Sunday, 25 February 2007

early morning visit

0730 am Sunday 25th February: remains of teal, redwing and lapwing under the tower. No birds above but the pair spotted on the very top of the police mast in Chester Green, a regular perching spot only maybe half a mile from the cathedral. Just as the scope was on the birds, they flew off one after the other, heading Eastwards.
Seeing and hearing the latest (excellent) video sequences, suggest it shows the female. Certainly getting 'in the mood' alright!

Second peregrine pictures

Derby Cathedral received its first complaint today - an irate birdwatcher came in to complain that since the cameras went up he'd not seen the peregrines, and that we'd frightened them away for at least a year. He was going to write a strongly-worded letter to someone.

Of course he was right to be concerned about undue disturbance, just as we have been ourselves, although wrong in his conclusions as our first video clip in the previous blog entry shows. Nevertheless, a hastily written leaflet was produced with all the necessary photographic evidence to allay anyone's concerns, and copies sent to the Museum & Art Gallery, the Tourist Office, and the Cathedral.

A visit to Derby Cathedral also provided an opportunity to pick up the second video tape left running last Tuesday night just before and after dusk, so that we could test out the infra-red illuminators. What a delight - the out of-sight-bird from the first video is now clearly shown, and very active, with lots of ee-chupp calls and picking up of stones. We are still reluctant to say which bird is which at this stage as the cameras are so different in their performance, so here it is for you to enjoy without interpretation. Don't miss the falling feather! Double click icon to play YouTube video.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

First peregrine pictures

This short video sequence was captured yesterday whilst we were testing the new cameras put up last week. The jury is still out as to whether it's our male or the female landing on the tray, and your comments are welcome. Either way it shows that both birds have accepted the changes made to their ledge and are spending more time together near the nest site. (Click the central icon to play video)

What's also clear when watching the master VHS video tape is that the calls you hear are not being made by the bird that lands. Yes, it appears to open and close its beak, but it is not the one calling. The seagull-like mewing comes from the other bird, heard off camera, and this starts before the peregrine lands, and continues for some time after it has flown off. Here's a good link to courtship behaviour in American peregrines.

Please don't prejudge the image quality - it was hurriedly captured by playing the video tape on a TV and then filming the screen! We do plan to get a little more high-tech once specialised recordering equipment is supplied by the BBC, but in the mean time if anyone is willing to loan us a spare DVD recorder for a few weeks - please get in touch!

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

More prey details

Detailed sifting through the bird remains retrieved from the platform last week (a very unpleasant exercise to say the least) revealed the remains of several woodcock, lapwings and thrushes (especially fieldfares) plus single snipe, golden plover, black headed gull and little grebe, among others.
On the nave roof were more woodcock and lapwings but most interesting was the whole (if soggy) corpse of a knot.
It seems the Derby peregrines have caught at least four knot since November, as well as the bar tailed godwit and turnstones reported earlier. These (essentially coastal) waders must be overflying Derbyshire at night in mid- winter without ever landing. A knot was also caught at Coventry Cathedral not long ago, adding further weight to the evidence we are gathering of their movements to and fro (presumably between the east coast and the Severn estuary) .
All very interesting stuff!

Last Lap

The peregrines have a taste for Lapwing at the moment. As well as two uneaten birds currently lying on the nesting platform since last Thursday, another was found eviscerated below Derby Cathedral Tower on Monday. It's also understood that an injured lapwing was found in the same place at the weekend and taken to a vets on Monday afternoon, though it's not yet known what became of it. This may be our first example of prey being brought back alive and managing to survive. Despite this toll on our wild bird populations, it's encouraging to know that the recent camera installation work has not driven the peregrines away; an adult was actively flying around the Cathedral at 5.30pm yesterday evening, and our very first video recording showed that by this morning yet another lapwing corpse had been brought to the ledge. (Lapwing photo by Stuart Whitehead)

Friday, 16 February 2007

Web Cameras Installed!

Our peregrine falcon cameras are now up and working, and we're all breathing a huge sigh of relief. But it'll still be at least a month before we can bring you live images over the internet.

Here you see our very first webcam picture of the platform, taken inside Derby Cathedral whilst the kit was being installed. You can just make out a foot in the foreground as one of us stood suspended from an abseil rope to adjust the camera, plus another hand in the background, fixing cables in place. Thanks go to Tim Cairns who helped with the ropes on top of the tower, with Nick Brown inside the tower helping connect cables and monitors, but mostly to Nick Evans for his valuable help in preparing the camera mounts and greatly assisting with the abseil.

