You go girl! Misty, our star peregrine, has FOUR chicks.
Last week we'd spotted three, but we can now confirm there are FOUR chicks. That's the second year running Misty has successfully hatched four chicks since dumping her old mate, Houdini.
Whether it's her toyboy partner, Bert, or the extra spring she has in her high-speed stoop we'll probably never know. The stoop is when peregrines dive on their prey mid-flight when they can reach speeds ranging from a leisurely 120 miles an hour to a staggering 200 mph.
So, four more little peregrines to add to our growing number of London falcons. In a foolhardy mood I once went through the figures and worked out that from our base of five breeding pairs in 2006, we could reach a dozen breeding pairs of peregrines in the Capital in time for the Olympics. 12 for 2012 is now my battle cry. What better image could you wish for come the Olympics than 24 of the world's fastest living creatures sharing our Capital? A lot could happen between now and then, so it will be touch and go as to whether we reach that goal.
Last week, DEFRA quietly released its latest bird trends by English region. It suggests the Government will struggle to meet the 2010 biodiversity targets it set itself. The report is quite depressing and suggests too litle is being done too late for our wildlife. In London the figures show woodland and farmland birds are increasing. What it doesn't show is that London had started from a low baseline. We're still seeing declines in house sparrows and starlings and both species are noe red listed, meaning they're in desperate straits. Private gardens are also continuing to shrink. We've a long way to go before we can, hand on heart, say that bird numbers in London are increasing. Keep on campaigning.
This week, we're in Dulwich Park to showcase the area's wildlife. There's more in London than you realise. Imagine what spectacular wildlife we could all experience if we each did one thing to improve our balconies, window-boxes, gardens or parks. Come and say hello in Dulwich to find out what you can do to help.
Misty and Bert have three males and one female on their nest. A repeat of last year's brood. In Dulwich we have seen kestrel, herons, little grebe, woodpeckers and an albino mallard!
London welcomes three new peregrine chicks. Proud parents Misty and Bert have been seen feeding their young on the deep ledge they call home in the heart of the Capital.
The site is extremely hard to reach and nearly impossible to view. When one of our monitors poked his head above the parapet to see how they were doing, the message behind Misty's aggressive screech was clear - GO AWAY! He didn't get to see the chicks but yesterday, someone else did and they've recorded three healthy juveniles.
Another couple of weeks and they'll be taking to the skies, learning how to swoop, soar and dive. How to play, chase and hunt for food. This is a special time because it means we get to see the world's fastest creatures strut their stuff in the sky over St Paul's Cathedral and the River Thames; where food is plentiful. They love pigeons.
Another month and they'll be returning to their favourite hang-out, the Tate Modern's 100 metre tall chimney. Think of these peregrines as the trainee hoodies of the bird world. The Tate chimney is the equivalent of a sulky teenager's bus shelter; the place where they hang-out to pass time. This gives us a unique opportunity to share their lives and we'll be setting out our telescopes and display to point these magnificent birds out to passers-by on the Southbank.
News of the confirmed sighting came as I joined two classes of children from Surrey Square Infants on a field trip to a scrap of land in the middle of Southwark's Aylesbury Estate. In a couple of weeks time we'll be helping to transform this scrap of overgrown buddleia, bramble and nettles into a wildlife area where residents can relax and de-stress in a quiet oasis, removed from the busy and noisy Old Kent Road.
With the children's help we spotted ten different bird species, including greenfinch and swifts. The area used to be great for starlings and swifts but refurbishment work on the old brick council flats unwittingly removed the nooks and crannies where they used to live. Some residents have put up nestboxes and we were lucky to see a pair of blue tits using one of them. I'm told swifts have been seen darting into the old iron grilled air vents too! House sparrows were rare but there was a robin, wren, numerous blackbirds and enough pigeons to keep Misty, Bert and their three young chicks in food for a week.
School staff were surprised we'd seen so many different species on such a small patch of land. I'm sure with a bit of a tweak we could do better and maybe attract more sparrows. We won't be turning it into a manicured park. It will remain a wilderness but with a few more plant varieties, some bug and bird boxes, maybe something for bats and plenty of wildflowers. In short, it will become a mini nature reserve to suit its surroundings. You'll be able to follow progress on BBC London as part of their SpringWatch Action Team [SWAT] project.
