Friday, 21 February 2020

A new season begins

With the web cams soon to burst back to life, it is an appropriate time to start blogging again as we begin yet another breeding season.
Scroll down to read about the hard and complex work now being undertaken to get full connectivity.
It's not been easy but we a re almost there!
The only way to watch the cameras at the moment is to go up the tower to the small project control area where the monitor can be switched on. Nick Moyes has already observed some courtship the omens are good for another successful breeding season.
Displays on the nest will continue increasing in intensity as the weeks progress. Mating will occur in March and the first egg should be laid either at the end of March or in early April.
Before then, Nick will abseil down to clean up the nest platform well before egg laying begins.

Nick Moyes prepares to clean the nest platform
To read (much) more about the project click on the various tabs at the top of the blog home page.

To see any of the 50+ you tube videos of the 'highlights' over the years (egg laying, the rearing of the chicks etc) search on YT for Derby Peregrines VC57  and scroll down the blog for links.

Male peregrine on the edge of the platform
Photo Graham Whitmore
The female falcon
Photo Colin Pass
More pictures and stories from the past will follow over the next few weeks.....

The project team this season consists of Lisa Witham (manager), Emma Wood (until April), Mike Goold (Watch Point Events), Sam Spickett (community work), Nick Moyes and Nick Brown.

Nick Brown
The Project Team

Thursday, 6 February 2020

2020 Vision - Update 1

This update follows on from Tuesday's post, below.

Earlier today I went down to Derby Cathedral to meet up with two technicians from the oddly-named IT company, Worm Purple. Named after a child's accidental description of weirdly-coloured ethernet cables, Worm Purple provides the hardware connectivity for Derby City Council's IT infrastructure.

Worm Purple installing wireless network link

Tim and Adam had been busy. Using a small 'cherry picker'  they had already fixed up a new wireless link onto a streetside CCTV camera pole on Irongate by the time I had arrived. It was one half of the final network link we have been pushing and waiting for over recent months. The unit was aimed upwards, towards the clock face on Derby Cathedral, so our next task was to establish whether it would be 'seen' by a similar unit placed inside the tower's 'clock room',  where our webcamera kit is located.

As the years go by (and our project has been going since 2006) it seems that every time I ascend the ancient spiral stone staircase, my knees get progressively weaker, and I get increasingly  out of breath! Today was no different. Once inside, we rigged up an ethernet cable to a power supply unit so we could test out the other half of this wireless equipment, manufactured by SIKLU.

Adam and Tim from Worm Purple with one half of a SIKLU wireless access unit
As I had expected, we needn't have worried about the four or five centimetre-thick slab of painted sandstone which forms the clockface. It took just a few moments to clamber up behind the clock-face and establish a link by pointing it roughly downwards towards the street below and allowing the units to talk to one another. Great - so our next step was to find a way to fix the unit into position without doing any damage to the historic stonework of the tower.  So no drill-holes and bolts into the walls!

As luck would have it, there were already two solid horizontal beams running behind the clock face, and slightly staggered in their position. It seemed a simple task to tie a pole to these two beams, resulting in an ideal to point downwards. So, after getting them to pose for a picture Tim and Adam shot off with the radio unit, removed the other unit already in place in Irongate and sent them off to our friend an colleague, Tim Unwin at Derby Council. His task is now to configure the units to the Council network, prior to them being refitted at either end of our link. Once done, we hope it should be a relatively quick task to get the connection reestablished to our webcam hosting company.

Whilst we were up in the tower, we were delighted to able to watch our male peregrine drop in to the nest platform and do a little bit of scrape-making. He lay down on the gravel bed, pushing back with his talons, slowly carving out the simple depression into which the female will lay her eggs towards the end of next month. Before we left, and by way of thanks, I took Tim and Adam up to spiral stairs for a quick tour of the tower. We visited the carillon that automatically chimes the quarter-hour bells and another which plays musical tunes two or three times a day, and then on to look down onto the bells themselves, before coming out on top of the tower for a grand view across the city.
View onto Irongate from the top of Derby Cathedral's tower.

