How cool are we! Leonardo DiCaprio dropped in to our peregrine watch at the Tate Modern the other day. After viewing the birds on the chimney through our scopes, chatting with our volunteers and signing our Birds of Prey petition, he bought a couple of our soft toy calling peregrines before vanishing along the Southbank.
Our peregrine watch has also welcomed another three special visitors. Jasper den Dulk, his sister Beatrix and their friend Jasper Rance, raised £137 for our Birds of Prey campaign by selling their toys. They're all under the age of ten, so this selfless act deserves a proper face-to-face thank you, and where better to say a public thank-you than a site where peregrines live wild. They got some good views of one of the young peregrines, who posed on the chimney then flew off towards St Paul's Cathedral. Look out for their story on the BBC's Newsround web pages.
Our Date at the Tate continues until mid-September, so follow the example set by the great and the good and see the peregrines for yourselves. Signing our visitors book supports the campaign calling for existing laws to be enforced; protecting all birds of prey from illegal persecution.
Humble sparrows are also keeping us busy. We've sown special seed mixes on plots of land in public spaces across Greater London. The idea is to naturally restore food sources that we appear to have lost over the past couple of decades. Sparrows need insects (protein) when young and seeds (carbohydrate) when older, but don't wander far from their nest sites. It's this lazy approach to life that is threatening their future. Our grass and wildflower plots should help by providing both insects and seeds for them to eat, as well as looking great and bringing colour to many parks; like that shown on the right.
As part of the campaign to raise awareness of our vanishing sparrows, we're working with the Historic Royal Palaces to show-off a small colony of sparrows at the Tower of London. Sparrows are now quite rare in central London, so the Tower sparrows almost deserve the same protection and care as the Tower's Crown Jewels.
Sometimes it may seem that the only birds we're interested in here in London are peregrines, sparrows and swifts. We do focus on them a lot, but that's because simple actions can help support and protect them. London is in fact swimming in wildlife and we like to shout about that too.
Last Friday saw the award ceremony for our Mind the Bird photo competition. Hosted by Richard Parry, Interim Managing Director of London Underground, the event was held at Transport for London's Broadway HQ in Westminster. The standards were incredibly high and the range of birds proves how diverse London's wild bird population really is. You can still see the images on our Flickr site.
£2.99 for 175g, the blackberries in my supermarket. The hedgerows round Hackney are now groaning under the weight of some of the juiciest, plumpest blackberries I've seen in years. Yet people will pay two-pence a gram for something they could harvest for free.
Lucky for me, this ripening comes just as the schools break-up, so I've got plenty of help from my daughters to take full advantage of nature's bounty.
Evolution makes sure that wildlife has what it needs, when it needs it. That's why breeding seasons invariably coincide with peak availability of natural, seasonal foods. We people have drifted away from this notion as far is food concerned, but birds are struggling to keep up with it. Simple supply and demand economics - market forces. That's another reason why the impact of climate change is so concerning. If our weather patterns change, wildlife will struggle to adapt and in some cases, will fail.
The importance of feasting was brought home to me at the weekend when I joined neighbours for a drink and a chat in the street. I got to know the names of people I see daily as we leave for work. Embarrassingly, all we normally manage is the hint of a nod and a mumbled "ello". Worst still, I discovered there are people who live mere metres from me that I have never even seen. After our revelatory weekend encounters it was really nice this morning to smile, wave and chat with others from our 'colony' as we all set-off on our daily routines.
Imagine then the birds that visit us in summer and are even now preparing themselves for the return journeys. Back to places like Africa and eastern Europe. Blackberries and the rest of our bountiful hedgerows, rail-sidings, gardens, parks and waterways are mere pit-stops for them in the race to survive. Wouldn't it be nice if they could return year-after-year safe in the knowledge that their family homes won't be destroyed and that there's food here to support them?
We can do more to stock these pit-stops to ensure swifts, martins and other migratory birds survive and flourish year-after-year. OK, brambles and nettles may not be welcome in every garden, but how about leaving a little patch of them? If you think space is an issue, consider the recent calculation that the UK has some 600 acres of growing space on windowsills. How about planting some nectar rich flowers in a windowbox? That will support insects, which support spiders and birds.
Be a good neighbour to wildlife. Chances are the birds that nest in your eaves or trees have ancestors who lived there long before you ever did. To find out more about creating a wildlife pit-stop, visit our gardening pages or sign-up to our Homes for Wildlife project.
Don't forget we're down at the Tate Modern on the southbank, showcasing a pair of wild peregrines roosting on the Tate chimney. It's free and it's awesome, as advertised on ITV London, Sunday evening.
