The cliffs along the Pembrokeshire coast were once famous for their Falcons. In his description of Milford Haven, old Drayton says, in his “Polyolbion” : —
By Nature, with proud cliffs environed about, To crown the goodly road ; where builds the falcon stout, Which use the gentil call ; whose fleet and active wings It seems that Nature made when most she thought of Kings; Which manag'd to the lure her high and gallant flight, The vacant, sportful man so greatly doth delight. That with her nimble quills his soul doth seem to hover, And by the very pitch that lusty bird doth cover, That those proud eyries bred whereas the scorching sky Doth singe the sandy wilds of spiceful Barbary; Or underneath our pole, where Norway's forest wide, Their high cloud-touching heads in winter snow do hide, Out-brave not this our kind in mettal, nor exceed The falcon which sometimes the British cliffs so breed
An old map of the county, published many years ago by T. Kitchen, and dedicated to Sir William Owen, Bart., has printed on its margins sundry information respecting the local antiquities and natural history. In those days the Peregrine Falcon was probably far more numerous than it is now, and the map quaintly states that “in the rocks about the promontory called St. David’s Head, excellent Falcons have their aires and breed.”
About the year 1850 Mr. Tracy considered that from Caldy Island round to St. David’s as many as twelve pairs of Peregrine Falcons might be counted during the months of May and June. There would be many more pairs on the rocky coast between St. David’s and Dinas Head. Writing to us in the summer of 1893, Mr. Howard Saunders states: “There are a pair of Peregrines on Dinas Island on the N.W. side, and of Buzzards, which have had their nest on the N. side, I think. The Peregrines are certainly on the S.W. aspect.”
The Rev. C. M. Phelps was himself acquainted with some half dozen breeding stations of the Peregrine. He says: “One of the Falcon strongholds is on a grand range of cliffs in St. Bride’s Bay, some 250 feet in perpendicular height. In August these cliffs are quite purple and golden with heather and gorse; at their base the lace-like waves of blue St. Bride’s roll in one after the other, and there, soaring round and round with shrill cries and screams are the two Peregrines. At another breeding place, some miles farther on, I assisted at the taking of a nest in 1876. It was curiously placed under two large stones on a grassy platform half way down the cliff. There were four handsome eggs, rather under-sized and hard set.”
We have never been to any spot upon the coast without seeing a Peregrine, or a pair of Peregrines, and were often visited by them at Stone Hall, which is only six miles from the sea-coast. We almost trod upon a Peregrine one day in one of the covers, that rose at our feet off a freshly-killed rabbit. We consider it rare for a Peregrine to attack ground game. On another occasion a party of four Herons was noticed flying most uneasily down the valley of the Cleddy, uttering harsh cries of alarm, with a fine Falcon (i.e., the female Peregrine) following in pursuit. The Falcon did not strike at the Herons, and seemed to be only amusing herself with the fear she had inspired. One fine summer’s day we watched an attempt by a pair of Peregrines to secure a tame Pigeon at Druidston, on the coast of St. Bride’s Bay. The birds made alternate sweeps at the Pigeon without success, and the quarry at last saved itself by taking to ground in some crevice in the cliff, when the disappointed Falcons flew out to sea, after one or two angry barks.
Mr. Tracy gives the following interesting notes on the nests of the Peregrine, which he says are placed in the most inaccessible parts of the cliff. The birds lay four eggs, sometimes five, and, in one instance, he observed six young. “They make no nest, but lay their eggs in a cavity of the rock, where a little loose clayey earth has been deposited; sometimes in the old nest of the Raven, or Carrion Crow, but I never saw a nest without a little earth in it. They fix upon the situation early in March, and lay about the first week in April. Both male and female sit in turn on the eggs. I have known an instance where the male hatched and reared the young ones, when the female had been killed; and also, when the male had been shot, the female has continued the work of incubation.
When they have young ones they are not to be deterred from their nests, nor will they — even if fired upon — desert their offspring. On one occasion, I remember my father and myself firing at a pair of these birds, and the female returned to the nest almost immediately. We repeated this three times before we succeeded in getting her.
In almost every instance where I observed a nest of this fine bird the following birds have had nests in the immediate vicinity, that is within 100 or 150 yards: — The Guillemot and Razorbill, in immense numbers, within a few feet, Puffins, the Kestrel, Raven, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Red-legged Crow, Great Black- backed Gull, one nest; Lesser Black-backed Gull, several nests; Herring-Gull, common; Kittiwakes, in thousands; Common and Green Cormorants, Swifts and Sand-Martins. And yet none of them showed any signs of alarm at the approach of so formidable a foe. I do not recollect a nest where the Herring-Gulls, Guillemots, Razorbills, and Puffins were not abundant.
The old birds “give you plenty of notice, by their harsh cry, when you are in the immediate vicinity of their nest, and it is not difficult to find the spot selected, the same old arched cavity being occupied every year. In one instance eleven pairs of Herons were breeding on the ledges of the rocks, within 150 yards of the nest of the Peregrine Falcon.”
Mr. Charles Jefferys, of Tenby, informs us that the Peregrine still nests yearly below Lydstep, and also in the neighbourhood of the Stacks.