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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Dark Nights

December 30th
There are a couple of sites that I monitor that you can watch at all hours without drawing attention to yourself or to the birds, some sites are a little dodgy due to the area in daylight let alone at night in London.
The site I was at this morning are known nocturnal hunters, as I suspect most are in London, I have seen them on other occasions slipping away in darkness.
This site is illuminated by lighting enough so that I can pick out one or both birds on favoured roost spots through Bin’s, again this all depends on the wind direction, this morning was a strong south westerly so I went to the opposite side on arrival.

Arriving at around 5.30a.m I located one bird sitting where I thought he or she would be, in this case size wise it looked good for the Tiercel.When I have watched them before in darkness I have always tried to coincide the night visits with clear skies, the theory being that there would likely be more nocturnal movement by migrants.

Although my wife Christine thinks I am nuts going out in the dark (she has a point) I would really like to do a few all-nighters, the trouble would be staying awake. On this particular site which I watch a lot, I have arrived so many times at dawn and one or both birds are sitting there with full crops. Needless to say they are taking prey at night, I would like to know is this regular every night or just when the opportunity arises?

Nocturnally do they actively go looking for prey within their territory?
Do they just react and wait for flybys that are heard calling or seen visually?
Is nocturnal hunting only confined to urban sites and peregrines only?
If peregrines have the advantage at night, is more than one prey taken?
For the above this may well be true as a couple of years ago on this site, I found 3 freshly taken Redwings all stashed near each other whilst doing a prey collection the day after.

Lots of questions.

Getting back to watching them, nothing happened until 5.54a.m, when I looked for the Tiercel having taken my eyes of him, he was gone. At 6.02am he was back in the same position, he didn’t look like he was going to roost by tucking his head under his wing so I kept watching him.
At 6.08am he suddenly disappeared again, time went by until 6.14am when I got the briefest but positive view of a peregrine coming in to another part of the structure carrying largish prey.

The area he or she had landed on was known as a feeding area, unfortunately this was not illuminated enough and I could not locate any birds. I decided to wait for dawn.
I got the scope out when the light was good enough and had a scan of the area, the Falcon was sitting nearby with a full crop and the Tiercel was feeding on prey, as I watched every so often I got glimpses of a wing, tail or beak as he turned the prey. What I saw was enough to confirm a Woodcock; it was certainly not big enough for a Snipe.

The same Falcon seen later still showing a large crop

This now raises more questions, was it luck that I happened on this at this time of night or is there more nocturnal movement in the pre-dawn hours?

All interesting stuff, now that I am in semi-retirement, I will now have the time hopefully to find out.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Stuff

First of all, a very Happy Christmas to one and all.

I am now heading gracefully into semi-retirement, the obvious plus side to this is more time for London’s Peregrines, as it stands at the moment I have 3 nestboxes to place in January with a 4th box earmarked for the southern counties. Hopefully all will be accepted, peregrines never do the obvious and it is not always as straightforward as it looks, sometimes boxes are totally ignored seemingly for no reason whatsoever. More often than not though, if the box is placed near a known rest point on a core structure it is likely to be accepted.
This January as usual will be a fairly busy period with not only boxes and trays to place, but existing boxes cleaned out and fresh substrate replacing the old.

One of the very successful sites I am glad to say is Charring X, peregrines are messy and the video below shows not only the cleaning of the box but also the installation of the cameras. In HD the views of the pair and juveniles were stunning this year on the Wildlife Whisperer Web Site.

I visited one site last week where the pair due to their location have a large residence of Carrion Crows; as such the pair will not tolerate them, even on the fringes of their territory. Of all the pair’s that I watch this pair shows the most aggression towards them, much of this is due to the fact that many of the peregrines favoured rest/hunt pylons have crow nests on them.
In the presence of a peregrine, territorial pairs of Crows even at this time of year relax squabbling amongst each other and retain numbers to try and make life hard for peregrines.
I watched a confrontation last week where a pair of Crows have a nest on a pylon, even at this time of year the Crows feel the need to try and bait/ remove the peregrines from the pylon with others joining in to help.
Time after time a number of Crow circled the peregrines on the pylon, getting closer each time until the peregrines had had enough and drove them off.
This happened on a number of occasions and in the end there were 20 odd Crows sitting around at tree level waiting having given up.

