Monday, 30 July 2007

this morning (Tuesday)

This morning, en route to work, I diverted to check on my local pair of hobbies. These engaging little falcons are a good deal smaller than our peregrines......and much harder to find!

So I was pleased to see what I assume was the male sitting on his favourite dead oak branch. With his back turned to the warmth of the sun, he was quietly preening, behaviour exactly mimicking that of the male peregrine I had watched on Sunday morning on the cathedral. High up near the top of this old oak, where the crow's nest that was commandeered back in May is situated, I could hear its mate calling which gives hope that this pair have managed to keep their brood alive despite the endless days of rain.

Hobbies are acrobatic fliers and fast enough to catch swifts, swallows and martins on the wing, as this fine watercolour by Peter Partington demonstrates.

With their rust-coloured thighs and deeply streaked breasts, their white cheeks and dark moustaches, hobbies are handsome birds for sure. No wonder that they attract the attentions of bird artists like Peter and, in more modern style, Greg Poole.

Greg's painting captures not just the bird but also its liking for dragonflies and damselflies and the wetland habitat they occupy. In this case it is the low-lying Somerset Levels, no doubt severely flooded still.

While my very amateur digi-scoped photo below leaves a lot to be desired for sharpness, it does at least hint at the sense of mystery which surrounds this magic falcon, here keeping watch from its oak tree.

Before long, these birds and their offspring will begin their southward migration which will take them down through France, Spain and over the Sahara to wintering grounds in southern Africa. Here they will wander across vast plains, savannah and miombo woodland, searching for thunderstorms which trigger termites to swarm in their thousands, providing a ready supply of protein-rich food.

So, a very different sort of winter lies in wait for these hobbies than the one the cathedral peregrines will experience. In complete contrast, the fledglings will stay within 50-100 miles of Derby, perching on pylons, aerial masts, tall buildings and trees too no doubt, coping with whatever our winter has to throw at them.
Nick B

Ps. And just so you know what this bird really looks like, here's a great photograph by John Miller, taken with his permission from - a website which displays excellent photos of birds such as this for all to see and admire. Please note that this photo should not be used commercially or for profit without the express permission of the photographer.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

this morning

Quick trip to check for prey remains this morning at 7am found the male on the platform in the sun, preening himself. My rubbishy photo does at least show where he was in relation to the camera which is the one which has brought you the web cam pictures of the gravel/nesting side of the platform.

Nick B

Ps. One swift primary wing feather and one almost certainly from a golden plover (I've yet to check) were my prey finds. Swifts will depart for Africa any day now, one of the first summer migrants to leave. Incidentally, for you folk on t'other side of the pond, an American chimney swift has been in the UK recently......blown over the Atlantic and now way off course.
Postscript: Thanks for the notification about the frozen webcam picture yesterday evening. Unfortunately we don't seem able to restart the webcam video server remotely, as we normally can. So it may be early next week before we can get up the tower to restore live pictures again.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Top down

As promised in yesterday's entry about views of Derby Cathedral , hare are a few pictures from the top of the tower taken in 2006 on platform-erection day. They show the view the peregrines get as they sit looking East (ie from above the platform). The River Derwent is visible and also a red crane which has since been taken down. Last summer the birds perched regularly on this crane....until the driver started to turn it round! This year the fledglings perched briefly on the much lower tower on the Silk Mill Museum just left of centre. Left click the photo to enable you to enlarge it. The two ropes were supporting the two abseiling Nicks (Moyes and Evans) who were busy attaching the platform down below!

My second photo shows the view to the North, with the (much lower) catholic church tower visible in the middle distance. For some reason we have never seen peregrines on that tower even though it is certainly taller than the Silk Mill tower, or the nearby flats which they have perched on recently.

Next, a photo looking vertically down on the South side, with the male peregrine standing on the top of one of the stone beast's behinds! This picture was taken by the cathedral architect early in 2005. He was inspecting the roof when he looked over and saw this bird which he felt sure wasn't a pigeon! It is the first photo ever taken of our cathedral peregrines. You can see a passerby on the pavement (sidewalk) 200 feet (70 metres) below!

Incidentally, these head-down beasts, which we have been calling gargoyles are, I am recently informed, actually 'grotesques'.

Gargoyles, usually just the heads of some
mythical human or beast, always have
drainage pipes running through them
with the water flowing out through their mouths.

The Derby mythical beasts, carved by the
mediaeval stone masons back in the 16th century, are purely decorative, the lead roof drainage channels being sited to either side of them.
This photo is by John Salloway and shows the male dozing in the sun. Your guess what the animal is!

