…And They’re Off…

As you may have read in my previous blog post, there has been some good news – the Leicester juvenile peregrines have both successfully left the nest.  The female left first on the 15th June at 17:43 and landed safely after a quick jump, flapping and tumble (I love how her sibling runs into shot after the fall)!  The male then had a nice elegant take-off on the 16th June at 05:18.  They have since both been spotted around the cathedral and on nearby roofs, often still sitting together.  I went into town on the 20th and could see a peregrine falcon near the top of the cathedral spire.  It did look smaller than when I have viewed the adults before, and also from what I could see looked slightly darker on the chest – so I would like to think it was one of the youngsters, but I didn’t have my binoculars with me so could not be sure… it may well have been the adult male.

Throughout June, I continued to watch them grow on the live cameras and as expected in my last post about them, the final stage of development was very quick indeed.  Their body feathers replaced their white ‘fluff’ within days, they were frequently exploring, sitting on the ledge, flapping their wings and running around the nest box – even taking prey items and feeding themselves!  At some point during the month, I thought one of them had left the nest as every time I checked, I could only see one.  Upon close examination, I eventually saw the edge of some feathers near the bottom of the screen and realised that they had found a hiding place out of shot, under the camera.  They also liked to sit in front of the pillar, but their shadows gave that hiding place away!

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I have really enjoyed watching the Leicester peregrines and sharing their journey with you, and thank Jim Graham for keeping the written commentary up to date on the official website!  Hopefully the juveniles will soon go their separate ways and have families of their own in the future, and as they have been ringed we may even find out what they get up to, or at least where they go.  The adults are likely to return to this nest next year, so fingers crossed for more successful breeding.

To end their story for this year, here’s a lovely image of the two juveniles together on the 14th June, the day before the first flight…

l25Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live cameras (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

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RSPB Middleton Lakes

With the excessive precipitation and topsy-turvy weather over the last few months, it has been difficult to get out and about at the weekends for a ‘proper walk’, but a couple of weeks ago it was warm and dry enough for an excursion to a nature reserve.  It was easy to pick which one – RSPB Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire – as myself and partner Ed had visited in 2016 and really enjoyed it, so had been keen to return ever since.

We arrived just before lunchtime and parked up in the well-kept car park which is free for RSPB members or a reasonable £3 for non-members.  From the car park you can either head through a small wooded area to a little square of shops and eateries, as well as Middleton Hallor in the other direction past the RSPB hut straight to the reserve.  We decided to have some lunch first in Bake180 Coffee Shop which offers a variety of light bites, treats and drinks, and also sells the RSPB pin badges if you want to add to your collection, which is exactly what I did.  I donated some money and chose a blue tit and pied wagtail.  Once we had finished eating, we headed back through the car park, picked up a map from the RSPB hut, which also has lots of information leaflets, badges and a chalkboard with interesting daily sightings written on it by visitors, and then we made our way into the reserve.

Middleton Lakes is a relatively young RSPB reserve, having been acquired in 2007.  It has since been developed into a lovely site which benefits numerous bird species as well as other wildlife such as otters and of course, the visitors.  The site is described as “one of the best birdwatching sites in the area”, which I certainly agree with as it is divided into sections – water, woodland, grassland and reedbeds, and has various viewpoints, a large lookout, nature trails, a rookery and a heronry!  The conservation work and management that has been done already and continues to take place at Middleton Lakes is ultimately creating a ‘refuge’ for many beautiful birds and excitingly, the RSPB say that it “will become the most important site for breeding waders in the Midlands”.

 It was really enjoyable exploring the different areas of the reserve and spotting the wildlife related to the surrounding nature and environments.  Our favourite spots were a large grass snake (the first either of us had seen in the wild) and a beautiful pheasant who casually wandered up to us through the grass and took a liking to Ed.  He stayed at our feet for a lengthy photo-shoot and good old feather study, and followed Ed’s steps until we could stay no longer.  I was very pleased with my photographs of the pheasant and many stunning plants throughout the reserve, some of which you can view on my Instagram page.

I plan to visit Middleton Lakes more often and explore it further, so keep your eye out for future posts about my current favourite nature reserve.  In the meantime I would love to hear about your favourite nature reserves!

