Eyas Update

It is week four of the NTU peregrine falcon chicks’ development and I am honestly amazed at how quickly they are growing!  I noticed yesterday that the cameras were off for a while, so knew that it was ‘ringing time’.  It was exciting to later read that the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU Sustainability team had indeed finally ringed the chicks and found out that there are three females and one male!  To ring the chicks, the team waited for the parents to leave the nest and then quickly fitted a small, lightweight, harmless, metal ring around the leg of each eyas.  Ringing birds is essential for bird conservation as it helps provide information about their movements, locations and lifespans.

Some brilliant photographs taken during the ringing process.  (Thank you for these Emily).

The images below are just a few stills from the NTU live stream that I have saved.  Archie and Mrs P have been providing a constant supply of feral pigeons and other medium sized birds for the eyases and as you can see in the fifth image, their crops have been nice and full.  Although one chick is smaller than the others (and has been nicknamed ‘Diddy’ on Facebook) all four are getting their fair share of food… I even caught one of them possibly ‘gaping’ for food whilst both parents were away, which you can see in the sixth image!

On May 13th, I noticed that all four chicks were starting to grow their flight and contour feathers, and yesterday (16th) the new darker feathers were poking through their down quite clearly (image eight).  The chicks may have changed a lot already, but we still have plenty of development to see.  At this stage they have gained a sharp eyesight and are very interested in anything that moves – whether it be a fly or blowing feather.  Their legs are getting stronger and they are a lot more active in the scrape.

In the next week or so, they will lose most of their down apart from a few tufts on their heads (hopefully – for our amusement) and will be showing off their juvenile feathers.  We may see them flapping their wings and before long, in week six, the eyases may fledge the nest for the first time!  They should remain around the nest-site for a few weeks, during which time they will become adept at flying, pursue other birds and capture their own food, but will still rely on their parents for most of their food.  Around August they will leave the nest for good… and I must say that I will certainly miss watching them!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017

This week (30th April to 6th May) is Hedgehog Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Often called the ‘gardener’s friend’, hedgehogs are lovely, harmless creatures, but sadly since the year 2000, “rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period” across the UK.   #hedgehogweek consequently aims to highlight the problems which are causing this decline and suggest ways in which the public can help.

The declining hedgehog population in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different is not simple to explain, as there could be many contributing factors.  Hedgehog Street, “a campaign aimed at ensuring the hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life”, is a fantastic website with information, FAQ’s and tips for helping hedgehogs.

Some simple, instant ways that you can help hedgehogs in your garden are:

  • Ensuring there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping / reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.
  • Piling up some logs in the corner of your garden.
  • Putting out a dish of fresh water in hot weather.
  • Planting nectar-rich plants to encourage insects for hedgehogs to eat.

You can also spread the word about #hedgehogweek by:

  • Holding a fundraising event, such as a cake sale, coffee morning or jumble sale.
  • Displaying information in your work place, school, library, local shop, etc.
  • Writing blog posts about hedgehogs.
  • Following BHPS on Facebook and Twitter and retweeting / liking / sharing information and posts to your page.
  • Taking a selfie with the BHPS #hedgehogweek sign and sending it out via social media using the #hedgehogweek hashtag.

Each year, the week focuses on a different campaign, and this year is the ‘Strimmer Campaign’.  The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has created waterproof stickers to be sent to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc. to remind them to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery.  You can help with this particular campaign by contacting your local council or tool hire shop to ask if they are willing to use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines – if they are, they can then contact BHPS directly on info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

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What are your plans for Hedgehog Awareness Week?

The Fourth Peregrine Chick

As hoped, today was the day that the fourth NTU peregrine falcon chick hatched out of its egg.  I checked the live stream at 13:15 after my sister messaged me about them… and there it was, it had hatched just before 1pm!  The male was feeding the larger chicks a feral pigeon as chick number four (being less than half an hour old) was getting used to the world and its siblings.

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The newly hatched chick and its siblings waiting for food.

After a few minutes, Mrs P returned to the scrape and I just managed to save a still image of the whole family together!  WARNING: Some may find the below image disturbing.

