Sunday, 4 March 2012

Video-fest (Mating and Night-time hunting!)

Favourite lookout point - high up on Jurys Inn, Derby.
photo by superbrad
What a day for capturing amazing videos!

On Saturday I once again climbed the spiral stone staircase inside Derby's cathedral, part-hauling myself up with the thick hawser-laid rope that serves as a useful handrail for weary visitors like me.
Eighty two steps later and I was half way up the tower and inside the bell-ringing chamber where our internet and recording equipment is located.

I wasn't expecting much on the recorders. OK, there had been a couple of blog comments left by readers to the previous post to say they had seen some sort of night-time activity on March 1st. Perhaps a prey item had been brought back alive, they suggested; it was worth checking out whilst I was in town. But I didn't hold out much hope.

First I went through the daytime recordings, skimming forwards at 5 minute intervals, looking for first signs of mating, or further courtship activity. Suddenly, in one frame, a tiny black dot appeared against the white wall of the distant Jury's Inn hotel. But on the next frame it was gone, so what was it? Running through it again at normal speed I realised we'd caught on camera the moment when an adult bird was flying up to alight on top of the huge blue lettering that spells out the Jurys Inn name. This is one of their favourite haunts when they aren't on the cathedral tower itself as it gives them a commanding view over their nest site, ensuring no interlopers try and take it over. OK, it was at the limit of the camera's resolution, but it was nice to see the tiny dot flying up to land where I had so often seen it in the past.

To see the tiny speck of a bird, you'll probably need to double click to open it in YouTube and then view it in full screen mode by clicking the small icon on the lower right side of the frame.

First mating
Setting the DVD recorder to burn this brief moment to disk, I began reviewing footage captured by the other video recorder. This time what I found was even was even more spectacular. It was footage from 1st March. Our male peregrine (the tiercel) was sitting on the platform edge with the falcon down on the stone ledge below him. She looked to be in rather a submissive posture, so I ran through on fast-forward to see what took place as I suspected she might be ready for mating. And then, sure enough, it happened. After a brief preen he looked down at her, then set off out into the Derby air, obviously did a fast about-turn, and came back into view to land on her sturdy back and mate briefly with her. This is the earliest date on which we've seen our peregrines mating. Previously the earliest report was on 8th March 2009, but of course we have no real idea when these multiple matings actually begin. We're just lucky if we see them. But it does bode very well for a successful breeding season once again this year.

More evidence of Night-time Hunting
And to cap it all, a further look back through recorded footage to find the activity that blog readers, Sue and Helen both reported around 11.30pm on 1st March revealed yet more amazing night-time hunting activity. This time it was clear that our peregrine was alert and watching the night skies over Derby. It flies out and returns a minute or two later with its prey which is clearly struggling, though is not sufficiently clear to enable us to identify the species (but it does seems to have big feet). Rather gruesomely it start plucking its prey without the neck-bite we've witnessed a number of times before. So there's a bit of a struggle before it is finally subdued, plucked and dispatched. So this footage adds to our 'world-first' video recording we captured back in December 2009 when a woodcock was brought back alive late at night. It simply proves what the scientists were saying from the prey evidence - that peregrines falcons are well capable of taking advantage of urban light pollution to hunt for prey long into the night over our towns and cities. Peregrine experts, Nick Dixon and Ed Drewitt, believe the prey item is a female teal that has been taken by our male. (Compare the size against the female bird shown in the video clip in the previous post and you'll notice how much smaller he is than the falcon shown here.)

But all-in-all an amazing day - and well worth the climb up those ancient stone steps.


John B (not the sloop) said...

Single adult (way to early in the season to have my gender eye working yet) on the nest tray 14:55today.

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

Welcome back to our blog, John B.
We've not heard from you for a while. I know exactly what you mean about that "gender eye" - it can be difficult at times, can't it?

John B (not the sloop) said...

I'll try and do better this season...

