Sunday, 28 December 2008

Prey Update

Through December, the Derby Cathedral peregrines have continued to exhibit their catholic diet (and this on a Church of England cathedral too!).

Species identified recently have included several woodcock, teal and snipe and single collared dove, redshank, water rail and knot, the feathers of these latter birds kindly identified by Ed Drewitt at Bristol Museum.
In addition, Nick Moyes found what he thought was a dunlin corpse at the top of the tower in mid-December (photo above). To me it looked rather grey and long winged but in the absence of a head (the dunlin, not me!), identification was a bit more tricky!

The problem was further complicated by the fact that its wing measured 126mm, some10 mms longer than 'normal' dunlin wings - but exactly that of another small wading bird called a sanderling.
However, my hopes of adding this species to the growing Derby prey list were quickly dashed when I discovered something I suppose I should have known- namely that sanderling, uniquely among small waders, have no hind toes - which this bird certainly did have.
Surfing the net to see if any dunlins have longer wings, I found an article about those trapped on autumn migration in Israel and this indicated that some birds have longer wings - the longest being 130mm.
Meanwhile, I sent photos of the wing and tail to Ed and he quickly confirmed it as a dunlin, possibly from Siberia!
The photo left shows a dunlin's wing from Ed's collection.
Glancing quickly through recent records on the local bird watchers website, I could find only one dunlin reported from the vicinity of Derby - namely on at Aston on Trent Gravel Pits sometime in late November. The dunlin is indeed a rare bird inland in winter and indeed in summer too.
Now, Nick's tower-top bird was fresh when he found it on 10th December so the records don't really tie up unless the Aston bird was a long-stayer.
Alternatively, and perhaps just as likely, one of the peregrines grabbed it as it flew over Derby by night.....along with the knot (and in previous years, a mid-winter bar tailed godwit, turnstone and two further knot). Could these birds have been making nocturnal commuting flights between feeding sites on estuaries on the West and East coasts of the UK, entirely unseen by Derbyshire's oh-so-diurnal bird watchers? Who knows!
Anyway, since someone asked for the complete prey list of the 46 bird species and one mammal found at Derby Cathedral since 2005, here it is:

mallard - teal - gadwall - ruddy & tufted ducks
woodcock - common & jack snipe - dunlin - knot
redshank - lapwing - golden plover
bar & black tailed godwit - whimbrel - turnstone
quail - water rail - little grebe - moorhen
common & arctic tern - black headed gull
jay - jackdaw - crow - magpie - pied wagtail
swift - little owl - fieldfare - redwing - blackbird
song & mistle thrush - great spotted woodpecker
robin - skylark - chaffinch - goldfinch - starling
wood pigeon - feral pigeon - collared dove - waxwing
and one brown rat!

Cheers and Happy New Year to everyone!
Nick B (DWT)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Season's Greetings from the project

Season's Greetings
to all our wonderful supporters and peregrine watchers around the world - we've had a very successful year once again - in no small part due to the excellent number of people who have dedicated themselves to the web cams and blog.
You have demonstrated your enthusiasm for our site and the birds themselves, donated to the project and bought the DVD too!
In particular, thanks to everyone who has left feedback to help others appreciate what the birds have been doing, almost hour by hour. (See bottom of page for visitor survey and a chance to win £100 or equivalent in your local currency)
As you may recall, four young peregrines fledged successfully last summer, though we think the only female youngster may not have's a very steep learning curve for these novice fliers. Let's hope for another brilliant season in 2009!

The photo on the right shows the tower bathed in early morning sunshine with decorations that cross Irongate (the street than runs down into the city centre from the cathedral) silhouetted against the blue sky. The sandstone stonework of the tower has a pinky colour but the effect is much enhanced by the low morning light. The night shot was taken recently and one of the peregrines was roosting on the ledge that links the gargoyles (or 'grotesques' as they should more properly be called!) trying to hide from the glare of the floodlights.
The Cathedral now has a brand new website ( . They hope to see many of our local peregrine watchers at this year’s Christmas services detailed on the website.

Finally a big thank you to all the volunteers who helped to run the Watch Point which ran for 56 days last summer, with only two days rained off!
If you want to help next year please email If someone is willing to organise the volunteer rota that would be a big help to us - again please email us. It's a demanding job in some ways but it doesn't require going to the cathedral - so it could be undertaken by someone from their home computer......think about it and get in touch after the holiday period for more information.
Again, thanks for supporting and encouraging us throughout the past year.
Best wishes from the team:
Nick Moyes (Derby Museum)
Tony Grantham (Derby Cathedral)
Nick Brown (DWT)
Hoping you all have a nice Christmas and New Year.

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Friday, 5 December 2008

Talk on the Derby Peregrine Project

Next week (16th) Nick Brown will give a talk about Derby Peregrine Project to Carsington Bird Club (see for details). The club welcomes non members so if you live within striking distance, do come along (£2 entry). Copies of the DVD will be on sale (at £6 each) - great as a stocking filler, as we said before (see the blog entry two down from this one - 29th October - for details of how to purchase a copy direct from the wildlife trust and have it posted to you before Christmas...or if you are in Derby you can buy it direct from Derby Museum or Cathedral shops).

A week ago my partner and I visited a very well known peregrine nesting area - namely the sea cliffs at South Stack near Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey in NW Wales.

The weather was cold though sunny as you can

see from the photo which shows South Stack Lighthouse sticking out into the Irish Sea.

After a walk up Holyhead mountain (where a distant peregrine was seen sitting on a rock) on returning to the car park just above the lighthouse we were treated to a fine flying display by a female peregrine and soon after by the same bird and her mate.

Initially she was floating along above the clifftop but then she suddenly changed up a few gears and sped off out to sea, gaining height as she went. She had seen something - a wood pigeon. She made a stoop at the pigeon but missed because the wily pigeon closed its wings and fell like a rocket down and out of sight below the clifftop, followed swiftly by the falcon. Wonderful stuff!

Then, once she re-appeared empty taloned, she circled up with her mate high into the blue sky until lost from sight. Also seen from the same point were a couple of ravens and a small group of chough, a delightful member of the crow family which has red beak and feet and feeds mainly on insects - South Stack is a favourite place for this rare bird.
Charles Tunnicliffe, the famous bird artist who lived not far away until his death in 1979, used to visit these cliffs to sketch peregrines. After he died, a book showcasing his peregrine paintings, wood cuts and line drawings was published. Called "A Peregrine Sketchbook" it is still in print and well worth purchasing. (about £20 a copy).

Nick Brown (DWT)