raptors

photography, urban wildlife, raptors, spring, nesting

Back in Bristol

My local patch has been a little neglected since my last post - just over a month ago! I've been away on some exciting adventures to Estonia, St Lucia and Fuerteventura, so I'll be posting some trip reports over the next few weeks, but now I have my feet firmly back on home turf, I'll quickly catch up with what's going on here...

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I arrived back in the UK just in time for the Easter weekend. I didn't have anything planned so decided to take a lazy walk around the patch to see how Spring was progressing. I had a walk around the harbour and up to Brandon Hill, as I spent a few years monitoring the wildlife there and it's the best place for me to quickly find out how far along the birds and flowers are. To my surprise, it seemed that Spring was already in full swing - the blackcaps were back and nest-building, the first few swallows had arrived and the bluebells, ramsons, cowslips and snake's head fritillaries were all fully out. Brandon Hill is an oasis for inner-city wildlife and one of my favourite urban parks in Bristol.

Just down the road from the park, I went to meet up with an old acquaintance who used to help me out with "Birds over Bristol" - an urban migration study that I run in the Autumn at Brandon Hill. She has a pair of goldfinches nesting just outside her window on a busy main road in central Bristol, so I asked if I could pop over to take some pictures. After watching the female on the nest for about 15 minutes, I heard the tinkling call of the male nearby. The female sat up, looking excited by the prospect of a meal and a few moments later, the male appeared, edging up the branch to feed her. Quite a tender moment, which was lovely to watch.

Hopefully this pair will be successful and I will get the opportunity to return to see the heads of the chicks all popping up to beg for food.

I didn't get the chance to check-up on the peregrines, but just before I went away I had a great couple of days with the pair at the Avon Gorge. It was just before the female had settled to brood her eggs and the pair were both quite active in the nice weather. After watching the proceedings for a short while and chatting to the locals, I was quickly convinced that something had changed since last season. The male (tiercel) peregrine was behaving very differently to his usual self - he seemed very confident and was putting on a real show.

He was making some very close fly-bys and at one point, quickly banked and went after a jackdaw, that was perched in a shrub, just metres from my feet on the edge of the cliff.

After watching him closely for most of the weekend and looking at the pictures, it is clear that he's a new bird in town. It's impossible to know what happened to the old tiercel, but this new male is a real show-off and not at all shy! It could have been that his display went in to overdrive as it was early in the season and he was making sure to cement the bond with the resident female with gifts of food and fancy flying. Reports have since confirmed that the pair is now well established and things have quietened down, while the female broods and waits for the eggs to hatch - which could be any day now, if not already. Whatever the reasons, it was great to watch his spectacular aerial manoeuvres so closely as he flew deep in to the river gorge before appearing from behind a tree and passing right over our heads.

I really enjoyed photographing him as he flew closely past during a brief shower, as I've photographed peregrines a thousand times, but never in the rain. I'll check-up on the city centre pair before the next post, but it looks to be an exciting peregrine season in Bristol and I'm looking forward to trying to keep up with them over the next few weeks :)

urban wildlife, raptors, photography

Urban Peregrines

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I arrived back in the UK just in time for a weekend of glorious sunshine, so I decided to go and see how my local city-centre peregrines were doing. Just like the goshawks, activity is hotting up for them at this time of year, with lots of aerial display and acrobatics from the male, mutual displays of courtship and plenty of mating in the run-up to laying their first egg of the year. This Winter has been much milder than last year's and things seem to be a bit more advanced - in fact, Charlie of the famous Fulham and Barnes Peregrines was caught on camera just last night laying her first egg of the season. London peregrines are generally a bit earlier than most, but this is early even for them.. 5 days earlier than last year!

On Saturday, I headed down to Bristol's Floating Harbour to look out for them, but instead, found a bit of a turf war going on between a pair of swans and an intruding male who had his eye on their territory. The intruder was pretty confident, and secured himself an initial victory by quickly attacking the resident male, before he had a chance to ready himself for battle. Pride damaged, the resident pair made a quick getaway, but it wasn't long before the male was back - fully "busking" and ready to reestablish his dominance. What happened next was one of the most epic editions of "swan-wars" I have ever seen..

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After all the excitement on Saturday (the resident cob victorious, but the peregrines hardly getting a look in), I decided to set my alarm for dawn on Sunday, as the forecast was looking good and mornings are always best for nice light and peregrine action. I quickly found them and luckily, they were on form and were putting on a great show.

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The male was really active, flying around in front of the buildings, chasing after gulls and generally showing off.

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The female must have been impressed as it wasn't long before they were copulating..

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I'm not entirely sure where they will nest this year. They moved their scrape last year at the last minute, just when I was expecting them to lay on their usual nesting ledge, and they had their most successful year so far - successfully fledging 3 chicks.

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I only managed a couple of pictures of the female as she took off to chase a pigeon, but she's looking hefty, so there might be an egg developing in there already. I'll be following this pair's story throughout the breeding season and will update the blog as often as possible :)

raptors, photography, urban wildlife

The Goshawk

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Right now I'm in Berlin. I'm staying at a German ornithologist's house, who I met last year through a shared interest in goshawks - or in German, "der habicht". Wildlife can bring people together, and without the goshawk, this week I wouldn't have sampled such culinary delights as "liver-cheese" or "mouse-bags" (not as bad as they sound). I've been out here twice previously - this time last year on a recce to find breeding territories (it's easier to find the nests before the trees are covered in leaves) and last Summer to photograph the fledglings as they flew the nest. I'm here now for the adults as it's prime time for their courtship, and I'll be back again this Summer to finish the project with the ringing of the nestlings.

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So far this trip, I've struggled with the weather, but I've seen a fair bit of courtship and territorial behaviour. The males have been nest building and bringing in food for the females to encourage them to copulate and the day before yesterday I had an awesome sight of a young male gos stealing prey from a sparrowhawk in mid-flight, which he presented to a female that had lost her mate just 3 or 4 weeks previously. These raptors, often given the moniker of "phantom of the forest" are extremely elusive in the UK and across most of their range, but in some European cities, individual birds have become habituated, giving us opportunities to study and photograph them in closer proximity than we ever have before.

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This is perhaps not the cleanest or sharpest photo I've ever taken, but I was truly privileged to witness this moment between 2 wild goshawks. I was also lucky to get a pretty clear view, as although they have come into the city, goshawks are still birds of the forest and like to hide amongst the boughs and branches.

I was hoping to start this blog with a post about my wildlife year so far, but I think this is just as relevant as it's because of my local patch that I'm here. I fell in love with urban raptors through watching my local peregrines in Bristol city centre. It is only through watching them and learning about their daily routines and struggles that I got interested in how the lives of other raptors that have chosen to make cities their homes compare and contrast.

You can see some of my Bristol peregrines on the Discover Wildlife website here, and can read a bit more about them on my photography blog. I'll be posting more pictures and stories about the goshawks as the project progresses and will be catching up with the wildlife back on my home turf very soon!