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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Parliament Peregrines, they're back - briefly

June 25th

On Saturday I visited Parliament rather later than usual , around 6.30am, this was due to staking out another site at dawn which I knew held a territorial Tiercel. The weather at the other site was atrocious, heavy rain but good enough visibility to see that the male had got himself a mate, these days it is only a matter of time.

Yet another pairing, this one is outside London quite away, the structure they are on is far from ideal, but it is there core structure and the male has been there over 8 months, they will not move territory It will be impossible to keep this site unpublicized due to its location, and it also offers up a load of questions.

1. Allthough unsuitable, they will try and breed naturally obviously, probably next year, do you let them try and make a scrape on a surface ( flat concrete) knowing that the eggs may well roll. This could possibly happen year after year.

2. There are about 3 highish buildings around it, all unsuitable due to various reasons, do you risk letting them try and breed on one of these knowing that there will be licencing issues regarding roof space. This will only be if they cannot find anywhere to lay on the core structure. In this case, would it not be better to contain them to the core structure, however unsuitable.

3. Do you place a nestbox on the core structure that they are holding to, knowing that it is not ideal, especially for juveniles, but will give them a far greater chance of success. This site is going to be one of those, if successful, where the juveniles at fledging, will have to be monitored from dawn to dusk. The public will have to be involved.

4. Do you publicise a site knowing that it may put the birds at risk from a minority, the threat is minimal in London at the moment .On the other hand more eyes watching from the public can only benefit the birds.

Certainly food for thought, anyway back to Parliament.

As I arrived the first bird seen was a Tiercel, they or he was back! No sooner than he showed, he was quickly followed by the Falcon, I thought if they are both here, surely the juveniles.

Falcon - Middle Tower ( photos are poor due to typical crap english weather)

Both adults flew a few circuits around Victoria Tower and then landed. As they did I heard the unmistakable call of a juvenile, I quickly located him, it was the strong flying male, but despite getting raised hopes that the other 2 were here also, none materialized .

Juvenile male

Victoria Tower
At 6.55am both adults left together followed by the juvenile male, the heading was the nest site where, no doubt, the 2 remaing juveniles were waiting, so it proved when I viewed later.

I suspect that the adults have tried to lead them all over but only the juvenile male has followed. He was always stronger and fledged first, I suspect the other juveniles may not have the wing strength and confidence to make the 1 mile+ flight as yet.
                                                                                                                                                As I write this, who knows, it is only a matter of time, they could already be there, will visit at dawn on Saturday, fingers crossed for good weather and a family of Peregrines.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Juveniles down

Each year I monitor a number of Peregrine sites at fledging time trying to gauge it right and be on hand when they ‘ jump ship’. Some sites you can work out more or less when they are likely to fledge, if you can get the exact date of egg laying (CCTV), and others I have to wait and ‘scope’ the juveniles to age them.

For those not familiar with fledging peregrines, they do have a habit of grounding as mentioned earlier in the diary with the juvenile that died in an unfortunate accident. Much depends on the nest area, if there is an adjacent flat area where they can exercise and make short flights, they are usually ok. The weather plays a big part, still windless days are a nightmare, no lift.

The nest sites that are confined are usually the ones that give problems, there simply is not enough room to build and strengthen wing muscles for 4, or even 5 juveniles.

Last year I was lucky, I had a couple low down, on separate sites, but these got back up under there own steam, hunger is a great motivator, if they are too low, the adults will not come down and feed them unfortunately.

Juvenile 1

On Thursday I was called to a site in London( Fulham&Barnes Peregrines ) , Nathalies site as a juvenile had come down, looking at it when I arrived, it still had 3 or 4 days to go to attain full fledging status, why it had gone we did not know, perhaps an adult had tried to coax it out with prey, or a strong gust of wind. (Looking at the CCTV recording later showed it went of its own accord).

Not very happy (all photos courtesy of Nathalie ) click to enlarge

Checking for injury

Peregrine juveniles like most birds of prey are full of attitude, this one certainly was as it did it best to penetrate my gloves, even as juveniles the strength they display in there talons is considerable, this was a female. A cardboard box had been placed over it to contain it, this also helps to calm it down. The juvenile was taken back up under licence, and then released on a high point near the nest site. The following day the adults found it and all was well.

Juvenile 2

This bird was in a confined nest area which did not allow much room for exercise, it was a small space even for the 2 juveniles that occupied it.

