Category: Wildlife

Ealing’s new peregrine falcons

Female Peregrine Falcon P4V (Photo: Steve Morey)

A lot goes on behind the scenes at Ealing Wildlife Group that isn’t posted publicly. For several years now, we’ve been watching, monitoring and keeping tabs on some of the rarer wildlife species in or near the borough of Ealing. Where threatened or endangered species may be prone to disturbance or persecution we’ve made it our priority to keep an eye, check in with other local experts, get in touch with landowners, developers and the ranger team to make sure that vulnerable wildlife is protected. And for several years now we’ve been watching a few pairs of peregrine falcons on the periphery or just outside the Borough getting on with their daily lives, and in a couple of cases breeding successfully. All with the hope that some day we’d see this incredible raptor species move in to Ealing proper, and expand their range.

Well, the last couple of months has seen a rising number of reports of peregrine falcon sightings around Ealing Hospital. And sure enough, there’s a pair roosting on the West face most days. The falcon, or female bird, much bigger than the male known as a tiercel, has a ring on each leg. On her right, a small silver British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ring. And more excitingly, on her left leg, an orange ring with a more obvious alphanumerical code. Our talented photographers have been out checking on them and finally we received a photo confirming her ring number from Steve Morey. Using that unique identifier, we got in touch with the licensed ringer who fitted this ring. It turns out our falcon was born in a quarry near Farnham in Surrey in 2018, and ringed as a well grown chick with her two siblings on the 28th May 2018 by a BTO licensed ringer. It wasn’t recorded whether she was a male or female at the time as the chicks were all similar in size. But now we can tell she is a female as she is much larger than her mate, a trait common in birds of prey.

History

Peregrine falcons are a globally widespread bird of prey, traditionally occupying habitats like sea cliffs and preying on the ancestor of domestic pigeons, the rock dove. In the 1950’s and 1960’d the global population crashed due to accumulation of agricultural pesticides in the food chain, namely DDT. Because they are apex predators, feeding on birds who in turn feed on agricultural grains and insects, the levels of these harmful chemical built up in peregrine tissues and caused breeding failure. They weren’t rendered infertile, but their egg shells became very thin and often broke, resulting in a global failure of the population to successfully raise chicks. When the use of these pesticides was banned enough peregrines had just clung on to make a slow recovery over the following decades. In many respects, it was the release of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 which shone a light on the destruction of wildlife by the agrochemical industry which saved the peregrine falcon and many other species. She died in 1964 aged 56 so didn’t live to see the wildlife population recovery she prompted, but her book is recognised as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.

Tall buildings and feral pigeon populations in urban areas nowadays mimic their natural habitat quite closely and as the population has recovered we’ve seen a movement of these magnificent raptors into cities and towns, where they find suitable ‘rock ledges’ to nest on and plentiful food supplies. But they are still persecuted by gamekeepers, racing pigeon fanciers and egg collectors. There is also a lucrative market for peregrine chicks to be used as falconry birds in the Middle East. So it’s important that their nest sites are protected, and in some cases where they are very vulnerable, kept entirely secret.

Tiercel or male falcon (photo: Rachael Webb)

Public disclosure?

Many conservation bodies have discovered that sometimes the best way to protect vulnerable species is not to hide them away however, it’s to tell the public all about them and generate a community of people around them who will advocate for them, monitor them and feel a sense of ownership for ‘their’ birds. And in this case with our new peregrine pair on such a public building as Ealing Hospital, we feel that’s exactly the right approach. They are already in full view of Ealing residents. They are an apex predator, a great indicator species for the health of our local ecosystems and bird life, and what a fantastic species to engage the public with nature. Literally the fastest animal on the planet, with speeds of up to 200mph in a hunting stoop to capture other birds in flight. So let’s celebrate our newest wild residents!

How can we help?

We have been in touch with several other building managers or developments to discuss installing a nesting box or platform on rooftops in Ealing, and now have contacted the facilities manager at Ealing Hospital too. Luckily, they are already aware of the falcon pair and being careful not to disturb them,. One of the benefits they’ve seen already is the reduction of feral pigeon numbers around the hospital which are unfortunately a health hazard with their droppings if they occur in high numbers.

