2007 to present (March 2012)
11th October 2007, I was walking back home past Charing Cross Hospital when I saw a Peregrine Falcon fly right above me and then perch on the hospital. I had been dreaming of this and could hardly believe my eyes so rushed back home to get my camera. I didn’t know then that it was here to stay and wanted proof of what my eyes were seeing.
This is one of the first photos I took that day. The first of many more to come as it turns out it was here to stay! Looking back at my initial photos and comparing the state of the perches then with now, it probably had been there a few weeks already (that or the Kestrels I had seen on there occasionally before had also left some ‘white paint’).
Two things were immediately obvious: it was a juvenile and it had a green ring on its right leg. It took me a long time to read the ring and it’s only after it was read by someone else at the Wetland Centre that I found a photo I had taken months before where it could be read (turns out I didn’t manage before as I was trying to read it the wrong way…).
One thing I wasn’t sure about was whether it was a female or a male, I was no expert then (my knowledge came from watching various webcams and going to see the Tate Modern pair a few times), but I had a feeling that it was a female. Other people were telling me however that they thought it was a male. So when deciding on a name, I looked for something that could fit both genders and settled on Charlie, as per its chosen home: CHARing Cross Hospital – CHARlie. The gender question was resolved after another Peregrine arrived in the Spring/Summer of 2007. First seen on 17th May 2008, it was then more present from the 10th June. When I finally saw them both in the air for some courtship display on 24th September there was no more doubt: Charlie was a she, a falcon. However easy it had been to find a name for her, I struggled to find one for her mate. Anything I could think of that would fit him and/or the area, simply didn’t work somehow, until I settled on MrC. I had sometimes been calling Charlie MrsC, when she had what I’d call the Victorian matron look
See what I mean? MrC suited him, he is/was such a dapper bird, almost always standing very erect (unlike Charlie which can look very sloppy at times).
When her ring was finally read, I contacted the coordinator for Sussex who informed me that she had been ringed as a chick on 16 May 2007 on a cliff in East Sussex, 87kms away. Not an urban bird to start with, interesting that she’d chosen London as the place to settle in. The proximity of the London Wetland Centre 0.75 miles away as Peregrines fly on the other side of the Thames might have had something to do with her decision. That of the fact that there were a lot of pigeons at the hospital at the time. We’ll never know… Comparing her behaviour with that of MrC it became obvious that he was more comfortable with the presence of humans than she was, so he may have been city born and bred, but he doesn’t/didn’t have a ring so, once again, we’ll never know.
Peregrines don’t like sitting in the wind and will always try to find a sheltered spot and that’s where buildings can be great as there will usually be a face out of the wind. Dominant winds in London are from West so you’ll find the Peregrines usually perched on the East side, in a quieter part of the building, overlooking quiet(ish) roads. When winds are from the East, they’ll relocate usually to the West wing (where they can easily be seen from the Wetland Centre) but this is over the Main Entrance with a lot of people in and out and, more importantly, one of the busiest roads of West London, Fulham Palace Road. Charlie ‘can take’ a few days of this but no more so when the Easterlies last for a long time, they tend to move somewhere else. In February 2009 we had a long spell of Easterlies and I looked in a lot of places in the area trying to locate them. One such day where I’d looked for them around Wormwood Scrubs, 20th February 2010, I step out of the bus in front of the hospital and see them arrive from the same direction, land and mate!
In 2009, I am unsure whether they even tried to breed, they were gone away from the hospital a lot during April, but not long enough for a full incubation.
In 2010, we had long periods of Easterly winds if I remember correctly in February and I didn’t much of them then. Mid March I noticed them present a lot on a ledge Charlie had used a fair bit as an eating platform when she’d arrived but not so much of late. After I had witnessed what looked like a few nest reliefs (both birds take turn incubating, though the falcon does the biggest share), with Dave Morrison of WEBSITE LINK we contacted the hospital to let them know that they had Peregrines nesting on their roof and that from then on access to said roof was forbidden. Easier said than done because, like a lot of tall buildings in London, the hospital roof houses a lot of mobile phone masts which do require maintenance and upgrades. It was a bit of a shock, but to give them fair credit, the hospital were brilliant, and in particular Chris Rivers, and have been ever since. Things appeared to be going well until the end of April when we had a lot of rain. I spent most of the Friday before the May Bank Holiday under the ledge and didn’t see any sign of them. I only saw MrC briefly on the Sunday, then both of them on Monday but not at the same time so there was still a glimmer of hope. Then on Tuesday I found them both perched above the main entrance and observed them for 45 minutes. Then MrC flew away, circled and went to the nest ledge. For a second I thought he was going to land, but he only tags the corner with one of his talons and turns to fly away Northwards. Shortly after Charlie followed him in the same direction. I informed Dave and we arranged with the hospital to go and check the nest ledge, under licence. When Dave looked over the wall at the ledge he confirmed that their breeding attempt had failed as the nest ledge had been flooded. It was then decided that he would build a nest box for them and that the ledge would be cleared of all existing material so that they wouldn’t be tempted to use that.
The nestbox was installed in December 2010, during the freezing spell… The water on the ledge had fully frozen and it took a lot of effort and time to clear it all out but the result was worth it, a Peregrine penthouse!
We also had 2 cameras installed so that we could monitor the pair without disturbing them, and until the end of March 2011 didn’t see anything on them. We were starting to think that all this might have been in vain, until MrC landed on the ledge on 24th March. They started going on the ledge a bit more and then, finally, on 31st, Charlie went into the nestbox!
13 April, she laid her first egg:
15 April, she laid her second egg:
18 April, she laid her third and final egg:
19 May, around 6am, the first chick hatched:
then around 11am, the second one hatched:
Finally, on 20 at 18.45, the third chick hatched, and already had a bit of catching up to do, they grow very quickly at that age and the size difference was quite noticeable for a few days.
MrC provided very well for the whole family, bringing the occasional Parakeet and a bit of bright colour from time to time, and all 3 chicks grew into juveniles ready to fledge without problem.
We were preparing for fledging time, in particular we were putting the final touches to a notice to put around the hospital in case one the juveniles got grounded on one of their first flights. (ref to LPP page), when I had a call from Chris informing me that builders on the ground had one of our juveniles in the courtyard they were working in! While waiting for Dave to come and check it and bring it to the roof if possible, I checked the cctv and noticed that a second one had fallen off the ledge too. With Chris and the hospital security we looked for it but couldn’t find it. For the story of the rescues of both juveniles check the following blog posts. A few days later, the third chick fledged accidentally, full story is here.
All through summer, they practiced flying, hunting and then one by one all flew away. One, the one that had been rescued first, did return and was around with Charlie for most of September.