Thursday, 26 March 2020

Web cams to watch

Should you want to see videos of our Derby Cathedral birds in years gone by (2006-2018) you will find many scattered through past posts on this blog.
Alternatively, go to YouTube, search for "VC57UK", and all 150+ videos will come up, in year order.

As the current peregrine season progresses, we'll take a look back at a few of these videos and milestones in our project, so you can get a sense of what stage the 2020 birds are probably at.

So let's start where it all began, back in April 2006...

We had already measured up the tower and pre-constructed the new 'temporary' nest ledge, but appalling weather that year had forced us to postpone installation until 5th April. We used extra long ropes  and pulleys (supplied by Derby Mountain Rescue Team), but it was our own Nick Moyes and climbing partner, Nick Evans, who you see doing the actual installation.

Live Peregrine webcams to watch
On the basis that ours own webcams are not now going to be re-connected this season, here are some links to other LIVE peregrine web cams around the UK. Where shown, the egg count was last made at 25 March:

  • The Wildlife Trusts host many web cams including peregrines at Leamington Town Hall and Nottingham, ospreys at several sites, barn owls etc. See here.
  • (Nottingham had its first egg on 16/3, should be 4 by now)
  • Leamington Town Hall (hosted by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has 3 eggs)
And here are a few more around the UK:
Other wildlife webcams:
And for a website which has links to literally hundreds of web cams in the UK and around the world, go here but be aware that many are not working presently either because the birds have not started nesting yet or because funding has run out.
This Latvian white tailed eagle web cam IS working and so is this osprey cam in Wales and the Manton Bay nest at Rutland Water where at least one adult has returned already.

Alternatively, go onto YouTube and search for 'species x' web'll get old videos as well as live ones. If you find any particularly good cams do please send a comment with a link.....European birds preferred!

Nick B/Nick M
for the Project Team

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

It seems we've failed

If you read our previous post, you will be aware that the very final step in connecting our webcameras back to the internet was thwarted  a few weeks ago by the simple absence of a very specialised security key. It is needed to unlock one side of the base of a piece of City Council-owned street furniture, close to Derby Cathedral.
Webcam view of a first egg, seen back in 2007

Without access via this key, it is physically impossible for a high-speed fibre cable to be connected up to the new wireless device which was specially fitted to the top of  a tall pole so as to communicate with the inside of Derby Cathedral tower.

It's as simple as that: no key; no webcam connection.

Our colleagues at the Council and their contractors have done their level best to locate the key. They tell us that last week a huge bunch of keys, supplied by the lock manufacturers was taken to the camera pole, but with no success. Nothing fitted.

And now, as the country enters at least a three-week lockdown through Coronavirus, we have to admit our deep disappointment and sheer frustration at our failure to jump this final hurdle. It seems highly unlikely that we shall now be able to find which individual or council department has possession of this key. And, even if we do,  would anyone now be allowed to spend time out on Irongate making that last essential link connection? We doubt it.

We are deeply sorry to every one of you who has supported us, and to whom we gave our word that we would undoubtedly reinstate our peregrine falcon webcam in advance of this nesting season. Everything was in place. We did all we could, but it wasn't quite enough, and time has now caught up with us. We will all miss out on the exciting scenes we've come to enjoy in past years of the world's fastest creature living out its life, laying its eggs and tending to its newborn chicks on the side of our city's Cathedral tower. From past history, it is likely that our falcon will lay her first egg over the next seven to ten days...but with the cathedral closed, we won't be able to check on the monitor in the tower.....or report back to you all.

Of course, should the lost key to this pole be found, and that final connection made, we will update you immediately. Everything else is in place - the cameras cleaned; a new microphone installed; the nest platform prepared, and all the IT infrastructure wired up. But one simple plug just cannot be connected. 

So, a big thank you from the Peregrine Project Team and from our friends at Derby City Council who we know will be just as frustrated as we are.

Nick M and Nick B.
Peregrine Project Team

Ps. In our next blog post we will suggest other active bird web cams you can watch including some peregrine ones......


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Missing wifi key - do you have it?

