Goldcrest or firecrest?

Last week I spotted a goldcrest on the reserve, as I was watching this little bird flitting about; it occurred to me that a male goldcrest is very similar in appearance to a male firecrest. For any birders out there, I am hearing your cries of, ‘but the chances of seeing a firecrest in Scotland are so tiny, why are you even writing about it’ Well, I always think that it is better to know just in case; wouldn’t it be terrible if you spotted this uncommon bird and didn’t realise it!

Male firecrest (c) Isidro Vila Verde

Male firecrest (c) Isidro Vila Verde

Male goldcrest (c) nutmeg66

Male goldcrest (c) nutmeg66

The main differences between goldcrest and firecrest are that the firecrest has a white supercilium (that is just a fancy way of saying it has a bold white patch above its eyes) and a snazzy black stripe through each eye. The females both have yellow heads but the male have orange on them as well. You can see in the photographs that the a male goldcrest has a yellow to orange patch on the top of its head and a firecrest has an orange to yellow patch on the top of its head.

The goldcrest is the smallest resident bird in Britain at around 9cm in length and the firecrest is only a little bit bigger at 10cm. You are more likely to see a goldcrest in your garden and it makes a very high pitched seep-seep-seep call that sounds like a baby bird or even a mouse. A firecrest is more specialised and prefers coniferous woodlands so you would be unlikely to see it in your garden unless it backed onto conifer woodland. We have lots of goldcrest here at the Falls of Clyde so if you want to improve your ID you should pop down for a visit.

Laura Preston – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Ranger

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Soft boiled eggs

Its been a lovely sunny day at the watch site. The peregrines are still incubating and keeping guard of their eggs around the clock. Myself and the ranger team are doing our best to help out with the latter too. Not so much on the incubation.

Lots of visitors have been asking me how many eggs they have, and the truth is we still don’t know and I’m not in too much of a rush to try and find out.  I can tell you that peregrines will normally lay a clutch of 2-4 eggs (although sometimes only 1 egg). I can also tell you that the behaviour of the pair suggests, after 10 days, of incubation the eggs are developing well, being regularly turned so not to over cook them on one side, they don’t want them hard boiled after all. Turning the eggs also helps to increase the oxygen flow within the shell, even embryos need some air to survive.

Incubation normally lasts approximately 28-32 days so in theory we can say we are a third of the way into our wee eggs development, which is quite exciting. That gives us a due date of early May and we could even have a first chick before the first weekend of the month.  Now that certainly is exciting.

Falcon feeding chick 2012 © Chas Moonie

Falcon feeding chick 2012 © Chas Moonie

Whilst we are on the subject of egg maths, Ive been counting up the amount of eggs the current resident pair have had since the arrival of the falcon in 2004 (the tiercel was already present at the site and breeding with the original falcon from 2000 – 2003). The pairs have had a total of 31 eggs of which 23 (including 3 foster chicks) have successfully fledged from here.

We know of two separate, now adult birds, currently breeding in the Dumfries and Galloway area who were originally fledglings from the Falls of Clyde. One of which, a female aged 4, breeding near Moffat successfully laid and fledged all 4 of her offspring last year. Proof that our resident pair are, at the very least, the bird equivalent of Grandparents.

As a general rule of thumb, or talon, it is said that around one third or 33.3 % or peregrine fledglings successfully reach breeding age at 2/3 years old. If we consider that to be the case then we could say that our pair have replaced themselves in the wild approximately 7.5 times over, a very commendable effort indeed.

Hope to see you soon.

Adam Murphy – Peregrine Ranger

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Catkins not caterpillars!

This April has proved to be as predictable as ever. We’ve had ‘April showers’ on and off over the past couple of days which will do wonders for all the plants growing on the reserve. Last week it looked like all our willows were covered in furry caterpillars. These catkins are bursting with yellow pollen and I’m sure would wreck havoc for anyone with allergies.

