I’m currently tucked up on the sofa with my laptop and a blanket, recovering from a hectic few days. I think its when you finally stop that your life catches up with you, and my body is now protesting about the week I’ve put it through. But its all worth it. Most days, I spend a large chunk of my work hours wading through emails, writing reports, preparing press releases, answering the phone, funding applications, updating our web pages and events lists, and writing up site inspections. To be honest, I relish a rainy, event-free day to catch up on office stuff, and thats exactly what I thought Friday would be this week. Little did I know what life had in store for me.
I came into the office to the usual handful of emails & voicemail messages, one of which was an anxious message, letting me know that one of the Peregrine chicks had fallen out of the town hall tower and was now on the roof.
Countryside Kev had the same message on his machine, and we were both a bit perplexed about how a chick (if the nest was, like last year, on the balcony) could have ended up on the town hall roof! Very strange.
After seeking advice from three people at Natural England as well as Steve from S&D Falconry (who you may have met at this year’s Peregrine Watch along with Egan, his Peregrine) it became clear that, because Peregrines are a Schedule 1 protected bird, that what I ideally needed to find was someone with a schedule 1 licence for peregrines. Alas, my wildlife licences don’t include a Schedule 1, but it just so happens that, as they say, I know a man who can.
I’ve known Stefan Bodnar for many years, having worked with him since around 2003 at RSPB Sandwell Valley, and on several events and surveys subsequent years. Stefan is currently the head honcho for the RSPB in our area, overseeing Sandwell and the newest RSPB site in our patch, Middleton Lakes. He’s also a bird ringer, and has been heavily involved with the nesting peregrines on the BT tower in Brum, and the Fort Dunlop peregrines. Needless to say, he’s a very busy man, but hat off to him, within 90 minutes of our phone call, we were standing on the roof of the Town Hall.
We had agreed that if possible, we would ring the chick before putting it back into the nest, and consider ringing the other nestlings if they didn’t seem too distressed – the opportunity was too good to miss, as ringing birds can tell us a lot about their movements, success rates, as well as their ecology.
Kevin, Stevan and I found ourselves standing on the roof, looking at what can only be described as DEFINITELY NOT A PEREGRINE. A fledgling kestrel sat looking back at us, nonplussed at our presence. The nearby nest was the same hole above a drainage gutter that they had used last year, although I don’t get ito town much, and had never managed to see them, so in spite feeling slightly guilty that Stefan had just driven over from Tamworth for a Peregrine chick, I was actually quite chuffed!
The fledgling, it turns out, was the second to leave the nest, and it let us get quite close to take photos. Close enough, in fact, to see that there were three more faces peering out of the nest!
I’m delighted that they’re doing so well – 5 chicks is a hefty brood for a kestrel, and if the condition of this one was anything to go by, they were fit and healthy. I got as close as I could, and took photos of the nest site, the fledgling and the chicks still in the nest.
Not one to miss an opportunity, I suggested that while we had Stefan with us, we could check on the peregrine nest if there is one, and if the opportunity presents itself, Stefan could ring the young birds anyway.
Alas, our peregrines are not nesting on the Town Hall tower this year. That does not mean to say that they are not nesting on Tameway, the New Art Gallery, or any other high building. I must confess, I was a bit disappointed, but we learned lots about our perries, and now that we know they are not nesting, we can now put up their nest box and webcam, in hopes of encouraging them to return.
Its quite clear that the birds are still using the site, as there was lots of carrion around, including the remains of pigeon, fieldfare, moorhen and even a little grebe! We found the remains of last year’s nest, including a hatchling which had not made it out of its egg entirely.
In order to be sure about the birds not nesting, we then ascended to the bell tower, through an old wooden hatch at the top of an ancient iron spiral staircase.
Countryside Kev & I had speculated in the past about whether the bell tower arches and ledges were too exposed to appeal to the birds who had, after all, chosen the most sheltered of the tower’s balconies last year.
Lets just say that we left the tower convinced. I had never been up there during inclement weather before, but the squall that descended on us was enough to put any bird off nesting up there – its simply not sheltered enough.
So, after starting work expecting a quiet day catching up on paperwork, my Friday quickly transformed into Operation Peregrine Rescue, which then morphed into Count the Kestrel Fledglings!
We left the tower a little sad to see that our perries had chosen somewhere else to nest this year, but also excited about the prospect of installing our nest box and webcam. Putting it in place now will mean that the perries will have from now until NEXT breeding season to get used to it.
My day continued with looking after Ozzy, a male soprano pipistrelle brought in by a lovely lady named Debbie. Ozzy’s now doing really well, having a few days of TLC courtesy of Charlene, the Chair of the Birmingham & Black Country bat group (and our newest bat carer!). Ozzy will be released later this week, as soon as we get a break in the weather.
As soon as Ozzy was safely away with Charlene, I had to get over to the Grange for the Black Country Biodiversity Group’s mammal trapping session, in preparation for the Summer BioBlitz.
Looking forward to the survey report on the new BCBG blog, which I will be co-writing with Bex, the group’s secretary. Will keep you posted on the release of the blog, which should be this week! Anyone interested it getting involved with the group should go to facebook.com/groups/bcbgroup and ‘request to join group’.
And one last thing – a backstage tour of the town hall towere and its impressive iron spiral staircase!