Peregrines again? Afraid so! Apologies if Brandon Hill Nature Blog has turned into Bristol Peregrine Blog recently, but after spending most of the Winter and early Spring watching the daily (and sometimes nightly) activities of the pair of peregrine falcons that were hunting around the Wills Tower and Brandon Hill, I have become a little obsessed.
I have spent most of this Summer following the various resident and visiting peregrines around the Bristol area, observing and photographing their breeding season and watching their daily dramas unfold – and who can blame me, when it has given me the opportunity to watch the above ball of fluff develop into the aerial assassin that it is gradually becoming…
Not long after my last post, I got my first glimpse of the town peregrine pair’s solitary chick poking it’s head up from it’s urban scrape. I was hoping for at least 2, but it seems that peregrines across the U.K. have had limited success this year due to the pervasive foul weather – even the prodigiously productive pair at the Avon Gorge have only managed 3 this year as opposed to their customary 5. Although fairly inconspicuous and tucked away, it didn’t escape the interest of the city gulls nesting nearby for long, and as it grew and began calling, stretching and wing-flapping, it attracted increasing amounts of attention daily. Although large gulls like herrings and lesser black-backeds aren’t normally on a peregrine’s prey list, inexperienced juvenile peregrines will occasionally take them – especially those just fledged, and although I personally think that the benefits that klepto-parasitic gulls gain by nesting in close proximity to peregrines from cached and dropped prey must outweigh the negative effects, gulls just don’t like them and will take every opportunity they can to mob and harass them.
As the town chick got closer to fledging and the adults brought in food for it increasingly regularly, the attention from the gulls reached fever-pitch and just as it was preparing to take its inaugural flight, they mobbed it so heavily that as it flapped from its ledge, it fell straight into the water in the harbour below. It did its best to flap across to the opposite side of the river, but the gulls continued to harass it and as the walls on the far side are so steep, it had no choice but to turn around, straight back into the path of the fierce onslaught from the gulls – one of whom lifted him up briefly, before dropping him unceremoniously back into the water. After all of his efforts, he began to run out of energy and just as he was getting within reach of the bank he could barely even flap his saturated wings. Thankfully, the commotion hadn’t gone unnoticed and the compassionate and quick-thinking women working in the offices nearby made the workmen at the harbour-side development with access to the nearest wall aware of the grave situation. With the help of a few breeze-blocks thrown into the harbour to create a bit of wake and a large umbrella, a drowned-rat of a peregrine was fished out of the harbour by its foot – a sorry state and barely breathing. Luckily, local peregrine expert Ed Drewitt and photographer Bertie Gregory had been there earlier that day and had left their contact details, which meant that the close-to-expiring peregrine was taken home and rehabilitated for the night, ready to be released and returned to its parents as quickly as possible the next morning.
All of the surrounding offices were glad to help and after releasing the revitalised juvenile from one of their rooftops, it was back on its ledge the next day, calling to its parents as if nothing had happened.
Since its ordeal, the parents seem to be behaving a bit more vigilantly and have been chasing off the gulls as soon as they bring in food for the youngster. The juv. has been going from strength-to-strength, chasing its dad around Bristol’s rooftops, practising its stoops, barrel-rolls and food-passes and even seems to be getting his own back on the gulls – incessantly chasing them in substitute for siblings.
It has been great to watch it soar over Bristol’s skyline, briefly alighting on buildings probably never before graced by a peregrine’s presence and grow daily in skill and confidence.
This year’s Avon Gorge brood has also fledged – over a week before the town pair’s young. I was lucky enough to be there just after the first one flew and landed on the cliff-side, looking down at the busy road below.
I watched the adults there flying between the nest and the old raven’s nest opposite, where they had been caching their kills, often restricting feeding to encourage the others to join the first fledgling. Happy to report that they are all flying well now (despite a bit of drama involving landing on the path and a jacket, but nothing compared to the townies).
Will be back at Brandon Hill soon now that the peregrines have finished nesting and are safely fledged.. And anyway, it won’t be long before they are local again and back on the Wills Tower for the Autumn and Winter!