Forget soft and fluffy, think the terminator of pigeons on wings.
There'll be no explosions, except for the odd puff of feathers from their lunch, but we could have high speed chases. It's our Date at the Tate running through-out the school holidays.
We'll bring you real life action, drama, passion and blood-lust aplenty. Join us to see a pair of the world's fastest creatures, and maybe, a couple of their off-spring too! It's our annual peregrine watch.
Imagine watching a fighter jet at full throttle with it's after-burners splintering the air behind it. Then consider that a peregrine can dive at speeds of about 200 body lengths per second, 50 body lengths faster than that speeding jet! Peregrines can see prey a mile off and catch their dinner, usually a pigeon, mid-flight. Snatching it from the air with such ferocity that death is usually instantaneous. That's the action and blood-lust.
As for passion and drama. Our Tate female arrived in London with a male in 2003. She and her then partner were named Misty and Houdini. He mysteriously vanished in 2006/07 and her present partner, Bert, was an almost instant replacement. He's a younger man and the pair immediately had a large brood of four chicks. This year, Bert was tempted by a younger female and at one point, was the proud father of some six eggs! However, the nest and eggs of the younger female failed and Bert slunk back to Misty, his tail between his legs and his head hung in shame. Actually, that last bit's rubbish, but the soap opera of their relationship is accurate.
They had three chicks this year, two females and a male. All appear to have fledged successfuly. Last year they had three, but one died after flying into the glass sides of a footbridge in the City. Misty and Bert have taught their offspring to fly, hunt, dive-bomb their dinner and the other essentials of survining in the wild, all be it in London rather than a cliff face in a rural setting.
When we started showing off Misty and Houdini, they were believed to be the first breeding pairs of peregrines in the Capital. Now we have a growing number, with at least ten breeding pairs, possibly a dozen. It's hard to keep track of them as only one peregrine in London appears to have coloured rings on her legs. That one we've traced back to the southcoast near Brighton. She was born on a coastal cliff but has taken a shine to a ledge at Charring Cross Hospital.
We're working with colleagues, including the Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit, to monitor and protect all of these birds. If you know of any, do let us know. The more information we have about these amazing birds, the more we'll be able to do to help them live successfully alongside us human residents.
You'll find us alongside the Millennium Bridge outside the Tate Modern on the Southbank every day from this Saturday, noon till 7pm, right through until Sunday, 13 September. Don't miss one of the best shows in town. Oh, and after you've seen the birds this weekend, wander further along the southbank, to Lambeth's Garden Museum for their Wildflower Weekend. This is where you can discover what you can do to help London's wildlife in your garden, or join our Homes for Wildlife project for FREE personalised gardening advice.
Speaking, as I was at the start of this blog, about terminators. Please do take time to sign our Birds of Prey petition to save peregrines and other falcons, hawks and eagles from illegal persecution. They're being hunted down, shot and poisoned simply because some people can't live alongside them for a number of spurious and often patheticly 'historic' reasons.
Sun bathing blackbirds are a thing to behold. The first time I saw one, I thought I was looking at a nesting moorhen with a chick under each wing. A second, closer, look revealed it for a puffed out blackbird with fully extended wings and fanned tail feathers.
So why do blackbirds sunbathe? I don't know, but there are a few theories. First and most obvious is that they like it. Second, they do it to maintain body temperature. Theory number three is that it's a way of maintaining feathers in good condition. It's probably a mix of all three.
Lots of birds do this sun and dust bathing, but it seems most do it out of sight. Blackbirds are less shy and are fond of open spaces, so we're more likely to come across them mid-bathe.No bird, to my knowledge, has yet taken to using our Skinny Dipper soaps. This range is made without palm oil, phosphates or parabens and I happen to really like Lemon Balm and Gardener's soaps. Profits help fund our conservation work so you can both smell and feel good when using it.
A great victory achieved thanks to cash from the sale of our products and supporters contributions is that at Crowthorne, west of London. rare heathland habitat was threatened by plans for a 975 home development. The developers were told by the government to scrap the scheme, on the grounds that it would cause irreparable harm to the Thames Basin Heaths. We couldn't have afforded the time and effort required to build a case against this development without funding.
The RSPB's conservation officers tackle some 1,200 cases like this each year and some of these cases can drag-on for several years. Each has implications for future developments, as the results inform future applications. So if one site is protected for wildlife, it means similar cases will face the same restrictions. We have a high success rate and are proud of our achievements. We're not anti-development we simply want sustainable development, which is good for people, for wildlife and the economy.
Find out more by visiting our webpages or ask a member of staff at our stand [B/80 near the Floral Marquee] at the Hampton Court Flower Show this week.