It's easier sorting out who's who later on when the female invariably gets grubby breast feathers from those long incubations. The tiercels with their short duty slots manage to stay looking dapper.

Anonymous said...

Well worth the trip up the tower! Some fantastic video footage - all getting very exciting now as Spring really in the air. Hope our couple have a very successful breeding season.
Looking forward to reading the blog and meeting up with folk again.

Mary T, Belper (forgot password again)

Anonymous said...

Exciting news! Isn't this just the most brilliant time of the year, waiting for it all to start happening. I hope to come to Derby,on a "state visit" soon, to catch up with all your news and see for myself what is happening. I hope to have some good news to bring too about your "twinned" site in Aylesbury. :)

Craig said...

15.42 Falcon is on the tower, Tiercel is on the right hand scrape ledge.

Falcon flies off, Tiercel move on to the scrape, Falcon flies in. Head bowing commences.

15.43 Tiercel flies off. Falcon is left looking out, a little bemused.

15.45 Over to the scrape she goes to inspect the nest.

15.46 Tiercel has arrived on the Tower.

Anonymous said...

Don't want to plug another site but have to say on the Nottingham Trent University site there are some fantastic close up live shots of one of the peregrines calmly looking down onto rush hour Nottingham streets.
Can't wait until we here in Derby hopefully get our live feed!

Mary T (Belper)

DianeL said...

Lots of lovely courtship action between 3.30 and 4.00. One or both have been in veiw for most of the day.

Caroline said...

19.45 More night hunting. Falcon? in full view with prey on nest edge. Arrived about 5 mins ago. Got some screen grabs but may not get time to load them tonight. Prey dispatched rather sooner this time! She? was gone about 10-15 mins before returning. Busy plucking the breast now while facing camera with prey in front of her. V clear for night shot.

All the best,

Helen said...

19:42 One of the peregrines has just landed on the platform with prey - a fairly large, pale bird. There looked to be quite a lot of movement.

Nick Brown (DWT) said...

Mary: how could you watch Nottingham - have you no pride? (only joking!)
Seriously though, their web cams are very good but we have the better building I think you'll agree!
We hope to meet the Notts folk soon to exchange ideas and discuss how we might cooperate.
Also we hope to have live streaming before too long though there are a number of hoops to go through first it seems (ie mainly with the council IT people) and probably some cost implications this space!
Nick B (DWT)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick - I only pop in to NTU from time to time - obviously nothing in the world can compete with our beautiful cathedral. Good luck with all the future plans. It's all very exciting. if I were to win the lottery a large chunk of cash would be going to Derby Cathedral Peregrine project. Such a worthwhile cause with a fantastic blog, which certain other projects locally don't have!

Mary T (Belper)

Erica said...

Lovely video clips (though I couldn't watch all the feeding of the still live bird).

Erica said...

I tried to say thanks for the video clips but don't think it got through after failing twice the captcha test. One word used to be bad enough but two!

sue said...

I really enjoy watching the peregrines and have done for the last few years. Is there any way of having a better cam like Trent University. Couldnt we raise a little money somehow????

Project Member (Nick M.) said...

Thanks to everyone for your recent comments and observations. There have certainly been some great moments visible on the cameras recently.

Yes, NTU's cameras are very impressive. Had I not been forced to withdraw from supporting the project last year, we might have managed to configure live streaming in 2011 - it's something we've been aiming for for a while.
If the Trust's bid to HLF is successful, we should have the resources to do many new things over the next three years.
I am working behind the scenes to get the infrastructure in place for our cameras to go live later in the year, and maybe we'll have the funds to install a fourth camera once this season is over. We'll explain more about our plans for the next few years in a later blog post.

Please remember that all blog comments are pre-moderated - so it relies on one of the the volunteer Team being near a computer or smartphone to check the website or email. With a number of school classes now watching our webcams, reading the blog, and even posting their own comments, it seems the most appropriate way to operate. We hope you understand.