Hopefully, by next week we will at least have our network connection reestablished, and from there we can proceed to configure the public-facing webcams again.

Further updates to follow.

Nick M
Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

2020 Vision

Derby Cathedral seen from Irongate
2019 was a frustrating year for all of us involved with the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project - except the peregrines, that is. They did well and successfully raised another brood.

However, it was the lack of any publicly-viewable webcameras that was frustrating for you, our readers and viewers, and to us, the small team who try to keep the project running. The problem was a simple one -  complete absence of internet connectivity between the ancient stone tower of Derby Cathedral and the outside world!

We first fitted  web cameras on the tower back in 2007, and our Peregrine Project rapidly became a small internet sensation, known right around the world. Since then we have added more cameras, attracted over 4 million views, but also encountered some serious communication issues.

Our links to the big wide world have always been circuitous, to say the least, and we have been grateful throughout to Derby City Council and their expert staff and IT agents who facilitated that final link and configuration to our webcam hosting company, and thence to you, our viewers and readers.

  • First we beamed our signals to Derby Silk Mill Museum, and thence via a laser link into a nearby multi-storey car park, and from there into to Derby City Council's internet link. But the car park was damaged in a fire in 2014!
  • Then we beamed to Derby Silk Mill and from there via a laser link direct to Derby Council House. But then a newly constructed hotel got in the way! We lost our link  again.
  • So then the laser beam was repositioned, and we carried on again until 2018.
  • We knew it was coming, but late in 2018, Derby Silk Mill was totally gutted prior to a major refurbishment and new museum development, scheduled to open in September this year.
  • 2019 was spent trying to encourage our partners at Derby City Council to find a way to reconnect us with new equipment that we offered to buy.  At first, we thought we would need a £10k piece of kit - far too much for our project to afford. But new equipment appeared on the horizon, and a prices an order of magnitude lower seemed within our reach.

Inside the Clock Tower at Derby Cathedral
- our kit is under the stairs, and the clock alcove is just above on the left.
During late 2019 and throughout January we have been in contact with Tim, our friendly and enthusiastic IT expert at the Council House. He has identified a piece of highway infrastructure close to the Cathedral Tower which has a high-speed fibre connection for CCTV equipment.
We met a couple of weeks ago to assess  the route our radio signal could take.

Beaming any radio signal through one metre of sandstone block wall (the cathedral's 14th century tower!) is unlikely to be successful. However, we believe we have found a 'direct line of sight' to the nearby pillar via an alcove inside the Clock Room of  Derby Cathedral's Tower. In fact, it is immediately behind one of the tower's clock faces.

Alcove behind the southern clock face
- possible location for internet link equipment
But problem! Aren't decorative clock faces made of thick metal, like brass or something? Whilst it didn't look like metal from the inside, we couldn't risk it. So I rang up Smith of Derby who I know maintain the clock mechanism and some ten years ago refurbished the clock face itself (just check out their website for a picture). It might have been a weird question ("Hello, I'm trying to find out what the clock face at Derby Cathedral is made of. Do you happen to know?") but within 15 minutes I had a call back from them. It's a thin sheet of sandstone, just 5 to 6cm in thickness, I was reliably informed. Perfect! We're on.

This week I'm awaiting a chat with another IT expert, Mark, from a specialist company that Derby Council contracts to install their infrastructure hardware. (currently not naming them until I have their permission)

I'm looking forward to taking things forward and being able to report back on further progress. There will be equipment to buy and install, and we earnestly hope and need to have this installed and configured before the 2020 breeding season commences.

View from near clock face onto Irongate.
We expect to see courting and behaviour starting in a week or so. This is usually evidenced by the pair of birds visiting the nest platform, facing each other with heads down, and loudly calling "eee-chupp - eee-chupp" to one another.

 We welcome any reports of this or other behaviour and hope soon that everyone will be able to listen and to watch again with 2020 vision.

Nick Moyes
on behalf of the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project team.