We’re hoping to collaborate to install a nest box in early 2021 to help these birds breed here and establish the hospital as a permanent breeding site. 2021 would be about the right time for our female P4V to breed for the first time, in her third year. This year the pair seem to roosting on the hospital and establishing their bond ready for breeding next year hopefully.

Falcon calling for her new mate (photo: Steve Morey)

Naming the pair…

One of the ways we can engage the community with wildlife conservation in the borough and take an interest in protecting these birds, and by association our important habitats nearby, is to name the pair and make them something on an Ealing wildlife mascot. We’ve been busy collecting suggestions on our Facebook group, so now’s the time to put it to a public poll

Have your say here:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LPCK8VP

What shall we call our Ealing peregrine falcons?

Male or Tiercel Peregrine Falcon (Photo: Rachael Webb)

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020: How can you help?

Did you know it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week? Well it is, so here are our top tips for attracting and helping these prickly garden visitors, who sadly are in decline in the UK.

Hedgehog by Rob Fenton

Build A Hedgehog Highway

One of the challenges facing hedgehogs in urban areas is getting around enough gardens at night to forage. Solid walls and fences don’t help when you need to travel up to a mile in one night to find enough food. So cut a hole or leave a gap about the size of a music CD in each of your garden boundaries. Encourage your neighbours to do the same so each little island of garden habitat is connected and hedgehogs can get around.

Hedgehog morning travels by Esther Brooks

Stop The Slug Pellets

These (and all other garden chemicals) are not only harmful to pests eating your precious plants, but anything else that eats them afterwards. Like hedgehogs, amphibians and the beautiful but declining Song Thrush. There are just as effective organic or chemical-free solutions to slug control. My favourite is a biological control that uses tiny parasitic nematodes that kill slugs but don’t harm anything else. Beer traps also work well, and the slugs die happy. Or you could just garden with plants that are great for wildlife and not so prone to slug damage?

Build A Log Pile

Stack logs, branches and woody cuttings in a pile in a quiet area. Leave a large cavity in the centre and some gaps a hedgehog might be able to squeeze through. Not only will it provide a potential hedgehog home but rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, hedgehog food! You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even stag beetles! The more dead wood you can include in your garden habitat the better.

Provide Water

A shallow dish of fresh water can be a lifesaver to a thirsty hedgehog in the summer months. If you can create a small container pond or full-on wildlife pond even better, but make sure there are ways for hedgehogs to scramble out of a pond if they fall in. Ponds with steep, slippery sides are a death trap for hedgehogs and other wildlife so create a beach area in the shallows or pile up some logs, branches and plants near the side just in case.

Hanwell Hedgehog by James Morton

Check Compost Heaps & Bonfire Piles

These piles of material can make excellent homes or temporary shelters for hedgehogs too. Always check them carefully before sticking a garden fork in them or lighting that fire.

Make A Feeding Station

With a few simple supplies you can create a hedgehog restaurant that excludes larger diners like cats and foxes. You could even set up a trail camera and see who comes to visit your garden at night. Fun for all the family!

Log Your Sightings

To allow conservation organisations to build up a picture of where hedgehog hot spots are and where they are in trouble, we need the power of Citizen Science! So log your sightings of hedgehogs here and here. We’d also love you to post any sightings or photos you have on Facebook for our members to enjoy.

Donate to Hedgehog Awareness Week

 https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HAW20

Ealing bats in 2020!

As the future of group activities looks uncertain with Covid-19 lockdown in place, one question we’ve been asked a number of times in recent weeks is whether there will be any bat walks in the season ahead. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to lead any sizable group walks any time soon. But all is not lost for you batty fans!

EWG Hanwell Viaduct bat walk (Photo credit: Steve Morey)

As our Dawn Chorus walk showed, virtual walks and activities are still an option. And a couple of weeks ago I took my bat detector out on my daily exercise at dusk, and transmitted through Facebook Live to see if it would work. And it did!

