Thursday, 14 January 2021

Peregrine art

 A really awful day here in Derbyshire today (14th January 2021)  - grey, cold and either wet or snowy depending how far north you were.
Lockdown prevents us going to see what the peregrines are doing but I suspect they would be hunkered down somewhere out of the prevailing weather.

So, maybe it's time to take a look at the work of a few wildlife artists who have painted or drawn peregrines.

Esther Tyson lives in the county though she spends a lot of time away painting in Scotland etc.
She is a prominent member of the wonderful Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA):
Introduction | Society of Wildlife Artists ( 

Peregrine with large chick Esther Tyson

Peregrine with prey by Esther Tyson SWLA

To see more of Esther's work go to Esther Tyson ma rca 

For a very different style, here's an example of the work of Andrew Haslen showing a peregrine on a sea cliff

Peregrine by Andrew Haslen

There's more about Andrew here: SWLA – The Society of Wildlife Artists

And if you want to read possibly the best nature writing about this falcon then get hold of a copy of 

Meanwhile, despite the lockdown, we are making some progress re. connectivity of the Derby Cathedral webcams having finally discovered who has the key to the street furniture where the connectivity cables are this space (again)......

The Project Team

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Displaying already

Antony Pooles, one of our Watch Point volunteers who passes the cathedral regularly, reports seeing some display between the pair on the cathedral tower a few days ago:

He wrote:
“There was  a nice bit of early pre-breeding interaction by the Derby pair this afternoon (Dec 19th) with some 'ee-chupping' from the female and bowing by both. All very promising for 2021!”

He reports that the new female in residence seems to be a feisty individual and that we may be in for an exciting breeding season. His photo above shows both adult birds on the top of the tower.

On the web cam front, we have renewed hope that serious attempts will be made by the city council’s IT unit to establish connectivity in January….fingers crossed on that!

Meanwhile, merry Solstice, festive greetings and let’s hope for a better New Year. 

Stay safe

The Project Team.


Monday, 17 August 2020

Dead peregrine found on nave roof

 An adult female peregrine corpse was discovered and retrieved from the roof of the cathedral recently.

It was long dead with just bones and feathers remaining. It was unringed. It is not possible to age the bird or gain much if any further data from it though we are still exploring who if anyone may be willing to analyse it.

           The large talons and wide tarsus were indicate of a female (males are smaller in every respect)

                                  Some of the bird's primary (flight) wing feathers

This bird may be the female which has been breeding at the cathedral since 2006 but which went missing earlier this year. Or perhaps it is one of possibly two new females that were seen during lockdown.
The suspicion is that these females had been fighting for control of the tower and that, in the process, one might have killed an other.

If it is our resident female, then she has done us proud over the many years she has 'ruled the roost' and raised so many young.

I guess we will never know. 

Nick B for the Project team

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Lockdown lifted - and a mystery revealed

Britain's nationwide lockdown is finally easing. Shops and business that have been shut since mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, are starting to open, and the staff at Derby Cathedral are now preparing for its reopening for private prayer from 8th July.

Earlier this week we were delighted to be permitted to go up inside the tower to check on our own favourite birds of prey after a gap of over 3 months. Many of us have missed being able to watch the online antics of our pair of nesting wild peregrine falcons as they courted, laid eggs and reared their young. 

We were deeply frustrated by not having been able to connect up our webcameras before the lockdown kicked in (as explained here), so we knew we'd have to rely on the reports of those able to view from the street below.

But something else occurred this year, too...

It was hard to be sure when it happened, but reports started to come in suggesting we had lost our old and reliable female falcon to a new, younger model. Local naturalist, Anthony Pooles, kept an eye on the Cathedral for us as he travelled to his job as a 'keyworker'. He began to conclude (see here) that the falcon had been replaced by a new, younger female, and that she might be incubating, albeit on the other side of the nest platform than usual.

Unable to see into the nest, we had no idea if egg-laying had occurred, or they'd failed to hatch, or if chicks had died. Then, in late May we concluded that this new female had probably not laid eggs.

So, finally, we can confirm and reveal at least some of what has been going on. Despite not being connected to the web this year, our cameras are set to trigger to record to an internal memory card when movement on the nest platform is detected. The oldest recordings get overwritten once the card is full, so it was a rush to retrieve them as soon as we could. As I connected up my laptop and accessed the internal recordings, I found we had over 900 short video clips, but only going as far back as 20th April.

By that date, eggs would normally have been laid and incubation well underway, and with hatching anticipated for early May. But the picture below shows what we found on Monday 29th June.

Nest platform on Derby Cathedral as seen on 29th June.

It revealed a pristine nest platform, with no signs of eggs, chicks or much activity at all. So what happened?

Reviewing the saved video clips, it seems our male peregrine falcon (with a small silver ring on his left leg) is now enchanted with a sub-mature adult female, and they have been courting one another all through April, May and June. We've seen food swaps, lots and lots (and lots) of head-bowing and eechupping. But the male has a slate grey-coloured back, whilst this new female still seems quite brown on top, despite her horizontal breast bars. For all my years with this project, I'm no expert on the peregrines' appearance once they've left their nest sites as we rarely see them again. But to me she looks like she is just coming into adulthood, so presumably a 2nd-year bird, and not quite ready to raise a family.

But, boy, have they been trying!

The video clips our camera has captured show a well-bonded pair, going through the familiar routines of food-swapping, head bowing and eee-chupping towards one another with their heads bowed.
You can see this in the two clips below, captured on 24th April and 28th April (note the ring on the male's left leg in the second one).

But what has been surprising is that this courtship continued into May, and on through June...

 and right up until 28th June, as below:

It seems probable this prolonged courtship display will continue for a little while yet, though it's far too late in the season for this new pair to lay this year. But what does seem likely is that they will bond well during 2020 and start a new, successful breeding partnership in 2021.

