Saturday, 20 February 2010

More Amazing Video from Derby

With a world-first for Derby's peregrines, what other surprising things could we possibly show you?

post on this blog in January revealed news of that world-first: published video evidence that conclusively showed that peregrine falcons hunt late at night in darkness, aided by city lights. But we only told you half the story. The second half is almost more unusual. . .

. . . It was Christmas Eve. Leaving Derby Museum, and setting off for home for the holidays, I was pondering the significance of the video clip of night-time hunting we had retrieved a few days earlier. At the time we couldn't know how fortunate we were in capturing that moment. But maybe our DVD recorders high up in the Cathedral's dusty tower had captured more of the story.  For instance, how did the peregrine bring back another prey item so quickly at the end of the clip? What was going on down on the nest platform where our microphone picked up some loud contact calls between two adult birds?

I didn't have the answers so, instead of going home, I headed once more for Derby Cathedral. If I didn't check now, any recordings would be over-written during the holiday period and be lost forever.

Up in the cold ringing chamber, I turned on our two Philips video recorders and retrieved the footage made by the nest platform camera at the same time - 10.45pm on 20th December. Watch the clip and you'll probably be as surprised as I was. Then read on . . .

What we saw was, in fact, a bird called a snipe, fleeing from the platform when the adult flies in to land. It is immediately chased by both peregrines. We see that poor bird again at the very end of our night-time hunting video being brought back by the male peregrine to the far end of the tower top, whilst the female peregrine (who had previously caught the woodcock) return to the nest platform.

But snipe are shy, secretive birds. How did it get there? Was it brought in alive by a peregrine? Seeking the answers, I scrolled back in time through our recordings to 5pm - the moment the snipe arrived on the platform. I was surprised yet again by what I saw. Watch this clip yourself (with rather loud bells ringing)- then read on . . .

So, with Christmas bells ringing loudly, a live snipe falls vertically downwards to land on the wooden nest ledge! How? Why?

Well, we know that the live woodcock filmed in the night-time hunting sequence was taken back to one of the peregrines' favoured feeding points. This is some 25m directly above the nest ledge. So it became clear that we'd witnessed yet another night-time feeding moment, albeit a bungled one. It would have been shortly after dusk had fallen, and a snipe would have been moving through the skies above Derby City, thinking it was safe from most predators. But we know that city lights are helping peregrines see potential prey like this. So, taken in flight, it was brought back to their cliff-top ledge (i.e. the cathedral) where, unusually, it was dropped by one of the birds. It landed injured, but alive on the nest ledge, where it stayed for some hours to recover. Would it have recovered and flown off at daybreak? We simply don't know. But when a peregrine falcon flies in to land right in front of it, it has no option. It flees. Being injured, it probably stood little chance of escaping from the chase, and indeed we know it was caught almost immediately by the smaller male peregrine.

These rarely captured scenes might seem cruel, or even brutal to some, but we recognise this is simply nature in action, yet it is impossible not to feel sorry for either of these prey. We are lucky to capture moments like this on film. Witnessing them on camera aids our understanding of how these majestic birds live and survive, both in our towns and the wider countryside.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Cathy on a learning curve

Last year, one of the four young, a female with ring number 010, was found on the ground and taken into care. Ex-rays confirmed that she had a damaged shoulder joint which was inoperable. She would never fly properly again.

Either she would have to be put down or be kept in captivity with a view to using her for educational purposes if she seemed up to it.

Fortunately, Colin, a local falconer, who had been going to the cathedral over the last few summers to watch and photograph the birds, agreed to take her in and look after her. He applied for all the necessary licences from DEFRA to allow him to keep a wild peregrine. He also gave 010 a name, Cathy.

Cathy took to captivity very well. Colin soon discovered that she could fly short distances though she was unable to gain much height.

So we decided to see how she would get on with small groups of school children and, after careful planning, took her to her first school last week.

We chose Brigg Infant School because the children there had been watching the web cams over the summer and had also paid a visit to the cathedral to see the birds. Over three years, their teacher, Helen Naylor, had successfully used the peregrine project to teach english, maths, computer work and many other aspects of the national curiculum. The children's wonderful drawings have appeared on this blog in the past.

With the necessary risk assessments in place, we took Cathy to the school last week. We put her and Colin in a separate room from the class and brought small groups of 6-7 children in to see her one after the other. The children were excellent, very quiet, attentive and asking good questions.

Cathy also behaved perfectly. She was very calm and relaxed throughout and Colin fed her from time to time. Fortunately we had placed a wipeable cloth on the carpet beneath to catch her projectile 'mewts' !

We hope to try her out with slightly older children in the next few weeks....

Nick B (DWT)
(Both photos of Cathy are copyright of Colin Pass)
To read about night hunting please scroll down to the previous blog entry.