, primarily in the form of Feral Pigeons.  The size of the chicks means that it’s increasingly difficult for the adults to offer them effective protection from the elements, as is apparent below.

Image

In the shot above, the female was watching something overhead, which turned out to be a fly that landed on the ledge!  Her ability to follow a fly in flight was impressive and she stared it out, even more so when it landed on her back.  It’s clearly not only distance vision that is exceptional.

About this time you’d expect the adults to ease off brooding the chicks and they are being left to their own devices on occasion, though the weather may be keeping the parents on the nest more than would otherwise be the case.  Given the size of the male compared to the rapidly growing chicks, his attempts at brooding will be very limited!

Image

The chicks are not yet able to stand, and will not be able to do so for another week or more.  As the parents brood them less during the day, they will continue to spend much of the time asleep or dozing, huddled together to maintain warmth.  They are likely to be brooded at night for a little while longer yet.

Image

It can look at times as if one of the chicks (not necessarily the same one) is lethargic and not showing an interest in feeding, but the two shots above show that a chick that seemed to be missing out on a feed was soon able to take a turn and be fed well when it decided to make a move.  What goes in must come out, and the spattering on the ledge of the platform indicates that they are becoming increasingly able to eject their droppings away from the nest in a directed squirt.  The adults continue to be attentive in ensuring that all four chicks are fed when prey is brought to the nest and there are no obvious signs of a ‘runt’, which might have been expected to be the chick that hatched two days later than the others.  Within the next few days we may see the first attempts by the chicks to feed themselves when prey is brought in – one to watch for.

Image

Something else to watch for in the coming days is the chicks starting to preen, as they are doing occasionally now, and the emergence of feathers, which can just about be seen when they stretch their wings in particular.  One final point that can be appreciated in the screengrab above is the size of feet and length of talons on the chicks.  Females have relatively larger feet and longer talons, especially the middle one, and this may prove to be the first indications of how many of the chicks are male or female.  My guess from the length of the talons visible as the chick of the left rests its foot on the chick to the right is that this is a female, though differences in size will become obvious over the next couple of weeks.

Peregrine watching

The chicks (well, three of them) are a week old today and continue to grow quickly, with the parents bringing food in on a regular basis.  It’s not always easy to see all four chicks, even when the adults are off the nest.  In the picture below, only three are visible and it’s hard to imagine one out of view sheltered behind them, but it’s there all right.

Image

It’s increasingly difficult even for the female to brood the four chicks, as can be seen below.  

Image

In this screengrab she’s looking up at something passing over and at the first Peregrine watch on Sunday morning we didn’t see the chicks but saw plenty of action from the adults.  Crows were twice chased off as they got too close for the comfort of the adult birds.  The chase that followed the picture below was spectacular, with a couple of full stoops from height at the Crow.

Image

We had great views of the male perched on one of the turrets and were able to watch as both birds visited the larder of prey items stored around the ledge of the church and carried them into the nest to feed the chicks.

Image

The female (above) took the lead in the feeding, but the male brought food to the ledge next to the nest a couple of times and today I watched as she took the food from him, just as the books say the bigger female (on the right below) does.  

Image

Good flight views of both (male below) were also enjoyed at the watch over the course of a couple of hours.

Image

The Peregrines aren’t the only species with chicks around the church and Starlings, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Woodpigeons are all busy feeding young, as was a male Blackbird.

Image

Image

Perhaps the most surprising sighting on the watch on Sunday morning was a pair of Mallard that appeared on the grass next to us, flying off shortly afterwards, perhaps back to Crookes Valley Park.  They seemed unaware of the Peregrines, but Woodpigeons continue to push their luck, with one again on the ledge next to the platform on Sunday morning.

Image

The Crows do seem to have learned to skirt the church instead of flying over it, and in case there’s any doubt the Peregrines even have a caption to let you know they’re there.

Image

This is a shot I’ve had in mind for quite some time, ever since I noticed the sign on the crane on the building site across the road, but getting all the pieces in place has taken a while.  I hope you enjoy it!