Nick B

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Unusual Views of Derby Cathedral.

Here are some unusual views of Derby Cathedral we thought you might like to look at whilst some of us ponder the fact that today our 200,000th web hit will almost undoubtedly be reached. All of us - the Cathedral, The Wildlife Trust, the City Council and of course its Museum Service - have been awestruck by the incredible interest so many people around the world have shown in our city's peregrine falcons. It was a pleasure in June to be able to turn off moderation of comments and to read all the topical observations and remarks that so many different people were making as they watched these magnificent birds in action and reported on their actions.

So that you can see the Cathedral's interior, local photographer Andy Savage has provided us with a link to one of his 360 degree images taken inside Derby Cathedral. You can click and drag your mouse across the image to make it scroll around inside, or hit Shift or Control to zoom in and out. There's an alternate version available here for anyone have difficulties viewing it. For an exterior shots, see this blog entry for July 5th

Of course, there are plenty of other people's shots of Derby Cathedral online, such as those on flickr like this one, or this one, or this one or this one.

And finally, here's a time-lapse video from the top of the tower, also taken by Andy Savage. I understand that Nick Brown plans to post some general views from the top of the tower in the near future to give visitors an idea of what Derby's skyline actually looks like. Follow this link if you'd like to learn more about a sponsored abseil in September to raise funds for Derby Cathedral. (Please note: all Streamdays cameras will be off line for c 1hr on Thursday at 5pm local time. More info here)

Sunday, 22 July 2007

A better morning

Today, Sunday, the skies are clearing and there's a suggestion of sun by 8am. Quick trip to town. No birds on the cathedral or flats but two on the tall police HQ aerial. Amateur digiscoping produced these shots of the male caught mewting (the falconers' term for pooing - you can see the stream dropping!) and later facing me. The second bird flew off as I arrived. To view the aerial go to Fox Street in Chester Green. The big noisy flock of starlings on the wide grass verge nearby had no idea what was sitting high above them .......

Ps Our spot flies should have a better day I hope.

Post script: Here’s a picture below of our adult male back on the Cathedral nest platform, late on Sunday evening. Notice the small white spot on his right “cheek”. This distinguishes him from our female. The grey back and horizontally striped feathers distinguish both parents from their browner offspring.
I’ve taken the liberty of adding this picture to the end of the Nick B’s latest entry, rather than pushing it out of the way with a completely new entry. Nick M.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Fears for other birds

While our peregrines successfully reared their young despite the awful weather we have been having recently here in the UK, there are fears for many other birds this summer. The frequent floods have wiped out nests of water birds such as grebes, kingfishers and ground nesting waders and duck.

And the lack of insects due to prolonged periods of rain, threatens the survival of the young of small, insectivorous birds such as warblers and flycatchers.

Spotted Flycatcher
In our own garden and to our great delight, a pair of spotted flycatchers recently adopted a purpose-built nest box on the house right outside the kitchen window. Judging by the late laying date, this pair must have nested elsewhere in May/June and now be trying again, perhaps having failed first time round.
My photos show the nest box tucked under the gutter....a tad smaller and easier to construct than the peregrine platform - and somewhat easier to put up as one of an adult spotted flycatcher (photographer unknown). The lowest photo, taken through the window, shows an adult peering out of the box while brooding its chick.

The two eggs hatched some ten days ago but the availability of flying insects since has been severely restricted by days of rain and cool temperatures and we fear for the one surviving chick which is still quite un-feathered even now.

Spotted flycatchers spend the winter in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their numbers in the UK have fallen drastically in the last decade, possibly due to less favourable conditions in their wintering quarters.

So, for that reason alone, we are particularly keen that this pair rear their single chick. However, today's poor wet weather following on from yesterday's doesn't bode well I'm afraid. Our fingers are firmly crossed.......

Incidentally, spotted flycatchers have a charisma all their own, obviously quite different from that of falcons. Dull brown in plumage and with a monosyllabic 'song', what they lack in these respects they more than make up for by their graceful flycatching behaviour and their very confiding habits. Succeed or fail, they'll soon be gone and I for one will sorely miss them, just as we all miss seeing our young peregrines.....

Nick B

Thursday, 19 July 2007


This short video clip shows a snipe being brougt back to the Derby Cathedral pergrine's nest platform on Sunday15th July. It's unusual because it was filmed at 1.15am, and the bird looks freshly caught. So it confirms what we've long thought: that the peregrines do hunt at night.

