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Back on track

Well, after a couple of trips away from Sheffield it’s good to see that all is going to plan with the Peregrines.  A visit to St George’s this morning revealed the male sitting tight and the female on a nearby building and then on the E side of the church tower, out of sight of the webcams but very much present.  She enjoyed a good preening session, making sure those feathers remain in tip-top condition.

PG April 16

Last week brought Esther Kettel to Sheffield Bird Study Group’s monthly indoor meeting.  She delivered an excellent talk based on her PhD thesis, which explores how Peregrines are adapting to urban habitats and compares their situation with those in rural habitats.  It was a really great evening with a lot to learn about these magnificent birds.  Hopefully I’ll be able to give an update based on her talk some time soon, but in the meantime one of the standout facts for me was that urban pairs are more successful that rural pairs to the tune of one chick per clutch.  When talking about four eggs/ chicks as a typical clutch/ brood, that’s a significant difference.  The St George’s pair are part of her sample, and it’s great to know that they’re part of a wider success story.

The clutch of four eggs they are brooding is very much to be expected after four eggs every year since 2012 and has followed the pattern of the previous three years very closely, with the first egg laid on either March 19th or 20th and the fourth laid on either March 26th or 27th.  So Easter Monday represents three weeks on from the completion of the clutch, with another 10 days or so until hatching might be expected.  According to the previous few years’ schedule, reproduced below with this year’s laying dates included, my estimate is that hatching may take place on Friday April 28th, providing for an exciting close to the month.

PG key dates March 2017

In the meantime there will be a lot of sitting and occasional flurries of activity, but – hopefully – nothing too dramatic.  Once the chicks have hatched, we can start to look at doing some of the things that the donations will support, such as DNA testing and colour ringing.  It is humbling to see the donations that have come in to date, and we’re very grateful to everyone who has contributed to the cause.  Do keep them coming!!

PG April 16 2

Right On Cue

The doubts as to whether the first egg might be laid on 19th or 20th were resolved in the middle of the night between the two dates, the egg first noticed by keen webcam watchers at 00:25.  We’ll count that as March 20th!  And just about visible when daylight came.

March 20 egg

That laying pattern for the first egg shows remarkable consistency over the last four years and has coincided with first eggs appearing in several other urban nest platforms in the UK, though others are still waiting.  The egg soon disappeared behind the edge of the box after brooding and remained out of sight through to dusk, as below.  Could that light on top of the crane be the UFO that made the news from the webcam in December??

March 20 panorama

By the end of today (Tuesday 21st), there appears to be just the one egg still.

March 21 night

Following a heavy hail/ snow shower late this morning here in Sheffield, and temperatures dropping down to a couple of degrees celsius, the egg is being brooded overnight from the look of things.

March 21 night 2

The eggs are very resilient and we can expect to see them being left uncovered for long periods of time until the clutch is (almost) complete, after which they’ll be brooded intensively for around 32 days before hatching is due.  So no need for concern if they are apparently unattended for hours on end: in reality one or other of the adults (or both) will be close at hand, even if they’re not visible on the webcams.

In past years, it’s taken the St George’s pair a week to lay their full clutch, with around 48 hours between eggs on average.  Will we wake up to a second egg in the nest?  In each previous year, the St George’s pair has laid four eggs and we can expect the same this year if all goes well, and the female is indeed the same as in previous years.

And do please keep the donations coming.  We’ve almost reached our first milestone with the fundraising, a great step towards funding the materials that will enable DNA research on these wonderful birds and also prove whether we’ve had a change of female.

I’ll now be away for 10 days with work, so no updates on the blog until the start of April.  Enjoy developments in the meantime and I hope to come back to a clutch of four eggs, or maybe more!

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back and looking forward

Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the Peregrines Project over the last few weeks.  It’s been moving to see so many words of support from near and far, and from all ages.  The donations will enable us to do more with the project, especially in terms of drawing on the St George’s birds to extend our knowledge of the species through scientific analysis of the data we collect.  Thank you all!

Today marks the date when the first egg has been laid in both of the past two years, as can be seen in the table below, which also sets out incubation and fledging periods over the last few years for the St George’s pair.  So an egg laid overnight or tomorrow would be right on cue.

PG key dates 2012-16 slide

As the breeding season looks about to get under way again in earnest, judging from the female’s occupancy of the nestbox tonight, it’s also a chance to look back to see how things have changed for Peregrines in the Sheffield area over the last 50 years, although sadly the story of illegal persecution has not changed in some parts of the Peak District.