Peregrine pair with Crows nest nearby

Falcon had enough

Crows going for ground

I also got the prey results last week for this particular site, these were very kindly forwarded by Ed Drewitt – see

Ed has been checking the prey for a number of years and without him much of the prey remains would not be known.
Some of the more interesting prey are listed below

Little Grebe
Ring Necked Parakeet - 2

The Coot I strongly suspect, as I know this pair hunts at night, was taken nocturnally as was the Little Grebe, this however is the first Coot I have recorded. Moorhen yes, they seem to be taken with some regularity at this and other sites, but Coots are a lot heavier and I suspect it was the Falcon who took it.Coots are a heavy bird, Peregrines are perfectly equipped to take larger prey nocturnally but they have got be able to carry it back to their core structure, or a resident high point that will give them the security to feed. I wonder if the Coot was possibly mistaken for a Moorhen at night?
Ring Necked Parakeets are now a firm favourite due to their sheer abundance in London.
The Swift also may also be a first as I cannot recollect another, although I know they are taken on other sites in London.

I am off to Parliament in the morning, weather permitting, hopefully some sunshine for a change,as I write this heavy rain and thunder so Boxing Day not looking too promising.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

A London Site

Last week I had the chance to visit a site in preparation for a new nest box; its position is one of the best I have come across in regards to suitability for Peregrines. Before a nest box or tray can be placed there are so many issues that have to be considered.

Is the building suitable for 1st flight juveniles?
Are there ledges lower down for juveniles?
Is roof access needed during the breeding season and the licencing period?
If a juvenile grounds, can access be arranged to take it back up or to a high enough nearby building so that the adults feel confident enough to come down and feed it?

There are many other considerations, security being paramount; I have to say that this building met all the criteria.
It was whilst we were up there that we came across first one, then another 2 Woodcocks making 3 in total, I would have to say that as Woodcock is a nocturnal migrant, all were likely taken at night.
One in particular was very fresh and I suspect caught the night before we visited, only partially eaten, nature is nature.

So little is known of nocturnal hunting peregrines but I would hazard a guess, basing much on prey recorded so far over the years that every urban pairing is hunting at night. It is an exploitable food source especially in winter with Redwing and Fieldfare going through in their thousands at night, who is to say it is only confined to urban pairings, why not rural pairings also?

A nestbox similar to the one that will be going to the new site

A peregrines view- hopefully they will like it.

This particular pairing failed this year, I know where she had incubated and it was easy to see why they had failed, the ledge was full of water, hopefully the box will give them the chance of breeding successfully.

Monday, 3 December 2012


Sunday December 2nd

Glorious weather right from dawn, very cold with -1 showing but made easier given the sunshine that I knew was coming; I was hoping to get some half decent photos of the pair.
Unfortunately, similar to September 22nd and November 9th I did not even see a Peregrine other than a flyby by the Tiercel at 7.10am, he came from the west and flew straight over the river and that was that.

Knowing that they are very site faithful during the winter months you do look for reasons why they are not roosting on Victoria Tower as usual, is it the colder weather, have they a warmer roost building/structure? Peregrines are pretty tough, I have seen them out in heavy snow on structures that offer cover from the elements, in many cases they do not move even from heavy rainfull.They just fluff themselves up and sit it out.

Other than this you look for other reasons, have we had a change in the Falcon, this would explain the Tiercel not being present also and a new Falcon differing in her likes of different roost spots and favoured roost/rest ledges being ignored.
It really is conjecture until I can see both birds and compare photos; the simple reason is that they may at the moment prefer another building within their territory.