Friday was not an ideal day for fledging, little wind with no lift
This bird came down on the Friday, the site owners quickly contacted me and did very well in keeping the bird in sight, well done to them, I was then able to catch the bird and return it to a high point below the nest. It is good to know that the system works, it gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that I and others have made a difference, these juveniles will now get the chance they deserve. The site in question is not manned during the weekend and is quite desolate, with the juvenile down and food/stress calling for an adult, there was every chance it would have ended up as Fox food.

Juvenile 3

This bird came from the same nest site as the 1st juvenile, it also fledged on the Thursday, it was seen to go on CCTV on Saturday and that was it, gone.

On Saturday late afternoon it was relocated, quite a way down from where it should be, and also not having fed.

On catching it, it was still lively so it was then taken back up to the roof to join its sister, we were hoping that the adults would feed it in the evening.

Little male

Taking it out on the glove, he eventually released it.
I learnt this morning (Sunday) that it seems to be making up for the last few days and has had 2 feeds along with its sister.

All the juveniles are now getting fed so they should be ok, juveniles 1 and 3 are from Nathalies site, there is a 3rd juvenile in that nest that has not fledged, fingers crossed…..

Monday, 20 June 2011

Falcons,both large and small

On my travels around London trying to keep up with the Peregrine population I get the chance to visit some unique sites, Factories, high rise blocks, derelict Brownfield sites along with working industrial sites. All are different and offer every kind of habitat going, disturbance on many is high, but on a number of these I have found that Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels do co exist and breed.

Male Peregrine

Male Kestrel
This year on the Peregrine sites that I monitor 4 pairs of Kestrel have bred on the same structure but at a lower level, both species are obviously aware of each other and there is some interaction between the 2 occasionally. It seems due to the abundance of prey in London, Kestrels are only occasionally targeted by Peregrines, the larger Falcon is basically lazy like most birds of prey, and seemingly always goes for the more abundant species.

In many cases this may be down to taste, feral pigeon may be more to there liking rather than Black Headed Gull for instance, the Gull is no doubt easier to take, so it could possibly be taste. Also the feral pigeon is just the right size to carry, I know that some Tiercels fly over a mile to a favoured hunting area, carrying the larger Gull back this far is hard work for the male, especially at dawn when there is no lift. I have recorded Kestrel as prey along with 2 male Sparrowhawks and know of other Kestrels taken as prey elsewhere. The smaller Kestrel will certainly go up and mob the Peregrine, I have seen this, some of this comes down to knowing when you can get away with it, and when not.

On all of these sites where the 2 coincide I have noticed that the Kestrels give the Peregrines a wide berth at dawn onwards when they are 100% hunting, they fly extremely low to and from the nest site, and will not go up high. When the Peregrines have killed, fed and then layed up, the Kestrels will go up higher and even thermal. The Peregrines, although extremely aggressive and territorial do not perceive them as a threat to eggs/young unlike Carrion Crows, these are attacked with relish, laying up or not.


Kestrel in flight
The Kestrels may just see the Peregrines as an occupational hazard, similar to Carrion Crows, they have a territory and a nest site, they are certainly not going to move site due to the presence of a higher authority, no matter how dangerous it could be.

Hopefully the Peregrines will stay with there normal prey

It is good to see the 2 species together, on one site both species have 3 juveniles apiece, that gives the possibility of 10 Falcons in the air, should be quite a sight.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Weekend June 18th-19th Fledging

For quite a while now I have been thinking, would it be better to advertise Peregrine sites in London, for all to enjoy, in this there is nothing I would like more. Would it be better to get local people and business’s/companies involved in the immediate area, the principal being, the more eyes watching, the safer the site is?

Many sites are obviously already known amongst locals and kept word of mouth, the birds are hard to miss and can be very vocal, especially juveniles.

I belong to a group called the London Peregrine Group, it is made up of individuals, RSPB, Royal Parks, and the Met Police Wildlife, the policy has always been only publicise on safe and secure sites, ie Parliament and the Tate Modern. This comes from a minority threat they face from Eggers and Pigeon Fanciers.

No breeding sites for Schedule 1 species are publicized unless regarded as secure, or in some cases on a Reserve.

On some of the sites the owners do not want the birds advertised due to the threat of security and also the restrictions that Schedule 1 brings, happily there are only 1 or 2.

With the Peregrines continued expansion in London, it is getting harder to keep sites low key and unpublicized, London now has the largest population of any city in the world including New York.

These Falcons are large, high profile birds, very vocal and spectacular, they will get noticed. Perhaps it is better to judge each site on its own merits and locality? There is no doubt that some sites are already well known and could benefit from more eyes watching, especially at fledging time, myself and others at the moment are really stretched due to the number of pairs. In New York every site is known, people get involved with the birds, there also does not seem to be any threat to them?



