Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Fourth and final?

Fourth egg spotted by PaxCanada at 7.26 this morning, 31st March.
Now we move into the long incubation period when not too much happens.
Tomorrow, the Queen visits the cathedral to hand out the Maundy money. Since there will be lots of people milling about we have decided to run an embryo watch point on the green in the morning, roughly 10 - 1pm depending on the weather (it's cold and showery here today).
Probably there will be little to see - the female will probably be incubating and out of sight and if the male bird is off hunting or just not perching on the east face there'll be nothing to see at all - but at least we will have an opportunity to talk about the birds and the project.
Maybe we'll see some of you down there aware that parking will be difficult!
Nick B (DWT)
Ps. Photo of four eggs to follow no doubt.......

Monday, 29 March 2010

Third Egg

Our third egg was seen around 10:44 BST on 28th March. We're not quite sure of the exact tme it was laid, but the big question now is "Will there be a fourth?" And will it be laid in time for the Queen's visit to Derby Cathedral on Thursday 1st April to hand out Maundy Money

The pictures below were pasted to our Flickr Photo Pool.

Third Egg - Derby Cathedral Peregrine Falcons


Well done to HelenSara who posted the image below within just a few minutes of the first glimpse of the three eggs.
Three eggs!

And in daylight on Monday morning:

Three eggs close-up

As the grass around Derby Cathedral is being mown prior to the Queen's visit on 1st April 2010, our female peregrine takes time out from keeping her eggs warm. This suggests that incuibation has not yet started, and that a fourth egg is on the way.
Three eggs

Friday, 26 March 2010

Second egg (and the kids are back!)

Our second egg arrived sometime around 2pm today. Here's a screen shot when they first came into view.

Meanwhile, a juvenile peregrine was reported by a couple of viewers, one of whom said they had seen it this morning come onto the nest ledge, then get shoo-ed away by one of the adults. At lunchtime today this young bird came back to the tower top, where we caught the image below. It has much browner plumage on its back than our adults, and vertical streaks on its breast, rather than horizontal ones. No coloured ring could be discerned in the image, but we do know that one of our birds last year managed to lose its ring (which is most unusual). So we don't know if this bitrd is one of ours or not, though this is most likely to be the case. It happened in 2007, and it has been reported elsewhere, that juveniles from the previous seasons may return and investigate the new nest, or even help feed that year's developing chicks.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Egg-cellent News

(Newsflash: 2nd Egg now laid. Images to follow.)

So, were we all caught out? I was. Our first egg appeared this morning at 5am precisely, surprising most of us by being a day or two earlier than expected. How do we know the precise time? Well, just watch the video and see for yourself!

Perhaps it's because our falcon is now quite an experienced old bird, but the time it took her to lay this egg seemed much shorter than on past occasions.  Just an hour and a half after laying her precious egg, the male flew in to let her fly off for a few minutes. This was his first close contact with the egg, and he immediately lay on it to keep off the morning chill.

But when the falcon returned it was clear that he did not want to relinquish his prize position. She, so much larger than him, stood on the edge of the platform, trying to oust him with gentle chirrupping calls. Be he stood his ground, head bowed over the egg, and after a minute or two she gave up and flew off, as we can see in the video below.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

On Tenter Hooks

Newsflash: First egg laid c.5am 24th March.

Derby's peregrines are keeping us all waiting and wondering. Will there be an egg appearing soon? How much longer?  The answer is we're not sure, but it probably won't be too long now. Earlier this lunchtime we caught these scenes of the male peregrine (tiercel) sitting in the nest scrape with the female rather oblivious to his presence, eating some food item or other. But eventually she went into the typical head-down bowing display, accompanied by short, muted calls from the male. Managing to zoom in on him, it was interesting to note that he seemed to be nodding off at times. The white "eyelids" (called nictating membranes which move across the eye from bottom to top) lazily closed his eyes from time to time. Perhaps all this courtship is simply too much hard work.

When the falcon is ready to lay we'll probably see her on the scrape for some considerable time, showing virtually no activity at all, and in a more horizontal, back-hunched sort of way than we're used to. We are often asked how long it will be between the first egg being laid and hatching, but we'd rather answer a different question.  We prefer: How long betwen the last egg being laid and hatching?  Please don't become alarmed when you see our peregrines appearing to abandon their newly lain eggs for a few hours at a time. This is quite normal. Incubation only starts in earnest once a full clutch is laid. This time period is 30 days. This is quite unusual, as we tend to think of most birds of prey and owls staggering the hatching of their young. We can talk about the reasons for this later on. Meanwhile, for those of you new to watching Derby's webcameras this year, and finding yourselves totally hooked, the Team would like to apologise in advance for you doing absolutely no work for the next few days! Eggs can be laid at any time of day or night.

May we take this chance to thank everyone for keeping us all up to date with descriptions of what they're seeing over the cameras? It gives us all a chance to learn what has been going on during the times when we're away from the cameras. Last year our first egg was laid on 23rd March. No prizes, but an honourable mention will go to the person who cares to guess the date and time of that first egg, and gets the closest to the right answer! Just leave a comment and your name.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Intimate Moments

(Updated 18th March)
Thanks to an eagle-eyed webcam viewer, we've been able to capture one of the first mating sequences of this year's breeding season. Yesterday, AnnieF left a comment that she'd seen the two peregrines mating, and a trip up the Cathedral Tower yielded the clip below. As with virtually all birds, mating is a brief encounter, but one we'll probably see happening quite a few times over the next week or two. Indeed, at 3pm yesterday the male peregrine made a couple of "fly-pasts" whilst the falcon was atop the tower, though he did not land. Last year our birds were mating from 8th March until egg-laying day on 24th March.

Do please continue to post report of interesting activity, and we'll do our best to retrieve them from our recalcitrant video recorders inside the tower.