Another possibility being a very clear night with winter Thrushes moving over (I had a flock of 40 Redwing through), is that they have hunted at night and fed and are laying up on another structure. Who is to say that they do not find a structure near say, St .James Park at night knowing that night time migrants will be drawn into the ‘rural area’ and all the trees and bushes. When they have been absent before in late autumn/winter, does it coincide with clear skies and nocturnal movement?

So little is known of nocturnal hunting and peregrines, again it is all conjecture.

From Parliament I went on to visit a number of other sites, glad to say most were present, some photos below.

Falcon with a nice full crop

I also got a chance recently to visit one of my favourite winter haunts for raptors, the Isle of Sheppy, more specifically the raptor viewpoint down Harty Lane, photos below.

Marsh Harrier

A very pale Common Buzzard

I have been going there for 25 years, it very rarely disappoints and is a great place for some camera work.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Looking Back, Persecution and Surveying

12 years ago I got the Peregrine bug, I was employed as a Steelfixer working on a construction site in Inner London and without being too dramatic, from that day I was hooked.
Most mornings on this site I kept noticing 1 or 2 birds at a distance soaring occasionally above a building or perched on or near it, I knew they were raptors being a birder, usually you would go straight for Kestrel or Sparrowhawk.But I was 100% sure on these being peregrines and so approached NaturalEngland, from that day as they say my birding world changed with most weekends and sometimes weekdays now taken up monitoring and assisting pairs in London.

They have become my main passion and taken over a large part of my life, my wife Christine puts up with me well, very well as I disappear in darkness for my regular dawn starts. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to give them a helping hand, in most cases a nest box but sometimes a tray, the end result for me in seeing successful breeding justifies all those dawn starts.

If like me you follow and
you will know that raptors, especially up north and Scotland are not faring as well as they should be, persecution in rural areas is regular. It is a disgrace that this happens in the modern era, you only have to look at the plight of the Hen Harrier in England, soon to be lost as a breeding bird unless they can reverse its fortunes.
Vicarious Liability is a step in the right direction, if a game keeper on a shooting estate is charged with a wildlife crime, the landowner also assumes the responsibility for the crime, in short he is nicked as well.It has to be stiffer sentences though or there will be no deterrent, a fine to a wealthy man is not enougth.
A recent case, see Raptor Persecution Scotland concerned the death of a Golden Eagle, have a look, read what happened first and then the Police response after, this is why the law as it stands is inadequate.

On a lighter note I have recently been surveying in both Kent and Essex, winter time for both counties is good for Birds of Prey, Marsh Harriers in particular have been rather obvious I am glad to say. Below are some photos from recent surveys, not great it has to be said, a combination of crap weather and my unwillingness to keep changing settings, some days I yearn for an auto.

An essex bird - Short Eared Owl

Female Sparrowhawk

Barn Owl

Marsh Harrier

A Kent bird - Tiercel Peregrine, had to put one of these in

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

November 11th - sunshine!

Up London as per usual at the crack of dawn on what looked like a very promising day, sunny skies had been forecast by the Met, it turned out that they were spot on as well.
I was visiting one of the regular sites which houses not only a pair of Peregrines but also a pair of Black Redstarts, rather surprisingly the Black Redstarts are not only present but are still paired and foraging together. I know that Stonechats for one retain the bond and pairing that sometimes runs right into winter but was not aware that Black Redstarts also did the same. At this particular site they have usually moved on by now with colder weather pushing them further afield to forage, being this late I do not expect them to be continental migrants.

I was very lucky this morning with half decent light to get a few shots of firstly, theTiercel hunting, followed by the Falcon as well, at one point they pair hunted, spectacular stuff.
Twice they were interrupted by the presence of another Peregrine, both times a Tiercel and very likely the same bird, as expected he was seen off by the resident bird. On this site this is a regular occurrence, I would go as far to say daily, having once watched this particular site every day over an 8 day period. During this period the resident pair received visits by other peregrines 7 out of the 8 days.

