Monday, 17 August 2020

Dead peregrine found on nave roof

 An adult female peregrine corpse was discovered and retrieved from the roof of the cathedral recently.

It was long dead with just bones and feathers remaining. It was unringed. It is not possible to age the bird or gain much if any further data from it though we are still exploring who if anyone may be willing to analyse it.

           The large talons and wide tarsus were indicate of a female (males are smaller in every respect)

                                  Some of the bird's primary (flight) wing feathers

This bird may be the female which has been breeding at the cathedral since 2006 but which went missing earlier this year. Or perhaps it is one of possibly two new females that were seen during lockdown.
The suspicion is that these females had been fighting for control of the tower and that, in the process, one might have killed an other.

If it is our resident female, then she has done us proud over the many years she has 'ruled the roost' and raised so many young.

I guess we will never know. 

Nick B for the Project team

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Lockdown lifted - and a mystery revealed

Britain's nationwide lockdown is finally easing. Shops and business that have been shut since mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, are starting to open, and the staff at Derby Cathedral are now preparing for its reopening for private prayer from 8th July.

Earlier this week we were delighted to be permitted to go up inside the tower to check on our own favourite birds of prey after a gap of over 3 months. Many of us have missed being able to watch the online antics of our pair of nesting wild peregrine falcons as they courted, laid eggs and reared their young. 

We were deeply frustrated by not having been able to connect up our webcameras before the lockdown kicked in (as explained here), so we knew we'd have to rely on the reports of those able to view from the street below.

But something else occurred this year, too...

It was hard to be sure when it happened, but reports started to come in suggesting we had lost our old and reliable female falcon to a new, younger model. Local naturalist, Anthony Pooles, kept an eye on the Cathedral for us as he travelled to his job as a 'keyworker'. He began to conclude (see here) that the falcon had been replaced by a new, younger female, and that she might be incubating, albeit on the other side of the nest platform than usual.

Unable to see into the nest, we had no idea if egg-laying had occurred, or they'd failed to hatch, or if chicks had died. Then, in late May we concluded that this new female had probably not laid eggs.

So, finally, we can confirm and reveal at least some of what has been going on. Despite not being connected to the web this year, our cameras are set to trigger to record to an internal memory card when movement on the nest platform is detected. The oldest recordings get overwritten once the card is full, so it was a rush to retrieve them as soon as we could. As I connected up my laptop and accessed the internal recordings, I found we had over 900 short video clips, but only going as far back as 20th April.

By that date, eggs would normally have been laid and incubation well underway, and with hatching anticipated for early May. But the picture below shows what we found on Monday 29th June.

Nest platform on Derby Cathedral as seen on 29th June.

It revealed a pristine nest platform, with no signs of eggs, chicks or much activity at all. So what happened?

Reviewing the saved video clips, it seems our male peregrine falcon (with a small silver ring on his left leg) is now enchanted with a sub-mature adult female, and they have been courting one another all through April, May and June. We've seen food swaps, lots and lots (and lots) of head-bowing and eechupping. But the male has a slate grey-coloured back, whilst this new female still seems quite brown on top, despite her horizontal breast bars. For all my years with this project, I'm no expert on the peregrines' appearance once they've left their nest sites as we rarely see them again. But to me she looks like she is just coming into adulthood, so presumably a 2nd-year bird, and not quite ready to raise a family.

But, boy, have they been trying!

The video clips our camera has captured show a well-bonded pair, going through the familiar routines of food-swapping, head bowing and eee-chupping towards one another with their heads bowed.
You can see this in the two clips below, captured on 24th April and 28th April (note the ring on the male's left leg in the second one).

But what has been surprising is that this courtship continued into May, and on through June...

 and right up until 28th June, as below:

It seems probable this prolonged courtship display will continue for a little while yet, though it's far too late in the season for this new pair to lay this year. But what does seem likely is that they will bond well during 2020 and start a new, successful breeding partnership in 2021.

It has been a frustrating time for everyone, from hopeful webcam watchers on the other side of the world, to your own Project Team here in Derby. In one sense, their failure to breed means we haven't missed much with our webcams not being online this season, but in a far greater extent it seems we've missed a considerable amount!

Nick M
for the Peregrine Project Team

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Further Update on May 23rd 2020

Our dedicated volunteer, Antony Pooles, has been keeping a beady eye on the peregrines this spring for us. He is employed as a 'key worker' quite near the cathedral and pops over in his lunch break to see what he can see.