As many people in the UK and elsewhere adjust to finding themselves confined to their homes during the developing coronavirus pandemic, thoughts will undoubtedly turn to ways to keep ourselves occupied and sane when we can't get out and about.

It has long been understood that access to wildlife and to the outdoors has a significant, demonstrable impact on our mental and physical well-being (see hereherehere and here). And so, finding ourselves constrained from travelling or coming together with like-minded souls to experience the natural environment may be a challenge for many people.

For our own part, the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project has, over the years, received many messages from people who were ill or housebound and unable to travel to get their 'fix' of nature. For them, using webcameras like ours offered a very special opportunity to watch and enjoy wildlife from home. For some it was a real lifeline to nature. And so it is now more important than ever before that we provide as many of these opportunities for safe enjoyment of wildlife whilst so many of us are considering self-isolating to avoid the spread of this horrible virus. 

Worm Purple technicians installing a Siklu
wireless link on a streetside column
on Irongate.
Over the last few months we have been inching back towards restoring our webcamera connections. Thanks to Tim at Derby City Council IT department, and to Mark at Worm Purple, we now have a pair of wireless units mounted and ready to link our equipment inside Derby Cathedral's tower equipment to the internet. One unit has been set up inside the clockroom of the tower, whilst its partner is mounted on a council-owned column in the street below. We know they work and are ready to go. But...

...there was still one small but critically important problem left to surmount. The key could not be found!

No, this isn't the wifi key or 'password' needed to set up the wifi units - it's the actual, physical key needed to unlock one side of the base of the column so that the network/PoE cables can be plugged in to complete the link and power up the Siklu transmitter unit.  For the last two weeks they've been asking high and low to see who at the Council has it. And now, we hear, it might have been found, and we shall know in the next day or so if it has.

Once we do, we can complete the re-configuring the new equipment to send a video stream to our webcam-hosting company, and from there direct to your PC, wherever in the world that may be.  Whether we shall be in a safe enough position by mid-May to run watchpoints on the Cathedral Green, it is simply impossible to say at his stage in the pandemic. But with some of the UK's peregrines already having laid their first egg of the season, making that final internet connection for our webcameras - so that we can all watch them from home - can not come soon enough.

Nick M.
for Peregrine Project Team.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Derby male takes over at Belper after resident male dies

It is widely known now that a pair of peregrines has been nesting on East Mill in Belper for several years, in fact since 2012.

Last week, the male of the pair was found close to the mill. It was injured either from colliding with a car or a bridge or both. On xray at a friendly vets practice, where no charges are made for treating wildlife, it transpired that this bird had been shot at some point. There were two lead pellets, a superficial one in the skin but another deeper one in the bird's flight muscle.
Sadly the bird died subsequently at the vet's.
Lead shot is poisonous but the extent to which the shot in the bird's body played a major role in its ultimate death is unknown.
Suffice to say, the bird had been illegally shot - presumably somewhere near Belper causing considerable outrage...and rightly so.
See this piece written shortly before the bird died (and this piece after).

On Sunday (8th), bird watchers with cameras at the mill spotted and photographed a new male which has already taken over. This bird bears an orange ring on its left leg with the number 035 on it.
Checking our records, it was reared (and ringed) at Derby Cathedral in it is still less than two years old.
035 photographed at Belper by Graham Bacon (c)

In that year, three chicks fledged at Derby: a definite male (weighing 545 grams at ringing) which died of canker within a few weeks and a definite female which weighed a much heavier 815 grams.
The third bird (035) weighed in at 665 grams and was considered likely to be a female....wrongly as it now turns out. Sexing young peregrines at that early stage is not an exact science; heavy males can weigh more than light females...…

035 has now been seen mating with the resident female at Belper so hopes of getting eggs are high.

With thanks to Ian Bradley for the latest news and for getting permission to use Graham's fine photo.

Nick B
The Project Team

Friday, 21 February 2020

A new season begins and an Update

Update Friday March 6th:
Nick Moyes abseiled down to the nest platform to clean the tray and camera lenses and fix a new microphone. The weather was good and he completed all the tasks successfully.

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 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 inside it for other 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.