Month: June 2014

Post script

Having had several reports over the last week of birds being seen together in the air over various parts of central Sheffield, I’ve been left wondering if they were the juveniles or the adults and one juv, or what was going on.  And distant views of up to three birds perched on St George’s as I’ve been in and out of work in the last week it felt as if one last visit to the church was worth a try to see if I could determine which of the birds were still around.  

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Arriving at the church mid-morning on Saturday I was delighted to find three birds present: a juv on one of the ornaments, the male on the nest platform, as above, and the female (below) on one of the lower ledges.

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Soon after, the male flew off and I half expected him to return with some prey to feed the young bird, but he didn’t reappear over the course of the next hour.

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Instead, the juv flew off out of sight, which preceded an thrilling series of events as three juveniles appeared around the church and engaged each other in some aerial sparring.  

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Firstly, two of the juvs pursued each other and faced off in mid-air, captured in the photos above, and then all three came together, providing one of the highlights of the season for me.  And no, the shot below isn’t the result of photo-shopping, just being very happily in the right place at the right time.

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The three seemed pretty expert in their flight abilities and one of them even landed on the crane, and stayed there while it started to swing round in operation!

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It was terrific to see the three juvs together and thriving, but of some concern that there was no sign of the fourth, especially with both adults around.  With mortality rates of 60-70% for Peregrines in their first year it would not be a surprise if one of them had not survived the critical first few weeks out of the nest, but there’s still hope that it’s fine and just not being seen together with the others.  Fingers crossed that’s the case, but to be able to see the young birds gracing the skies of Sheffield is something to enjoy to the full.

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Peregrine talk available to view online

17 May female

The Peregrine public talk, which took place earlier in the month and featured David Wood, Jim Lonsdale and Phil Riley, has been made available to watch on the University of Sheffield’s iTunes U educational video channel.

To watch the video, visit this page and click the link to watch in iTunes. You will need iTunes installed to to view it, or the iTunes U app for iPad or iPhone.

Moving on

A few days on from the first flights of three of the juvs, two of them remain closely connected to the church tower.  A visit on Sunday evening revealed two were on the ledge next to the nestbox, with both adults nearby.  A third juv could be heard calling from a rooftop somewhere in the vicinity and eventually flew into view, circled the church and headed back to the east, where it landed on the roof of one of the University’s buildings just beyond the church grounds.  After a spell there it took off again, showing good flight ability.

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Just to prove the point it returned to the church and landed in one of the windows.  It seemed to be looking for a roost site, but the window stonework wasn’t proving comfortable and it flew off again after a few minutes.  This one definitely has the hang of flying.

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From there it flew up to land on the east-facing ledge and shuffled along to join the other two by the nest box.  The three of them then took to preening and settled down for the night, under the watchful eye of the adults both perched nearby.

June 8 juvs

The whereabouts of the fourth juv is something of a mystery and the four juvs have not, to my knowledge, been seen either together or at the same time for several days now.  A couple of concerned e-mails on Monday evening (thanks to Kayleigh and Patrick, whose photos are below) revealed that one of the juvs had spent a few hours on the roof of one of the University’s buildings nearby, where it seemed to be a bit stuck in the eyes of those who saw it.   Whether this was the fourth ‘missing’ juv or one of the three increasingly mobile birds that have been returning to the church tower we can’t tell, but from the length of the middle toe it looks like a young female.

June 9 roof

However, it wasn’t there the following morning, so had presumably found its way off the flat roof.  It showed very little fear of people in offices overlooking the area and was even investigating an open window!

During a quick visit on Tuesday evening the adult male was on the perch, which suggests that the juvs are not too far away, but there was no sign of any of them, which will be increasingly the case as they – hopefully – become more confident in the flying abilities.

If anyone based locally does see the young birds, do let us know, perhaps via a comment to the blog.  Anxious times, but the birds are definitely moving onto a new stage in their lives.  Fingers crossed for them.

 

 

 

First flights

It’s been an exciting – and very busy – few days, but a chance finally to update the blog.

Guesstimates of Thursday 5th as a potential date for first flights turned out to be amazingly accurate, and tied in nicely with the watch and public talk that evening.  Following a poor day for weather on Wednesday 4th, much better conditions the following day encouraged the young birds to make their first flights, and during the afternoon of Thursday 5th three of them left the nest.  One of them landed in a tree in the church grounds, with thanks to Andy J again for another great pic.

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It then flew down onto the ground, where it wandered about until it was captured, taken back up the tower and released.

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Thanks to Darren, who was on the scene at the time and took the picture above with a phone!  All of this very much echoes what happened last year, of course.  A second juv was chaperoned on a flight by the female and returned to the tower, landing at the base of one of the vented windows, while a third flopped up over the castellations and disappeared onto the top of the tower.  A little later a good crowd gathered for the watch ahead of the talk, and we were treated to some fantastic views as the adults came and went, with the juvs in good view too.