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All four chicks (eyases) are being kept warm and fed and are looking healthy and ‘wide-beaked’ this evening.  Peregrine falcon chicks eat a tremendous amount of food and if all goes well, this time next week they will have doubled their weight and in three weeks, will be ten times their birth size!  I am very much looking forward to following their progress over the next six weeks or so as they rapidly get bigger, grow juvenile feathers and eventually fledge the nest.  Once they start to fly they will depend on their parents for a few further weeks to learn how to hunt, so Archie and Mrs P still have a lot of work to do… and we still have a lot of great things to watch!

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All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

Peregrine Chicks

It has been a busy few days for NTU’s resident pair of peregrine falcons, Archie and Mrs P, as their eggs have been hatching!  The hardworking parents have been incredible to watch over the incubation period, taking it in turns to keep the eggs warm, so much so that I don’t think I actually saw all four eggs together on the live stream! Their first chick hatched around midday on Sunday 23rd April, followed by the second that evening.

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The third chick hatched from its egg at 21:16 on Monday 24th April and all three chicks have since been helping their parents keep the fourth egg warm.

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At 15:57 on Tuesday 25th April, I noticed what I thought to be a crack/hole in the fourth egg and some movement coming from inside (see image below) before it began sleeting!  Several people on social media also agreed, however the chick is yet to hatch…  I expect (and hope) tomorrow will be the day.

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Archie and Mrs P have both been extremely diligent – I have seen them regularly swapping jobs of hunting and protecting their brood and love the wiggle Mrs P does as she settles down on top of the chicks and final egg.  There has also been a lot of live camera action in terms of feeding, which although can be quite disturbing for some viewers, is a truthful glimpse into the world of these beautiful, wild peregrine falcons.

All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

Bat Conservation

We are at that point in the year when bats have mainly come out of hibernation – they are hungry, active and feeding on most nights… and I have been looking forward to their return!  Last year, I attended a BioBlitz event during which I went on a ‘Twilight Bat Walk’ with the LRWT and detected several pipistrelles.  As a result, I now have my very own ‘Magenta Bat4’ bat detector and will be out and about with it over the next couple of months to see what I can detect.  At the end of January, BatLife Europe revealed that the 2016 ‘Bat species of the Year’ was the ‘Noctule’ – one of the largest British species and usually the first to appear in the evening, so hopefully I will see one!

I also adopted a bat through the Bat Conservation Trust, a fantastic charity which has been devoted to the conservation of bats and the landscapes on which they rely since 1991.  “As the authoritative voice for bat conservation” they work locally, nationally, across Europe and internationally to:

  1. Discover: To ensure scientific evidence is in place to support bat conservation 
  2. Act: To secure and enhance bat populations and their resilience in a changing world
  3. Inspire: To win the levels of support required to secure and enhance bat populations
  4. Strengthen: BCT to achieve financial stability and sustainable staff workloads. Staff and volunteers are motivated and well led.

There are many ways that you can help the BCT, and consequently help the fascinating but vulnerable bats – you can adopt a bat like I have, become a member, volunteer, even encourage them into your garden with night-scented flowers, wild sections and ponds!  Now that summer is approaching, imagine how lovely it would be if you could spend the evening sitting in your garden, “watching as daylight turns to dusk and bats begin to fill the night sky”.

Alternatively, if you are unable to turn your garden into a bat haven, trees and woodland are important to all 18 UK bat species throughout the whole year.  Signing the Tree Charter will help create more habitat for bats and other wildlife, but also visiting areas with linear features, such as hedgerows and tree-lines will give you more of a chance of seeing and/or detecting bats.

The importance of trees for bats

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© Tree at Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

Trees provide:

  1. Loose bark for roosting
  2. Woodpecker holes for roosting
  3. Rot holes for roosting
  4. Feeding perches and protection during bad weather
  5. A linear navigation aid
  6. Cracks, splits and crevices for roosting
  7. Hollow trunks for winter hibernation (if frost-free)
  8. Dense ivy for occasional roosting

Have you made your garden bat-friendly, or know of an area where bats thrive?  If so, I would love to hear from you!

The Tree Charter

Trees and woods are extremely important – they provide clean air, absorb pollution, create a habitat for wildlife, improve mental well-being, are natural flood defences, are scientifically valuable… the list goes on.  Sadly though, with numerous threats including infrastructure development, lack of protection for ancient woodland in planning policy (only 2% cover in the UK) and increasing pests and diseases, there are just not enough trees in the UK and we are currently not planting enough to replace those that are lost each year.

