Monday, 16 July 2012

Birds on the brain

We've been late getting down to Blacknor this year. I keep putting it off - it's too muddy, the weather's baltic, it's mostly onsighting and I'm focussing on redpointing - but finally we have got down there and I remember the things I love about the place. The clear blue skies, endless sun and rock and sea, the gorgeous sunsets over the horizon on the late summer evenings, the grippy shelly rock where there are no holds and everything's not-quite-a-hold - but most of all the peregrines. Pleasingly, they seem to be thriving at the moment and appear to have hatched another nest of chicks.

I remember we spent one entire season, pretty much, at Blacknor, from April through to October. What I remember most strongly about that summer isn't the routes I did, although they seemed very important at the time, but watching Blacknor's resident Peregrines hatching chicks - as climbers, particularly climbers with a bit of a Portland obsession, we spend a lot of time on the same bit of crag over several months of the summer, so we are in something of an ideal position to watch the entire process. At first, the parents were pretty hostile and very cautious - one of them usually guarding the next, then every now and then you would catch a rare glimpse of a Peregrine coming in to land on the next with food for hungry peregrine chicks. You wouldn't ever see them, but you could hear the frenzied cheeping as they flew back into the next.

Then suddenly the chicks were learning to fly - the parents seemed to chill right out, and it was like a squadron of peregrines playing and tumbling through the air. It was as if suddenly they could relax, and they became almost extrovert, noisily broadcasting their presence and terrorising pigeons and seagulls alike.

It feels a real privelage to have a front row seat to the whole drama. It's amazing watching a peregrine pursuing a pigeon at high speed below you through the maze of boulders down on the beach, or grappling with other birds as they tumble through the sky, only breaking off into a dive just before they hit the boulders. Sometimes they hover so close to the cliff tops, you are only a few arms lengths away from them as you hang from the belay.

Since that summer I've felt really fond of Peregrines in general and the Blacknor peregrines in particular. It's good to see them again. Here are some pictures of peregrines.

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