Well, what a season it has been. Early optimism, followed by mid season disappointment, but ultimately mid summer success!
Things started well with our usual resident pair engaged in courtship activity around the nest site in late winter. I say ‘resident pair’, but things are never quite as straightforward as they seem. Peregrines reoccupied the cathedral site in 2013, and it had been assumed, in the absence of any information to the contrary, that perhaps it has been the same two individual adults present since that time, although the events of 2016 with staggered laying dates did suggest to some that perhaps there had been a change of one of the birds.
Photo 1: Adult Salisbury Peregrine. Image courtesy of Salisbury Cathedral
When both adults were caught in 2017 (see below), analysis of their feathers showed that whilst the female was over three years old and could thus have been the original female, the male was only three years old. He was not present here in his first year as he would have been easily recognised by his then principally brown plumage, so this can only be his second, and probably most likely first year at this site. This ‘turnover’ of adults at a site is of course inevitable as birds get older and new birds try to ‘muscle into’ a desirable territory (and where is more desirable than the cathedral!); males seemingly having a higher turnover rate than females. As both of our 2017 adults are now colour ringed, we will, for the next few years at least, be able to monitor any changes.
After having laid clutches of three and four eggs in past years, our pair excelled themselves this year and laid a clutch of five. This is very unusual, perhaps only about 2% of recorded clutches are of five. That said, interestingly there were records of several clutches of five on man made structures this year, and a quite exceptional clutch of six at a site near London. Early optimism about a large nest box full of chicks was dashed however when only one egg hatched.
Photo 2 and 3: 2017 chick hatching, taken from Salisbury Catheral webcam courtesy of Marie Thomas, Salisbury Cathedral.
The reasons for this are unknown and were quite unexpected as all eggs laid in the nest box in past years have hatched. Interestingly only three chicks hatched from the London clutch of six, but several pairs did fledge five chicks from five eggs so it can be done. The single male chick clearly thrived with its undivided attention at feeding time from its parents, but things were completely turned on their head when we were the proud recipients of an orphaned male chick from a nest in Shropshire where both adult birds had seemingly been poisoned. Species protection staff from the RSPB brought the chick to the cathedral, and after having placed the new chick in the nest box we endured an anxious time whilst we waited to see if the adult female would feed it. We need not have worried, this procedure has been tried and tested in the past, and sure enough it was not long before the new chick was being fed and was ‘cuddling up’ to his new nest mate in the box. This whole procedure was filmed by the BBC Springwatch team, and the rest as they say is history.
Photo 4: Single 2017 Salisbury chick doing well. Image taken from Salisbury Cathedral webcam.
Both chicks fledged at the end of June, and with two chicks on view to ensure plenty of action to be seen, the ‘Date with Nature’ at the cathedral where local Salisbury RSPB Group members armed with telescopes showed the birds to countless passing members of the public for about four weeks was a great success. Not only did lots of people get great views of the birds, but local volunteers and an RSPB staff member managed to sign up considerable numbers of new members to the RSPB to boot. As a certain market trader from Peckham used to say ‘everyone’s a winner’!
Photo 5: Orphaned Shropshire chick
As viewers of Springwatch will recall, both of our adult birds were captured and coloured ringed during the breeding season. In addition, the adult female was fitted with a solar powered tracking device which downloads her position when she is in the vicinity of telephone masts. To date she has not ventured much further than about ten miles from the cathedral, has gone in all directions of the compass, but seems to show a preference to going north up the Woodford Valley. I suspect she is hunting there and spending time perching on the pylon line which goes north south up the valley. It will be interesting to see if she ventures further a field as the winter approaches. We have no information to date on the whereabouts of the two juveniles and they may well have left the Salisbury area by now. That said, some do seem to return to their nest site from time to time during their first winter and hopefully observation of the cathedral during the winter months when the spire is illuminated may shed some light on this matter. Who knows, we might even get lucky like last winter when a birdwatcher near Milton Keynes photographed a juvenile peregrine, and on enlarging the image discovered a coloured ring on its leg which enabled us to identify it as one of the 2016 juveniles from the cathedral.
Photo 6: Dave Anderson, assisted by RSPB's Phil Sheldrake fits the satellite tag. The female is hooded to keep her calm
It has been a fascinating and very rewarding year at the cathedral and it is only appropriate at this stage to say a huge ‘thank you’ to the staff at the cathedral who have, as always, been a willing and enthusiastic partner to the RSPB. Without their cooperation we are unlikey to have nesting peregrines on the cathedral and there would be no annual ‘Date with Nature’ event. Long may the partnership continue.
Photo 7: Salisbury Cathedral Peregrine by Ashley Beolens
Strange things have been reported on RSPB Marazion Marsh….sightings of weird and wonderful phenomena that will chill the blood and freeze the soul!
On a misty Tuesday morning in West Cornwall RSPB volunteer, Christine Moore, ventured out on our Marazion Marsh nature reserve in search of dragonflies. Little did she know that she would be facing something so bizarre, so unusual it would have her scratching her head in bewilderment and disbelief for at least 25 minutes.
While walking across ‘the meadow’ she found nestled among the blades of grass, a strange, stiff jelly-like substance….it was approximately 20 cms in diameter and congealed into odd viscous blobs.