Arrived at the nest site after visiting 3 other sites early a.m, if you want to see a lot of Peregrine activity unfortunately you have to get up at dawn, it used to be easy 10 years ago but trying to balance this, and work 5 days a week as a Steelfixer, is getting hard.

Am pleased to say that all 3 juveniles have fledged, in particular a male who is flying very strongly, no dodgy landings, what has helped is the fact that we have had good winds over the weekend.

Juvenile male fledged
Another juv, possibly a male is up the top with the adults, flying but not so confidently. The 3rd juvenile, looks like a female is lower down and for the duration of my visit, 3 hours, she did not move.A lack of confidence in trying to fly may be down to a dodgy 1st flight, both adults tried to encourage her out, but I later found out from Rose Farmer, she monitors them as well, that she did not move all day.

Adult Tiercel
I also managed to find a spot where I could not be seen by the public, in a private area, consequently I managed to record a few photos.

A spectacular sight was a Common Buzzard going over highish, both adults alarm called, took flight and immediately began to climb up after it. Typically I had packed the camera away. Fortunately they both gave up on it, they can be very aggressive whilst breeding, Herring, Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Grey Herons are all seen off.


I located all 3 juveniles more or less as soon as I arrived, the strong flying male was seen to land on the roof and was lost to view, another juvenile was sitting near both adults.

The strong flying juvenile male
Was also pleased to note that the lower level juvenile female had regained some height to a higher point, this must have happened early a.m.For the next 2 hours the Tiercel hunted, 2 small prey items were delivered to the higher level juveniles.

When I left, all were roughly in the same position, the weather again was ideal for flight, hopefully the weaker flying female will take advantage of it.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Parliament Juveniles

June 10th and 11th

Nathalie has again very kindly sent me some photos of the juveniles progress, as you can see, it will not be long before they fledge, very likely around 16th onwards.

Not far to go ( all photos Nathalie Mahieu )

Developing well

Waiting for an adult with prey

Exercising for that all important day

Last year there were a number of us monitoring them from dawn to dusk, fortunately in 2010 there were no serious mishaps of grounding of the Parliament juveniles. This year many pairs have got there act together, myself and others of the London Peregrine Partnership are going to be stretched covering all the sites, all seem to be coming out on the weekend of the 18th onwards. Fingers crossed that there is some wind over that weekend to give them some lift, at the moment the weather is ok as long as it doesn’t get too blowy.


Chilling out

With the Parliament pair likely to fledge earlier, it is on the cards that they will return to Victoria Palace even sooner than expected, possibly before the end of June. When they return I will again be able to get some photos of the family, updates, hunts etc…. as mentioned earlier in the diary it is not wise to do it at there nest site.

Must admit this a favourite, taken by Nathalie, all 3 juveniles sound asleep at night

Will update again over the weekend, hopefully with fledging news.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

June 11th - out and about in London and a relocated pair

First stop was to check on a site on the other side of the river, a previous visit revealed 3 well grown juveniles.

Arrived on site at 4.40am, located the juv’s on the east side of the structure well sheltered from the brisk south westerly wind, all 3 had the ‘ hungry ‘ look and were searching the skies for an adult. At this time of morning the light and the cloud cover were not good, the fact that they were scanning all the time made me think that an adult or both had slipped away in the darkness.

So it proved with the Tiercel returning with prey just after 5.00am, they saw him a lot earlier than I did and there was a frenzy to get in the right position, the noise was quite incredible.

Looking at the juveniles showed it to be 2 females and a male, even at this stage the smaller male was a loner, the 2 sisters seemed to be sticking together, as expected the prey was taken by one of the females. The male will likely be the 1st to fledge, female dominance seems to start at an early age, I suspect he loses out in the food stakes quite a lot. It was interesting to note that when the Tiercel came in with prey, he called but did not move, unlike his sisters who fairly terrorized the adult Tiercel.

Juvenile male
At 5.44am the Falcon arrived and was quite obviously carrying heavy prey, her tail was fanned out for maximum lift as she circled and bought in the prey, again the young male did not get a look in, the remaining sister claimed the spoils. Eventually the little male did get the left overs of one of his sisters.

Falcon coming in with prey very early a.m
Looking at them showed they were ready to fledge in the next 2 or 3 days, hopefully none will ground, the windy weather at the moment is ideal, still windless days make it difficult for fledging.

Relocated pair

After this I decided to check an old site that bred very late in 2007, no Peregrine activity but as I was driving away about a mile up the road I saw the unmistakable outline of a Peregrine on a structure. Closer views were warranted and eventually, through a maze of streets I was able to scope the bird.

