We hope you enjoy this pictorial story of the Peregrine Falcons at Cheddar Gorge, from eggs to flight. This story, and it's accompanying photographs, were sent to us by our 2009 photo competition winner, Michael Dearden.
Let's start at the beginning
Last year I was quite late finding a suitable location to photograph the Cheddar Gorge peregrines, and didn't manage to get early pictures. This year I beat them to it and was around from the beginning to the end.
21st April - 3 beautiful eggs
My first "live" day was on April 21st by which date the female had a clutch of three beautiful brown eggs.
She was obviously very proud of this achievement and frequently stood up to look at them and turn them gently with her beak.
She occasionally left the eggs unattended to hunt, if Dad wasn't doing his stuff which was rather brave considering there was a Raven's nest just a few feet away.
28th April - the eggs have hatched
My next visit was on the 28th April by which time all three eggs were hatched and all three chicks doing well.
They all looked very much the same size and seem to have hatched at the same time which boded well for a successful rearing of all three. Although I spent many hours watching, Mum never left the nest at this period and all four had to rely on Dad for food supplies.
Here he brings in what appears to be (dare I say) a Blackbird, and passes it to Mum. He then tried to take it back and she promptly flew at him and they both fell off the ledge with Mum returning a few minutes later, with the kill, and proceeded to feed the chicks. All three still doing well and all about the same size.
4th May - chicks getting larger
The chicks are noticeably larger. Mum now leaves the chicks on a regular basis to help Dad with the hunting.
13th May - pigeon anyone?
Mum comes in with a pigeon which is quickly dispatched by the chicks who still have to be fed.
Mum takes great care that all three get an equal share of any kill and that is evident by their similar size.
They are still just balls of down but by now I am more confident that all three will survive as they are so similar in size that I doubt any could oust either of the others.
21st May - waddling chicks
Just eight days later, (I've got my new lens!) and look at the difference!
All three chicks now have quite a lot of their flight feathers and are beginning to waddle around the nest site but still tend to huddle when neither parents are around.
Both parents hunting full time now to keep up with their appetites but even so I only see them a couple of times a day if I'm lucky. Just shows how rarely they actually manage to make a kill.
27th May - now they are strutting
27th May and it's just amazing! This last six days has seen them go from chicks huddling to almost full-grown. They strut around the nest site frequently flapping their wings.
One almost went off the edge and from then on he faced into the cliff when he tried out his wings!
3rd June - the last easy meal & flying high
Mum brings in their last easy meal! I don't know what she said but within a couple of hours all three dropped off the nest and flew for the first time.
Their antics before taking off were quite funny to watch with one seeming to goad the other and the third sitting to the side making one heck of a racket.
It must take huge amount of courage to just drop off a 350 foot cliff for the first time, hoping that all that flapping practise works in real time! Any way, they were gone and my nest vigil came to an end.
Unfortunately one of the chicks has subsequently died in an accident with a car in the Gorge but the other two can be seen almost every day perfecting their hunting skills with their parents.
I can't say I exactly miss being perched 350 feet up a cliff but it was a huge thrill, and privilege to be allowed to witness the arrival of three new Peregrines into this world and to share their start in life. You'd better believe I'll be there for them next year!