See the previous entry for a full list of video clips available on this blog, including the fledging of our two young birds last month. You can also make suggestions for what you'd like to see our webcam project deliver in 2008 by following this link.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Suggestion Box for 2008

Adult in flight over Derby, July 2007. Photo Roger Lawson. What else would you like to see this project achieve next year?The partners in the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project are now starting to turn their thoughts to next season to ensure things work well (or even better.)

We've all been delighted by the positive comments so many of you have left. But rather than seek more praise, we'd like to ask you for your own suggestions for next year's webcam season. Perhaps you've watched from the other side of the world, or have sat below Derby's magnificent cathedral to see the birds for yourself. What worked well for you, and what worked badly? What would you have loved us to have done that we didn't do? Please tell us!

And if you are involved in education, or have watched with young children, what could we do next time to make your experience even richer? Have you used our webcam images in a classroom situation? Were there problems accessing our webcam, homepage, or this blog? Would you have liked full speed video? Could we do more to help you meet your own teaching goals?

Of course, we already have some ideas of our own, but we really want to consider your views too.
Click the "comments" link below this entry to leave a public comment, or email them privately to us at If possible please tell us roughly where you are from and how you have used the webcams. (as a solitary viewer; with a family; as a teacher; frequent or irregular visitor etc)

In answer to some recent questions, we will definitely be keeping the webcameras running using the Streamdays service for at least another three months as there's still some irregular activity around the nest platform. After that we may slow down the refresh rate until 2008. We'll see. Of course, this blog will also remain active for some time yet, and certainly won't disappear.

Tony, Nick and Nick
for Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Aerial Acrobatics

Whilst the peregrine nest platform on Derby Cathedral's tower now sees only the occasional roosting adult or resting juvenile, the activity in the area immediately around the city centre continues unabated.
Do please click on the "comments" hyperlink at the end of each entry - we're getting lots of useful and up-to-date information left there on who has been around on the platform. You can leave comments anonymously, but it's always nice for people to know where our blog readers are located in the world.

A number of reports have been coming in over the last few days that our birds have taken to using the roof of some tall flats near the River Derwent, as these pictures by Roger Lawson show.

Mick Sharpe left a comment recently which we reproduce here to show some of the local aerial.
"On Sunday morning 08/07/07 about 08.30am I was walking into Derby along the River Derwent path and noticed a lot of feral Pigeons scattering this way and that. Sure enough a good way above them was a juv Peregrine. It appeared to be enjoying the thermals, circling around and occasionally doing the flap, flap glide flying action. It was a buff, cream colour on the underside which is why I think it was a Juv. I made myself comfortable and got the binoculars focused when the bird went into a stoop and dived for what must have been approximately 150 metres. I didn't see the hit or the target as the bird went from my view behind trees, but to see a live stoop was quite amazing and very fast. It must be great fun, exhilarating, to fly like that even if breakfast isn't the reward."

There was also a report early this morning from Lyndsey in Chesterfield of a pigeon sitting under one of our webcameras. This might seem a pretty dangerous thing to do, but in fact peregrines are very unlikely to hunt a bird so close to a cliff or building as they expose themselves to considerable risk of injury. It can be quite comical to see a pigeon land on the tower, only to realise that just to the side of it is a peregrine falcon. You can almost imagine it trying to work out whether it's best to stay where it is, or to take a risk by flying off.

John Salloway has emailed in some super new pictures. We'll post these just as soon as we can.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

News of our Neighbours

Lest you think the only peregrines in the Midlands are in Derby, an impression we have perhaps fostered on this blog, we have to relate that there is a long established pair in Burton on Trent on the tall Coors Tower and that another pair has nested in Nottingham. Both places are some 12-14 miles from Derby. The Nottingham pair reared four young on a univeristy building - which in no way compares to a mediaeval bell tower of course, as the photo shows! We gather that one of the young died when it flew into a window, and certainly one came to ground at fledging because phone calls to the Derbyshire Trust office initially suggested that it was one of our Derby birds that was about to be taken off to a rescue centre, causing us a considerable amount of panic as you might imagine!