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We then moved indoors for the talk, which was enjoyed by about 250 people, with thanks to Jim Lonsdale and Phil Riley for their substantial contributions, both to the talk and to the success of the Peregrine project overall.  The response was terrific, and it was great to see plenty of under-20s there: the Q&A could have gone on all night!  The numbers present and the many kind comments bring home just how much enjoyment the Peregrines have brought, and it’s been a very satisfying privilege to be involved in it all.  Pete Mella, who helps maintain the blog, filmed the talk and will be making it available in due course.  While we were inside, Andy J caught the moment one of the young birds decided to head back to the box from the roof of the tower.

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Having gathered itself from the crash landing on the webcam housing, it hopped back into box for the night.

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After the talk further great views were to be had back outside as the late evening sun caught the birds beautifully.

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As evening drew in, a chance for an ‘atmospheric’ shot presented itself, as long as you were prepared to stand in the middle of the road to line everything up!

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An early visit on Friday 6th saw the female perched up on the crane again, a vantage point with which she clearly identifies.

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A fair few people have had their eye on this as a picture, but the times the birds have settled in a good spot have been few and far between.  During the course of the day on Friday, three of the birds again were away from the nest platform, though one (the smallest of the brood) seems not quite ready to leave, but has been exercising his (?) wings vigorously and will surely take the plunge soon.  Another juv had spent the night on the ledge above the clock face lower down the tower and was showing signs of being ready to take to the air again: my caption for this shot is ‘Fledging on time’.

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By the evening, two of the juvs were on the box again, one having returned from nearby, while another was on the stonework of the north-facing window.  On several occasions one of the adults landed nearby, clearly trying to tempt it to take off from there, but despite much squawking and flapping it stayed in place until dusk.  It was very close to going at times though!

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The fourth juv was on the roof of a building towards Mappin Street, where it drew the attention of a local Magpie.

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The Magpie never attacked the juv, but was obviously very interested in its presence, approaching to within less than a metre. 

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A little later, this juv had disappeared, and extensive searches of rooftops and the ground nearby failed to find it, but just as light was fading it flew in and landed on a ledge below the bird in the window, showing pretty assured flight skills.  So the day ended with 6 Peregrines on the church tower: 2 juvs in the box, 2 in the north window and the 2 adults on the stonework too.  Two of the juvs certainly slept in the box, though views of the birds via the webcam will become less and less regular.

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A final point of interest from the evening was the return of the female to the tower after a brief sortie in a very wet and bedraggled state.  As the pictures above show, it was a lovely evening, so I can only think she’d been bathing or had unsuccessfully attempted to take something from the water in a nearby park or perhaps even the river Don.  This is the first time I’ve seen either of the adults return wet, though Ratcliffe states that Peregrines are known to enjoy bathing in dust and water, a practice that helps to get rid of parasites.  Given the condition of the nest, parasites and disease must now constitute a real risk for the young birds, though their regular preening sessions will offer some protection against external parasites at least.

With thundery showers forecast for much of the day, another early visit this morning (Saturday 7th) seemed in order, and revealed that both of the juvs that presumably spent the night in the north window had gone, while the other two remained on or around the box.  One of the more adventurous juvs was located on one of the University buildings off Mappin Street, but the fourth couldn’t be found before the rain arrived.  Hopefully it’s safe.  The adults are certainly keeping tabs on the juvs away from the church, and the female took a recently caught Pigeon to the juv near Mappin Street, ensuring it remains well fed until able to start hunting for itself, which will take a few weeks (at least) to master.

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With the young birds starting to range away from the church a little, it’s going to be harder to keep up to date with their movements, though I’ll provide updates of any significant developments.  In the meantime, enjoy the webcam views while they’re still available, at least until the fourth juv takes its first flight, and a visit to the site is much recommended for those in the vicinity as there’s always plenty to see.

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Ready to Go

Just a couple of days after saying the young birds hadn’t yet been seen on top of the box at least three of them have spent much of the day up and down from there during yesterday and today.  According to Tom’s blog comment the correct term for young raptors is ‘branchers’, as they move from the nest into nearby branches (even though Peregrines rarely nest in trees).

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The tail of two of the ‘branchers’ on top of the box can be seen above while a third is just hopping up to join them.  The bird in the right-hand corner of the box, looking up in admiration, looks to be the smallest of the four and I’ve not yet seen him (a young male?) make it up there.  Andy J sent me some more great pics from a visit this lunchtime that show they’re becoming increasingly restless and adventurous.  Thanks Andy!  

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It’s looking pretty crowded up there!  Venturing onto the webcam housing (the grey box) was one of the things they did last year shortly before taking the plunge for the first flight.  At times this evening the camera was visibly shaking and loud clattering noises could be heard, no doubt caused by one of them on top of the housing flapping their wings.  Andy also captured one of them having a slip while doing some vigorous flapping on the perching post.

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Must have been a bit of a scary moment, both for the bird and for anyone watching below.  The other young are certainly interested observers.

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On a couple of occasions they’ve also looked as if they might hop across to the ledge around the church, but haven’t yet done so.  Last year they did spend a bit of time on the ledge after fledging, and perhaps will do again.