If you think that's amazing, take a look at ThamesWatch - another project designed to get people to look at wildlife, but this time focusing on the River Thames. So, when the hurly burly's done and the battle's lost and won, you may well find me on the Aylesbury Estate, or on the Southbank, or somewhere else along the Thames. I'll be the one de-stressing, marvelling at the world around me and the vast range of creatures that share it with us.
I froze, I didn't want to shatter the moment. It's nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. It was just that I was within a metre of the tiniest, perkiest, perfect little wren that I hardly dared breathe.
It's white eye-liner reminded me, bizarely, of Adam Ant and ever since I've had that damn Stand and Deliver song rattling round my head. This encounter happened right next to my backdoor. I've suspected that some bird or another was living in the ivy crowning the wall that separates my garden from my neighbours.
I don't know why I'm so excited by this wren. More so than the appearance overhead of swifts, the woodpecker dropping chunks of bark on me from high-up on my London Plane tree or the sparrowhawk that sat on the fence post. It's so ordinary but moving. Maybe it's the wren's tiny size. I think it's because I knew deep down that I should have a wren and they were conspicuous by their absence.
I can now proudly say, 100%, that I DO have a wren. It joins the sparrows, blackbirds, tits, pigeons, jays, doves and finches that regularly visit. I've made quite a few changes to the garden since we moved in; the addition of a hedge, fruit trees and some landscaping. Next comes the removal of the patio to be replaced by a lawn. Maybe, just maybe, I will then fulfill my ambition of attracting starlings to my garden. I love them.
It's been a week since we discoverd that the Tate peregrines, Misty and Bert, had chicks in their nest. We still don't know how many, but hopefully they'll soon be big enough to venture out on to the ledge of their high-rise penthouse apartment in the City. As soon as they do, I'll post details here on this blog. Sadly, Misty is a very protective Mother, so there's absolutely no way we can get close enough to install a webcam or even get good photos of the chicks. I wouldn't want to annoy the world's fastest winged creature, not with those talons.
A lot has been written in the media over the past week about Birds of Prey following publication of the report On a wing and a prayer. A lot of nonsense has been quoted from the hardline core of the blast 'em and kill 'em brigade. The fact is that a range of magnificent creatures that people almost wiped out are beginning to recover. Yes they do kill other creatures, including some that are in decline. That's a sad reality but there are things we can do to ameliorate this, such as habitat management to support less threatened species; and so providing an alternative food supply. But, we all have a moral duty not to stand by and do nothing as species, or indeed people or habitats, needlessly perish. Anyone who puts commercial interests first, must wrestle with their own consciences, mine is clear. Now, Stand and Deliver!
That song will haunt you for days.
It was an epic struggle but there was one clear winner.
Yes, Boris Johnson is Mayor of London but I was talking about the arrival of our summer swift population. They've battled Saharan storms, food shortages and blistering temperatures but they've returned to London, all hail the swift.
These birds are truly remarkable. They spend most of their lives on the wing and gobble lots of flying insects. We should be bending over backwards to welcome them and support them. Come on you swifts! Decimate those midge and mosquito clouds, save us from red bite marks and unbearable itching. Entertain us with your acrobatics and make us smile as you effortlessly dash into tiny cracks in our eaves with exquisite precision. Sadly, many traditional swift homes have been removed. Modern roofing practices and designs mean there are few, if any, nooks or crannies in which they can nest.
Look up and see if you can spot a few of them. Their crescent shaped wings setting them apart as they swirl and dive, swoop and play. You'll probably hear them screaming to each other of an evening. A real sign of summer and yes, I did see some in the sky high above City Hall - but I defy them to find a potential nest-site on that sleek glass structure. Swift boxes could be added if you're reading this Boris!
In that other epic battle, Ken Livingstone was replaced by Boris Johnson. We spent some considerable time talking to the main parties before and during the election. We secured written confirmation on their environmental manifestos, so, now we're looking for delivery.
Boris promised to:
The RSPB will be seeking assurance from Boris that he will not pursue his idea of proposing a new airport in the Thames Estuary. This is an internationally protected area incorporating unique habitats supporting a wide variety of resident and migratory species.
RSPB staff will also be seeking agreement on a number of other issues already raised with Boris Johnson and his campaign team. Addressing these issues will support our campaigns and conservation policies. These include:
Congratulations Boris. Now let's get down to business to make our Capital a healthier and more welcoming place for all its residents; human and otherwise.