A blog post by Phil Sheldrake on 20 March
Wow….the suspense! Again this morning, early, she is there, shuffling….scraping, picking over the stones, nesting. There’s something very reassuring, calming, about watching her endeavour – oblivious of everything that is so present in our lives right now. I keep saying ‘I think we’ll have eggs at a more normal time this year1, the last week of March’, but of course my crystal ball is no clearer than yours. It’s speculation but it’s exciting when you can see it’s going to happen, and when you’re watching….it could be now!
And of course, it’s speculation whether it’s the same female as last year, she’s not ringed so it could be, in fact it’s most likely that she is the same bird - adult peregrines have 80% year-to-year survival, but we cannot be 100% sure. What we do know is that it is not ‘Sally’, the nation’s favourite peregrine courtesy of BBC Springwatch 2017 because she is ringed and fitted with a GPS tracking device. The last signal received, however, was on the 3rd November when she was in the Coombe Bisset area just west of Salisbury. Is she still alive? Well we don’t know; we haven’t seen her on the cameras at the Cathedral and it’s quite possible the tracking device has just stopped working after nearly three years. She was estimated to be about seven years old when we ringed her so possibly 10 now, and whilst the oldest peregrine known was at least 24 the average lifespan will be around ten years.
It’s now just after 9 o’clock and it’s been over an hour since our female was rearranging her stones. She has left to hunt or just perch and watch the world around her that she knows so well. We will wait to see her again, uncertain when in these uncertain times…..I still think we’ll have an egg before the end of March though!
1 the first egg in 2019 was laid during the night of 7th April, most peregrine breeding attempts begin with eggs laid in March.
Phil Sheldrake is the Cathedral’s Nature Conservation Adviser. He describes himself as a social conservationist, focused on bringing people and the natural world closer together. Phil began life as a teacher, but 25 years ago a lifelong love of wildlife signaled a career change and he swapped the classroom for the great outdoors. Starting his RSPB career as a reserves warden in Wales, he went on to manage the Wessex Stone-curlew Recovery Project and most recently covered Wiltshire & Gloucestershire d as Conservation Officer. He is a founder member of the (Eurasian) Curlew Forum, a national network for curlew conservation groups across England. Phil first approached the Cathedral in 2011 with the idea to provide a nest box for the peregrines he had seen roosting on the Tower over winter. In 2014 his efforts were rewarded with peregrines returning to nest successfully after an absence of 61 years. Since then Phil has continued to support the Cathedral in development of the peregrine project including the provision of the webcam to give us a window into the life of this charismatic bird. Phil works closely with another peregrine expert, Granville Pictor of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society and Cathedral Clerk of Works, Gary Price. He also co-ordinates the peregrine ringing, with the help of naturalist Ed Drewitt of the British Trust for Ornithology.