DSC01295 (2)© RSPB Middleton Lakes, April 2018

Year Of The Bird

Did you know that it is the Year of the Bird?  To mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, why not join the celebration by being part of Global Big Day on the 5th May, this Saturday!  This is a worldwide 24 hour ‘birdwatch’ in which you commit as much time as you like to counting the birds you see.  You can stay in one spot like a garden, or even go for a walk and travel around – all you need is a free eBird account.  If you took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch then I am sure you will enjoy this too!

What I find exciting about Global Big Day is the fact that the stats will be updated in real-time, meaning everyone involved will be able to see sightings from over 150 countries and make comparisons based on location or climate, for example, whilst actually taking part.  Last year 6,659 species were reported during Global Big Day, which was a new record.  I wonder whether that number will be beaten on Saturday?

Eggcellent News

Following my post on the 24th March, I have been watching and keeping note of the activity taking place in both the Leicester and Nottingham peregrine nests.  I left you with the news that the Nottingham pair had laid one egg, but were yet to lay their second despite being almost a week later!  I had seen Mrs P trying to lay an egg during the latter part of the week, as had many other observers, and concern began to grow as she appeared to be uncomfortable and distressed.  It was reported at the time that she was believed to be egg bound and at risk of dying!  Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was contacted by the University to see if anything could be done, but as they are wild birds the Trust decided to let nature take its course.  Luckily, this was the correct decision because at 7:20am on Monday 26th March, the second egg finally appeared!

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The weather improved, as did Mrs P’s health and four days later, on Good Friday, she laid the third egg of the season.  Due to the cold weather and time gap between the first two eggs though, the Trust thinks that there is a chance she may have reabsorbed what would have been the second egg during that week, and that the ‘second’ egg we see in the photo above is in fact the ‘first’ egg of a new clutch and the original first egg may not be successful.  This is very interesting and I can’t wait to see if their theory is correct!

I have continued to check the cameras to see whether a fourth egg would be laid this week, but I think the Nottingham clutch is now complete.

n15All stills taken from the NTU live cameras.

The Leicester pair have also given us plenty to watch since my last post.  Their first egg was laid on the 26th March at around 5:30pm, which I didn’t actually see until the 28th.  I was very excited when I turned on the camera and saw the below shot, so grabbed a still and let several people know!  I also set up my Grandma with links to the live cameras on her tablet, as she has recently become very fond of feeding and watching ‘her’ woodpigeons, blackbirds and dunnocks in her back garden, so I knew she would love watching the peregrines (maybe not when they are eating other birds though)!

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The lovely pair welcomed their second egg on the 29th March at 3:15pm and I just so happened to check the camera 40 minutes later when they were swapping incubation duties…

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Things moved quickly and on Easter Sunday, 1st April, the female decided to get in the Easter spirit by laying their third egg during the afternoon, and then their fourth and probably final egg on the 4th April at 6:50am.  There will now be around a thirty day wait and then hopefully the hatching will begin in both Leicester and Nottingham!  If the Nottingham pair’s first egg is in fact viable, we may even see it hatch before the end of this month.

l08Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live cameras (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 – Results!

At the end of January, the RSPB held their 39th Big Garden Birdwatch, and for the third year running I took part.  Although my watch wasn’t particularly inspiring, 420,489 results were submitted across the UK and a fantastic 6,764,475 birds were counted in total!

The overall results have been published and the 2018 top 10 garden birds are:

  1. House sparrow (non-mover)
  2. Starling (non-mover)
  3. Blue tit (up one place)
  4. Blackbird (down one place)
  5. Woodpigeon (non-mover)
  6. Goldfinch (non-mover)
  7. Great tit (up one place)
  8. Robin (down one place)
  9. Long-tailed tit (up one place)
  10. Chaffinch (down one place)

This is another great year of results for the RSPB to use along with previous data to determine which species need help, and which species are thriving.

Next year will be the Big Garden Birdwatch’s 40th anniversary, so I am hoping for big things and another big count!

Easter Eggs

If you are a peregrine falcon fan like me, you may have been keeping your eye on a specific breeding pair over the last few weeks.  Perhaps you have had your binoculars out and attended a local ‘peregrine watch’, or have been tuning in to a live camera online.  As mentioned in my previous post, the birds I am watching this year are once again Nottingham Trent University’s resident peregrine falcons and Leicester Cathedral’s pair.  (I will also be keeping up to date with the Coventry peregrines via their Twitter account).

