MORE than 3,500 schoolchildren were among the record-breaking 28,464 people who visited Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales National Park this year to watch a family of peregrine falcons in action.
A project run at the beauty spot by the RSPB and the National Park Authority (YDNPA) saw hundreds of visitors a week stopping off at a special Falcon Watch point to view the birds through high-powered telescopes.
Clint and Gryke enthrall 22, 000 Malham visitors
Photo: Carl Watts/RSPB
Three full-time RSPB staff and more than 70 volunteers manned the point from 3 April until 12 August, supplying visitors with information about the adult birds and - later - about the two chicks that were born.
Ian Court, YDNPA Wildlife Conservation Officer, said the project, called Aren't Birds Brilliant, had been a real crowd-puller.
"Given the number of people who have visited the viewpoint during the season and from the positive feedback we have received, it's clear this project has once again been a huge success," he said.
This year the Falcon Watch point opened a month earlier than in the previous three years, and was originally going to continue until 23 July.
But, as the project was running so well and with the peregrines continuing to provide excellent views, a visit by RSPB National ABB Project Manager Richard Bashford in July led to an extension, with the viewpoint finally closing last month.
The Malham Falcon Watch has been another resounding success and this year the arrival of two gorgeous chicks was the icing on the cake
David Hirst - RSPB
David Hirst, of the RSPB, said: "The Malham Falcon Watch has been another resounding success and this year the arrival of two gorgeous chicks was the icing on the cake. The huge visitor figures show just how popular peregrines are and how much people enjoy having the opportunity to watch these stunning birds of prey.
"We are very grateful to the YDNPA for their help and enthusiasm for the peregrine watch, to the many volunteers who have helped out with the project and to the people of Malham village for their support.
"We are already looking at reopening the project next year to give even more people the chance to see these magnificent birds in their awesome surroundings at Malham Cove."
PEREGRINE FALCON FACT FILE
The peregrine is the largest of British breeding falcons. It is 38-48 cm long, and its wingspan is 95-110 cm. The female is considerably larger than the male. The upper parts are dark blue-grey, and the under parts are pale with fine, dark bars. The head has a black 'hood' with black moustache-like markings on the face. Juvenile birds are browner and heavily streaked below
The peregrine falcon is the jet fighter of the bird world and is listed in Guinness World Records as the world's fastest animal with a flight speed of up to 217 mph (350 km/h)
Peregrines typically pair for several years and may live up to 10 years old - the oldest on record was 15 years and 6 months old
Both adult birds tend the young, which take their first flight after 5 or 6 weeks
Peregrines feed on medium sized birds, which they catch in high-speed aerial stoops - although more often than not they fail to make a kill
Peregrine numbers crashed in the 1960's due to the impact of pesticides. They have now increased in numbers, to about 1,300 breeding pairs in the UK - with 20 pairs of peregrines nesting in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.