However, on 6 November this year, which will be the 800th anniversary of the influential 1217 Charter of the Forest, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched!  “The Tree Charter will set out how people and trees should be able to benefit each other. The guidelines and principles it contains will be applicable to policy, business practice and individual action”.  

The Tree Charter Principles cover:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. Access to trees for everyone
  9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Over 70 organisations from various sectors are working together with the Woodland Trust to create a future in which trees and people can stand together… and you can be part of it too.  Simply sign the Tree Charter and a tree will be planted!  The more signatures, the more trees!

The Results Are In!

If you remember from My Big Garden Birdwatch Results blog post at the end of January, I took part in the RSPB’s annual birdwatch, and I am sure many of you did too!  The RSPB has been collecting and counting the results from over half a million people over the last couple of months and the results are now available here!

The top 10 birds of 2017:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

Over 8 million birds were counted, with some interesting results.  Goldfinch, blackbird and robin numbers have all increased over the last 10 years.  Waxwing sightings were very high this year (I wish I had seen one) due to “a lack of berries in their native Scandinavia” prompting them to travel to the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland!

Along with the increases though, there unfortunately had to be some decreases!  Surprisingly sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits were all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures.  Also since the first RSPB Garden Birdwatch in 1979, greenfinch, starling and chaffinch numbers have all dropped too (despite the latter two being in this year’s top 10).

The RSPB is a brilliant charity and by running the Big Garden Birdwatch, they not only encourage people to take an interest in wildlife and give nature a home, but also allow us to know and understand which birds are doing well and which are not.  We can then help, take action, monitor and hopefully make a difference!

Peregrine Falcons

Last autumn I was told about a pair of peregrine falcons that had been nesting on Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building for more than a decade, with support from the university and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.  I was eager to learn more so was delighted to find a webpage dedicated to them, containing a live-stream, photographs and FAQs.  Obviously at the time, the nest was empty, but I added the website to my ‘favourites’ ready for the falcons’ return in the new breeding season.

I started checking the live-stream at the end of February this year and first saw the female peregrine falcon return to the nest in early March.  Since then, I have been watching both the male and female preparing the site and making a “scrape” in the box ready for egg-laying and excitingly, on Friday morning (17th March) I clicked on the live-stream to see the female ‘crouching’ and the male having a good old look!!  After a few minutes, a lovely brown egg was laid, the male flew off and the female began brooding instantly.  What a great thing to watch live!

Over the next week or so, she may lay 2-3 more eggs and if all goes well, we will see them hatch in around six weeks, soon after Easter.  Then the fun will begin… feeding, growing and fledging!

The nest site has previously been very successful, with the faithful pair of peregrine falcons returning year after year and 32 chicks fledging in the last seven years.  However, last year, almost straight after the young had fledged, a new male peregrine was spotted around the site and the “resident male was seen less and less often, until he disappeared completely”.  It is believed that as he was old, he gave up his nest and may have died.  The cycle of life continues though, and the new male, who was ringed as a juvenile in London in 2012, clearly liked the site and returned this year with his partner – allowing us to follow them this season on the live-stream.

City centres such as Nottingham and urban areas have been colonised by peregrine falcons in recent times due to the fact that “tall buildings mimick their natural crag or cliff environment” and therefore provide them with safe nesting sites.  Also, peregrine falcons feed almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, so cities are an ideal place for them.

As expected, Nottingham is not the only city centre to be home to peregrine falcons in the midlands… my home-town of Leicester is too!  YES!  “In February 2014, a partnership between the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) and Leicester City Council (LCC) was formed called Leicester Peregrines to monitor the habits and activities of a known pair of Peregrine Falcons in Leicester city centre”.  They had been spotted on several tall buildings including Leicester Cathedral, but did not have a specific nesting site.  As a result, “in January 2016, the Leicester Peregrine Project was given permission by Leicester Cathedral to remove one of the louvres within the bell tower/spire” in order to build a nest-box.  Although they did not use the box last year (they did rear two chicks elsewhere), it appears that this year the pair may have taken up residence.  Hopefully in the next few weeks, a live-stream camera will be installed, or failing that, webcam photographs will be added to the website revealing whether or not any eggs have been laid.

