In recent years Peregrines have become an increasingly welcome sight in Hertfordshire with a 60% increase in sightings over the last five years. Pairs have been seen in spring, courtship behaviour witnessed and juveniles present in the latter part of the year, but, despite the best efforts of Herts birders, breeding remained a possibility only......until now! New information received - read on for details
As a comparison, the number of breeding pairs in London has increased ten-fold since the turn of the millennium from three pairs in the year 2000 to 30 now. All in all, it seemed that a confirmed breeding success in Herts was getting closer, and probably a little overdue!
It is therefore excellent news that not one but two pairs have reared and successfully fledged two young each this year, one in the south of the county in Watford and another further north at Little Wymondley near Stevenage. Written accounts of the two successes follow from two Herts birders who were keeping a diligent watch over them.
YMCA building, Watford Town centre
Peregrines have been recorded on or around the YMCA building in recent years, including a pair in spring 2015 but no further evidence of breeding was noted.
Account by David Denham:
During 2016 I observed a female a number of times on the corner of the roof of the YMCA building in Watford town centre and birds have been seen in the area in previous years too. The building is situated in central Watford and at 15 storeys is one of Watford’s tallest buildings. This year, following regular observation (at least every other day) it became evident that a pair were nesting on the roof with birds present and visible for most of the time from May onwards. Fortunately, they were not deterred but the surrounding noise and building work from the ongoing redevelopment of the nearby intu shopping centre.
The nearest viewing point was several stories lower on top of the Sutton Road car park opposite the nest site and from here I witnessed the birds bringing in food and plucking their prey. Once the young were old enough to move around the adults became a little more agitated and vocal, a situation not helped by the increasing presence of workman in hi viz jackets who were now working eight stories below.
Despite the distractions, on 20th June I was delighted to see all four birds appear on the edge of the roof for the first time. Much activity followed including a lot of flapping and stretching of wings and over the course of the following week both juveniles made their maiden flights. As of early July they are still in the area and continue to use the building as a base to return to after hunting/soaring forays around the surrounding area. I most recently watched one of the juveniles on 7th July perched on the tallest (moving!) crane next to the YMCA building before taking off and circling above the town.
Wymondley Power Station, Little Wymondley nr Stevenage
Peregrines have frequented the pylons at Wymondley power station in recent years and in 2016 a nest was suspected. Update - as a result of publishing this article an observer has contacted the bird club to say that they visited last year's suspected nest at the Wymondley Power Station on 2 July and heard young (probably two) although could not see them. It therefore seems almost certain that they did breed at Wymondley power station in 2016, although how many chicks and whether they successfully fledged or not is not known.
The substation entrance is situated on Blakemore End Road between St.Ippolyts and Little Wymondley, near Stevenage. Although the substation itself is strictly private there is a footpath that circuits the site starting approx. 50 years to the left of the entrance as you are looking into the station, although parking is very limited. The path around the compound is good for Pyramidal, Common Spotted and the odd Bee Orchid as well as many butterfly species including Marbled White. Ravens and Little Owls are often seen in the area too.
Account by Ray Hooper:
I had gone out to do some local birding looking for early summer migrants and headed to Little Wymondley looking for Willow Warbler. I didn’t find any Willow Warbler but did come across a Raven from the footpath that runs underneath the Wymondley bypass and branches off around the National Grid compound. I lost sight of it so decided to drive around to the other side of the compound by the entrance to try and relocate it. I had only been out of the car a couple of minutes when I picked up the distinctive call of a bird of prey. Looking up I saw a Peregrine flying low overhead and then amazingly a second bird close behind it flying away across the fields towards Lister Hospital.
I thought I would give it another go and see if the birds were still in the area. After about 30 minutes at the substation entrance I heard that same call from the previous week and observed a male Peregrine flying in with prey. It perched up on the pylon nearest the entrance and began to pluck the bird all the while being very vocal. It was then joined by another bird (female) albeit briefly as they both dropped down behind the pylon and were lost to view. A few minutes later one of the birds flew up from the ground and disappeared into the lower rear arm of the pylon with the second bird flying off to another pylon further back. Looking at the nearest pylon where the bird flew to it was possible to make out a loose tangle of sticks protruding below the iron work. I shared the news that I had found a probable nesting Peregrine with a few local birders and submitted the record to HBC.
Over the following days and weeks we found a better vantage point from a footpath adjacent to the site where you could get scope views of the Peregrine on the nest. It usually showed better when the male flew in calling as the female would put up her head and then leave the nest to collect the prey that he had brought for her. It was obvious at this point that they were incubating eggs and finally, on the 26th May, I observed an adult bring food back to the nest which it then appeared to feed to it young even though they were out of sight. It was difficult to see the chicks in the nest at first but as things progressed and the chicks grew it was possible to make out first one then two and finally three young birds.
Almost a month of regular observation and the three birds were growing fast and could be seen jockeying for position when the adult brought in food. However, on 25th June there was a change and only two birds could be seen feeding, having seen all three the previous day which all appeared to be healthy and developing well. It is assumed that due to the limited space around the nest site one of the chicks must have fallen whilst moving about, although we were unable to verify this due to it being on private property. Much of the down feathers on the remaining two chicks was now gone and they could be seen strengthening their wings as the moved about the nest platform. The adults are spending an increasing amount of time perched up on the pylon or away hunting. Myself and other observers have seen them defending their territory against Red Kite, other Peregrine and Buzzard but they seem completely unperturbed by the Crows or plentiful Jackdaw in the area.
Only a single bird frequenting the nest area now.
A fledged juvenile was observed on the second pylon calling and begging for food. Both adults are still present and the second juvenile is still being fed around the nest area although is increasingly climbing and clambering around the iron work above the nest and stretching its wings.
The second bird has finally fully fledged and I watched both juveniles on the far pylon. I have visited a few times since, most recently on 7th July, and am pleased to report that both juveniles and adults are still present and doing well.
And to end things nicely I was also happy to get that Willow Warbler I was after that started this whole thing off!