Saturday, 31 March 2007

How Much Longer?

Derby Cathedral Clock Face. The small window is in the Bell Ringing Chamber, where our monitor is located. Photo: Derby Museum

It has been busy at Derby Cathedral today. We learn that an open day has been very successful, with far more people than expected - many wanting to see the peregrines!

Still no sign yet of our first egg, though down in Exeter we learn that a pair began laying last week. Here, in Derby, mutual bowing on our nest platform is increasing as the days go by - three times in one hour on Wednesday afternoon. Once the male has left after head-bowing, she often waddles slowly over, seeming to inspect the scrape. She stands, turns round, and sometimes sits down in it. On Monday we began seeing her spending time picking up and then dropping small stones around the scrape during the inspection process.

We are so sorry we can’t yet bring you live internet pictures – our aerials for the wireless internet connection went in one Friday, and we hope our IT people will be able to configure everything next week. In the meantime you can watch video clips in the blog entries below.

There was a panic on Tuesday afternoon when the Wildlife Trust received a report of a peregrine trapped in a roof void off St James Street. Jumping to conclusions, I thought it was our juvenile bird, but was so embarrassed to have it pointed out that it was actually a sparrowhawk! It eventually flew off of its own accord.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

A Tasty Morsel

There were still no signs of egg-laying when the Cathedral cameras were checked on Friday. However, reviewing the previous three days of recording revealed lots of nest scraping and head bowing activities. Whenever mutual bowing occurs it's amazing to see how still the male can remain - sometimes up to ten minutes at a time. (See video clip for March 14th for an example of this activity) At other times he stares intently for some minutes at the female who is usually off-camera on the other side of the ledge. Here are more details of courtship behaviour in American peregrines, and it mirrors exactly what we're seeing in Derby. The only difference is that we are seeing a lot of food being brought to the nest platform for consumption. But as yet there's no evidence of copulation occurring on the platform, although mating was witnessed on one of the gargoyles at the top of Derby Cathedral's tower on Wednesday 21st March.)

On Thursday 22nd March we recorded the male bringing food to the nest and passing it to the much larger female. Watch this by clicking on the YouTube image below.

(Note the better quality recording; for some reason this clip could be processed directly by computer, rather than having to use a video camera pointing at a TV screen for previous clips!)

We'd like to build a questions and answers page about our peregrine falcons. If you'd like to send us any suggestions for things you'd like to see answered, please complete the "Contact Us" form at the bottom of the main peregrine page on Derby City Council's website.

At last there's progress with our internet connection! Next week Capita (the Council's external IT agents) will be arranging the dismantling and transfer of the radio equipment necessary to give us our internet connection. How long it then takes to configure us to the City council's servers is still anyone's guess, but our ICT Unit are now building the necessary page ready to receive the webcam images. Fingers crossed!

A meeting with Derby Cityscape on Friday afternoon was fruitful, and we should soon be able to reveal how much access we're likely to get on Cathedral Green during the summer. (You may be aware that the whole Green is to be landscaped later this year, and access to the site has been of great concern to many people)

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

It Can't Be Long Now, Can It?

When will the first egg be laid? And when will Derby's peregrines go online?
I wish we knew both answers - everyone is asking us!
(BUT HERE'S A NEWSFLASH: Mating has just been reported on top of the gargoyles this afternoon at 2pm! )
Already there are peregrines in Holland that have laid eggs around March 8th. Ours are still regularly nest-scraping and bowing to each other, as shown in our video clip posted below on March 14th. But one of last year's juveniles is still around, and shows little sign of being kicked out. It (she?) seems quite bossy, and seems able to take food from the smaller male quite aggressively, but is ignored more by the female as we see here from this recent YouTube video clip.

We heard yesterday that the Cisco wireless access equipment being given to us by the Council's Highways Department is about to be dismantled and made available. This will give us the internet connection we so desperately need to the City Council's servers, but frustratingly we've still not been given a date for its installation inside Derby Cathedral as yet. So it's "watch this space", I'm afraid, though you can always watch the birds for yourself if you come into Derby and visit the cathedral. See link to our main peregrine page for details and a cathedral site map. Rest assured- every four days we review all the recordings made inside the tower, and note down key events in a log-book. We'll bring you news as soon as it happens.

Oh, and here are some amazing photos of peregrines in flight near their nest site in Columbus, Ohio. Just look at those wings! (make sure you click on each image to enlarge them.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

A Bit of a Scrape

Though we're still a couple of weeks away (at least) from being live on the internet, the BBC supplied us with a DVD recorder last week to help us capture round-the-clock footage of Derby Cathedral's peregrine falcons. After various teething problems we've managed to capture some stunning moments. We've uploaded a 6 minute clip to YouTube which you can view here by clicking the play icon. It was recorded on 8th March at 1pm. Beware the loud bells!