The Leicester Peregrines Team from the LROS hold regular ‘Peregrine Watch Point’ sessions with telescopes and binoculars in the grounds of Leicester Cathedral, starting around 9:30am in St. Martin’s Square until around 2:00pm.  The proposed dates for this year are 19 April, 17 May, 15 June, 12 July, 9 August, 20 September, 11 October, 15 November and 9 December.  As these usually take place whilst I am at work, I decided to nip to the site with my camera at the weekend and spotted the pair straight away.  They were very high up on the spire, but I zoomed in as much as possible and managed to get a few decent photographs.

Peregrine falcons on Leicester Cathedral, 18/03/2017.

I hope to write several posts about both the Nottingham and Leicester peregrines this season and I would love to hear if like me, you are following any pairs too.

My Big Garden Birdwatch Results

So the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is complete!  I hope you all had a wonderful time identifying and counting the birds and wildlife in your gardens or local parks.

This year I completed the survey at my in-laws house who live further out of the city.  Last year, at my childhood home, the birds played a trick on me and decided not to land, meaning I only counted a handful of birds.  I therefore wanted to see whether the location difference would affect my results.  As you may know from my post about the Robin, my own back yard is pretty small and bird-less.  I have a bird feeder and occasionally put out dried meal-worms, but do not want to encourage many birds as both of my neighbours have cats.  Luckily though, my Birdwatch location had several well-used feeders out ready, so it was as simple as pulling up a chair to the window, getting comfy with a cup of tea and waiting for the birds to arrive.  The hour ‘flew’ by and I managed to record twelve birds in total (from the garden and surrounding trees): 1 great tit, 1 robin, 1 blue tit, 4 woodpigeons, 2 house sparrows, 1 female blackbird, 1 collared dove and 1 carrion crow.  Throughout the rest of the day, many more birds landed in the garden including a wren, and the female blackbird returned on several occasions (she is a regular apparently).  A plump squirrel also made an appearance and stayed long enough for me to take a few photographs!

The lovely robin and squirrel who visited the garden during this year’s Birdwatch.

4, 383, 224 birds have been counted and submitted to the RSPB so far and I am really interested to see the final results from mid-February.  The results will help the RSPB find out what wildlife is thriving and what is in trouble, ultimately leading to “action to put things right”.  The survey started back in 1979 as a small children’s activity, but now has over half a million people taking part each year!  With the 38th year of data now being collated by the RSPB, the insight into UK wildlife is more accurate than ever… and it has already provided some fascinating information, for example between 2006 and 2016, the UK song thrush population decreased by a staggering 98% whereas the UK goldfinch population increased by an impressive 89%.  As of 2014, respondents have also been asked about other wildlife as well a birds in their gardens, so a greater picture is beginning to be painted UK-wide!

Did you take part this year?  If so, what birds and other wildlife did you record?

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It is that time of year again… the clouds are grey, the air is chilly, but there are things to make us smile and feel warm inside.  The days are slowly starting to get longer, Winterwatch is back on our screens next week and of course, the RSPB is holding the Big Garden Birdwatch from the 28th – 30th January.

The Big Garden Birdwatch helps to build a picture of garden wildlife across the UK and we can all be part of the world’s largest wildlife survey!  I took part for the first time last year and had so much fun, despite only counting a handful of birds (it was a cold, windy day).  Amazingly, more than 519,000 people all over the UK took part in the survey and counted an incredible 8,262,662 birds over the weekend!  The top three spotted were the house sparrow, starling and blue tit.  I wonder what the top three will be this year!?

It is easy to do and is great for any age.  Just find a comfortable spot, inside by a window (which I am going to do this year), outside in your garden or even a park.  Then over a single hour on any of the three days, simply count the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time. For example, if you see three blue tits together, and later you see four, and after that two, the number to submit is four (not nine). This makes it less likely that you will double-count the same birds.

I have already registered and received my pack.  If you would like to join me and thousands of others to count the wildlife that is counting on us, you can request a pack here.  If you order it to be sent by post, the RSPB also kindly sends a few little goodies including a coaster, packet of coffee and a lovely recipe for some biscuits (which are delicious – yes I have already baked some).

I will be blogging about my experience and survey results after the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and would love to hear your results too!

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© This photograph was taken in the summer, but I am sure the sparrow will make it into the top ten list again this winter.