The adults continue to bring food to the nest, but are now tending to leave it for the young to deal with themselves.  There’s no sign of the adults leaving food away from the nest to encourage the young to leave the nest.  This evening I happened to catch the male bring a Starling in to the nest, which he started to feed to the smaller chick, the two looking very similar in size.  

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I’ve heard of adults leaving live prey for the chicks to deal with, and apparently Starlings are the classic such item for urban Peregrines, but this wasn’t the case here.  Less than a minute later, one of the young birds hopped down from the roof of the box and grabbed the Starling from the male and ran off with it to the corner out of sight.  Presumably a female!

Today’s poor weather (it’s been raining for most of the day in Sheffield) will have discouraged any attempts at first flights, but the forecast for tomorrow is for an improving day, so all could be set for some fledging, just in time for the evening’s public talk in the church.  My money’s on the presumed male to be the last to leave, but we’ll have to wait and see, though not for long! 

Five Weeks and Going Stronger

Back from a spell away with work, the change in the appearance of the chicks over the last ten days is nothing short of remarkable.

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The shot on the left was taken when they were almost four weeks on from the date of first hatching, with the shot on the right taken today.  There is some difference in size as they continue to grow, but the change in plumage is plain to see as they moult out their down, helped by sustained preening and some vigorous wing-flapping.  At times over the weekend during a couple of visits, there was a shower of downy feathers floating around the nest as they continued to rid themselves of the remains of their original downy coat.

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The immatures (they now look a bit big to be called chicks) still have a few bits of down, notably on their heads, and are spending ever more time on the edge of the nest platform watching the world around them and getting used to their surroundings.

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They are also starting to become quite lively, with much exercising of their wings, especially after a feed, and are hopping about fairly confidently though I’ve yet to see one on top of the box, which was a prelude to the first flight last year.  In the shot above, the much darker underwing compared to the adult birds is obvious, and in the shots above the other key identification features that will allow the immatures to be told from the adults for months to come can also be appreciated: rich brown upperparts, buff-washed underparts, vertical markings on the breast (horizontal on adults), and the grey-blue base to the bill (properly known as the cere) and eye ring.

Another change in recent days is more aggressive behaviour between the immatures on occasion, apparent today as they squabbled over a dead Pigeon that had been left in the nest by the female.

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They proved quite expert at rendering the meat from the bones and fed at length on their own.  The supply of Feral Pigeons (and occasional Starling) has been so plentiful that it’s hard to believe they need to engage in serious fighting for food.  An early visit on Sunday morning saw both the male and female bring in prey to the nest, the male plucking his item on the crane, which he’s adopted as a regular perch when not in use.  And when it is in use the adult do not seem to be disturbed, even when the arm passes close to the church tower.  However, when the crane driver climbed up to his cabin at about 7.30 on Sunday there was a lot of calling and agitation, with the female flying off and circling the crane.

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After a couple of minutes the driver was in the cabin and things had settled down again.  A chat with the staff in the site office this morning revealed that they’re keeping an eye on things and that this agitation when the crane driver climbs up has been a recent development, noted in the last few days.  Apparently, this morning the crane operator kicked a stashed prey item off the jib behind his cabin, which one of the adults unsuccessfully tried to retrieve in mid air: they are certainly far more accustomed to – and tolerant of – humans than birds out in the Peak District.

Something else I noticed on Sunday morning was the number of times Swifts came zooming past the church, especially within a few metres of the platform.  My suspicion is that they’re taking advantage of the flies that are hanging around, drawn in by the prey remains in the nest and on the ledge.

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Swifts are always a challenge to photograph, but the proximity to the church can just about be appreciated and if they’re reducing the flies in the area they’re providing a useful service in also reducing the risk of disease and illness for the young birds.

To end tonight’s post, a few action shots to enjoy (thanks to Andy J for the second of these, and for the young bird flapping above), and a look ahead for the week.

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With the Peregrine talk in St George’s on Thursday timed to coincide around the likely first flight, I’ve been doing some calculations based on what I’ve read and happened last year.  Ratcliffe gives an average period of 78 days between laying of the first egg and fledging: 6 days for clutch completion, 30 days for incubation and 42 days for fledging.  He also gives an average fledging date of 20 June for South-West England, with up to a week later from Wales northwards.  We’re clearly well ahead of that schedule (climate change since the 1960s-70s?), and were for the last two years, when the first flight was on 12th June.  Last year the first egg was laid at St George’s on 27th March, with a gap of 39 days to the first hatching on 5th May, then a further 38 days to the first flight, a total of 77 days.  This year the first egg was laid on 20th March, with a gap of 39 days to the first hatching (28th April).  If the same pattern holds true, 77 days falls on 5th June, the day of the talk!  Whether or not thing will be so clockwork remains to be seen, but I’ll be very surprised if at least some of the chicks have not flown by next weekend.

Thanks to those of you who have sent words of appreciation for the pleasure the Peregrines have brought you: it’s great to know the enjoyment is being shared!  Keep watching to make the most of the last few days of webcam action and hope to see you at St George’s on Thursday, 6-7 for a watch (weather permitting, and it’s looking promising) and then 7-8 for the talk inside.

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