Friday, 27 February 2009

Food exchange and ee-chupping

A quick trip up Derby's Cathedral Tower this lunchtime led to some great sequences being captured on DVD. Its clear that courtship is well underway, with food exchanges (see video clip)and nest scraping going on frequently. The familiar seagull-like "ee-chupp" call is very distinctive when heard, and to see the smaller male bird stand absolutely still for two or three minutes, facing the larger female over the nest scrape is a magic sight to witness.

Of course our adult peregrines falcons are now seen so much more frequently in the webcams than they were even just a week or two ago.

Visitors to this blog are also staying around more it seems; our ranking on tPicture of Top 500 birding websites counterhe Top 500 Birding Sites has slowly crept back from the mid 100s to around 80, and at the height of nesting activity last year we peaked at number six. (See icon on the lower left of this blog).

Of course our birds care nothing for all of this - the cycle of life turns once again. Last year four eggs were laid around 28th March (3rd April in 2007), with mating recorded on three occasions around 12th-13th March 2008. We hope watchers will contact us immediately if you do see any very special moments that we should be capturing for posterity. Follow this link if you want to see mating clips from 2008 or view any of our video clips on YouTube.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tower Cam

View of tower cam and the remains of a lapwingSome webcam viewers call it "Pudding Cam" on account of its resemblance to a christmas pudding when it was first installed as a black polystyrene mockup. But over the next week don't be surprised if around midday the Tower Camera camera image goes offline or contains views of my feet! I'll be trying to investigate the problem we've had recently  with our night-time views by masking off different parts of the infra-red illuminator. So these images may be changing too.

Before. Our nighttime camera gets its own infra red light flaring back badly -  rather like dricing in fog with headlights onUpdate: In fact our first attempt this lunchtime seems to have worked - I simply masked off some of the infra-red LEDs which might have been flaring back off the body of the camera mounting - just look at the improved picture. Why didn't we think to try this before, I ask myself?? This is a temporary fix, and we'll be doing more work over the next week of so, and maybe even see if we can get a new spherical camera to fit into the existing housing. Thanks to Steve from local firm, Acam Technology, who donated this especially small vari-focal lens camera to the project last year, and who made suggestions as to how we might resolve the problem. Any replacement camera would need a total height of less than 10cm in order to fit through the cathedral's ancient guttering - and is proving quite hard to find.
After. Two bits oif masking plastic tape make all the difference

Nick Moyes
Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Monday, 23 February 2009

Chichester Peregrines

Cathedral Peregrine. Photo of an adult female at derby cathedral by G. Whitmore.The peregrine falcons of Chichester Cathedral featured this weekend in one of our national newspapers. Just like those at Derby Cathedral, they arrived a few years ago (in fact before ours) and have succesfully nested, raised young, and have been observed by thousands of people at watchpoints like those organised by our own Derbyshire Wildlife Trust . It's fantastic when local people can come along and view these amazing birds for themselves, though it's just as wonderful that so many more can watch the birds courting, egg-laying, hatching and fledging via their computers wherever they are in the world.

Here in Derby we're hoping we may be able to upgrade our third web camera on top of the Cathedral tower in the near future so that our nighttime shots are as good as those from the two cameras mounted on the nest platform itself. If we can do this we should get an even better understanding of their nocturnal hunting habits.

Female peregrine inspecting Derby Cathedral's recently refurbished nest platfomrIrrespective of whether there are webcams and watchpoints on Britain's urban peregrines, the next few weeks will see an increase in courtship and mating activity prior to egg-laying at all sites in the northern hemisphere, and many will be ahead of our own pair.
If you're interested to keep up-to-date with what''s happening at these other peregrine sites, and maybe get a sense of how our own pair of peregrines in Derby is progressing, you may find a blog in Holland of interest. It watches and reports on progress at a wide range of nesting sites in Europe and North America, and reflects the amazing recovery of this species from the brink of extinction just forty or fifty years ago when there were less than 100 pairs of breeding peregrines in Britain..

Meanwhile, this quad view image was captured from our live video feed this lunchtime, with the male perhaps wondering who exactly is watching him!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Get a grip!

Nick evans fits a grip strip to the front of the peregrine nest platform What a way to spend a day's holiday.

