Saturday, 31 March 2012

Second Egg (and video of the first)

A second eggs was laid at 07:40 this morning, and the screen shot below as posted by Phoebe to our Flickr group, to which anyone can submit their Derby peregrine-related photos and screenshots.

DCPP 2012 (3 103 2012) second egg

The photo below wa submitted to Flickr by HelenSara

Egg Number 2

I climbed up Derby Cathedral tower this morning before doing my shopping in the Westfield Centre, and managed to retrieve a video clip of the first egg being  laid just after midnight on 29th March. Unfortunately our video recorder froze up shortly after midnight on 29th, so there is no film clip of our second egg being laid this morning. Any bets when our third might arrive?

Meanwhile here is our first egg being laid. (With apologies for anyone reading this blog in school, as you are unlikely to be able to watch YouTube videos. We are working on a solution to this problem)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Our first egg of the season!

She led us a bit of a dance, but Derby Cathedral's peregrine falcon has laid her first egg, at last!
Blog commenter, Phoebe, alerted us with a message posted here at 01:04am this morning. This just gave us time to zoom in the camera and capture this moment a few minutes later. She did looked tired, and she had certainly led us to quite a few false alarms over  the last few days.

First egg  (Laid at 1am on 29th March 2012)

We know from remarks left by viewers clicking the comments link below each post, that there are quite a lot of new webcam watchers and  a few more Derbyshire schools watching this year. A big welcome to you all. In particular we say a big welcome to Holmesdale Infants and to their teacher, Rachel, and to Megan who posted her thoughts on behalf of all the children there.

If you have questions about the lives of these amazing birds (they are the fastest creatures on earth!), do leave a blog comment and we'll do our best to answer it for you.

Two things are worth saying right now:
1) Peregrine eggs glow white under the night-time infra-red light of our camera. But in daylight they are a deep reddish colour.

2) Up to four eggs are usually laid, at intervals of just over two days between each one. Don't be alarmed if you see the nest platform with what looks like completely abandoned eggs in it. This is normal. The adults leave the eggs unattended, sometimes for an hour or more at a time. They only start incubating their eggs  properly once all of them have been laid.

Maybe some of the school children might like to talk about why they might do this, and what  advantage it gives them. We would love to hear from schools why you think this happens. We'd like to hear these ideas before the adult webcam watchers and blog readers give us their answers!

Shown below is the very first picture captured by regular webcam viewer, Phoebe. Anyone can make screeengrabs like this and post them to our Flickr Group to share with everyone here. (Follow the link at the top left of this page to go to Flickr and read how to do it)

First egg laid 29.03.2012 at  01:03

Note the careful way our female sits over her
egg, with wings slightly outspread. 1130am 29 March

An apparently abandoned egg will be a frequent sight until the
 penultimate egg is laid. Only then will incubation properly start.

Our thanks must also go to "RJ" who left a detailed comment on this blog post. He (she?) had looked back through our archives and calculated the average time between egg-laying, and forecast the second egg will be laid around 3pm local time on Saturday. (For those of you outside of our BST timezone, our webcam pictures do show local time in a narrow black bar at the top of the image.) 
Here's what RJ posted:
Looking at the last three years, it took around a week from the first egg to the fourth. Here are the gaps between them, rounding to the nearest hour:

1-2: 60 hrs
2-3: 57 hrs
3-4: 58 hrs

1-2: 57 hrs
2-3: 45 hrs
3-4: 67 hrs

1-2: 70 hrs
2-3: 45 hrs
3-4: 70 hrs

This gives an average gap between each egg of:

1-2: 62 hrs
2-3: 56 hrs
3-4: 65 hrs

On those average times between #1 and #2, egg #2 this year could arrive around 3.00 p.m. Saturday afternoon.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Waiting Patiently, an update & a welcome

Update 27th March: things seem to be hotting up now, judging by the flurry of recent comments.....
For the falcon to lay a week earlier than last year is probably as much as we can expect of her - so hopefully something will have materialised by 29th?
Meanwhile Grantham has its first egg and Chichester has four.

Update 22 March: Notts now have four eggs and Norwich Cathedral has one (access via I think) and Bath too (since 21st).
Ps. Our bid to the lottery (HLF) was being decided today but the date has now been put forward to mid April when we stand a better chance apparently.
Also welcome to all Derbyshire teachers who are newly discovering our web cams and blog as a result of our presence at a big schools eco-conference on Friday. Hope you like what you find! Nick B/Nick M. (See one encouraging teacher feedback comment already....)

No eggs yet for Derby's peregrines, although nearby Nottingham have already laid three eggs on the side of their university building.

Derby Cathedral's own nest scrape looks well-formed, and we've seen plenty of courtship and mating activity, which you can view by scrolling down to earlier posts to watch the videos. Last season, Derby's peregrines laid on 4th April, though the earliest they have ever laid was on 23rd March 2009.

There's so much happening behind the scenes, we barely know where to start. At the moment you'll see no difference, though we have some great plans and hopes for good news from our application to the Heritage Lottery for additional funding to support our work. We'll tell you more about it during that long, dark tea-time of the soul (a.k.a incubation).

