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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Charring X Nest Box

January 27th

As many of you know this is a publicised site that until recently was covered by Simon King with HD video, it gave some stunning footage and also gave Nathalie and myself the opportunity to study the birds at any time of day, Nathalie more so as she put in a lot more hours watching them.
Sadly Simon has opted not to continue and coverage is no more although there may well be something in the pipeline with the Hospital, we will see.
The Hospital have done marvels in accommodating the pair of peregrines, sometimes in difficult circumstance it has to be said, especially considering the threats that the Hospital faces for the future.

This was to be the last clean up and we had enlisted the help again of Industrial Abseiling,  they did a stellar job last time and so it proved again.
One of the big problems with the balcony is that the falls are wrong to the drain, consequently any rainfall, and we have had record wet stuff, means that the balcony constantly holds standing water sometimes up to  an inch deep. The nest box is at one end and the drain at the other, theoretically it should run down to the drain, it does not, it stays. As you can imagine this does not do the base of the nest box any good, the bottom is slowly rotting away, if my memory serves it is now 4 years old, being constantly under water means that it rarely has a chance to dry out in the winter.

The lads getting ready to go down

Water everywhere

Drain at the end, unfortunately it just sits as you can see


2 years ago I lifted it slightly to try and give it a chance, the trouble being is that I can’t go too high as the juveniles, who are pretty active from 10 days old, may well go out and not be able to get back in again, it’s a compromise.
My main worry has always been the dampness transferring through the base of the box, through the substrate and chilling the eggs from underneath, I am hoping that this may have been rectified to a certain extent by the chaps from I A modifying the drain slightly.

Prior to the clean up, the box front ledge  looked like it had sprouted a forest of grass, as Nathalie mentioned this was very likely due to prey, a pigeons split crop, the  spilled seed then germinates and takes hold.

Ready made scrape

Cleaned and swept

I have to say the 2 lads from I A did a great job as you can see from the photos, next year though a new box may well be needed.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Cleaning the Scaffold Nest Box

January 25th

This was always going to be the hard one, I remember putting it in last year and thinking at the time due to the angle and weight, this is going to be a cow son getting it out again for cleaning.

I had enlisted the help of my good mates Paul Hawkins and Martin Blow to provide a bit of muscle, Martin also bought Jamie his son along, he became the official photographer, at 13 he’s already bigger than me, he naturally became director of operations.
First plan of action was to rope it through the eyelets to make sure secure all the time and then remove all the scaffold clips. No less than 20 clips holding the box down in position so a little time consuming before the box was eventually ready to lift out.

The all important exercise ledge showing the cut out of the nest box to allow access for juveniles.

Where the box gets it name from.

On arrival this morning at 8.00am we had noted the Falcon was already in the box, most likely roosted in there, shortly later the Tiercel flew by so both birds already on territory which was good to see.
With all the clips removed we then hauled the box out and over the parapet wall, a bit of a job, it took 3 of us to do it, it’s a dead weight and full of substrate.

Surprisingly like the others this was pretty clean as well, the storms and the constant rain appeared to have done the job of washing it out naturally but nonetheless, it was cleaned, scraped and fresh substrate placed inside.
Putting it back was definitely harder, you’re trying to keep the box on a level to stop the substrate sliding and lower it down, in the end we slid it over at an angle and I managed to go down on the ledge and level the substrate off with a harness on.

Cleaning out

Fresh Substrate

Paul, yours truly and Martin.

All in all it worked well and quite amusing to occasionally get checked out by the Tiercel overhead but for the most part, they both sat and watched on another structure about 200 metres away.
Thanks to Paul, Martin and Jamie, it would have been impossible to do it on my own, fingers crossed for another good year!

Monday 27th sees my last nest box to be cleared out, this is the one at Charring X Hospital, hopefully the weather will hold as Sunday is not looking too good.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Another Clean Up

January 17th

This box is the home of ‘wingy’ the 1st winter juvenile that was present and still interacting with the adults as recently as December, is he still with them, it appears not as he wasn’t there at dawn.

Saying that he possibly could have roosted elsewhere but on Decembers form he was pretty tied to the site.
In regard to the nest box and the replacing of the substrate, like the others, this is the 4th box/tray this week; this was again pretty clean as boxes go. Much of this is down to the horrendous storms and gale force winds we have been having, all of the boxes so far have been cleared by the wind of feathers, pellets and prey. Two of these boxes, including today’s box face west due to limited positioning, not ideal, the norm being east through to north but in these cases the structure dictates the position. Nonetheless they have both been successful for the last 4 years despite our predominately west – south westerly winds.

Purpose built nest box now 4 years old and starting to look tatty

Scrape again made

Entrance and access to roof for juveniles, very important for building wing strength

As with the other 3 this week, this Falcon has already made a scrape in preparation for egg laying, with the milder weather at the moment and London’s warmer temperatures I suspect early laying may again be likely for 2014.This I think will become the norm for the future with the usual laying dates of March 28th – April 2nd becoming irrelevant in London as pairs lay earlier in the month of March, last year showed this with a Falcon incubating on March 10th with the Charring X birds not far behind.
This year I have 2 under CCTV so will be able to get precise dates hopefully.

