Why we protect nests…

The brightness doesn’t look set to remain as I turn onto the quiet Sunday morning roads. The clouds are building in compliance with the forecast, spreading beneath the blue sky, pushed on by the strengthening breeze. In the countryside spring is still battling to win through; after a week of four season confusion, there’s still no sign of the much longed for warmth. The trees and hedges are doing their bit, leaves breaking out and blossom starting to form but the sense that summer may not be far away is dulled and diminished. Turning from main road to country lane, there are signs that work in the fields is bringing forward the time for growth; fields ploughed, muck spread and seeds drilled. The pastures are also starting to build their crop; grass growing stronger and brighter, helped by the rain and occasional sun. The short drive doesn’t give me much time to ponder the scenes I pass but time enough to observe more of the constant changing patterns in the countryside. There’s also time to start considering the purpose of my journey and it’s continued need…

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This morning I was out in the countryside again but this time to do my second shift protecting a nesting pair of peregrine falcons.

As I arrived it was thankfully less chilly than my first shift and there is now a heater to keep the volunteers warm. I also arrived later in the day as I wasn’t on the dawn shift, which would have meant getting up well before 5:00am and the need for even more layers. All was quiet as I took over the watch, with the male stood above the nest and the female, unseen, incubating the eggs below. There was soon activity however, as both falcons took to the air to drive off a buzzard that came far too close to the nest for their comfort. I later saw the buzzard doing its rollercoaster display but much further away from the nest.

This is the first year I’ve volunteered with the peregrine team, after a number of seasons doing shifts protecting the osprey nest at Glaslyn. I’m still volunteering at Glaslyn but thought I would help out somewhere closer to home.

The Glaslyn osprey nest has thankfully so far managed to avoid the fate of many other raptor nests; being raided for its eggs. After so long with no successful attempt to harm the nest, it’s easy to think that the threat isn’t there and doing a Glaslyn protection shift is simply a bit of fun and an opportunity to spend some time close to nature. Any sense of complacency that may have started to creep in has quickly been knocked out of me by volunteering at the peregrine site.

It’s only three weeks since my first shift at the beginning of the ‘protection season’ but already there have been a number of incidents at the peregrine site involving people more than likely trying to take the eggs or destroy the nest. I’ve also learnt of at least one other clutch of peregrine eggs in the area that has already been taken.

Having got used to the relative safety of the Glaslyn nest, it’s quite shocking to know that other nests are under what appears to be constant threat of attack. Raiding raptor nests seems like something from the past; it’s ridiculous that in our ‘modern’ world there are still people who think it is their right to harm wildlife for their own benefit. Whether it be for sporting gratification or protecting sporting interests, satisfying a need to collect rare objects or purely for financial gain through serving a demand for wildlife trade, there are still many people who will act with ill intent towards raptors and their nests.

This shows quite starkly that at Glaslyn we can’t lower our guard and that there are those out there who may wish harm to the nest. Whilst I wouldn’t want to scale the Glaslyn nest tree myself, there are some who would and could. Compared to Glaslyn, the peregrine nest is in a no less awkward, inaccessible or dangerous location to attack yet people appear to regularly try to get to it. Furthermore, whilst the peregrine nest may be targeted by a wide range of interests (egg collectors, falconers, pigeon-racers, etc), the range of interests that threaten the osprey nest isn’t much narrower.

As long as there are people who will prey on raptor nests, there need to be others who are willing to spend time trying to ensure they don’t succeed. Just because no one has successfully targeted the Glaslyn nest to date doesn’t mean there are aren’t people willing to take significant risks to get at it. I’m no longer open to even the slightest sense of complacency.

Now for the peregrines…

Following on from my day with the ospreys yesterday, this morning I got up at 5:00am to head out for my first shift watching over another bird of prey nest – one belonging to a pair of peregrine falcons.

Like osprey nests, those of peregrines are targeted by thieves but whilst the eggs of both are prized by collectors, only the chicks of peregrines are of interest to those of bad intent as ospreys cannot be used for falconry. Both types of nest are also prone to disturbance, therefore, there is a need to help avoid unintentional impacts on these nests. There is a further threat to nesting raptors; that from people who see birds of prey as threats to their sports. Ospreys have been targeted by fishermen who believe they take too many of their sporting prizes whilst pigeon racers have been known to destroy peregrine nests as these birds of prey do have a taste for pigeons; I’ve seen this first hand on Ramsey Island where the local peregrines (one of them pictured below) target the wild relatives of racing pigeons – rock doves.

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It was a bitterly cold morning as I left home, having to defrost the car was unexpected – hopefully I didn’t disturb the neighbours with my scraping. Arriving at the site, the light was just starting to rise and I could just make out the area of the nest. It was even colder there, out in the countryside and I was glad for all the layers I had put on but I was even more glad for the blankets left at the site.

The dawn chorus built up slowly, starting with the song thrush, robin and blackbird. It wasn’t long before others joined in, either singing or calling; dunnock, woodpigeon, nuthatch, house sparrow and collared dove. Above all the other calls, those of the jackdaws and ravens came from high up near the nest and it wasn’t long before the distinctive scream of the peregrine rang out as one of the pair took to the sky for the first time in the day. Eventually a woodpecker also joined in, knocking out its drumming from somewhere within the woodland.

The coldness of the shift lasted until the end, even when the sun had risen, but I was rewarded by the scene of the lovely misty early morning light with low cloud hanging still over the fields.

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Hopefully, this will have been the first of many shifts to come, but I also hope that others won’t be quite as cold as the one this morning!