Bats in May

Now May and warmer weather are here bats are getting really active, feeding on flying insects, replacing lost energy reserves from hibernation and soon giving birth to tiny new baby bats. In fact May is the month most females will be heading to their communal maternity roost. Like a giant bat creche where they all have their babies. We’re lucky in Ealing to have lots of green space and wildlife corridors that bats (and other wildlife) need to survive and thrive. And we need to protect these spaces as best we can. Bats are an indicator species for the health of our wider habitats and ecosystems, so that’s why we’ve focused so much of our monitoring and public educational activities on them.

We’ve recorded 7 confirmed species in Ealing over the course of 38 public bat walks and many outings from members of our EWG bat pack over the past 4 years. And we’re providing all of our bat data to London Bat Group and the Bat Conservation Trust. It’s also an asset going forward for site specific development issues. The species we have confirmed in Ealing to date are as follows:

  1. Common Pipistrelle
  2. Soprano Pipistrelle
  3. Nathusius’ Pipistrelle
  4. Noctule
  5. Leisler’s
  6. Daubenton’s
  7. Brown Long Eared
Common Pipistrelle examined in hand during trapping and monitoring by London Bat Group under license (Photo credit: Sean McCormack)

Bats have fascinating biology, behaviour and habits, they’re much misunderstood. They are secretive and come out at night when we can barely observe them. Kids enjoy staying up late to see them, and a bat walk combines nature with technology. What’s not to love?

Bat Walks

I don’t know of anyone who’s experienced bats flying overhead with an electronic detector in hand to listen to their high pitched calls who hasn’t been thrilled or fascinated.

So I’m going to try to schedule a series of virtual bat walks via Facebook live this batty season, so at least if we can’t go watch them together we can have the next best thing.

Sean with bat detector

If you haven’t joined our Facebook group, what are you waiting for? That’s where we’ll transmit the live walks, and the event dates will be posted on there soon as well as on our website.

In the meantime, if you’re having bat withdrawal symptoms, here’s a couple of entertaining bat shaped videos on our YouTube channel:

I look forward to seeing and chatting with you on a Virtual Bat Walk very soon! And if you have any comments or questions, do let us know.

Sean

Blue Tit Nest Box: Chapter One

Having treated myself to a camera bird box for Christmas in 2018 I was disappointed to get no visitors to it on my 4th floor balcony in 2019, but can’t say I was very surprised. Too high for a discerning tit or sparrow, I resigned myself. This Spring I took it to my pal Nigel’s place, where Blue Tits regularly avail  of his nest boxes to raise a brood. And he kindly agreed to host the box for the 2020 season, as well as edit and post any footage we managed to capture.

Well for the last few weeks we’ve been on tenterhooks as we’ve been teased by a pair of Great Tits at first, soon followed by a charming little Blue Tit pair inspecting the box and deciding whether or not it might make a nice home.

Let me tell you things have well and truly heated up in the Blue Tit family planning department in recent days, and nest building is underway.

So everyone’s in lock down, confined to their homes for the most part. Every Nature Nerd’s favourite programme, BBC Springwatch, is hanging in the balance of whether it airs or not this year. So we thought it was vitally important to provide you with regular updates of our own little Springwatch experiment here.

Check out the action to date in this, our first #EWGtitcam video, and stay tuned as we’ll be providing more footage of this industrious little pair’s antics in the weeks to come.

Stay safe and well folks, and enjoy.

Sean

Bird Feeder Cam Episode 2: An exciting new visitor!

One of my absolute favourite British birds, the Jay, recently visited my allotment bird feeders. Normally elusive and annoyingly shy, this surprisingly exotic looking member of the crow family’s behaviour is captured beautifully on the motion sensor camera trap.

It also captured a rather familiar vocalisation, which was news to me. Far different to the usual screeching call I associate with this bird, flying off ahead when startled by my approach.

Check it out…

Bird Feeder Cam: Episode 1

I set up a trail cam (or camera trap) at a bird feeding station on my allotment, to see what birds and other creatures are coming to visit when I’m not there.

Hopefully we discover some interesting species. I’ve seen some pretty shy species, so this should give us good views.

Stay tuned!

Sean

Little Owls on the Allotment

Went to check on the chickens on their second night in the new coop on the allotments and heard some strange noises coming from an Oak on the far end. I know we had a Little Owl as I’d spotted it a few weeks ago, but my neighbour found it dead having been caught up in netting.

Delighted with what I discovered, watch and see…

Sean