The hardest thing in London is not trying to draw attention to peregrines or yourself, on secure sites it is ok, Parliament etc… but walking round with a telescope, camera and binoculars is downright dodgy in some areas. Another problem is that some people think you are up too no good, unfortunately using binoculars and a camera on a building looking for peregrines does get you labeled as a potential terrorist or a peeping Tom. I have lost count the number of times I have been approached by the Police, tipped of by the public no doubt, good to see though, security is a big thing in London.

I eventually found a location tucked away and had a look, a Tiercel greeted me, about 10 minutes later a Falcon came in with prey. Scoping her showed it to be the female from 2007, so a very pleasant surprise.

Re located Falcon bringing in prey
Eventually the prey was stashed and she disappeared on another section of the structure, hopefully breeding behavior as she was lost to view. Given the fact that the Tiercel looked to be on ‘guard’ duty, the signs looked good.

Territories are getting smaller every year in London, this pair are only 1 ½ miles from another well established pair.

Fledging tragedy

I received a phone call mid week regarding a site in London with the news that a juvenile had been killed whilst making its first flight. The site in question successfully fledged 2 juveniles last year and having visited the site on earlier dates this year, it was quite clear audibly that there were juveniles up there again. The nest site has never been visible to the eye so it has always been best guess when they lay and fledge.

There were a number of people involved with the site, companies etc… who had worked round the birds all through the breeding season and were tracking there development and keeping a watchful eye on them.

As the juveniles were being watched and monitored, it was one of the reasons that it was seen to fledge, quite an early date for London, Tuesday June 7th.

It was seen to clear some flats and was then lost to view, shortly later it was found dead in a small park.

After picking up the bird I had a look when I arrived where it had come down. It looked like it had come in at speed, probably out of control and hit a large overhead ornamental 6x6 timber, some of the breast feathers had gone from the impact, the neck was clearly broken.

Mercifully it would have been instant and it would not have suffered, a sad end for a magnificent bird.

There is a remaining juvenile, this has fledged ok, it looks like a Tiercel, presumably both juveniles came out on the same day, on Sunday (5th) there was only one bird on show.

Unfortunately it is not a rare event for a peregrine to ‘ ground ‘ they do seem to make a habit of it, especially when there is no wind to give them uplift. In 2010 at this same site I had a juvenile come down to a 3 storey roof top, on landing it food called but being lower down, the adults will not come down to feed it. For the next 3 hours it stayed there despite the adults trying to make it fly with overhead passes with prey, in the meantime also, a pair of Crows and a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls had also found it. The Crows ended up confined to a nearby tree, every time they tried to leave the Tiercel was on them, the Gulls received the same treatment as they tried to mob the juvenile, this time from the Falcon. The juvenile eventually made it back up high under its own steam thanks to its very aggressive parents, but for these it would have been in trouble.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Parliament pair - June 5th and recent photos

I have been logging on to the web cam at all hours trying to gauge the juveniles progress, especially over Sunday when the persistant rain started and continued on into the night.

On Sunday after visiting another nearby pair, unfortunately these have failed for the 4th year running, I popped into the parliament pairs nest site to see if I could see any of the young from the outside. Both adults were present, the Tiercel arriving as I drew up with the Falcon resting higher up.

From behavior everything looked well, could not see the young, they will now have a good covering of feathering that will protect them from the elements, at this stage they will certainly be too big and will not need brooding. Whilst watching the pair I stayed in the car, it would be good to get some photos of them outside but unfortunately it would very likely draw some attention to the pair. I will have to wait until they return to Parliament, last years return date was for me, July 10th, this year they seem more advanced so it could possibly be earlier.

All photos kindly supplied by Nathalie Mahieu, thankyou.

As you can see growing fast


The 3 young, 1 just about visible on the left
There return is being eagerly awaited, with a number of people wishing to film and photograph them against the backdrop of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. I have been asked by the site Parliament Police when they will arrive back, last years noisy adults and juveniles have made a lasting impression.

Calling for food

Looks like a male

Developing well
The pair it seems are becoming quite well known, they have even been mentioned in parliament and have also featured in the in House magazine, Focus.

Parliament official Thomas Maher has named the birds after the architects who built the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.

The Falcon has been named Charlie and the Tiercel has been called Augustus, a fitting name for a male Peregrine.

Also whilst visiting a few sites in London early a.m on Sunday I came across a Kestrel family, by the look of them it wont be long before they fledge.I must admit the little mouse 'hawks' have always been a favourite.

2 of the 4 juveniles

Waiting for food