Monday, 25 March 2013

Hot water bottle day - whatever next?

Monday 25th March - and the deep snow on the platform looks like it will be there for another week, according to the weather forecasters. Yesterday: the falcon was looking as if she was preparing to lay an egg - but on the 'wrong' side of the platform where there are flat slates put there intentionally in 2006 to encourage her to nest on the deeper gravel on the other side. It had worked until the now when surprise March snow and bitter easterly winds came with a vengeance this weekend.

Overnight thinking: how could we melt the snow to give our birds a chance of laying eggs onto the gravel and not onto a bed of cold snow and ice? There was concern that laying onto ice and incubating in that position might result in eggs not staying viable. There were, after all, only two options for them, and both were snow-filled.

Brainwave: since an abseil down was out of the question today (far too windy and also bitterly cold) what about lowering a hot water bottle (HWB) from the top of the tower  - or even releasing some hot water directly onto the snow in the nest?
Nick M dangles a HWB from the top of the tower
Checks with Ed Drewitt in Bristol (a good friend of the project and a bird ringer licenced to disturb and handle peregrines at the nest for ringing the chicks) confirmed we would need the say-so of a local licenced ringer. So we managed to get Ant Messenger (our usual chick-ringer) to come along and approve our plans, which he did after a bit of consultation with the British Trust for Ornithology. (Thanks Ant!)

Said HWB in situ, melting the snow...
Like something from Fred Karno's Circus, Nick M lowered a succession of hot water bottles down from the top of the tower to try to melt the snow right where the female has always laid her eggs in previous years in the deep gravel. The gusty wind took the HWB round the corner of the cathedral several times but, with persistence and luck (and OK a bit of skill too maybe!), Nick managed to land the bottle (at least four times) right where the eggs are normally laid. By the end, you could see gravel! Meanwhile our two adult birds sat quietly on top of Jurys Inn, unaware of the effort and discomfort we were going through on their behalf.

The media were informed (and rather liked the story) - there was a short piece on BBC TV East Midlands Today this evening, and Nick went in to Radio Derby to explain why we had taken this rather unusual course of action.



We realise we normally take a stance of not intervening too much, and always ensure we have pursued both the legalities and the practicalities of the actions we take. So not everyone has felt this was the right course of action to take today, but we can assure everyone that the birds were not disturbed in any way, nor even called out once, which did surprise us. It may turn out that our efforts were in vain after all. Later this evening our falcon appears to have returned to the still snow-bound, right hand side of the nest ledge after a brief foray into the defrosted bit.

So, as egg-laying time gets ever nearer we'll simply watch and wait now to see which part of the nest ledge she finally chooses. And hope that it turns out to be OK after all.

Nick B and Nick M (DWT)

40 comments:

AnnieF. said...

The falcon's carrying out an inspection - she's in the "wrong" side of the nestbox at the moment.

Phoebe said...

Great work Nick M! And all involved. I'm sure the falcon will inspect the left side in due time.

AnnieF. said...

She seems very unsure still, which is a shame after all Nick's finger-numbing hottie work. She keeps looking up, as if expecting another invasion!

Anonymous said...

didn't think you are supposed to mess with nature

Ian aka superbrad said...

Sorry Guys I am with anonymous on this one.

Regards Ian

Nick B (DWT) said...

Hi Anonymous: humans have been 'messing' with nature for thousands of years - mostly to the detriment of wildlife - that's why the planet is in such a mess!
Our 'messing' today was to try to help wildlife, not degrade it further.
Nick B (DWT)

Nick B (DWT) said...

Hi Ian/Anon (again): There are certainly many different views about whether people should interfere with nature and under what circumstances...so the discussion about this is certainly not black and white.
Sometimes it is undoubtedly better not to interfere, sometimes it clearly is better to intervene and sometimes it's debatable. On balance we felt that it was better to do something today but we do understand that not everyone will agree with us. Even within the 'peregrine world', dedicated people disagree....there probably is no right and wrong....and sometimes people get it wrong for the right reasons too....we are fallible for sure!
Nick B (DWT)

Anonymous said...

Nick B whilst I take your point things happen in nature for a reason, so I will stand by my first comment and say again nature should be left alone

AnnieF. said...

@Anonymous:
I'm not sure I follow your argument. Do you mean that nature's "reason" should be respected at all times? In my experience, many natural events defy "reason".

AnnieF. said...

She's moved into the "proper" side now. Phew! I forecast an overnight egg.

AnnieF. said...

As you were - she prefers the wrong side at the moment.

Ann ( Canada ) said...

Well it looks like Mother Nature could use a helping hand in cases like this. Understand it must be difficult to decide when and when not to help her out. I believe we should do what we can to help things along that we have messed up. xxx

Ann ( Canada ) said...

Question. What would be the dangers if she were to lay the eggs on the other side? just curious. Is it just a matter of the cameras?

Sue Peregrino said...

Now the previous blog begins to make sense! There were comments about hot water bottles before I had any clue what was happening! There is nobody who cares more about the Derby birds than Nick M and nobody who has done more for the cause. He's gone correctly through all of the legal hoops and I say WELL DONE NICK. I'm sure your frostbite will heal eventually too :) I would have loved to have been over on Cathedral Green watching a flapping HWB entangling round the cathedral, not something you could hope to see every day. Yes, it was an extraordinary thing to do, but then the the weather is crazy, it shouldn't be like this at all. Poor Nature doesn't know if it's on its head or its heels.
We don't have so much snow down here in Bucks but we have that wicked east wind and I assure you, it's unseasonal and bitterly cold.

Nick B (DWT) said...

