It’s been a very busy last couple of weeks, lots of peregrine stuff as usual, more on that in the future but I was also very lucky to have a lot of help in putting up 2 new nest boxes.
It has to be said that I couldn’t have put up either without help, getting old, the will to do it is still there but the body these days is not what it once was at 63.Things that you have naturally always taken for granted – like strength, agility and stamina are now saying no more and have called it a day after a lifetime of steel fixing. Having said that I wouldn’t have it any other way as it provided a lifetime of good memories and great mates.
First up was a Barn Owl box, for this I have to say a massive thanks to Mark, Ben and Jake for putting it up, they worked hard on it and did a grand job and the box looks really good , the rest is up to the Owls. A 2nd box has also been placed 100 metres or so away, again erected by them, for either adult as they like to roost apart. Both Owl boxes were donated by Thames Water so a big thanks to them also.
I have been setting Trail Cams but nothing as yet, I know there is a pair relatively close but it could be that younger Owls without a territory will find them as the breeding season approaches – watch this space.......
The 2nd box was a replacement peregrine box for another that was put in 8 years ago, originally positioned on a small ledge and although very successful – 24 juveniles since placing, unfortunately it allowed no room for young to exercise and build wing strength.
It has long been in my head to change to another position but always seemed to busy, the spur however this year came when all 4 juveniles got themselves grounded or trapped on fledging. Added to this, the ply inside the roof of the box had started to rot and flake and was hanging down, it had to go.
Consequently we organised a day to fit the new one and I have to thank my buddies - Shaun, Lee and Paul, I am lucky to have good friends around me who let me boss them about a bit and give up their spare time.
The next question is now will they accept it, both adult peregrines were present when we installed it watching us from distance, with the old one removed also, the hope is that they will go straight into it.
Its new position will allow juveniles to access tons of roof area, able then to have the space to exercise so being better prepared for that all important first flight.
I will have another check in January before breeding and the licence period starts, fingers crossed.
Needless to say it has been a year that none of us could have ever imagined, hopefully 2021 will bring us all better fortune and a return to some sort of normality, whichever that may be.
Not unexpectantly due to the 1st lockdown, I could not cover any of the sites but caught up at later stages at the various sites.
Of the 17 Peregrine sites I monitor or are involved in, they produced 30 juveniles, for comparison 2019 produced 32 juveniles from 14 sites with 2018 producing 32 juveniles from 13 sites. In terms of the number of sites, a slightly reduced return but taking into account new pairs and failures about right. I have often thought that if they all get it right one year, there is the potential for 40+ juveniles but extremely unlikely as they are all in different stages of breeding, young and old.
New – 2 pairs on territory 1 pair did not return to breed at a 2019 nest site 1 pair (Tray pair) did not return to nest site but present now 1 pair on territory but have not bred since 2017 1 pair (Parliament) on territory but did not breed – nest box
2 new pairs came to light in the first lockdown and Met Police Wildlife Officers kindly investigated and confirmed occupancy, both are on buildings that, as yet, have no breeding capacity or position. Working on that and hoping to get something in place before the 2021 breeding season.
A new nest box went in and was accepted producing 3 juveniles, that always gives a lot of satisfaction, not just to me but all the people involved in the project.
The Tray pair that did not come back was an odd one, consistent breeders since 2006; they have produced 30 juveniles from 15 breeding seasons with 4 fails. They suddenly turned up again just after the breeding season was over, it’s likely that for some reason or other they decided on another position and failed. There on CCTV so they were well covered, hopefully 2021 will resume normal service. Where they breed in regards to fledging has always been not ideal and I have lost count over the years the number of juveniles I have had to get back near the nest site.
Of the new pairs, the Factory pair are quite remarkable, having now watched them a number of times, I can confirm that they spend most of their time inside, totally at home in the semi darkness morphing into Owls it seems. Again it shows just how resilient and adaptable as a species they are, when they do take prey outside, instead of eating outside in the brighter conditions, its straight back inside the Factory to feed.