It has been a frustrating time for everyone, from hopeful webcam watchers on the other side of the world, to your own Project Team here in Derby. In one sense, their failure to breed means we haven't missed much with our webcams not being online this season, but in a far greater extent it seems we've missed a considerable amount!

Nick M
for the Peregrine Project Team

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Further Update on May 23rd 2020

Our dedicated volunteer, Antony Pooles, has been keeping a beady eye on the peregrines this spring for us. He is employed as a 'key worker' quite near the cathedral and pops over in his lunch break to see what he can see.

Here is his latest report for which we are really grateful even though it sounds as if we won't be seeing any chicks this summer:

"Well here's another update and I may be the bearer of bad news (at least in terms of eggs/young for this season).
When I last emailed I was fairly convinced that incubation had begun.
The 'new' female had flown in a couple of times and had looked to have nestled straight down on something.
I'd witnessed what I thought was a changeover (I'm now thinking this may have been the female returning to her 'clutch' after a brief flight with the male) and my last sighting had been of a stretched wing and raised tail above the platform edge as incubation looked to be progressing.
As this is normally a quiet time of the breeding cycle, I have only visited three times over the last week (all roughly around 2 - 2.30pm).
My first visit lasted around 45 mins and at no point did I see any part of the female but wasn't worried since I was viewing from the ground at a steep angle so any movement wouldn't necessarily be seen.
After around 15 mins the male flew in calling and perched on one of the grotesques there was no movement or reply from the platform which I found unusual as the female has always been very vocal! I left with the male sitting on the grotesque and a feeling of unease...

My second visit was shorter (around 25 mins). The male was again on the grotesque and cut quite a lonely figure. This is quite an unusual position for the male as he normally leaves the tower for Jury's Inn when a female is about - his presence on the tower looked like he was defending a territory/advertising a vacancy?
Again there was no sight or sound from the platform.

Happier times - one of last year's chicks being ringed
Photo by Gillian Foxcroft
Today (22nd) I visited for around 45 mins, the male was on his grotesque and again there was no sign (or sound) of life from the platform. After around 20 mins there was a brief bout of calling (causing me to look up from the platform to the male) and in flew a pristine, gorgeous adult female Peregrine. A real cracking looking bird and definitely different to the 'new' female who always had a slight yellowish hue to her breast - one of the reasons I thought she might be a young bird.
By comparison, this one's breast was crisp white.
She bowed and sidled up to the male and then took flight (she has either a missing or loose tail feather that causes a gap to one side - something I hadn't noticed with the previous females).
The male took flight and the two circled together before first he and then she disappeared towards Friargate. All this and no reaction or sight of the 'incubating' female!

In conclusion I now believe that the 'new' younger female has abandoned the male or been usurped and replaced by another adult female (or possibly the old bird is back on the scene - with a bit of tail moult).
Anyway I think we can abandon any hope of successful breeding this year!
Goodness knows what the project team will find when they eventually manage to get up to the monitors in the tower when the cathedral re-opens>
Abandoned eggs? No eggs? Maybe even an incubating female fast asleep, sitting tight and refusing to believe her mate is off with another bird!"

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Further update from Antony Pooles and an eggy update

UPDATE 8th May:
Antony (see below) has today witnessed a change over at the nest platform so there are eggs for sure! Thanks Antony.

On 2nd May, our Long serving Watch Point volunteer, Antony Pooles, who walks past the cathedral from time to time en route to work in the city, reported thus:

"I've just seen the female Peregrine fly into the platform and nestle straight down on something - albeit on the wrong (slate) side of the platform.
So it's looking very like she's incubating something.
When laid and if viable (given this bird looks and acts like a different, younger and more naive female - and is also spending a fair bit of time off the nest) we'll have to wait and see.
Have seen no evidence of prey being brought to the platform so if there are eggs, they haven't hatched yet!
Peregrine photo (not at Derby) taken by and with 
permission from  Pauline Greenhalgh (her copyright)

Meanwhile, the male was on the Jury's Inn building. At least that's a reasonably constant theme!!"

So, things seem to be sorting themselves out and as Antony says, there may well be eggs even if they have been laid on what we regard as the 'wrong' side of the platform - the one where we put small pieces of slate as opposed to the other side which has gravel and in which, the (previous) female always laid her eggs. This is the side on which the better camera is focused...and that's why Nick Moyes dreamt up the idea of encouraging her to lay on gravel she could scrape a depression in rather than slates which she can't!

Thanks Antony....further updates welcome if you get a chance!

The Project Team

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Podcast about Urban Peregrines

Naturetrek has produced a 40 minute long podcast about urban peregrines and Derby gets a couple of plugs along the way!
The podcast is essentially an interview with Ed Drewitt based near Bristol.
Ed is the author of the book Urban Peregrines published a few years ago. Ed visited Derby in the early days of the project and we have been sending him prey remains and our observations ever since.

The adult female peregrine photographed by Dave Farmer (a few years ago now!)
We also made the world's first recording of nocturnal feeding by urban peregrines back in 2010 when a woodcock was brought back to the tower at about 11pm on a December night.

The woodcock video is on Youtube here

If you have time, do watch the podcast here and learn more about these remarkable birds.

Meanwhile, Antony Pooles, one of our super Watch Point volunteers, has to walk past the cathedral to get to his work in the city and he says there have been three peregrines around the cathedral....two females and a male.
Quite what is happening he (and we) don't know.
Is the third bird an intruding female? (Antony says it is an adult and not one of the pair's previous offspring).
Will one of the females disappear and leave the or a pair to breed successfully?
Only time (and Antony) will be able to tell us since the cathedral is locked up and we can't get down there ourselves anyway,,,,,,

The Project team