We took delivery of the cameras much earlier than expected, so it was a frantic week. First we had to work out how to mount them with minimum visual impact to the cathedral tower. Then all the cables had to be threaded from the Bell Chamber down to the Ringing Room, some three floors below, where we planned to put our monitors and internet connections. A short emergency trip to BBC Radio Derby was needed to reconnect a BNC plug that had been poorly fitted to the video cable, and then the day before installation the cameras themselves were connected and tested. Then Panic! Fantastic pictures, but no automatic switching from daylight to night-time infra-red on our best camera. Lots of frantic phonecalls to Eco-Watch ensued, though we only managed to make contact on installation day itself. It appeared that our main camera had been delivered with day/night sensing set to manual control - something we certainly weren't expecting, and didn't want! All carefully packed up ready for the abseil, our camera had to be unwrapped and wired up to a monitor so we could alter its settings via an on-screen menu.

Once repackaged, we took all the gear to the top of the cathedral tower. With safety checks done, Nick E. abseiled first to fix up an anchor point, and then the cameras and cables went down. The camera poles were lowered to us from above whilst we cleared away the gruesome remains of dozens of wild birds and a smaller number of pigeons from the platform. Once Nick had fixed the cameras in place they could be turned on and viewed from inside. Then our second problem arose: the camera's iris also appeared to be set to manual control. It didn't adjust automatically to the available light, and could only be altered from a hand-held remote inside the tower. By now, cold and with our harnesses digging into our thighs, we descended for a rest and a re-think. More frantic calls to Eco-Watch and a look through the camera manual showed we might have to alter another default setting. A second abseil was needed, using radios to talk between those on the monitor and those struggling on a rope to alter the camera's tiny menu buttons. Eventually all was sorted and while all this was going on, a peregrine made a couple of silent fly-pasts to check out the activity near its favourite ledge. After a final check, we lowered ourselves down and returned to view the camera pictures. All seemed good, and as dusk approached we were pleased to see that infra-red pictures were also being taken. Sadly, our smaller camera is set slightly out of focus on infra-red and probably can't be adjusted now until after nesting has finished.

We were all too busy to take photos of the camera installation, but here's a YouTube video of us installing the nest platform back in 2006. Just click the play button to begin.

Our last task now is to connect up the wireless access point which has been generously offered to us by the Highways section of Derby City Council, but is unlikely to be available until the end of March. We'll keep you posted.

Monday, 12 February 2007

More prey and an alternative roost site

Recent visits to Derby Cathedral to look for prey remains turned up the beak of a jack snipe (the first record of this species this winter - we found two last year), the wings of two teal and a wood pigeon and feathers from magpie, lapwing, woodcock and black-headed gull.
On one visit, the female was busy plucking food on the nest platform on the tower's east side. On another visit, the male was sitting high on the south side of the tower. Later he flew off to the east over the river and was re-located on the top of the tall aerial mast at the new police headquarters in Chester Green.
The female was sitting a few feet away from him, her back turned to the sun. Neither bird took the slightest notice of a lesser black-backed gull which was circling above them making alarm calls. After a while, and getting no reaction from the falcons below, the gull drifted off southwards.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Cameras a Go-Go!

Well, the cameras and cables should be arriving from Eco-Watch today, a full two weeks earlier than expected. This is great news, and we're looking forward to testing them out. Of course, they'll have to sit and wait for a period of mild, settled weather before we can fit them to the Cathedral's nesting platform. Meanwhile, we've heard that BBC TV is still keen to provide equipment to capture footage on DVD for broadcasting. This means we may also be able to play previous day's film inside at least one of our Museums for visitors to watch, as well as fulfil our main target of getting live pictures out onto the internet. Shown here is the larger of the two camera mounts in the supplier's workshop. We've asked for them to be painted matt black so that they aren't visually obtrusive.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

On Tenterhooks

We've been on tenterhooks all week. We 'd hoped to find out whether or not we would get the formal go-ahead for our peregrine falcon web cameras installation project from the relevant authorities at Derby Cathedral and the City Council. We had modified our proposals so that any visual impact on Derby's Cathedral Tower is kept to an absolute minimum. We had a camera supplier lined up, the quotes were in, and we heard we would receive some additional funding from the Council's WildDerby project and from the Tourism and Marketing Unit. Finally, the hoped-for notice came through yesterday, and our camera order went in straight away. We've now got a three week wait before we take delivery of the cameras and cables, in which time we can finalise our project plan and our risk assessment. Yes, this is boring stuff in some ways, but crucial to show that we're doing things safely and responsibly.