Wednesday, 29 August 2007

No news is probably good news

Further to the comment about the lack of new postings recently and as Tony indicated, all three key partners have been taking a bit of (.......we hope you'll agree) well earned holiday last week.
I was in County Clare on the west coast of Eire where I came across peregrines on three occasions during the week, flying and in one case hunting over estuaries and coastal shores. It's always great to see them in such remote settings!
When I was a very novice bird watcher back in the 1960s, when DDT and dieldrin were doing their best to wipe them out completely, there were no peregrines in England at all. To locate one, you had to travel to somewhere like the west coast of Ireland or NW Scotland. I saw my first peregrine on Cape Clear, a remote island off the SW tip of Eire, way back in 1962. (That tells you just how long in the tooth I am!)

On getting back home this time, I made a quick trip down to the cathedral last Monday morning to check for prey remains and to see if there were any birds around. The female was on the gargoyle above the nest and I found old remains of lapwing and snipe, two commonly caught species, under the cathedral walls.

I have also caught up with my local hobbies which have now just fledged three youngsters, two months after the young peregrines fledged! I gather from the local hobby enthusiasts that, out of 23 nests visited this summer, seven (ie almost a third) have failed, the highest failure rate ever recorded by them in some 20 years of study...and all down to the awful summer weather.
The wonderful photo of a hobby is by John Miller, to whom many thanks for permission to publish it (and it IS the right way up incidentally!) To see the original post about hobbies (and another brilliant John Miller photo) go back to the blog on 31st July.
Blog fatigue....
We do hope to keep the blog going over the autumn but please be aware that there is less (or maybe nothing) to report now the breeding season is well and truly over, so finding things to write about gets harder without straying too far off topic! A little patience on your parts may therefore be required.
Of course, you could probably encourage us to post more often if you chose to send in some more donations to support the project's future? While we have had 3 - 4 generous donations totalling over £100 from keen (one might even say 'some of our more fanatical') blog and web cam followers , some others who indicated a willingness to donate have yet to do so.....forgive me mentioning it again. Contact the Trust via for details of how to donate should you wish to send us some further encouragement!
Nick B

Sunday, 19 August 2007

On Look-out

Our adult female has been much in residence on the platform in recent days. At one time all four birds - adults and parents - were seen together on the tower. Here's a recent picture taken by John Salloway, our resident expert photographer. Adult female peregrine falcon. Photo J Salloway. And here is the adult male on top of Derby Cathedral's tower, taken a week ago. The distinctive bright yellow area around his eye is very clear to see here, and is much more pronounced than in the female, and his legs and cere (the yellow bit around his bill) also seem more strongly coloured. The horizontal adult barring is also clear to see, and John's next assignment (please) is to capture both birds in the same frame. It's likely that the adults are keen to continue establishing their presence on the tower, lest an intruder decides it would also make an ideal roosting point.

Adult male peregrine falcon. Photo J Salloway May we repeat an alert made in the last entry to the effect that this blog has suddenly started suffering attacks of automated spamming. Fairly inoccuous looking comments are starting to be left to numerous archived entries. These contain hyperlinks to inappropriate websites. We will review the situation and hope that Blogger itself may be able to prevent this. It may not last but, should it get too bad, we may be forced to reinstate comment moderation, which would be a shame. We hope you will understand.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Trust the wildlife trust!

As promised, here's a brief outline about Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT): the trust is a charity set up in 1962 to conserve the county's wildlife and change attitudes towards it. It is one of 47 such county trusts in the UK, known nationally as The Wildlife Trusts.
DWT now has 46 nature reserves, 30+ paid staff, 12,000 members and one education centre.

With an annual turnover of about £1.5 million, the trust has to be run as a small (not for profit) company. We are independent of government and get most of our external funding from the lottery, landfill tax, charitable trusts, donations and the occasional legacy......but it is an uphill struggle each year to make ends meet, as you might imagine.

Three front-line teams (conservation, education and reserves) are backed up by admin. and marketing teams. The peregrine work falls within the education ('people and wildlife') team's work though most of our time is devoted to working with children, mainly in schools and at our centre but also informally in holiday time.
To read more about the Trust (including how to join - and before the subs go up!) go to


Ps. For those of you who live abroad, Derbyshire is situated right in the middle of the UK, about as far away from the sea as you can get! The north of the county falls within the Peak District National Park and includes high moorland and limestone dales which are rich in wildflowers. Further south, the county is a mixture of attractive, undulating farmland, somewhat less attractive open-cast (and previously) deep coal mining areas and towns and one major city (Derby). Just south of Derby, the valley of the River Trent runs across the county, with associated gravel workings and reservoirs, were the peregrines hunt for waders and duck.

Further post-script: Today saw our first concerted attack by spammers on this blog, with inappropriate advertising left in the comment on some of our archived posts. We'll leave it a while to see how it goes, or if Blogger can resolve it, but it may be necessary to reinstate comment moderation should it get bad. Sorry. (May we warn you NOT TO CLICK on the names of any suspicious-looking names, as this could take you to inappropriate or malicious websites.)

