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Spectacular raptors fly back on to our screens

By Linda McKee

The team tracking the world's fastest animal has sad news to report - one of the peregrine falcon chicks reared in Northern Ireland this summer is missing, presumed dead.

The magnificent birds return to our screens on BBC One Northern Ireland on Sunday in a multi-media history spectacular - Return of the Raptor.

Webcams were installed at two peregrine nest sites back in March - in quarries at Kilrea, Co Londonderry, and Carrowdore in Co Down - as part of an ambitious bid to follow the trials and tribulations of two raptor families over the spring and summer.

Now presenter Darryl Grimason reveals how the 200mph bird of prey has survived near extinction and how two pairs living in Ulster have struggled to rear their chicks.

Seven eggs were laid during the warm, dry early spring spell and all but one of the birds was tracked through the summer, from hatching to first flight.

Unfortunately, Carrowdore chick Rocky - named by the local primary school - has gone missing during the wettest summer for 50 years.

Project advisor Marc Ruddock believes the dramatic change in weather may have led to Rocky's demise and calls it 'fourth chick syndrome'.

"Four chicks is really the maximum brood for peregrines," he said. "If conditions are bad then the parents will struggle to feed all four.

"We could see from the webcam that Rocky was the smallest and weakest of the four and he seems to have lost out," he said.

In the first programme aired in May, Darryl Grimason reported on how the peregrines have adapted to living in the man-made environment of working quarries.

Throughout the summer, BBC Radio Ulster kept listeners up to date with weekly reports on Your Place and Mine and has had a huge response with almost 40,000 hits in one week when the chicks were about to fly.

Producer John Deering said: "It would have been impossible to set up the project without the support of the quarrying industry.

"Quarries can be real havens for wildlife and many owners and staff take great interest in the welfare of the birds and animals living on their premises.

"Quarrymen David Edwards and Craig Matthews are extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife around them and they gave up much of their freetime to keep an eye on the birds and to write highly informative and entertaining diaries for the website."

Presenter Darryl Grimason described his experiences in filming the latest instalment.

"The day we were hoisted up to the peregrine nest, high on a quarry ledge, on a metal platform suspended from chains will live in the memory for a while," he said.

"The chains had twisted a bit on the ground, but crunched into place half-way up. The big platform suddenly dropped a few inches with a loud bang.

"I thought we were all dead, but told the audience: 'This is exhilarating.'

"I wouldn't have missed that day or any of the others that we filmed raptors, for the world though.

"I was one of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who logged onto the BBC website to see how they were getting on - to watch them hatch, grow, feed and fledge.

"It was a real privilege be able to go up to the nests at Carrowdore and Kilrea and help to ring the young birds.

"The two-part documentary breaks new ground in natural history filming in Northern Ireland.

"The second part gives a fantastic insight into the private - and gruesome - family life of the fastest creature on the planet.

"And it's all thanks to the incredible images from the webcam - the first time this technology has been used in this way over here.

"Unlike so much reality TV these days, I think this is a joy to watch."

Return of the Raptors airs on BBC One NI on Sunday, October 14, at 6pm

Belfast Telegraph


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