In the words of 70s disco don John Paul Young, love is in the air at Symonds Yat mid-spring and not just with the Peregrines. The current breeding roll-call includes not only our peregrinatory stars, but also Canada Goose, Nuthatch, Kingfisher and Mallard. More on the supporting cast later.
Our Peregrine leads are certainly keeping us guessing. Having been spotted mating on the 19th & 20th March, we were somewhat surprised to see our pair at it again on Tuesday, especially when they should be on eggs. The female has been noticeably absent however the past few days, spending large amounts of time in a hole on the middle cliff we currently call 'The Lozenge'. How it earned its current sobriquet is also a matter of conjecture. A visit from a female juvenile on Wednesday, suspected to be last year's offspring by my seasoned colleague Chris, certainly stirred them both up. Relentless and repetitive attacks were launched upon the youngster for the best part of the afternoon, yet she remained in the vicinity when we left for the evening. It just goes to show that in the Peregrine’s world, there's no such thing as returning home to mum's cooking and a cheeky sub from dad!
As for the other lovebirds, we've been kept speculating too. The Nuthatches have been battling for the use of the viewpoint's nest box with some rather feisty Blue Tits the past week. The former spends the morning putting nesting materials in the box, whilst the latter spends the afternoon removing them! Being the bullying type, it appears that the Nuthatches are gaining the upper hand and have already been seen characteristically reducing the size of the entrance hole with mud. They are also extremely vocal birds - song is very varied and loud with whistling notes up and down the scale – we are never left in any doubt to whether they are around!
Nesting just below the viewpoint, about 200 feet above the River Wye, is our resident pair of Mallards. We are aware that mallards do indeed nest in some extraordinary places, but we were simply astonished to see the female fly into the cliffside vegetation just below us. If the clutch hatches successfully, the ducklings will have to float and bounce a considerable distance to safety. Ducklings are able to swim, dive and feed themselves soon after hatching, but this is surely asking too much! Their cousins, the Canada Geese, are nesting downstream on a rock, a metre above the river. Much more sensible.
Also breeding on the river is our pair of Kingfishers. Their nest is built into a sandbank beneath us, but is under threat by passing canoeists who stop on the adjacent gravel bank. Kingfishers are under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which means it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them, on or near an ‘active’ nest. We are looking into getting a sign erected nearby, politely asking the river-goers not to stop there and why. Incredibly, the breeding territory of Kingfishers is usually 1-1.5 km long, so if they don't nest there, no doubt they'll find something suitable elsewhere. Watch this space...