Four Nicks (Brown, Dixon, Evans & Moyes) gathered together at Derby Cathedral yesterday to check out the peregrine nest platform and perform essential maintenance tasks. Nick Dixon - one of Britain's leading experts on peregrines on artificial structures and urban areas - was making a visit to look at our setup here at Derby, England, and it was a pleasure to meet him in person and to gain from his experience and scientific knowledge. In fact it was to Nick D. that we turned back in late 2005 for specialist advice when peregrines first arrived and appeared to be trying to set up home here.
View of Derby Cathedral tower from the nave roof. Click to enlarge

On the agenda was an abseil down the tower to check the condition of the platform which we confirmed was still in an almost pristine state. The cameras needed to be cleaned and adjusted, but our main task was to add a "grip strip" to the front ledge of the platform for this year's young birds to get a hold of when exercising their wings prior to fledging.

Three out of four juveniles came down on their maiden flight last year and had to be rescued. A local bird of prey breeder suggested they were probably not getting enough grip on the vertical edge of the platform, especially when it was crowded with youngsters. We had looked at the feet of young peregrine specimens in our Museums' natural history collections and calculated they would best grip onto a rail about 2.5 - 3cm diameter. So Nick E. (who originally constructed the platform back in 2006) kindly abseiled down to make the modifications. The photo of the tower taken from the nave roof gives you a good idea of the position of the platform and our abseil. We felt it best to turn off the internet feed for much of the day as prolonged close-up views of our heads, shoes or elbows is hardly edifying. The short clip below may give a better idea of position we were working in as we glued and nailed the "grip strip" into place. The diagonal rope was needed to hold us close to the platform because the louvred tower window is inset by nearly a metre. This makes working from an abseil rope very precarious without it. Thanks to Nick B. who supported us behind the scenes, moving gravel, buying forgotten items and making a generally excellent gopher.

Less than 24 hours later we had clear evidence that our peregrines were unaffected by all this activity so close to the start of their courtship, as both birds were seen on the platform, including the female who was busy scraping a nest hollow, as we see here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Platform maintenance work

Now the cold weather has finally left us, we plan to abseil down Derby Cathedral's tower later this week to do some maintenance work to the nest platform and cameras. This isFlash-back to 2006 when our peregrine platform was first installed quite a bit later than we'd hoped, but it still won't interfere with the birds drive to nest here again.

We will probably disconect the live internet feed whilst we are dangling around in front of the cameras for an hour or two on Thursday. It's all subject to the weather being kind to us, of course, but as usual we've informed the police in case anyone reports unusual activity near a protected species. The two Nicks shown here installing the platform back in 2006 don't want to get "nicked" - it'll simply get too confusing, espcecially as there will be two further Nicks helping out on the tower that day, too!

Here's an old YouTube video clip we made back in 2006 when we first installed installed the platform, and life for many of us was never quite the same again!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

But February made me shiver . . .

It's been one of the coldest winters in Britain for many years, and the snow fell in earnest across most of England yesterday. It seemed the whole country ground to a halt for a few hours. (We're simply not used to temperatures as low as minus three Celsius, or snow as deep as ten centimetres!)

Up on the tower of Derby Cathedral our peregrine falcons' nest platform soon filled up, and the lens of our tower top camera was also buried in the white stuff. (If you've ever wondered why it's been dubbed "pudding cam" click here) But as is the way nowadays in lowland Britain, we rarely have to wait long before the snow and ice began to melt away. To peregrines, which are birds of mountains and cliffs, the cold and snow is hardly an inconvenience, and certainly something they can cope with well.

Dawn broke clear and beautiful this morning. And just as they now do on most mornings, one of our adult peregrines soon arrived on the nest platform at sunrise to reinforce its claim to this site. (07:30 local time) The misleading rufous red colouration you see on its lowermost feathers is due to the rays of the sun striking the east-facing side of Derby cathedral's tower. Click the play button to view the video above.

Nipping up the tower this lunchtime to check our video recording equipment, I was surprised to be greeted to a grey blur in the feed from "pudding cam", high up on the top. It made me wonder whether the bird was getting some benefit from the tiny amount of heat that this camera must generate - or perhaps it was simply trying to say "hi" to all our ardent webcam viewers out there. Perhaps some of you saw it peering out of your computer screens.

Update: Thanks to regular blog visitor, Lynne, who left a comment to say she'd seen some unusual activity on February 4th. We duly checked our video recording equipment for the date and time she'd said and retrieved the clip below of an adult peregrine pulling this prey item out from the snow on the nest platform, with its mate on the ledge below.

Nick Moyes
Derby Museums & Art Gallery

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