Monday, 13 August 2007

Another godwit on God's roof . . .

Black-tailed Godwit. Photo by Nick Franklin
I've just had confirmation of yet another species on the prey list - a black tailed godwit. This is a rare wading bird that breeds only in very small numbers in the UK. Larger numbers breed in Iceland, Holland and Eastern Europe so maybe this bird came from there, migrating across Derbyshire either going north in spring or just recently moving back on 'autumn passage'.....
If it was the latter, then there were reports of this species at Carsington Water (a reservoir some 10 miles NW of Derby) on three July dates and further north in the county also.....the biggest group was nine but it shows that this species was about at water bodies locally in the last couple of months. Equally possible is that the godwit was taken as it over-flew the city at night during this period .....reports of the peregrines' nocturnal activity suggest they are already into night hunting!
A primary wing feather was among the debris Tony and I collected on the roof on 31st July....along with the arctic tern and whimbrel remains. And Ed Drewitt has just ID'ed another feather I had sent him as that of a knot, another species of wading bird!
BTW, the Swedish arctic tern story gets an article on Birdguide's Webzine and will be a news item in next month's Birdwatch magazine.
Nick B
Ps In the winter I found a bar tailed godwit corpse at the now we have both of the European godwits on the prey list. What next?
Pps The excellent photo of a black tailed godwit is by Nick Franklin to whom many thanks.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Derby's Museums & Art Gallery

We wanted to give each partner organisations a chance to say a few words about what they do. To start us off, here are a few words from Anneke Bambery, the Head of Museums in Derby:

View of the Derbyshire Nature Gallery at Derby Museum & Art Gallery"Derby Museums and Art Gallery is a service consisting of three separate museums, all situated very close to the city centre. And all are free.

Museum and Art Gallery contains fine collections and fascinating displays covering archaeology, porcelain, geology, wildlife and military history (the latter is currently being redisplayed). It is also home to the world-renowned Joseph Wright of Derby collection of paintings, including The Orrery. As with all of our museums, there is a lively programme of special exhibitions and activities.

The Silk Mill beside the River Derwent at Cathedral GreenThe Silk Mill, Derby’s Museum of Industry and History, stands on the site of the world’s first factory – the silk mill of John and Thomas Lombe, now part of the Derwent Valley
Mills World Heritage Site. We have displays on Derbyshire’s industries and working life, including railway engineering, power for industry and, of course, our famous Rolls-Royce aero-engines. Right now we are working on plans and seeking ideas on how we should develop this museum over the next few years.

Pickfords House Museum, on FriargatePickford’s House is a museum of Georgian Life and Historic Costume. It is an elegant Georgian townhouse built in 1770, and designed by the prominent local architect Joseph Pickford as both a family home and business premises. You can see historic furnished rooms, changing displays of costume, and a permanent display of toy theatres.

We've all been thrilled to be a partner in the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project. Our service is all about making links between people and their heritage, culture and environment. So what could be more suited to this ambition than a webcam, allowing people all over the world to see how Derby encourages wildlife and supports public understanding? Interest has been huge, and our staff have worked very hard to help set up the webcam and support this blog. We've enjoyed meeting all the visitors who came to our museums as a result of their interest in the falcons, and the discussions on the blog have been fascinating. It’s been a pleasure to have launched the project with our partners the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Derby Cathedral, but I must also record our thanks to our colleagues in Derby City Council’s Corporate IT department and to Capita for ensuring the cameras were configured and presented so effectively on our website. It’s been a tremendously exciting experience for us all.

We hope the peregrine project will entice some of you to visit us. You can find our addresses and directions on the left hand menu of our Museums' web-pages.

Anneke Bambery, Head of Museums"

Contributions from our other partners will follow shortly.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Hanging Around

Just hanging about. Nick Evans - the man who built our peregrine platform - demonstrates the overhanging nature of Derby Cathedral Tower. Photographed in 2006.Strange goings-on were reported on the tower of Derby Cathedral today. Who was that suddenly appearing in the web-cameras on a rope?
Well, the answer was that a specialist company had been called in to inspect and remove any loose stonework from the four faces of the mediaeval tower. And it must have been one of their operatives. Sorry we didn't warn you.

The Cathedral authorities had agreed to delay the operation whilst the peregrine falcons were nesting, but needed to get the work done well in advance of the sponsored public abseil from the top of the tower next month. Is anyone here going to take part, I wonder? Had we remembered that they were scheduled to drop in, we might have got the men to clean off the spiders' webs from the lens of our main camera, and do a bit of tidying up, too. They will be back again tomorrow, but are probably unlikely to re-appear in view.

Post-script: Our webcams may go offline during Tuesday 14th August whilst work is carried out on the laser-link that carries our webcam data from The Silk Mill to The Assembly Rooms, and thence the big wide world. Apologies for any disruption.