First you'll see the male bird lying prostrate, pushing with both feet to make a suitable nest scrape for her to lay her eggs in. Then, less than half an hour later, we get amazing scenes of both birds together. Our male seems to be showing off the nest site to her. Watch how he stands stock still for over two minutes, head bowed down towards the centre of the scrape, whilst she ee-chupps away at him. On both arrival and departure he seems to be very wary of her, or perhaps he's cautious not to tread in the scrape. You decide. She remained on the platform for another hour after he'd flown off. We're now seeing this same activity on many days -a good sign indeed of things to come.

This clip appeared on BBC "East Midlands Today" on Tuesday 13th March - the first in a series of reports on the peregrines' progress. Once our webcam pictures go live online, you'll find them from the peregrine page within Derby Museums website. Despite the implication in the article and in the BBC news release, our peregrine project is actually a partnership between Derby Cathedral, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Derby Museum & Art Gallery.

I'm afraid we're getting into a bit of a scrape ourselves when it comes to editing our captured DVD. Just like the ones posted here last month, this sequence still had to be filmed off a TV screen! If anyone can suggest the best package to convert VOB files to AVI for editing in Adobe Premiere, do please get in touch by sending a comment to this post. DVDShrink doesn't seem to like our DVDs, whilst iSofterDVDtoAVI either crashes, or Premiere takes hours and hours to conform the AVI files.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Ringing the chicks

Last year, the three chicks (one male and two females) were ringed when they were about 20 days old on 15th June. The photo shows one of the birds, probably a young female, judging by the large size of its feet, just after it had been ringed (photo Tony Grantham).

We had hoped to be able to use colour rings as well as the numbered, metal BTO ring but we were too late getting some from Canada where they are made. We also hadn't sorted out and agreed with the BTO a unique (Derby) colour that would distinguish our birds from those colour-ringed elsewhere..... even at a distance.

This year we aim to do better!

Friday, 9 March 2007

Urban birdlife and where to go

If you visit the cathedral to look at the peregrines, keep an eye open for other birds and wildlife in the immediate area....there's usually plenty to be seen.
Grey wagtails are regularly present. Long tailed tits often flit through nearby trees and goldfinches can be heard and seen too along with blue tits, blackbirds, wrens, etc.
Overhead a range of birds may fly past. Herons, cormorants, gulls, mallards and Canada geese are fairly frequent and swifts too in the summer, a species which falls prey to the falcons from time to time (we've found feathers under the tower to prove it).
Feral pigeons perch on and fly about the tower, unbothered by the presence of the peregrines. The falcons pay little attention to other bird species close to them, though they have been seen to chase crows and even overflying buzzards and sparrowhawks. In 2008 and 2009 a pair of ravens attempted to nest on Derby Cathedral's tower. There were noisy exchanges between the peregrines and these intruders, as often happens when they try and nest too close to one another. The ravens eventually gave up their attempts, but may well return again.
The most unusual bird seen during a summer watch point in 2006 was a honey buzzard which flew north one day - this is a very rare bird in the county!
Other wildlife observed from Cathedral Green has included banded demoiselle damselflies drifting up from the river, the invasive harlequin ladybird and various common butterflies passing through.

ACCESS: For folk who don't know Derby, the best place to see the birds is from Cathedral Green, a grassy open space situated between the Cathedral and the River Derwent to the East. Access is via Full Street though there is very little on-street parking. It is within easy walking distance of all the main shpping areas. One plan could be to go to The Assembly Rooms multi-storey car park at the South end of Full Street. Incidentally, if you drive up to the top floor you get a good view of the cathedral tower's south and east sides even though you cannot get onto the 'open roof' so to speak. This is an excellent way for people with disabilities to see the birds, if walking onto Cathedral Green is not an option. We know of one disabled couple sat in their car up there for three hours watching proceedings!

Cathedral Green was redeveloped in 2008, but retains much of its original charm. Many outdoor events take place on the grass here in the summer, and is adjacent to The Silk Mill Museum.

If there are no peregrines present, check out the very tall tower of Jurys Inn to the north. It's easy to spot if one or more birds are sitting on the huge blue letters, high up on the side of this new hotel. The tall aerial mast on the new police HQ in Chester Green, to the north-east of the cathedral is also worth checking, too.