Nest scrape with tiercel 20th March.
The tiercel as seen by our other webcamera

Saturday, 10 March 2012

More mating moments

Another amazing video came out of Derby Cathedral this morning.
I'd gone to check for interesting recordings, but found none worth retrieving. But just as I was setting the equipment back to standby, before heading down the spiral stairs from the bell-ringing chamber, I heard a loud eee-chupp, eee-chupp  over the live microphone feed.

Switching the camera controls over to the right-hand side of the nest platform, I saw our male standing there, calling. It sounded like a typical welcome, so I wondered if our female was flying in to land. Switching the camera feed back over to the other side, sure enough, there she was on the ledge down below the platform. She had a submissive posture, and looked ready to mate. Switching back, the male had now flown off, so I switched back once more, just in time to see him fly down to the ledge she was on and mate briefly with her before flying off. He soon reappeared on the nest platform, whilst she continued to call to him for some time.

I knew the video recorders were running, so this was clearly going to be a fascinating sequence to have captured.  I edited out the three minute sequence, burnt it to DVD, and headed back down the tower stairs. I couldn't resist nipping out to look back up at the nest ledge from Amen Alley. There I met a couple of visitors to Derby to whom I chatted for a while. I told them they'd just missed seeing the birds mating, and they told me this was their first time visiting Derby, though they'd read our blog and watched the birds via the webcams. Just then, Margaret, one of the Cathedral Quarter rangers came down Amen Alley, and we all stopped to look at the birds and chat about our plans for this coming season. Just then, our male flew down and mated with the falcon once more. We couldn't believe our luck!

Now, we can't promise every visitor to Derby a sight like that, though you can nearly always guarantee to see the peregrines somewhere close by.  What we can do is promise you a warm welcome and the chance to catch up with the news from a host of peregrine watchers who regularly lurk around the Cathedral, binoculars in hand. So, if like our couple this morning, you visit our city for the first time, don't hesitate to ask anyone else you see to point out where our world-famous peregrines are to be found.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Video-fest (Mating and Night-time hunting!)

Favourite lookout point - high up on Jurys Inn, Derby.
photo by superbrad
What a day for capturing amazing videos!

On Saturday I once again climbed the spiral stone staircase inside Derby's cathedral, part-hauling myself up with the thick hawser-laid rope that serves as a useful handrail for weary visitors like me.
Eighty two steps later and I was half way up the tower and inside the bell-ringing chamber where our internet and recording equipment is located.

I wasn't expecting much on the recorders. OK, there had been a couple of blog comments left by readers to the previous post to say they had seen some sort of night-time activity on March 1st. Perhaps a prey item had been brought back alive, they suggested; it was worth checking out whilst I was in town. But I didn't hold out much hope.

First I went through the daytime recordings, skimming forwards at 5 minute intervals, looking for first signs of mating, or further courtship activity. Suddenly, in one frame, a tiny black dot appeared against the white wall of the distant Jury's Inn hotel. But on the next frame it was gone, so what was it? Running through it again at normal speed I realised we'd caught on camera the moment when an adult bird was flying up to alight on top of the huge blue lettering that spells out the Jurys Inn name. This is one of their favourite haunts when they aren't on the cathedral tower itself as it gives them a commanding view over their nest site, ensuring no interlopers try and take it over. OK, it was at the limit of the camera's resolution, but it was nice to see the tiny dot flying up to land where I had so often seen it in the past.

To see the tiny speck of a bird, you'll probably need to double click to open it in YouTube and then view it in full screen mode by clicking the small icon on the lower right side of the frame.

First mating
Setting the DVD recorder to burn this brief moment to disk, I began reviewing footage captured by the other video recorder. This time what I found was even was even more spectacular. It was footage from 1st March. Our male peregrine (the tiercel) was sitting on the platform edge with the falcon down on the stone ledge below him. She looked to be in rather a submissive posture, so I ran through on fast-forward to see what took place as I suspected she might be ready for mating. And then, sure enough, it happened. After a brief preen he looked down at her, then set off out into the Derby air, obviously did a fast about-turn, and came back into view to land on her sturdy back and mate briefly with her. This is the earliest date on which we've seen our peregrines mating. Previously the earliest report was on 8th March 2009, but of course we have no real idea when these multiple matings actually begin. We're just lucky if we see them. But it does bode very well for a successful breeding season once again this year.

More evidence of Night-time Hunting
And to cap it all, a further look back through recorded footage to find the activity that blog readers, Sue and Helen both reported around 11.30pm on 1st March revealed yet more amazing night-time hunting activity. This time it was clear that our peregrine was alert and watching the night skies over Derby. It flies out and returns a minute or two later with its prey which is clearly struggling, though is not sufficiently clear to enable us to identify the species (but it does seems to have big feet). Rather gruesomely it start plucking its prey without the neck-bite we've witnessed a number of times before. So there's a bit of a struggle before it is finally subdued, plucked and dispatched. So this footage adds to our 'world-first' video recording we captured back in December 2009 when a woodcock was brought back alive late at night. It simply proves what the scientists were saying from the prey evidence - that peregrines falcons are well capable of taking advantage of urban light pollution to hunt for prey long into the night over our towns and cities. Peregrine experts, Nick Dixon and Ed Drewitt, believe the prey item is a female teal that has been taken by our male. (Compare the size against the female bird shown in the video clip in the previous post and you'll notice how much smaller he is than the falcon shown here.)

But all-in-all an amazing day - and well worth the climb up those ancient stone steps.