Photo 1: Strange slime at Marazion! by Christine Moore
Could this be ectoplasm manifested by some ancient spectral being wandering lost through eternity? Perhaps astral slime disgorged by visiting aliens on a mission to conquer our beautiful planet? Better still could this possibly be the nocturnal deposits of the infamous (and extremely elusive) Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal?
Christine said: "As for what I thought? Oh! Well, I had no idea what it was, something from a giant amphibian was the joke, who knows what lurks out there in the reeds! Seriously I thought it was animal of some sort, vomit (ugh!) or something out of the bum-end!"
Unfortunately none of these wild speculations are even close to the truth - although the real story is almost as fascinating. In February 2013 a similar sighting was made at RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset and at the time generated wild speculation as to its origins - it even made the national press! It stumped experts until Peter Green, a Devonshire vet who works with wildlife, contacted the RSPB with a very simple and logical explanation. He believed it to be amphibian in origin.
Photo 2: Common toad by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
At the time Public Affairs Manager Tony Whitehead stated: “At this time of year amphibians are spawning. The spawn is held in a substance known as glycoprotein which is stored in the female body. If the animal is attacked by a predator it will quite naturally drop its spawn and the associated glycoprotein. However, if it’s unfertilised, it is just empty glycoprotein that is dropped – which on contact with the ground will swell and give a clear slime like substance.
“While this is our favoured explanation for the appearance of the slime, it’s also worth remembering that other things can give a similar appearance. Certain slime moulds can. So can the wonderfully named crystal brain fungus, but this appears on wood. Also certain algae and blue-green algae can also appear as a clear slime”
So the mystery appears solved, but strangely the RSPB Ham Wall incident occurred in February and Christine’s sighting in October….surely too late (or 5 months early) for frogs and toads to be even thinking about spawning? Some may speculate that this is probably due to the mild weather we enjoy here in Cornwall. Some might say that it is evidence of climate change blurring the seasons for many species. After careful consideration of all the facts, and examination of the evidence, I think my money’s still on the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal!
Photo 3: RSPB Marazion Marsh by Dave Flumm
Wiltshire’s Henry Edmunds is one of four farmers shortlisted for this year’s prestigious Nature of Farming Award.
Now in its fifth year, the Nature of Farming Award will see four regional finalists face the public vote throughout the summer. The national award is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph. The shortlisted farmers have strong environmental credentials and manage their farms with bird, plant, mammal and insect populations in mind while running commercially viable businesses.
Last year over 22,000 people were inspired to cast their vote in the awards that eventually crowned Carolyne and Somerset Charrington from Mull King and Queen of wildlife-friendly farming.
Henry, who owns and manages Cholderton Estate, has been shortlisted for his achievements in looking after wildlife and the environment while running a productive arable and sheep farm.
Tracé Williams, speaking for the RSPB in Wiltshire, said: “Cholderton Estate is an impressive example of what it’s possible to achieve for wildlife within a commercial farming system, and shows that conservation needn’t clash with profitability.”
Henry has spent over 30 years balancing modern agriculture and the preservation of the countryside. Hampshire Downs sheep graze the chalk grassland that is alive with flowers and buzzing with insects, including rare bumblebees, moths and butterflies. Corn bunting, lapwing and grey partridge thrive amongst the crops, alongside the diminutive harvest mice and rare arable plants such as cornflower and pheasant’s-eye. This abundance of wildlife sits neatly alongside food production where the harvest delivers a healthy landscape, economy and environment.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation and one of this year’s judges, said: “Across the UK, many farmers are putting passion and dedication into protecting the habitats of all kinds of native wildlife without having an impact on food production or commercial success. “It was a difficult task, but we've managed to choose four fantastic finalists from a record-breaking number of entries. As usual, the standard was exceptional. These farmers have shown themselves to be true guardians of the countryside, not just for the wildlife that shares their land, but also for the people that enjoy it and we should celebrate them all. “With the fate of some of the country’s most threatened flora and fauna in their hands, it’s encouraging to know that many farmers are providing important habitat and food. I’m excited to find out who the public deem to be the best in show this year.”
Dr Martin Warren – Butterfly Conservation Chief Executive and a competition judge, said: "Sensitive farming is vital for the survival of butterflies and moths. These four finalists have shown huge enthusiasm to demonstrate how good farming and wildlife conservation can go hand in hand. The vote will be very close this year."
Victoria Chester, Plantlife International’s Chief Executive, said: "Sustaining livelihoods, securing food sources and growing the natural capital of the farmed environment are three of the biggest challenges facing farmers today. I am therefore delighted that Plantlife has this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those farmers who are demonstrating best practice in all three areas and as a result doing so much for farmland wildlife. Our cornfields, meadows and hedgerows are the arena in which farmers compete and the Nature of Farming Award is the medal ceremony where the 'best in show' gets to shine!"
People are invited to vote online, via The Telegraph by phone, post, or at various country shows. Information on how to vote can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote and everyone who votes in this year's competition will be entered into a prize draw to win a luxury break for two people at Ragdale Hall worth over £500. Votes can be cast until 5 September 2012 and the winner will be announced later that month.