Here is his latest report for which we are really grateful even though it sounds as if we won't be seeing any chicks this summer:

"Well here's another update and I may be the bearer of bad news (at least in terms of eggs/young for this season).
When I last emailed I was fairly convinced that incubation had begun.
The 'new' female had flown in a couple of times and had looked to have nestled straight down on something.
I'd witnessed what I thought was a changeover (I'm now thinking this may have been the female returning to her 'clutch' after a brief flight with the male) and my last sighting had been of a stretched wing and raised tail above the platform edge as incubation looked to be progressing.
As this is normally a quiet time of the breeding cycle, I have only visited three times over the last week (all roughly around 2 - 2.30pm).
My first visit lasted around 45 mins and at no point did I see any part of the female but wasn't worried since I was viewing from the ground at a steep angle so any movement wouldn't necessarily be seen.
After around 15 mins the male flew in calling and perched on one of the grotesques there was no movement or reply from the platform which I found unusual as the female has always been very vocal! I left with the male sitting on the grotesque and a feeling of unease...

My second visit was shorter (around 25 mins). The male was again on the grotesque and cut quite a lonely figure. This is quite an unusual position for the male as he normally leaves the tower for Jury's Inn when a female is about - his presence on the tower looked like he was defending a territory/advertising a vacancy?
Again there was no sight or sound from the platform.

Happier times - one of last year's chicks being ringed
Photo by Gillian Foxcroft
Today (22nd) I visited for around 45 mins, the male was on his grotesque and again there was no sign (or sound) of life from the platform. After around 20 mins there was a brief bout of calling (causing me to look up from the platform to the male) and in flew a pristine, gorgeous adult female Peregrine. A real cracking looking bird and definitely different to the 'new' female who always had a slight yellowish hue to her breast - one of the reasons I thought she might be a young bird.
By comparison, this one's breast was crisp white.
She bowed and sidled up to the male and then took flight (she has either a missing or loose tail feather that causes a gap to one side - something I hadn't noticed with the previous females).
The male took flight and the two circled together before first he and then she disappeared towards Friargate. All this and no reaction or sight of the 'incubating' female!

In conclusion I now believe that the 'new' younger female has abandoned the male or been usurped and replaced by another adult female (or possibly the old bird is back on the scene - with a bit of tail moult).
Anyway I think we can abandon any hope of successful breeding this year!
Goodness knows what the project team will find when they eventually manage to get up to the monitors in the tower when the cathedral re-opens>
Abandoned eggs? No eggs? Maybe even an incubating female fast asleep, sitting tight and refusing to believe her mate is off with another bird!"

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Further update from Antony Pooles and an eggy update

UPDATE 8th May:
Antony (see below) has today witnessed a change over at the nest platform so there are eggs for sure! Thanks Antony.

On 2nd May, our Long serving Watch Point volunteer, Antony Pooles, who walks past the cathedral from time to time en route to work in the city, reported thus:

"I've just seen the female Peregrine fly into the platform and nestle straight down on something - albeit on the wrong (slate) side of the platform.
So it's looking very like she's incubating something.
When laid and if viable (given this bird looks and acts like a different, younger and more naive female - and is also spending a fair bit of time off the nest) we'll have to wait and see.
Have seen no evidence of prey being brought to the platform so if there are eggs, they haven't hatched yet!
Peregrine photo (not at Derby) taken by and with 
permission from  Pauline Greenhalgh (her copyright)

Meanwhile, the male was on the Jury's Inn building. At least that's a reasonably constant theme!!"

So, things seem to be sorting themselves out and as Antony says, there may well be eggs even if they have been laid on what we regard as the 'wrong' side of the platform - the one where we put small pieces of slate as opposed to the other side which has gravel and in which, the (previous) female always laid her eggs. This is the side on which the better camera is focused...and that's why Nick Moyes dreamt up the idea of encouraging her to lay on gravel she could scrape a depression in rather than slates which she can't!

Thanks Antony....further updates welcome if you get a chance!

The Project Team

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Podcast about Urban Peregrines

Naturetrek has produced a 40 minute long podcast about urban peregrines and Derby gets a couple of plugs along the way!
The podcast is essentially an interview with Ed Drewitt based near Bristol.
Ed is the author of the book Urban Peregrines published a few years ago. Ed visited Derby in the early days of the project and we have been sending him prey remains and our observations ever since.

The adult female peregrine photographed by Dave Farmer (a few years ago now!)
We also made the world's first recording of nocturnal feeding by urban peregrines back in 2010 when a woodcock was brought back to the tower at about 11pm on a December night.

The woodcock video is on Youtube here

If you have time, do watch the podcast here and learn more about these remarkable birds.