There are many places in Cathedral Quarter to get food. One such is the Derby Cathedral Centre itself on Irongate.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

On the radio

Nick Moyes (Derby Museum) was on BBC Radio Derby this morning talking about the camera installation. You can 'listen again' to his interview on their website ( and see a couple of photo's on their picture gallery.
At lunchtime, we saw live footage of the male on the temporary monitor in the tower. He was furiously scraping away at the gravel in the furiously that he worked down to the lining underneath!
Nick also has other footage of the male bringing a chaffinch onto the edge of the platform and plucking and eating it. Chaffinch is a new species for our prey list incidentally!
The prey Nick mentioned in his radio interview, seen lying uneaten on the gargoyle, proved to be a redshank. This wader has been recorded before but only on a couple of occasions.
These gourmet peregrines are wader specialists with ten prey species on their hit list recorded since we began collecting remains in spring 2005: common snipe, jack snipe, woodcock, redshank, dunlin, knot, bar tailed godwit, turnstone, lapwing and golden plover.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Eggs for Easter?

Last year, due to late organising and planning on our part, followed by three weeks of inclement weather, the new nest platform was put up really very late (5th April). Egg laying followed sometime towards the end of April we think, very late compared to other pairs elsewhere.
This year of course, thanks to the cameras, we will know exactly what's going on in the platform and should be able to see clearly when the first egg is laid and what the clutch size is.
Experience elsewhere suggests that our pair, now a year older, will breed earlier this year and in each succeeding year.
The experienced pair on St Michael's Church in Exeter laid eggs well before the end of March last year...could ours be that early this time around?
Possibly not but time will tell and anyway, better not to count your eggs until they are laid, nevermind hatched!
The next few weeks should see an intensification of courtship. Last year, excited office workers in Amen Alley rang the wildlife trust with reports of noisy aerial displays, clearly audible above the rumble of city traffic.......something to watch and listen out for should you be in town.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Aerial Action

Reports were received today of aerial display by the pair in the skies to the east of the tower and of the male bringing prey for the female which she then took down to the platform.
Arriving half an hour later with the telescope, a small group of passers-by soon gathered in the sunshine. The female was sitting on the platform edge looking out. She seemed huge, her breast feathers fluffed out. The male, looking tiny by comparison (and with a much yellower cere and darker head than the female) was in the tiny crevice directly above the platform, feeding.
Apparently one of last year's juveniles is still returning to the tower, usually in the late afternoon and perhaps is roosting there still.
Also, while the peregrines were away the other day, a crow was seen to steal a dead fieldfare which had been stashed in a lead gutter close to the gargoyles (as shown).

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Second Abseil

We had to make an unexpected second abseil earlier this week. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust were concerned that many of the old prey remains removed when we installed the cameras were tightly bound up in nylon fibres. They came from matting included in the original design of the platform, and there was concern that loose fibres could get wound around this year's nestlings. With just one good weather window scheduled for Monday, we took the opportunity to complete this and other tasks before it was simply too late in the season. These included:

  • Trim off and remove all fraying nylon fibres
  • Add more welsh slate to right side of platform to cover exposed nylon matting
  • Remove three old lapwing corpses from platform (leaving two still on the gargoyles)
  • Mount flexible anti-perching spikes to tops of both cameras (seems ironic)
  • Remove one of two supporting metal struts which was over-prominent in camera 1's view.
  • Paint wood stain on light-coloured timber under platform (to reduce visual appearance)
  • Test audio-video synchronisation of cameras and microphone.
This mugshot, taken by Nick Evans when we first fitted the cameras, shows the smaller of the two cameras, though it now looks more like a balding hedgehog with its array of bendy spikes on top! As before, we gave notice to the police and Derby Cathedral and carefully weighed up any risks of disturbance to the birds against the benefits. We needn't have worried. We were squawked at when we first went on the nave roof, but were otherwise left alone. By Tuesday morning one adult was sitting forlornly on the platform in the rain. On Wednesday afternoon we heard that three peregrines had been seen. A 5.30pm visit with the 'scope showed the adult male on the platform (smaller, darker head and bright yellow cere); the adult female on a gargoyle (larger, greyer - but had her back to me) AND presumably one of last year's juveniles perched half way in between (I assumed a male - smaller, darker head, pale cere). No ring was visible in the fading light, but we guess the the adults will soon be sending it packing.
Hurrah! The video server arrived yesterday, and we learnt that the BBC have taken delivery of a DVD recorder with hard drive - sufficient to record 300 hours continuous falcon footage. The recorder will go into the tower next week, and we're all looking forward to seeing what kind of pictures it can capture. What we really need now is the wireless bridge, kindly offered to us from Highways section of Derby City Council later this month, and to find out from Capita (our IT agency) what further kit we need to buy before the end of the financial year to finally get our pictures out onto the internet. I'm still worried about the aerial cabling - but more of that another time.