Flat out

The trick was trying to stay with them with the camera

One thing that I have noted during hunting forays, on this site, is that in brighter weather the success rate for taking prey seems to be lower, the obvious reason I suppose will be that the prey, be it Feral Pigeon, Starling or Ring Necked Parakeet evade them far easier as they see them earlier.

The breeding season is again approaching very fast, in the coming months I have more nest boxes to make, 3 full sizes boxes and a tray, fingers crossed that they will be accepted, nothing gives me greater pleasure.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Saturday November 9th

With a forecast living up to its prediction I visited Parliament in the morning in constant rain, in truth I was not expecting much, and so it turned out, I didn’t even see a Peregrine. They were obviously more sensible than me and had no doubt retired to a dry covered ledge somewhere; they were certainly not on Victoria Tower.

Halfway through the search for them I walked around to Westminster Abbey and came up short as I entered the lawned area in front of the Abbey.
A sea of crosses, literally thousands, were laid out representing people of the Forces and many regiments of unknown soldiers who lost their lives in both wars and other conflicts.
I was on my own as it was just past dawn, standing there you realise what a massive debt of gratitude you owe to each and every one of these people for keeping our country free of oppression, but for them we would not be here would we?

You cannot fail to be moved by the sight of all those crosses for Remembrance Sunday and what they signify, sadly a life lost.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Breeding and ringing returns

With Christmas fast approaching thoughts are again turning to breeding on the established sites, this involves getting nest boxes/trays cleant out and substrate replaced.
With the peregrines licencing period starting as early as February, I usually get all the sites ready in January as they start pair bonding as early as February, like most things much depends on the weather.

Peregrines are not house proud; as the boxes have a roof they are not ‘naturally’ flushed out by winter storms and extreme weather. Juveniles ‘guanoing’ and prey remains inside the box means that all boxes, if accessible have to be clean out. If not it encourages parasites in, I try to leave it as late as possible just in case they are stashing prey in the box.

Before and after

This year 14 juvenile’s carry an orange ring for London on their left leg along with the standard BTO ring on the right. So far this year there have not been any sightings as far as I am aware of the juveniles, the rings can be hard to see but I had hoped with this number, sightings would have occurred.

Where do they go?
Will they leave London?
How far will they travel out of London?
As there natal sites are urban areas, will they automatically seek other urban and not rural areas?

A lot of questions and not helped by the fact that other City’s/Towns are also using orange in England, plans are now afoot in 2013 for London to have its own colour range.

Lack of sighting returns so far is likely down to the fact that peregrines have relatively short legs and ‘feathered trousers’, when perched they are not always on view. Additionally 1st winter mortality rate is around 30%, some will not make it, much depends on how efficient they are at hunting and the lessons learned from the adults.
Having said that, I believe the percentage figure has to be lower in London, if they stay, due to the shear density of prey, Feral Pigeons and Starlings etc.

A ringed juvenile on Parliament

Hopefully some will show up over the winter and in 2013, my hope is that ringed Tiercels and Falcons will eventually pair up from different sites, and in the near future eventually breed.

The Falcon still remains on her own after the Tiercel was killed on September 7th (see Casualty of the Chase) as yet no sign of another Tiercel; I am hoping that one of the ringed Tiercels will find her.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Parliament - Viz Miging

October 20th

As I headed down the Embankment for Parliament to check on the peregrines at 6.30am, in slightly murky conditions it has to be said, it came over the radio, a TUC Rally taking in Parliament, all roads around Parliament closed by 7.00am.
First thoughts were I’ve made a cock up and my usual crap timing, never less I carried on regardless and parked up round a back street just before they closed the roads.

In the semi darkness I located the Tiercel at 6.50am at roost and at around 7.20am he flew west, no sign of the Falcon so I settled down to wait in Victoria Tower Gardens Park.
As it turned out I never saw either bird again but was very fortunate to observe a lot of visual migration throughout the rest of the morning up until 9.30am, the majority all going west.