Cleaning out

Roof access hole

New Substrate - new scrape


It could be that for the 2015 breeding season I may well consider clearing them out earlier, say December if the early laying becomes regular, all adults this week have reacted in the usual way, no hostility, a brief circuit to have a look and see what you are up to, they then retire to a comfortable distance away to watch you.

Getting checked out - bad light

The remaining Boxes/Trays will be cleaned next week before the licensing period begins again on February 1st, it comes round so fast, it makes you realise what a big commitment every pair makes to breeding with the time involved.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

One down......

January 13th

Clean up time again, this particular site is very satisfying but cleaning the nest box is always approached with a certain trepidation, to get to it I have to climb 384 steps, I know I count them to pass the time on the way up. Approaching 57 now I am not the man that I once was, my body tells me this daily but I look at it that it is a necessary evil and the exercise is doing me good. It’s hard to think that way when you’re on step 296 and you’re gasping for breath, this could be down to the large bag of substrate on my shoulder though….

It gives me immense satisfaction to know that the nest box has made the difference, it make every step worthwhile, this particular pair have now used it for the last 3 breeding seasons, prior to this they failed due to exposure and egg rolling.

Eventually arriving at the nest box I firstly checked the area for prey, I was not expecting too much as this is a pair that don’t hold to the site after breeding and I had already checked it in the Autumn. A couple of feral pigeons including a fresh one but also present were 2 Moorhens and the upper mandible bill of a Black Tailed Godwit, Ed will confirm this hopefully, the only other possibility would be Snipe or perhaps a Bar Tail.


Looking at it again possibly lower mandible of Black Tailed Godwit

The Moorhens I suspect are evidence again of nocturnal activity, like Coot they do tend to move round in darkness, it is not a bird you see flying around diurnally, only perhaps flushed and flying low from a point A to B.

The box itself showed she had already been busy, a large ‘scrape’ had already been made in preparation for egg laying, the rest of the box appeared surprisingly clean, I expect this was down to the recent gale force winds. None the less I gave it a scrub and put some fresh substrate in and also made her a new ‘scrape’ she will no doubt modify this to suit herself.

Before with scrape, surprisingly clean

After - substrate ramped up outside to allow for chicks going for walkies, from 10 days old they are pretty mobile

I had picked a good day, very cold up this high but wall to wall sunshine, amusingly both Falcon and Tiercel were sitting not a 100 metres from me together watching the proceedings, early days yet but there on territory.

Fingers crossed for another good year, they produced 4 juveniles in 2013.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Here we go again

Another year, another breeding season, it comes round so quick; will it be as productive as last year? I certainly hope so, 2013 for me was my best year yet.
With the arrival of January my thoughts turn to cleaning out the Nest Boxes and Trays, as you know peregrines are not house proud, it is essential that the boxes are scrubbed out and substrate replaced to remove the risk of parasites.

As it stands I have 5 Nest Boxes and 2 Trays to clean out, all were successful last year and they are a mess, some have been in position for 4 years and they may also need weatherproofing, you only have to look at the weather these days to see why.
If there is a ‘ natural ‘ overhang on the site I will always try to use a tray, 2 as above have this but where not available I always place a nest box. Our weather is changing, we are all aware of that, in most years the critical time of April/Early May when eggs /young are vulnerable it seems to be getting worse, to me a nest box is essential.
Having watched the pair at Charring X in the nest box on CCTV and seen some of the weather they have faced, a box sometimes means the difference between success or failure, the fact of the matter is, although a hardy bird, a nest box gives her/him incubating and juveniles an easier time of it.

The last couple of days also I have been checking a number of sites, London it seems is divided into 3 sections of peregrines.

No 1 – these pairing’s hold to a core structure/building 24/7 and all year round, prime sites which are defended from other peregrines full time. Some, not all of these pairings tend to have pressure on the nest site from adjoining pairs, territories are relatively small.

No 2 – the nesting site is vacated after breeding and the Tiercels return around January to hold territory with the Falcon showing up a little while later, or both showing up together.

No 3 – Falcon completely disappears after breeding and leaves it to the Tiercel to defend, Falcon returns in January.

For me, and the sites that I monitor, much depends on the area and density of the pairs, you know and can see your neighbours so they will not leave, food source in London will never be a problem either, even in a re small territory.

With the recent milder temperatures and despite the wind and rain, I found 2 Tiercels back on territory, both are Outer London, as per last year will have to keep an eye on these as egg laying in London seems to be getting earlier and earlier. With a pair incubating last year as early as March 10th and the Charring X pair not far behind this could be starting a trend, Londons warmer temperatures may be the key?