Saturday, 24 January 2009

Of Peregrines and Popocatepetl

Peregrine enthusiast surveys the view across to Popocatepetl, Mexico.
It's funny how some of those odd facts and bits of information picked up from school can linger throughout one's life. I remember learning about volcanoes in school, and delighting in the sound of the name "Popocatepetl" which rolled impressively across my schoolboy lips. I remember, too, learning which creature was the fastest on earth - the peregrine falcon when dropping or "stooping" down on its prey. Both those things stuck in my mind for some reason.

It's also funny how seemingly unrelated things can come together many years afterwards. And so it was that late last year I found myself on a mountaineering trip to Mexico to climb some of that country's highest volcanoes. The famously-named volcano, Popocatepetl, was on our doorstep but still erupting (as you can see above) so was unfortunately out of bounds. But as we waited in the office of the Iztaccihuatl -Popocatepetl National Park for our permit to enter, my climbing partner and I found ourselves chatting to some of the enthusiastic Park staff. Explaining our interest in mountains, wildlife recording and webcameras, we learnt that peregrine falcons were present in this National Park, but were regarded as both extremely rare and still endangered there. I had been watching their Popo webcam from my office computer, and they now took to watching our peregrine webcam from theirs!

We never did see a peregrine falcon in Mexico, but came back excited by our experiences and the friends and contacts we had made. Back in England attention is turning to the coming breeding season. The nest platform will need to be checked before too long and the cameras adjusted. We'll do this before nesting starts, and the disturbance will be minimal. Already we've set our visitor counter back to start counting again from 1st January 2009, having taken over 430,000 unique visits during last year. Who knows what successes or failures this coming season may bring?

Adult female peregrine. Photo: G Whitmore.

For keen watchers wanting to distinguish adult peregrines from juveniles, here's a quick reminder: The adults have horizontal streaks across their breasts, whereas juveniles have vertical streaks running up and down. The adults have blue/grey feathers on their head and back, whereas juveniles are a dark brown colour.
Place your mouse over each image to view captions, or click image to enlarge.
In the breeding season the adults both have yellow rings around their eyes. This is most apparent in the male, but is increasing in the female as she gets older. He is considerably smaller than she is, but this is of little use when only one bird is seen at a time on our webcams. It can also be diffiult to judge size when one bird is nearer the camera than the other, and in cold weather both birds can fluff up their feathers and look much larger than they did before! Look out from January oonwards for the two birds facing each other, doing a heads-down display over the nest scrape. This is part of the courting ritual and our webcams then allow you to clearly see the smaller male against the larger female.
Juvemile female peregrine, 2006.

We should also point out that our young birds have not been seen around the Cathedral since autumn last year, so any bird you see now will definitely be one of our adults which first started breeding here in 2006. And once eggs are laid and incubation starts, it will be the larger female who we'll be seeing for most of the time keeping them warm.


Adult male peregrine. Note the small beauty spot on his right cheek. Photo: G Whitmore

Whatever happens during 2009, we'll bring you all the news, and no doubt readers will continue leaving helpful comments to report the things they see, too.

Nick Moyes
Derby Museums & Art Gallery



Website feedback minisurvey
How did you find this site, what were you looking for and what do you think of the experience?
Renaissance East Midlands works with museums to help them be the best they can for visitors, staff, volunteers and the community. We are keen to help improve museum websites by finding out how well they are meeting users’ needs at the moment.
Once you have finished your visit to this website, please spare five minutes to share your thoughts by filling in this quick survey. To say thank you for your help, you will have the chance to enter a prize draw for £100 at the end of the survey (July 2009)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pax 12.15am
falcon on the nest ledge and another on the pudding cam

Karen Anne said...

Peregrine on the nestbox.

Anonymous said...

pax Canada 1146pm
lovely shot of a falcon on the pudding cam

Anonymous said...

Pair of Peregrines arrived on the nest ledge at about 1620 Hrs and stayed for a minute - Web Cam clock appears tobe about 7 minutes fast !

Anonymous said...

pax 8.53am
falcon up close on the pudding cam

Anonymous said...

Around 2pm today a lot of activity on Camera 1, but sadly mostly out of view. The "Nestbox" is divided in two by a support bracet - the left haly is in full view of the camera, whereas the right half is mainly hidden from view. The right half appears to be lined with far more feathers than the left half, and it was the hal fthat is out of view where the action was taking place with only glimpses of the back and shoulders visible at the bottom of the screen. Is the camera angle adjustable to show more of the nestbox, or are there any plans to install another camera so that both halves can be viewed ?

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

In answer to the comment left about cameras on the platform, we do already have a second camera which covers the other half of the nest platform. This means we have three video feeds, but at present we've only two pages for you to view them on. This leaves us with a dilema: which camera feed shall we go live with? We do switch them around from time to time, and sometimes we show all four feeds in a "quad view". It just depends on the activity levels. We feel the tower top view, using a new camera donated by Acam technology Ltd in 2008 gives a different and welcome perspective. However, as we approach the new breeding season, it's likely that we will want to have both nest cameras in operation.
I hope this helps to answer your question.
Nick M.

Karen Anne said...

I think a quad view on one of the two pages would be nice.

Karen Anne said...

Snow...

The comments page won't expand on Firefox, it's a window about 4x3 inches.

Karen Anne said...

Thanks for the quad view and for fixing the page!

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

You're welcome, Karen Anne.
We can't always deliver what people ask for - but if we can, we do!

Looks like we're in for a bit more snow tonight and tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see whether the birds stay away from the platform during this time.

Nick M.

Karen Anne said...

Wonder what's going on with the pudding cam, maybe it's in a snow drift :-)

It just amazes me how birds do in cold weather. I've been watching the ones who show up at my deck feeders here in New England. Their feathers are so puffed up for insulation so they look like little beachballs. Heaven only knows how the water birds manage, not only swimming, but dipping down into the cold water after whatever they eat. A human wouldn't last twenty minutes in that water.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a big build up of snow (normally pretty rare here over the last few years). It is quite exposed because the lens is looking upwards more than those on the nest platform. But it does also tend to suffer some condensation in cold weather too.

I have a down jacket, and a water-proof coat to go over my poor naked body when it gets cold. Give me some well- insulated wellingtonm boots and I'm almost as warm as a bird in winter!

Nick M.

Anonymous said...

peregrine eating on the tower