Fledging in an urban environment has and always will be hazardous for juveniles; there are simply so many pitfalls and traps awaiting them in London’s landscape, that is without landing and grounding on their maiden flights.
Counting back this year there were 12 ‘grounders’ or trapped individuals who had got themselves into situations where they neither had the strength, or experience to extricate themselves from.
Glass balconies continue to flummox them, they simply have no idea how to get past and through them seeing the wide world beyond, in most cases they lack the strength and vertical take off prowess to get over a 1.1m+ balcony. They will simply bash away at it before accepting the inevitable and just sit there having worn themselves out.
One from Parliament a few years back
Glass Balcony Juvenile
Sadly they don't always make it
Many of the grounders were taken to Sue, Tom and the staff at the South Essex Wildlife Hospital by me or the RSPCA for checking, as you know they do priceless work there and I cannot thank them and the staff enough, for the number of juveniles I have been able to return back over the years simply down to there hard work.
A massive shout goes out also to members of the public, who keep an eye out for fledgers, without their intervention many would fall foul to Foxes and predation.
I also have to say a massive thanks to Paul and Shaun for all their assistance in the last few years, at 63, it’s getting harder to cover it all and there help has been invaluable. Both of them have helped a lot, beit rescuing juveniles, materials for boxes and helping me install them.
Being installed on December 13th
On one site of 4 juveniles, all 4 came croppers with 2 grounding and thankfully being spotted, with the other 2 getting themselves trapped in tower block garden areas wall up on all sides. They simply do not have the capacity or stamina to go straight up, Kestrel yes, Peregrines build is simply too big and heavy. In some of the places I found them even an adult would have struggled, the difference being though is that an adult would never get it itself in that position, juveniles have to learn to gain the experience, sometimes it costs them sadly.
So all in all another season goes by which marks my 20th year involved in Peregrines, another shout is for my buddie Dusty Gedge who started me off on this journey all those years ago at Battersea Power Station. His help steered me onto this course with Peregrines, Black Redstarts and Surveys, so I owe him big time.
Catching up on October visits and the pale Common Buzzard is still hanging around; I caught a bit of interaction between it and one of the resident pair, so possibly looking to perhaps displace one. Not sure just how territorial Common Buzzards are outside of the breeding season, peregrines yes, they are aggressive and a handful to other peregrines or large birds of prey at any time of year if they come to near.
The Kestrel pair are territorial to site, as you can imagine the Sewage Works is a massive area with enough habitat on site to hunt and forage, there is no need to extend their boundaries. It is so large, Europe’s largest sewage works, it’s likely that there could even be another pair, keep seeing another regular male on the fringe.
They have just started to visit the nest box a little more recently, Magpies being Magpies have also visited looking for prey scraps no doubt.
Chiffchaff numbers are starting to build for the winter, the Sewage works are a major wintering area, it will be interesting to see if the Siberian shows again.
The winter surveys have started again and both me and Paul are again either pounding the beat on home turf on the Essex side, or visiting the wildness of the North Kent Marshes.
It has been a good start in October, first up was the Kent Marshes and we had some good birds, male Hen Harrier, Black Redstart, Short Eared Owl and 3 Cattle Egrets being the pick of the bunch. Of them all the male Hen Harrier, although seen distantly, was the one I enjoyed the most, so much of a rare sight these days sadly. It was coming right towards me as well but got intercepted and mobbed by 2 Ravens who gave it a hard time and it changed direction.
Good numbers of Bearded Tits were also seen and nice to catch up with Black Redstart and a Wheatear found by another birder.
The Essex side at Coryton really delivered and I was very lucky to locate a Great Grey Shrike whilst walking my transect. Very distant even for my 500mm lens, it was seen briefly but was relocated by others later which was good.
Additionally a Cattle Egret flyover was also seen, once a rare bird just like Little Egret, it seems judging by the numbers that are turning up/breeding another colonist.
Also good to see 5 Crossbills going through, 2 very enjoyable surveys and a great start.