Tiercel in the murk

The highlight was undoubtedly a Short Eared Owl high south west at 7.43am, see photos below, bad light and height just made for record shots.

Record shots of SEO

It was mostly small groups other than the Starlings with the main flow of birds and larger flocks coming through from 9.00am to 9.30am.I recorded birds that were relatively low and could id but there was quite a lot more very high that I could not id so it looked to be a massive movement.
Starlings came through in numbers, one flock at 8.35 going west probably totalled around 600 birds, the flock was endless and they just kept coming, in total 830 were recorded throughout the morning. From what I understand elsewhere, Saturday has seen a massive movement through London with large numbers of Redwing moving through.

Jackdaw - a bit of an Inner London rarity

My totals at Parliament are probably a bit modest compared to other areas in London but in the absence of both peregrines I can’t complain, who would have expected a Short Eared Owl over Victoria Tower.

My totals were

Starling – 830
Chaffinch – 71
Siskin – 12 a single flock
Redwing – 35
Meadow Pipit – 110
Jackdaw – 4
Grey Wagtail – 1
Ring Necked Parakeet – 4

Additionally I also had Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest and a Song Thrush in Victoria Tower Park.
I would have liked to have stayed longer but the crowds were building, the Police presence enormous and a McDonalds Hot Chocolate was calling me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Casualty of the Chase - Confirmation

I have just received the results back from the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, they do an absolutely marvellous job and many thanks go to them.
As suspected they confirmed that it was a Tiercel and had been in a collision, most certainly with the chain link fence it was found next to, sadly an unfortunate end.
The diagnosis was “Severe haemorrhage throughout body cavity and in skull, also broken bone in upper neck” thankfully the Tiercel would have died instantly.

It now remains as to how long the Falcon will be on her own, boosted by this year’s juveniles/immatures, I would say it would not be too long, perhaps even a migrant Tiercel.
Since the death of the Tiercel on September 7th I have been looking, as have others for the Falcon, in short she seemed to have disappeared and was not showing at her usual rest/lay up points.
On Sunday she reappeared I am glad to say, given her location I would expect her to become bonded with a Tiercel by Christmas, and hopefully well before the breeding season kicks in.
If she does bond I think it unlikely that they would be successful 1st time round, more likely in 2014/15 especially if it is an immature male.
Having said that, they never do anything straightforward and will most likely prove me wrong, hopefully so.

The Falcon on Sunday-hopefully it will not be too long before she attracts a new Tiercel

On a pretty recent post “Prey and Nest boxes” I blogged a selection of feathers taken from one particular site, I am only ever able to collect 50% of prey and feathers on this site as much of the structure is inaccessible and much disappears through the elements.
A photo of the feathers was sent off for analysis, I had a rough idea what most were, Peregrine Primary and Tail and Green Woodpecker feathers tend to stand out.

However one feather was identified as a Bittern, I am struggling to believe that a peregrine would willingly take on something of this size no doubt at night when they arrive as migrants to winter in local areas. The fact that I only came across one feather may point towards a possible territorial defence, they do this with Grey Herons but this would mean that it possibly happened in the winter. In this case they would not be so territorial so why risk going for/attacking something of this size which is also very dangerous?

The feather was found on the roof of the structure along with the others and has been in my garage since last winter in a batch I collected at the same time in January if I remember correctly.
A bit of a mystery but I just can’t see it happening, peregrines as we know are very aggressive, not as intelligent as Corvids but intelligent enough not to risk potential injury for no reason.
Another possibility is that it was flying over, possibly in moult and the feather came out naturally and drifted down to the roof.