After noting that last year Mrs P, the Nottingham female, laid her first egg on 17th March, I have been periodically checking the camera since the beginning of March, during the snow storms and then spring-like weather, to look out for any signs of egg laying!  I first noticed her sitting in the scrape on 9th March so knew the pair were getting ready for this year’s season, but then the ‘beast from the east’ returned to the UK!  This did concern me as the nest box was covered in snow, but every time I checked between the 16th and 18th March, the male was hunkering down in the scrape.

As I had been away on holiday the week before, I wasn’t sure if there was already an egg being kept warm, but it was later announced that their first egg was laid in the early hours of Sunday 18th March.  It took a few days before I got a glimpse of it, but I finally managed to grab a still image:

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I also managed to save a great shot of one of the peregrines and the egg glowing warmly on the thermal camera:

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On the 21st March, I thought Mrs P was preparing to lay her second egg, as she appeared to be in the ‘crouching’ position I witnessed last year, but there is still only one egg in the nest.  As peregrine eggs tend to be laid at 2-3 day intervals, surely another will come along this weekend…

n07All stills taken from the NTU live cameras.

Both male and female have been sharing the incubation and I expect (hope) that by Easter, this attentive pair will have their full clutch of eggs to incubate!

The Leicester pair on the other hand are yet to lay any eggs, but there is nothing to worry about as peregrines usually lay eggs in late March / early April.  The Leicester pair have however been very active – calling, posturing and scraping.  I have seen both birds on their ledge, each spending different amounts of time in and around the back of the box.

Only time will tell if they have a successful breeding season!

l01l02Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live camera (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

What did I see?

Last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and I chose Saturday to do my count.  Unintentionally, I always seem to pick the day with the worst weather and this year was no exception – drizzly and windy!  As planned though, this year’s count was done in my grandma’s garden (2016 was at my mum’s and last year was at my in-law’s) as I am very interested to see the results from different locations.

rspb© the Green & the Wild

My grandma has been putting food out over winter, so after ensuring there was plenty on the grass and in the feeder, I sat in her conservatory between 11:30am – 12:30pm expecting to at least see my grandma’s regular garden visitors (2 woodpigeons and 2 magpies), but all I counted in the whole hour was a fleeting visit from a single blackbird and one woodpigeon!

As it is just as important to record no birds as it is many birds, I wasn’t disappointed but my grandma was keen for me to see the regulars, so later that afternoon once the weather had cleared up, we had another ‘birdwatch’ and would you believe it, within five minutes the lawn was crowded with two blackbirds, one of the two regular magpies and three woodpigeons, one of which was a juvenile which I found very sweet as the whole family was out for dinner together!

I didn’t manage to take any photographs of the birds this year, so instead I thought I would take part in the RSPB #ShareHowYouWear

shyw© My RSPB and some of my other wildlife charities pin badges.  I usually pick a species that represents the RSPB reserve I buy it from or is a bird that I have seen there.

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year?  If so, please share with us what you counted and of course, don’t forget to submit your results!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

It’s January… the month of predicted snow showers and welcoming hygge… but also time to get your binoculars out and fill up your bird feeders, as the Big Garden Birdwatch is once again upon us!

That’s right, the RSPB is holding their annual birdwatch from 27th – 29th of this month and they want you to get involved.  You can request a FREE pack on their website now and that’s it, you will be set to take part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey!  On your chosen day, simply get comfy in your garden, a room with a good view outside, your local park or green space and count the birds that you see in a single hour, making sure you jot down the maximum number of each species you see at any one time.  Once the hour is up, you will then have to log your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website or post your paper form (within three weeks) for the RSPB to collate and analyse!

By taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, you will play a vital role in the health of the UK’s wildlife and even help “change the fortunes of an entire species“.  There’s nothing to lose!  Last year around 500,000 people took part in the birdwatch and I think we can beat that amazing figure this year – so join me in being a citizen scientist and request your pack today!

Gardens can prove a real life-saver for birds at this time of year, especially when it is frosty or snowy“, so if you are eager to count lots of birds during the survey and need some inspiration on how to attract them into your garden during the cold months (as well as all year round), check out the RSPB’s gardening tips!

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© Chaffinch.  One of the many birds I spotted near my local brook last Autumn.  2017.

Corvids

I am a big fan of corvids and have been wanting to write a post about them for quite a while… so here it is!  I don’t have a particular story to tell, or pet crow to write about (I wish), but just wanted to share some information and my favourite facts about this particular beautiful bird family!

So first things first – which UK birds are actually in the corvid/crow family?