How to capture and share webcam screenshots. (Flickr Group Pool)If you want to know how to share your pictures with everyone else, we've posted some instructions here.  In a nutshell, it involves capturing an image of what's on your PC with the Print Screen [PrntScr] button, then trimming the picture to leave just the webcam view, and finally posting it online to our Flickr Group. We've had over 75 of you doing just that last season, with  over 1000 pictures posted already.

Here's one I captured and thought worth adding to Flickr. Any suggestions for a caption?

Aaarghhh, they've been looking!

Head-bowing courtdship display captured 18th March 2010 1pm
Head Bowing display 18 March 2010

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Courtship Victuals

Courtship is an important part of many animals' breeding success. We have already seen the very formal head-bowing rituals that both birds make on their nest scrape. And we have  had a number of you leaving comments on this blog to say you've witnessed the transfer of food between birds on two or three occasions. Both are clear indications that Derby's peregrines will be mating and egg-laying quite soon. The clip below shows an offering of food to the female peregrine (falcon) and was recorded on 11 March 2010.

Shortly before the events seen in this clip, our male peregrine (tiercel) had flown in and landed on top of Derby Cathedral's tower where he had plucked the prey item in full view of the female, albeit some distance away from her. Then they flew off together and immediately landed on the nest scrape where this clip starts. We see the male peregrine falcon pass food to his much larger mate as part of their courtship ritual.  Notice how she flies off but lands some distance below with the offering.

I'm sorry I couldn't include the first clip, too. Two hours of attempts to render the video into an editable format failed totally, probably caused by a fauty recording from our Philips DVD recorder.

BBC Springwatch. Other recordings have been more successful. Many of you will be aware of the night-time hunting sequence we captured last December which proved to the first such clip ever recorded and placed in the public domain. A copy of this sequence has just been sent off to the BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol for inclusion in a Springwatch Special on Urban Wildlife. Look out for this in the next few months.

A check of the tower cam recorders on Friday showed that we've not yet captured any mating sequences on top of the Cathedral. By this time last year we had already this occurring. Whether we've missed them, or they are now occurring at other locations such as on the nearby Jurys Inn building, or if the colder weather has simply delayed them, we simply don't know at this stage. There was an interesting series of comments left on the last post about whether or not webcams like ours are obtrusive. Thanks your thoughts on this so far.

On Sunday 14th March, a moorhen was caught and brought back to the top of the Cathedral Tower in Derby. This screenshot was captured by HelenSara and placed on our Flickr Group Pool.
Peregrine with moorhen

Monday, 1 March 2010

New Season Update

Updated 03 March (see end)

Spring is nearly upon us. With reports of peregrines already mating in the south of England, our own pair here in Derby are also showing clear signs of getting ready for this year's breeding season.

Already we are seeing courtship displays on the nest ledge. This involves both birds standing absolutely still on the nest platform, heads bowed down and facing each other. This may last for three or more minutes, and is often accompanied by a loud "ee-chupp, ee-chupp" call from the female. The multi-image shot on the left shows the female standing in the nest scrape just a few days ago, with the male standing on the right hand side. They were motionless. Unfortunately the pictures are a little misty, but we've since cleaned the lenses. And here's a clip from the 2008 season that we recorded to show you what happens.

The male always seems to lose his nerve in the end. After some minutes of head-bowing (or aggressive-sounding "ee-chupping") he flees the nest ledge, leaving her all alone. There she may pick at a few stones or, more frequently, may indulge in some nest-scraping . She will lie down on the ground and push back with her feet to create the hollow scrape in which her eggs will later be laid. All the images of the female in the series below were captured just a few days ago, on 24th February.

Food may also be brought back to the nest by the male, which he then passes to his larger mate, and we're receiving reports from webcam viewers that this is being seen too.

With the weather finally warming up, Nick Brown and I took the opportunity today to do some last minute spring-cleaning. This meant notifying the police before I made a quick abseil down from the top of the tower to the nest ledge where the cameras were cleaned and everything made ready for the new season. We also took the opportunity to help Derby Cathedral by cleaning out their gutters and even discovered a few minor roof maintenance issues which we'll be reporting back to them. It was less than an hour after we'd left the roof that the birds returned to claim the Cathedral platform as their own.

With the season advancing rapidly, do look out for mating. This happens very frequently through March, right up to the day of egg-laying towards the end of the month. Passers-by in Derby may be lucky to witness this for themselves, but webcam watchers also stand a good chance of seeing something. Our birds do seem to like the tower top in front of our camera, and over the last two years we've captured some stunning moments which are archived on this blog.

Have you seen a special moment you'd like to share? If so, leave a comment on this blog, or hit print-screen on your PC and post us the image. You can put them on our Flickr Photo Pool where over a 1000 images were uploaded by viewers last season.

We'll bring you more stills and videos as the season progresses, and hope you'll stay with us to share once again all the intimate moments of these very special birds' lives.
The number of hits we've had since the beginning of the year (now close on 50,000) is more than double last year's figure by the same time (19,000) and quadruple the 2008 figure (11,000)....due mainly to the world first 'night hunting video' which newcomers can still see by scrolling down to the post of 11th January....
The BBC's Springwatch programme has recently been requesting video clips of our birds so we are optimistic these may be shown in future....we'll keep you informed.

Update: In an attempt to resolve the problem of our video server freezing up every few months, Axis (the manufacturers of our video server) have recommended that we set our sytem to cease uploading to the internet for a short period each day. Being British, I've selected a time of 3am for our webcams to close for 15 minutes.  Sorry if this affects you as a world-wide viewer. I'll happily change the time we break - I just don't know when is best for minimum disruption. (All suggestions welcome)

Nick M
Derby Museum & Art Gallery