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 :)