Day 41 | Well, what a week that was. A mere 38 days after hatching during which the four chicks have grown from a fluffy ball of down weighing a few grams to, in the case of the females, close to a kilogram and almost fully feathered, have all fledged the nest and dispersed to various parts of the cathedral. Some are on the roof, others on various ledges on the outside masonry structure, but all are above ground level, safe and well.
It all kicked off at 17:20 BST on Thursday afternoon, 6th June. Just after the good people at the Watch Point had packed everything away for the day and were heading home, Murphys Law struck. One of the larger females, identified as TZ from her orange leg ring, had just started vigorous wing exercising on the ledge of the box when it made an unceremonious backwards exit. Moments later the office at Sculthorpe Moor received a call from a thoughtful but concerned member of the public in SWEDEN who wanted to warn us of the situation. That person didn’t leave their name but, although the phone lines were quickly jammed with other similar calls, we would like to thank him. It also aptly demonstrates the impact this story has had on so many people around the world.
Our ‘troops’, some of whom had started the journey home from the Watch Point, and others 20 miles away, were quickly called up to form a search party and look for the fledgling to ensure it was safe and well. It was with much relief all round that it was located on one of the small pinnacles on the cathedral tower, apparently unfazed by it adventure. As it happens it couldn’t have landed in a better place. The area at the base of the pinnacle is used by the adults to cache food! It will be no surprise that it hasn’t felt the need to move from there since.
Fledglings 2 and 3 (ringed T4 and T3 respectively) left the following day in a similar ‘backwards first’ manner. T4, the male of the group, went at 4:40 necessitating an early morning search by some, including photographer Andy Thompson and Watch Point manager Carrie Kerry. It was eventually found in a tree in the Dean’s garden but the shenanigans didn’t stop there. It has since been on walk-about on the rooftops of Tombland – the main street next to the cathedral – before coming back again.
The third fledging (T3) was at the more helpful time of 16:01, and landed safely on the Presbytery roof. The forth and last, TX, waited until Sunday morning at 08:14 before bailing out of the nest, some 38 hours after the third and also landing on the Presbytery roof.
Video clips of all these events can be seen by following the links to posts on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HawkandOwlTrust
All the birds have since been fed well if somewhat erratically by the parent birds and, as expected, appear to be adjusting to their newly found surroundings. Fledging is of course a natural event for the young peregrines. Evolution and their genes will have subliminally prepared them for it. Any trepidation will be felt only by us humans not used to a risky life in the wild and having only our own wits to depend on.
The story of these young peregrines does not end here. They will stay around the cathedral for the next few months. Firstly they have to strengthen their wing muscles and become more – much more – adept at flying, often through playful mid-air jousting with their siblings. The parents also have to teach them to hunt for their own food. This sometimes involves a spectacular mid-air encounter where the adult drops live prey to their offspring flying below to catch by momentarily flying inverted. Eventually, in the autumn, the youngsters will start to drift away but will be seen around the cathedral until then, and occasionally afterwards. The parents, particularly the male, will stay around until early winter before they go wandering for a while, returning in the New Year to start all over again.
Consequently the Hawk and Owl Trust plan to keep the Watch Point open until the end of July in order that the public can continue to see their progress so you still have the opportunity to come along to watch the fastest bird in the world.
This is perhaps a good time to give you a little insight into what has been needed to bring this fabulous history-making story to you. Many of you will already appreciate the hundreds of hours of time and effort required back in the winter of 2010 to just get the nest box erected and camera system installed. This would never have happened without the committed support of Norwich Cathedral and some incredible people, including those from the Norfolk Fire Service who gave up their spare time to put the box in place. There are of course many others too numerous to mention here as individuals but all of whom have been vital to the success of this project. More recently the 40-or-so stalwart volunteers who have given up endless hours of their time for free to help at the Cathedral Watch Point have provided the backbone service to the visiting public, sometimes well above and beyond the call of duty. Talking of which, these people have been more than ably lead by our fabulous Watch Point manager Carrie Kerry and backed up by ‘super-vol’ Jan Smith and our own little whirlwind, Lin Murray. The Hawk and Owl Trust thanks all of you without exception, including of course our supporting sponsors.
Finally of course the Trust would like to thank you, the public, for following this project with such enthusiasm. Without your interest, let alone your donations, this would not have been the success it is. If you have enjoyed our work why not consider helping our conservation projects by joining the Hawk and Owl Trust. Simply go to www.hawkandowl.org to join or donate what you can towards next years project!
David Gittens | Volunteer – Wildlife CCTV,
Hawk and Owl Trust – Sculthorpe Moor
For the live video stream, and to help with the costs of running our webcam please visit www.upp.hawkandowl.org/live/