Who knows, certainly a strange one.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Weekend

Saturday September 29th

This morning I was heading down the M11 to the Cambridgeshire Bird Club Raptor Conference at Cottenham, being close to the heart I was eagerly looking forward to the speakers. I was able to attend the morning session up to 2.00pm but prior engagements meant that I had to leave and miss the afternoon session unfortunately.
Never the less I found the morning conference excellent, a number of speakers included Simon Gilling from the BTO giving a talk on a 40 year overview on raptors, Ed Drewitt whom I send my prey too was also giving a talk on Urban Peregrines.

Amongst other speakers there was a chap from the RSPB called Staffan Roos giving a talk on why our Kestrels are declining; this was very interesting and an eye opener.
It appears that our Kestrel decline is not just nationally, between 1976 and 2008 there was a 40% decline in the UK and Europe, reasons range from a number of issues, the obvious ones and others are listed below.

Habitat loss – loss of set aside and Barley Yield is down – less mice and voles(Voles form 70% of their diet), also principal bird prey is declining – Meadow Pipit and Skylark.

Climate change – wet springs and summers – less productivity

Intraguild Predation – Predators identified which have a direct link to Kestrels numbers are Goshawk, Raven and Common Buzzard.

Nest site competition – Barn Owls in some areas are direct competitors.

Ed’s talk was great on Urban Peregrines, mostly prey related but also the highs and lows of the West Country Peregrines.
Something that I occasionally touch on is Raptor Persecution, listening and looking at the literature and slides paints a grim picture in some areas, mostly Wales, Midlands, North and Scotland. Some of the Shooting Estates are literally getting away with murder, the law such as it is, is totally inadequate.
The latest move by the organizations is Vicarious Liability but even this means nothing if the Courts do not give out sentences to match the Crime.
We are now down to 1 pair of Hen Harriers in England, basically speaking the Government has let it happen.

Sunday September 30th

A dawn visit to a London site, of late this pairing has been giving me the run around over the last month or so, the usual practice is for the Tiercel to hunt and return with the prey for the female.
Unfortunately both have been disappearing but pleased to say on Sunday, both stayed with the Tiercel hunting from the core structure.
Although not great weather I did get brief bursts of hazy sunshine as I watched the Tiercel hunt on a number of occasions, in total 9 hunts with 2 confirmed takes, a Feral Pigeon and a Redwing.
2 methods of hunting were seen, the usual sit on the structure and target a flyby and additionally spot something way up, climb up rapidly in circles closing the gap and when the prey loses its nerve and dives, go for it.

Stunning to watch, above is a couple of photos of the resident Falcon, as you can see, well fed with a large crop.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012


22nd September

It’s not very often that I go to Parliament and don’t see a peregrine even at this time of year when breeding is now over and Falcons do seem to wander or explore their territory more?
This morning looked to be going that way after failing to find a peregrine from dawn for a good couple of hours, the weather was great for photography with bright blue skies but the birds had become camera shy unfortunately.

Of the juvenile seen in August there was no sign, if he was still around I would have expected an adult nearby.
In the end the day was saved by the Tiercel arriving from the west, he came into Victoria Tower, perched up, crop was fullish and that was it, siesta time.

Saving the day

With the Tiercel now in a state of sleepy contentment bought on by a near full stomach that was it, hopefully they will not be so hard to see next time.

I visited another well-known site last week and had the fortune to watch and photograph a female Sparrowhawk, she was seemingly’ playing’ and interacting with some mobbing Crows and Magpies for over 25 minutes.

The usual Crow and Magpie mobbing

I should explain that it is a peregrine site and the resident Tiercel had left and was not in the area otherwise the light hearted mobbing by 6 Carrion Crows, 2 Magpies and the Sparrowhawk would not have taken place.

Turning the tables on the Magpie

Magpie grabbed by the tail

Fiesty female, good for her

Needless to say he returned after a while and cleared all, the resident Falcon, having fed early a.m. just sat and watched the proceedings. She took no part in the interaction (about 50 metres away) and made no effort to ‘clear’ her territory, perhaps as she had not successfully bred this year and the territorial bond was not as strong. On the other hand she very likely sees it as part of a Tiercel’s workload being the dominant partner.