The pair of peregrines that have been making use of the Wills Memorial Tower this winter have been very active, and it seems that pretty much every time I have ventured out to Brandon Hill just recently, I have been distracted by them and end up heading down towards Park Street to watch them wheeling about the gothic grotesques or tussling with each other over a pigeon. The female is the better hunter and I am generally alerted to her presence by the loud calls of the male, who chases her around the tower when he spots her returning with a kill. There’s plenty going on at Brandon Hill at the moment, with tons more redwings than this time last year, but without any leaves on the trees to block the sound or line of sight to the north-east, it’s been hard to ignore the goings on at the Wills Tower and I’m not sure that I haven’t been tailoring my walks, so that I can keep my eye out in that direction (and I don’t really blame myself with such an impressive pair of raptors on my doorstep). They seem to make a fresh kill at least once or twice a day, and even if I’m not out to see them bring it in, a quick scan around the lawn at the base of the building will often turn up a pair of pigeon wings or other remains that can’t have been there long, with all the gulls, magpies and foxes about. It might be that they have to hunt a little more frequently than usual if there aren’t any suitable cache sites to store their prey remains on the tower that the scavengers can’t easily access. Regardless, they are doing well and appear to be hunting diurnally mostly – since they caught the lapwing, I’ve been watching for them hunting nocturnally and have only seen them fly a handful of times after dark (latest was 11:30 pm) and I’ve not seen them with any more nocturnal migrants. It might be that the lapwing was an anomalous and opportunistic bit of behaviour – it certainly seems so from the remains I’ve found, but I haven’t spent enough time watching them late at night or early in the mornings to make any real conclusions.
The mild weather has continued and it seems that we are not going to get a proper winter this year. The wild flowers at Brandon Hill are a little confused, with some of last years plants still flowering, winter blossoms coming out a few weeks early and lots of very early signs of spring, like bramble and bindweed blooms and fully grown daffodils, ready to burst into flower. The songbirds can definitely feel the spring in the air too, and the blackbirds and dunnocks have now joined in with the tits and robins most mornings.
Lastly – and although not Brandon Hill related – if you haven’t been to see any starling murmurations this winter, I strongly suggest that you get out before spring officially arrives, as the flocks that have coalesced for the winter will start to dissipate before too long. For sheer numbers, the Somerset Levels can’t be beaten (above), but just north of Bristol, there is a much smaller, but just as spectacular roost on the banks of the Severn at New Passage. Just last night I shot this video of them swirling and dancing right overhead – much closer to them than you can typically get on the Levels (watch in HD if poss)..
See my Wildlife Map for the New Passage location – zoom out until you can see the starling on the bank of the Severn.