Hi Ann (Canada); that side was still snowy today so it would not have been great for her to lay there either.
Once the snow melted she'd be on a flat, smooth 'skiddy' slate substrate which might or might not have been OK....certainly not as good as the gravel.
The gravel side has another advantage in that it gets shady in the corner on hot days and the small chicks have always huddled there out of the heat in previous years until the sun goes off the platform altogether.
It is certainly true that the 'better' cameras focus on the gravel side - indeed that's why we always wanted her to lay that side but as you can see, there are many other reasons why it would be better to be on the gravel. Weighing all the factors up, the gravel side has much more going for it.
Nick B (DWT)

Phoebe said...

Hi Ann, I agree with your comment, human-kind should do what they can without detriment to other life species.

Phoebe said...

Looking at the weather forecast for the next 5 days, it is getting slightly warmer so with a bit of sunshine the scrape may defrost a little more. I hope she waits until easter day to lay the first egg. Wildlife does have a way of knowing and this pair have got it right every year so far as I know. Fingers crossed!

Sue Peregrino said...

Well said Phoebe, the Derby pair have so far had an uncanny knack of guessing right. There was something weird about last year when up until then, they had done what was expected which was to get earlier and earlier with age. Then they suddenly went later - and avoided having chicks during the terrible storm. The weather forecast now is for bitter and severe weather up until Easter and then a heatwave!! So, if Derby can hang on until Easter, I reckon they will be spot on again. And when that heatwave comes, Nick M will be sorry he had to grapple with the HWB!

Pax1 Canada said...

Oh you guys are wonderful, well done
Nick

Helen said...

Some scraping taking place this morning on the newly cleared gravel by the male bird. Perhaps the female will take the hint!

Hilary Birmingham said...

My oh my...here I am in Canberra Australia at 6.20 p.m. on 26th with tears streaming down my face laughing at the thought of water bottles swinging around the heights of Derby Cathedral. You couldn't make it up...screen rights to follow? How absolutely wonderful. I have always said Derby Peregrines and their team of experts looking after them are totally unique! I will continue watching here in Oz, back on 11.4.13.

Jean said...

When I looked yeaterday and saw the HWB I laughed out loud! Well done! I think nature often needs a helping hand. Every bit of bread we throw out or peanut bag we hang out can be considered interfering but just being here in our warm houses with manicured lawns is interfering as well, and not helful so let's just redress the balance when we can.

Sue Peregrino said...

26 March 08:38 hrs - resident has just visited and inspected the gravel ... I think she loves it! Once again Nick, well done. You deserve a medal. Incidentally, that hat was a very fetching shade of blue :)

Phoebe said...

The falcon has just gone across to the left side of the scrape for a moment then went moved back to the right side and started scraping. She doesn't seem sure which side to go.

Phoebe said...

Tiercel has arrived with food on the tower, the falcon has flown up to him from the scrape.

Phoebe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phoebe said...

Looks like the tiercel on the left of the scrape, inspecting and scraping! they are both there one each side e-chupping to each other. falcon moved to the left and the tiercel flew off. she stayed there for a moment inspecting and has now moved to the right - she is scraping out. It certainly looks like he is telling her to stay on the left.

AnnieF. said...

It looks as though the falcon is still more interested in the wrong side of the scrape - she's there now looking down at her feet.

Phoebe said...

They are both in the scrape again, one each side e-chupping. Tiercel on the left Falcon on the right.

Phoebe said...

She has gone across to him on the left and he flew off, she has climbed up onto the heap of snow and is pecking at the egg cam.

AnnieF. said...

Well the falcon hasn't been at all impressed by the new camera. After a close and lengthy examination she turned her back and hopped over to the wrong side, where she's remained for a good 20 minutes. It's as if she can't quite decide whether to stick with tradition or try a new place. Just as long as she decides to use the nestbox & not lay elsewhere ...

Peregrine Project Member (Nick M.) said...

I have captured a lovely four minute clip of our two peregrines eee-chupping, followed by our female attacking the camera from the vantage point of the huge mass of ice still left there. It will probably take an hour or so to upload to YouTube, so by all means check out our video channel by following Quick Link on the right hand side of our blog's homepage.

Phoebe said...

That's great Nick, thank you! Can't wait to see it, I already watched it as it happened.

Phoebe said...

Tiercel is in the left side of the scrape doing some serious scraping!!

Phoebe said...

Falcon has joined him and they are eee-chupping again.

Phoebe said...

Just watched the new video Nick, it's brilliant! Hope she has made friends with it...

Iain said...

don't know if its been noticed before but the falcon was picking at the woodern structure a few minutes ago anyone know why she would do this,, is it just to sharpen her beak etc

Phoebe said...

The tiercel is in the little hollow he dug earlier on the left hand side, maybe trying to warm it up a bit in an effort to encourage the falcon to lay there.

I think there could be some interesting viewing tonight/tomorrow - maybe an egg!

Caroline said...

Tx for the Youtube link, Nick M - wow, talk about up close and personal when the camera gets a bird-beating. One can really see the muscular strength in her feet. Her long talons show up well against the snow. Heavy beak clonking away! Do you think she can hear the camera or perhaps doesn't like the lens shine? I also wanted to thank all concerned for the new website layout which really gives a feel for all the activity, bird & human. It is easy to spot the twitter feed and blog comments and links to Youtube... just seen peregrine on Stream 1 sitting with the night lights of Derby spread out below. Magic.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad they did what they needed to do to continue the viability of the nest and chicks being raised there, not just for our viewing pleasure but more importantly for the falcons themselves. I applaud their consideration of nature, and the creative efforts they went to to preserve it. Well done indeed