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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.