Willow catkin (c) Dean Morley

Willow catkin (c) Dean Morley

The amazing thing about willow is that they have given rise to the world’s most widely used medicine – acetyl salicylic acid, also know as aspirin. Ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians used the bark of willow for treating headaches and rheumatism. It is a said that a natural remedy for treating headaches is to chew willow bark, not that I have tried!

On an estate near us, willow is grown as a biomass fuel and sent to a local power station to generate electricity, it is also used ‘more quaintly’ for basket weaving and most importantly for making cricket bats.

Willows love wetland habitats and are often found growing near rivers and watercourses. You will find lots of willow growing in and around our meadow and along the boardwalk. If you have one in your garden that you are hoping to remove, be careful. Willow splits and compresses in unusual ways, and can be very unpredictable when felling.

Our resident peregrines are proving to be as exciting as ever. They changed there nest site after we thought they had laid an egg already. It’s been rather confusing for all of us watching but they now seem settled on a ledge last used in 2008. We think they have two eggs but we can’t see into the nest without disturbing them. We’ve therefore decided to wait until they hatch to see what we have got!

Laura Preston – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Ranger

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Troublesome Trespassers!

It’s my turn to keep an eye on the peregrines and today has proven to be an interesting day up at the watch site, though first thing this morning it looked like it was going to be a normal day for the resident pair. The female and male have been taking it in turns to incubate the nest and there has been a steady stream of freshly caught prey brought in and swiftly plucked, pecked or stored in the various caches on the sides of the gorge.

The male keeping watch from the oak tree, if he can stay awake! © Alex Kekewich

The male keeping watch from the oak tree, if he can stay awake! © Alex Kekewich

The female was on the nest around midday when the male started to make a fast high pitched call from the top branches of the oak tree. Within seconds another peregrine came into view flying about 5m above the top of the gorge heading upstream! The male was quickly on his tail and saw the intruder out of the area, before returning to his perch to keep an eye out for any more trouble.

Since peregrines are territorial birds they will not tolerate other birds of prey lingering around. Keeping intruders out of your territory reduces competition for food and nest sites so any juvenile peregrines passing through, including offspring from previous broods are quickly chased away. In previous seasons we have even seen the resident pair seeing off much larger birds of prey such as buzzards and osprey that have flown too close to the nest area.

We shall keep you informed of any more exciting news during the incubation period so stay tuned folks!

Bye for now!

Alex Kekewich – Falls of Clyde Seasonal Ranger

Posted in Peregrines |

Eyrie goings on again

After all last week shenanigans. It looks like the pair have settled on the top eyrie, lasted used in 2008. Although all previous courtship behavior had suggested the falcon had chosen to nest on her favored ledge, as used in 2012 and 2013. She has decided to lay her eggs on the alternate ledge. Despite spending 4 nights roosting on the favoured ledge, and making us all assume she had started laying her clutch there. She seems to have changed her mind at the last minute. The “2008″ ledge provides the best rain shelter and maybe that, combined with the failure to hatch her only egg on the favoured ledge last her had given her second thoughts. Good news, the pair both seem well settled up on “08″ and are now 4 days into around the clock incubating and are no longer mating. Although we have seen not visual confirmation of eggs, we can safely say both adult birds think there is something worth sitting on up there and that good enough for me.

Just to make things a little clearer, here is the story so far:

10th March – Nest scraping and pair bonding courtship on 2013 eyrie.

25th March – Mating first recorded, raising up to 3 times a day during watch site open hours.

27th March – Falcon brooding eggs and roosting on 2013 eyrie. Copulation continues.

29th March – Egg laying suspected on 2013 eyrie. Copulation continues.

1st April – Change of heart, falcon now scraping and roosting on “2008″ eyrie. Copulation continues.

4th April – Around the clock incubating by both birds. Clutch complete. Copulation continues.

5th April – No more mating recorded.

This is too good a shot not to share, thanks to first time visitor Raymond Leinster for the cracking copulation picture. I have it on good authority it will not be Raymond’s last visit.

Peregrine Copulation © Raymond Leinster

Peregrine Copulation © Raymond Leinster

Hope to see you soon.

Adam Murphy – Peregrine Ranger.

 

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