PG Sheffield history slide

It really is heartening to feel that we are watching a real change in the fortunes of this wonderful species in the UK, especially as they become increasingly established in urban settings such as St George’s.  For those interested in such things, next month’s Sheffield Bird Study Group talk will be a treat, as it will bring Esther Kettle from Nottingham to talk about her PhD research into urban and rural Peregrines.  For details see the SBSG website.

Still no egg as I sign off, but I don’t think it will be long…  Keep watching!

March 19 2017

And finally, if anyone would like to see the slides from the talk that Nicola Hemmings and I did as part of the Sheffield University Festival of the Mind back in September, from which the two tables above are taken, you should be able to look through them from the link below.

FOTM talk Sept 2016 FINAL

2017 Breeding Season Under Way

Welcome to the 2017 season for the St George’s Peregrines.  It’s good to be back, and even better to see the adult pair back around the nest.  In truth, they’ve not been away from the St George’s area since the young birds fledged back in the summer.  More than any other year, the birds have remained around the nest territory throughout the autumn and winter, although they’ve not always been visible on the webcams.

They’ve also been regularly seen at a couple of other favoured sites around Sheffield, but one of those has been refurbished, with the loss of the ledges they preferred, and this may have resulted in their more consistent presence at St George’s outside the breeding season.

A couple of weeks ago, Ian Knowles and I went up the church tower to check that everything was in good order ahead of the anticipated breeding season.  All was well and the female was in situ, oblivious to our presence above her as we looked out to the nest box below.  It made for an unusual angle for a photo opp.

pg-jan-20-2017-2

She did eventually notice us and took off, circling the church calling loudly: clear indications that this remains very much her territory.

pg-jan-20-2017-4

Another reason for the trip up the tower was to look at the possibility of locating a thermal camera as part of a PhD project.  This has now been fitted and will allow the researcher to see if prey items are brought in fresh or if they have been cached.  Given the low resolution of the image it is not being streamed, but the results it generates will be made known in due course.

We have other potential developments in mind and have set up a donations page for the Peregrine Project, available via a link from the top of the menu on the right-hand side of the homepage.  If you enjoy watching the webcams, please support us with a donation!  Details of the things we hope to do are included on the donations page.

Sheffield has had a snowy weekend, but on Friday the pair was on the nest platform, bowing to each other.

feb-10-2017

This is a clear marker of territorial courtship behaviour and the first clear sign I’ve seen in 2017 that breeding activity is getting under way.  The ring on the leg of the male, visible in the photo above, together with his distinctive dusky cheek pattern, confirms that this is the same male that has bred successfully in Sheffield for the last 5 years.  The identity of the female (below) is less clear – we need some DNA testing to know for sure, and for that we need funds to purchase the materials that enable such scientific work.

pg-20-jan-2017-6

So, welcome back and do consider making a donation to support the project and the work around it.  We’re fortunate to have the birds with us, and want to do all we can to ensure that success continues.

 

 

 

2016 post-script

A couple of months after the last of the regular blog posts saw the young Peregrines safely fledged, it seems time to give a final update for the season.  There will be a chance to hear about events of 2016 in a talk that I’ll be giving with Nicola Hemmings (who analysed the failed eggs this year and last) as part of the University’s ‘Festival of the Mind’.  The talk, which is free, will take place on Monday 19th September at 8:00 pm in The Spiegeltent, Barker’s Pool, Central Sheffield.

As in previous years, the juveniles remained around St George’s for several weeks after fledging, but unlike in previous years they have stayed through into the autumn.  Anyone checking the webcam will have seen the adults and juveniles regularly using the perch and continuing to give great views.  One fascinating snippet from analysis of the down taken when they were ringed: all three chicks that fledged this year were males, as was the egg that failed, and both chicks that fledged last year!

sept-7-juv

The juveniles’ browner upperparts remain evident, as do the vertical streaks on the breast (as in the image above, with horizontal streaking on the adults, ).   However, it appears that only two of the three juveniles are around, and have been for some time.  What happened to the third is a mystery, but fingers crossed it is well and has made its way to a new territory: a young bird has been seen at Orgreave Lakes from time to time over the summer, so perhaps that’s our bird.  That said, mortality rates for young Peregrines in their first year of life are high (over 50%), so it wouldn’t be unusual for it to have succumbed to disease or an accident as it tested its flight abilities.

The adults are similarly visible, with one on the perch this evening.  It’s definitely worth watching out for them, either via the webcam or ‘live’ if you’re in the area.

sept-8-night

For 2016, I’ll sign off with a screengrab from this morning as the sun rose to the E of Sheffield.  Another striking image – one of many the birds have provided us with over recent months – and one that holds promise for the future.

sept-8-2016

Thanks to everyone who’s supported the blog over the past months and hope to get the chance to chat with some of you in the Spiegeltent on Monday 19th.

 

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