Maybe fifty miles away, a pair reared young on Lincoln cathedral (one of which landed on the bonnet of a Porsche somewhere in the city apparently.....but was returned safely to the skies later). Elsewhere, a pair was seen regularly on the cooling towers at Willington Power Station, some 6 miles south of Derby but was not thought to have attempted to breed.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Donkey Stories

View of Derby Cathedral from Irongate. Anyone for spot-the-donkey?Earlier today on this Blog someone asked about a medieval story regarding a donkey and the parish church of All Saints, Derby (now Derby Cathedral)


There is a story, which I am led to believe is true, that goes something like this:

One day a rope was secured to the top of the tower by a troupe of medieval circus performers and this was extended down St Mary's Gate. A donkey was taken to the top of the tower (how I have no idea!!)and was carried down the rope on the shoulders of one of the performers. Unfortunately, at some stage they both fell off and through the roof of one of the houses - neither was injured, thank goodness, though the roof had to be renewed! On the same day a young child was put into a wheelbarrow and pushed down the rope - they got to the end successfully. It must have been quite a sight and puts September's fund-raising abseil in a different light!!!!

Hope that answers the question

Welfare Concerns

Amongst the comments left on the blog this morning were some concerns about our juvenile bird. Although both birds fledged nearly two weeks ago, they and their parents still come back to the nest ledge for quite long periods. But what about our bird today?- was she injured; was she OK; would somebody tell us . Juvenile at 10:30am local time today . .

. . well, we've watched and listened to her this morning and she seems fine. She spent some time lying down on the edge of the platform, just as she used to do before they fledged, and at one point her wing stuck up at a funny angle. Everyone's concerns were appreciated, but after a good check, we think she was, quite simply, just resting. Since around 11am local time she has been standing on the platform edge, watching the world go by, perhaps wondering when re-landscaping work on Cathedral Green would start.
Peregrines do spend an awful lot of time on one prominent point or another. She was probably resting between meals, not wanting Juvenile at 11:54am todayto spoil her appetite before the next succulent blackbird, thrush or feral pigeon is readied, and perhaps also savouring a moment of the dry weather., too.
Thanks to everyone who posted a message in the comments - it's good to have such instant feedback from everyone, and it's clear there will be interest and activity for some considerable time yet.
Post-script: At 12:50pm Dad brought in a dead bird - almost certainly a pigeon - for our juvenile, who pounced upon it.
When will the juvenile get "adult" feathers? - probably in a couple of years when she's grown up a bit more and ready to pair up.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Donations Total

The total of donations we received at the Watch Points on Cathedral Green over the six weeks we ran them was £1021.07, so a big thanks to everyone who put money in the collection box and, again, to the volunteers who ran the show and made it all possible!

There are also some personal donations now coming in so if you still wish to contribute to the project's future, please feel free to do so!

The money now resides in Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's bank and, rest assured, will not be used for any purpose other than the future of the peregrine project.

To discover how to make a donation, please check back to the blog entry titled 'Donations and the future of the Watch Point' on 28th June. Apologies to one overseas potential donor who is still awaiting bank details but these will be sent to them today I hope.

Nick B

Falcons Eye View

On the ropes at Derby Cathedral.
You have seen the Cathedral Tower either from the Green or on the web - now is the chance to get up close and personal as they say. On the weekend of September 8/9 Derby Mountain Rescue Team and Derby Cathedral will be holding a sponsored ABSEIL down the south face of the tower. All monies raised will be split between the Cathedral and the Rescue Team. All are welcome to join in, either as a participant or just an onlooker and supporter. There will be refreshments available from the Cathedral Coffee Shop and on the Saturday it is hoped that the BBC Bus will be there. For more information go to and join in the fun.

Those who, like me, believe the staircase was put there for very good reasons can keep both feet firmly on the ground and support all those others who choose a quicker way down!!

Hope to see you there

Monday, 2 July 2007

Peregrine Well-Dressing.

A fortnight ago, QUAD, the new arts centre in Derby city, ran a well dressing event in the city and the photo shows the finished article which they decided should feature our peregrines centre stage. Not an amazingly good representation of a peregrine it has to be said, but better than none and remember that the well dressing is composed of tiny petals, bits of lichen it is very difficult to do!

For those of you who don't know, the dressing of wells in Derbyshire is an ancient custom said to lie in pagan tradition or in giving thanks for the purity of the water drawn from certain wells during the period of the Black Death. Whatever its origins, it was historically a custom exclusive to the Peak District of Derbyshire. The custom had almost died out by the early years of the 20th century but it was revived in the 1920s and 1930s and has now spread more widely.

Try Wikipedia for more information about well dressings.

Thanks to Jan Reynolds of QUAD for sending us the photo and for directing folk across to Cathedral Green on the day.