Meanwhile, Antony Pooles, one of our super Watch Point volunteers, has to walk past the cathedral to get to his work in the city and he says there have been three peregrines around the cathedral....two females and a male.
Quite what is happening he (and we) don't know.
Is the third bird an intruding female? (Antony says it is an adult and not one of the pair's previous offspring).
Will one of the females disappear and leave the or a pair to breed successfully?
Only time (and Antony) will be able to tell us since the cathedral is locked up and we can't get down there ourselves anyway,,,,,,

The Project team

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Web cams to watch

Should you want to see videos of our Derby Cathedral birds in years gone by (2006-2018) you will find many scattered through past posts on this blog.
Alternatively, go to YouTube, search for "VC57UK", and all 150+ videos will come up, in year order.

As the current peregrine season progresses, we'll take a look back at a few of these videos and milestones in our project, so you can get a sense of what stage the 2020 birds are probably at.

So let's start where it all began, back in April 2006...

We had already measured up the tower and pre-constructed the new 'temporary' nest ledge, but appalling weather that year had forced us to postpone installation until 5th April. We used extra long ropes  and pulleys (supplied by Derby Mountain Rescue Team), but it was our own Nick Moyes and climbing partner, Nick Evans, who you see doing the actual installation.

Live Peregrine webcams to watch
On the basis that ours own webcams are not now going to be re-connected this season, here are some links to other LIVE peregrine web cams around the UK. Where shown, the egg count was last made at 25 March:

  • The Wildlife Trusts host many web cams including peregrines at Leamington Town Hall and Nottingham, ospreys at several sites, barn owls etc. See here.
  • (Nottingham had its first egg on 16/3, should be 4 by now)
  • Leamington Town Hall (hosted by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has 3 eggs)
And here are a few more around the UK:
Other wildlife webcams:
And for a website which has links to literally hundreds of web cams in the UK and around the world, go here but be aware that many are not working presently either because the birds have not started nesting yet or because funding has run out.
This Latvian white tailed eagle web cam IS working and so is this osprey cam in Wales and the Manton Bay nest at Rutland Water where at least one adult has returned already.

Alternatively, go onto YouTube and search for 'species x' web'll get old videos as well as live ones. If you find any particularly good cams do please send a comment with a link.....European birds preferred!

Nick B/Nick M
for the Project Team

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

It seems we've failed

If you read our previous post, you will be aware that the very final step in connecting our webcameras back to the internet was thwarted  a few weeks ago by the simple absence of a very specialised security key. It is needed to unlock one side of the base of a piece of City Council-owned street furniture, close to Derby Cathedral.
Webcam view of a first egg, seen back in 2007

Without access via this key, it is physically impossible for a high-speed fibre cable to be connected up to the new wireless device which was specially fitted to the top of  a tall pole so as to communicate with the inside of Derby Cathedral tower.

It's as simple as that: no key; no webcam connection.

Our colleagues at the Council and their contractors have done their level best to locate the key. They tell us that last week a huge bunch of keys, supplied by the lock manufacturers was taken to the camera pole, but with no success. Nothing fitted.

And now, as the country enters at least a three-week lockdown through Coronavirus, we have to admit our deep disappointment and sheer frustration at our failure to jump this final hurdle. It seems highly unlikely that we shall now be able to find which individual or council department has possession of this key. And, even if we do,  would anyone now be allowed to spend time out on Irongate making that last essential link connection? We doubt it.

We are deeply sorry to every one of you who has supported us, and to whom we gave our word that we would undoubtedly reinstate our peregrine falcon webcam in advance of this nesting season. Everything was in place. We did all we could, but it wasn't quite enough, and time has now caught up with us. We will all miss out on the exciting scenes we've come to enjoy in past years of the world's fastest creature living out its life, laying its eggs and tending to its newborn chicks on the side of our city's Cathedral tower. From past history, it is likely that our falcon will lay her first egg over the next seven to ten days...but with the cathedral closed, we won't be able to check on the monitor in the tower.....or report back to you all.

Of course, should the lost key to this pole be found, and that final connection made, we will update you immediately. Everything else is in place - the cameras cleaned; a new microphone installed; the nest platform prepared, and all the IT infrastructure wired up. But one simple plug just cannot be connected. 

So, a big thank you from the Peregrine Project Team and from our friends at Derby City Council who we know will be just as frustrated as we are.

Nick M and Nick B.
Peregrine Project Team

Ps. In our next blog post we will suggest other active bird web cams you can watch including some peregrine ones......