Thursday, 7 May 2015

Chichester Chicks and Intruders!

Today marked day 30 of incubation in the Chichester peregrine nest. I was on volunteering duty and really felt like today would be the day we would finally begin to see signs of hatching. Each time there was a glimpse of the eggs as the parents shifted around on the nest, myself and the rest of the RSPB team would be peering intently for any suggestions of pipping, which is when the chicks begin to make small holes in the shell using their "egg tooth". Even on our high-quality HD camera, we saw none. The female was incredibly fidgety at times, struggling to get comfortable on the eggs on several occasions and this is out of character for her, as she would normally be straight down on them with one little wriggle before settling in for a few hours of incubation. We were almost convinced that the fidgeting was a positive sign of imminent hatching but so far, we haven't been proved correct!

 A poor-quality snap of the male during a shift-swap with the female this morning

This didn't mean the day was a wash-out. In fact it was the opposite if we are being literal, as the sun was definitely making up for yesterday's horrifically strong winds and rain. The warm weather seemed to bring a lot of other feathered species out to play, including a lone sparrowhawk early on in the day. It didn't hang around but simply drifted across the city before heading off to the East. A flock of six or seven swifts spent the day twisting and diving through the sky just above our marquee, their scree scree calls punctuating our conversations with the visitors. One of them showed interest in an old nesting sight set inside the brickwork of the building connected to the cafe which suggests that hopefully they will choose to nest their again this year. This will be a fantastic bonus sight to see for visitors, volunteers and staff alike.

The biggest event of the day was the return of an intruding female peregrine. Over the past few weeks, there have been two different individuals identified, both female, although one is a juvenile, and both have been seen off by the parents. Today, the intruder arrived above us, followed closely by our male who had only come off the nest an hour and a half before this appearance. He was absolutely intent on getting rid of her and managed to execute several collisions with her which seemed to do the trick. It was quite a spectacle and I was pleased to have been there to see it as I've managed to miss all previous intruder occurrences this year! There was a small group of the public with us at the time who were all thrilled to see it too.

I think we were all surprised that there were not more buzzards and red kites out enjoying the thermals during the day. There were none of the latter but of the former there were only two appearances. During the first half of the day, a pair were gliding very high up showing no interest in the nest site and this resulted in only a brief spell of chatter from the female on the nest. Another one arrived in the afternoon, flying lower this time and with the male peregrine in tow. He didn't need to waste his energy on chasing the buzzard off as a rather brave herring gull had this covered. I was quite amazed at how close the gull was getting, as he swooped down on the raptor but never made contact. At the same time, I was presented with my first ever example of a peregrine falcon in a stoop. As the buzzard headed away from the site, the male peregrine remained airborne and quite suddenly he went from a glide to tucking his wings tightly in to his body and dropping into the characteristic dive. It wasn't a fully vertical one but still fairly steep and it brought him quickly and neatly on to the North side of the cathedral spire, out of our eye line.

The garden of the Cloister's Cafe, where we are set up, is a haven for various species of songbird, many of which are simply not fussed by the presence of humans. A wren, who has nested in the roots of the lilac bushes, spent much of the day to-ing and fro-ing with a full beak. Based on the frequency it was visiting, it was determined that it must be feeding chicks. We were serenaded all day by a very chatty blackbird who spent most of the time perched on the wall beside our marquee. At one point he flew across the garden so low that he almost brushed my head-not an easy task given that I'm only 5' 3"! A pair of blue tits hung from the bottom of low-hanging tree branches, picking off insects from the leaves. A dunnock jumped around the undergrowth before flying to sit on top of a low roof and released a brief but beautiful stream of song. A charm of eight or so goldfinch were also in the trees for some time, chattering and chasing each other through the air.

So although we are still waiting oh so patiently for the tiniest sign that these chicks are starting to arrive, today was certainly not uneventful. It is heartening to see such a broad range of species inhabiting a space that is only the size of an average suburban back garden.

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