Carrion Crow – An all-black bird that although is known to be fearless, can actually be quite wary of humans – they will however take advantage if food is put out for them in gardens.  They are relatively solitary and can be seen alone or in pairs, but there will be several around in one area as they stay close to their roost.

Chough – A beautiful black crow with a red bill and legs!  They can be found in the west of the British Isles diving and swooping near cliff edges… in fact I saw them for the first time in 2015 around South Stack, Anglesey.

Hooded Crow – The hooded crow is closely related to the carrion crow but they have grey ‘hoods’ and are mainly distributed across in North and West of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  They are more sociable than carrion crows however, so can be found feeding and ‘mixing’ together.

Jackdaw – A small, black crow with pale eyes and a characteristic silvery sheen to the back of their heads.  Jackdaws really make me smile!

Jay – Again, I saw my first jay (that I was aware of) in Anglesey.  They are shy woodland birds and do not move far from the trees.  They are very colourful with mainly pinkish-brown feathers and black-and-white wings, with eye-catching blue patches.

Magpie – A noisy bird, but so interesting to watch!  They can often be seen scavenging together or spread out across a particular area.  Magpies are very distinctive with their black-and-white plumage and long tail, which shines blue, purple and green in the sun.

Raven – Ravens are the largest member of the crow family.  They are all-black like carrion crows but have larger bills and long wings.  I have been told that you probably think you have seen a raven until you actually see one and then realise just how big they really are… and that what you saw in the past was probably just a large carrion crow!  I haven’t actually seen one in real life!

Rook – Rooks have a greyish-white face, thinner beak than a carrion crow and a peaked head.  They are sociable birds, and actually roost and feed with jackdaws.

It is good to know that all eight of these crows are RSPB green listed, meaning that they occur regularly in the UK!

chough© Chough – South Stack, Anglesey – 2015

Corvids are extremely intelligent for their size and are deemed among the most intelligent birds studied.   Some demonstrate self-awareness and even tool-making skills, which I find very exciting!  It’s not surprising though once you know that their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans.  Amazing right!?

FUN FACTS:

  • Corvids are emotional creatures – they show happiness, sadness and anger.  They are also know to react to hunger and danger by vocalising their feelings… much like me!
  • They have brilliant memories and are masters at hiding, moving and storing food in different locations, and remembering where it all is.
  • Crows form huge roosts together where they rest in the evening, but during the day they separate into groups and tend to stay within a particular area around their roost.
  • They build fake nests in their roost to fool predators and make their colony appear bigger!  (This is one of my favourite facts that I like to tell people).
  • Ravens can be taught to speak basic human language!  Check out Mischief the raven!

Do you have any interesting facts or stories about crows that you would like to share?

Drama On The Peregrine Ledge

It has been an action-packed few weeks for the NTU peregrine falcon chicks.  After spending a week in Dartmoor (me, not the chicks) with little internet access, I returned on May 26th to discover that all four were out of the nest and exploring the surrounding ledge.  Most of their down had been replaced by stunning feathers and they were looking truly beautiful and elegant.

They have since been feeding themselves, flapping their wings, spending more time on their own and out of sight of the cameras, but on June 1st camera one captured something extremely dramatic (and a little bit funny if you keep watching it) which you can view in slow motion here.

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As you can see, one of the chicks attempted to fly and ended up crashing into its mother causing them to tumble off the edge of the building!  Luckily both were fine and the chick landed on a lower ledge.  As the chick had not properly fledged and was unable to fly, it could not return to the nest, however it has been reported that the adults have continued to feed it!  Despite this, I (and I am sure many others) have been a little worried about the chick over the last few days in the rain and wind… and unfortunately I have some sad news.  After following the peregrine falcons throughout the whole nesting cycle, it breaks my heart to announce that earlier today the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust reported that one of the chicks (I am not entirely sure whether it was the one on the lower ledge) had “been killed yesterday on the road below the ledge”.  It is assumed that “it got blown off or lost control of a flight in the ferocious wind we have been experiencing”.  Obviously this is a terrible shame as the four chicks were each doing brilliantly, but it is important to know and remember that less than a third of peregrines actually reach breeding age, so the family have still done very well.  Those peregrines that do reach breeding age are expected to live for 6-13 years, but the oldest known peregrine was over 16 years old!  So let’s keep our fingers crossed for the remaining three!

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All stills taken from the NTU live stream.