We are delighted to be supporting the St Albans Abbey’s first ever Peregrine Live Cam ! After their first breeding season last year, the peregrine falcon pair, Alban and Boudica, timed their first egg perfectly, laying on the first day of the camera going live to the public.
Born and raised in St Albans, and with his own remarkable story about another urban peregrine pair, we asked Leica Sport Optics Ambassador Luke Massey to write a guest blog about his experiences with the fastest animal in the world.
Few people outside of the birding world realize the world’s fastest animal is a bird, the Peregrine Falcon.
It’s a species I’ve got many memories of, from close to home and further afield. I still remember my first sighting, at Slimbridge nature reserve in Gloucestershire. My grandparents took me on various day trips whilst growing up and Slimbridge was a firm favourite. I can still remember climbing the rickety steps of one of the wooden hides overlooking the Severn. One of the birders sat in the hide let me look through their scope, and although distant, I remember staring at that amazing bird perched on a grassy bank; golden yellow talons, slate gray back and sharp curved beak. It was love at first sight.
Ever since that first encounter I’ve been lucky to spend lots of time with these super fast falcons. As a young teen I remember lying in a stubble field photographing golden plovers when suddenly they all took off at once, a gray feathered bullet cut through them grabbing one and continuing on its way.
But it isn’t just rural areas that these falcons live now. After fighting back from the brink of extinction in many places, due to persecution and the use of the chemical DDT. DDT was ingested by the Peregrines which led to brittle eggs that broke on incubation, reducing the population with each failed breeding attempt.
Peregrines can now be found around the globe with booming populations in our cities. One of their favoured prey items, feral pigeons are found in bountiful supply in most cities. And our construction of tall buildings offer man made cliffs to breed on. I’ve been sipping on a gin and tonic on a rooftop bar in Malaga and watched peregrines bringing prey to their chicks on the cathedral there. In London there are over 20 pairs, some breeding in areas such as St Pauls and the Houses of Parliament.
One such city that boasts a booming falcon population is that of Chicago. 30 years ago they were almost extirpated but have bounced back. I spent an amazing 2 consecutive years living alongside one pair, Linda and Steve who decided to set up home in an apartment balcony flower pot.
When I first saw the phone images from the apartment’s human tenant, Dacey, I was amazed. Wild peregrine falcons sat on his kitchen windowsill, or alighting on the balcony, staring in at him through his patio doors. When he invited me to stay it was a dream come true, to be able spend time not only observing but photographing and filming these birds. To my knowledge, very few people have been able to sit within feet of a brooding peregrine falcon, see the eggs hatch and watch the chicks grow to fledging and beyond, with no impact on the birds themselves. For some reason, maybe because of the public spot they chose to nest in, the pair were VERY human tolerant. Even when not at the nest, the adults perched on the roof terraces of various condo buildings, some residents spoke of grilling on the rooftop barbecues with the birds perched alongside them on the railing, janitors told me of the decapitated bird heads they had to fish out of the rooftop pools before the residents arrived for their morning swim. One evening I was filming the fledged chicks whilst a Pride party went on behind me on the roof terrace when one of the fledged chicks misjudged her landing and scattered party goers as she clumsily flapped through the crowd, before I helped her up onto a sun lounger, then the roof edge and back off into the skies to continue her flying lessons.
This pair were very much part of the local Chicago community, and provided many hours of delight. I bumped into so many locals who had their own tales of the pair and their chicks. That was what was so wonderful. An extremely urban pair of Peregrine falcons, the fastest animal on the planet bringing so many people together.
Back on the other side of the Atlantic, and another pair of Peregrines bringing people together, this time in my home town of St Albans. As I’ve mentioned before, growing up I had many peregrine encounters but as far as I knew breeding pairs were rare, most of the birds were lonely singletons until now.
In 2022 peregrine falcons nested for the first time on the tower of St Albans abbey. A spot I always thought looked perfect for peregrines. The Abbey is visible from almost every approach to the city, at its highest point, a breeding pair of peregrines have the perfect vantage point to spot prey from. They successfully raised one chick to fledging and have remained present all year, it’s looking promising for another breeding attempt for 2023, and I really hope they do. This year Leica London are sponsoring a webcam that will be broadcasting all the goings on from the Abbey nest, so let’s hope they lay and we get to witness it all.