By the way, a nice article appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph today about the peregrine webcams.

Peregrines Down-Under

Click this screen-grab to enlarge picture of an adult bird late at night on the old nest ledgeDerby's peregrine falcons fledged in late June - and you can watch many past video clips by following the "Key Links" on the left side of this page. This screen-grab was taken just after midnight today, following a period of when the adult bird on the platform had been very active, both calling and flying about.

But should you want to become addicted to nesting peregrines all over again, you need to go down to Australia right now, where Frodo and Freda are about to lay an egg on one of the Brisbane's tall city buildings. Here are a couple of recent pictures sent in to them by viewers. The site, known as Frodocam, has cameras that can be panned and tilted - something we'd love to be able to do here one day.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

More on the arctic tern

Mark Grantham, of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the organisation that runs the UK bird ringing scheme, emailed to say:

"This is only the ninth record of a ringed Arctic Tern from Sweden to the UK, and this is since 1909! There was one sighting in 2001, but before this the last one was in 1992.

Please mention that if anyone does find a ring to report it to and they'll then receive details back about 'their' bird.
The BTO's leaflet about ringing can be seen at:

The oldest arctic tern we have is a bird of 29 years and 10 months, though there are Danish and German birds both of 30 years 10 months old and yes, that American bird has reached 34 years of age!"
Nick B

Ps. The map doesn't yet show our Derby bird because we don't know exactly where it was ringed yet......apparently, some dots indicate more than one bird and there are indeed eight records showing!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Some mileage!

Details of the arctic tern have just been received from the Swedish ringing office (see previous post).
It was ringed as a chick on 10th June 2002 on an island off the SW of Sweden (Skane province). So by my calculation, it will have made ten migration trips between Sweden and its Antarctic wintering grounds during the intervening five years, just failing to reach its nesting grounds on its fifth northwards migration of course. That's one heck of a lot of miles! (Arctics have probably the longest migration of any bird travelling right down to the Antarctic Ocean.....anyone like to work out about how many miles that might be?)
Hopefully it had raised enough young of its own during that time such that at least one is surviving and replacing the lost bird, thus keeping the population stable.
Nick B
Ps. Without checking, I seem to recall that the oldest arctic tern aged by its ring was about 30 years old, so that is an even more astonishing mileage. Remarkable birds indeed!
Pps. I should perhaps have pointed out that the red colouration showing on the photo of the tern's leg and foot is not blood. The legs and beak of arctic terns are blood red in colour and this is the remains of that pigmentation.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Exciting tern up for the books!

Yesterday, under Tony's supervision, we cleared the cathedral's nave roof of prey remains and anything else which might block the drainage systems, coming away with a heavy but fortunately only slightly smelly plastic bag full of feathers, heads, wings and feet from a wide range of birds, plus tree leaves and some rather less pleasant gunge!

Some prey remains were easy to identify: a woodcock's wings and head, skulls of golden plover, lapwing and starling, wings of several moorhens, pigeons etc, all interesting but all species we've found before.

However two items stood out immediately: the dried up remains of a tern with head and wings intact and the head and feet of a whimbrel. Closer investigation of the tern showed that one of its tiny legs was still present and it bore a ring - a most exciting discovery!

Even more exciting was the inscription on the ring: which read; 4392757 Riksmuseum this bird was ringed in Sweden and had been caught by a peregrine on its spring migration through Derbyshire. We have sent the details off to Stockholm and hope to discover soon exactly when and where it was ringed....

The tarsus of the leg, as you can see from the photo, was very short (14 or 15mm) which identifies the bird as an arctic tern. Its very closely related cousin, the common tern, has a longer tarsus (19-21mm) and there is no overlap, which makes identification easier.

Checking the records, we noted that there was a large passage of arctic terns through the south of the county (within 10-15 kms. of Derby) at the end of April and beginning of May with the largest flock being of 80 birds. So it is likely, although not definite of course, that this bird was caught at that time.

The whimbrel whose skull we found probably passed over Derbyshire about the same time. This wader breeds far to the north, with very small numbers moving up through the Midlands.
The photo shows the woodcock and whimbrel heads, accompanied by drawings of each. The drawings show just the bones which underlie the horny sheaths which are still present in the specimens which therefore look a bit larger.

Both the arctic tern and the whimbrel are new species for the list of prey identified at Derby since we began recording in 2005.

The jack snipe was only the third one we have found. This rare bird may well have been caught flying over Derby sometime during the winter or possibly, like the tern and whimbrel, on its migration north in spring. None of these species breeds locally.

There are still some feathers and feet requiring close scrutiny and we may end up sending them down to Ed Drewitt at Bristol watch this space.
Incidentally, Ed has been studying the prey of urban peregrines in the UK for a number of years and can identify even the smallest feather from the drabbest of birds. So this is a good moment to thank him for all his expert help and support over the last two years. His alltime UK prey list now numbers over 100 species whereas our Derby list is just over 40, so we've a way to go yet!
Ed tells me there have been a few other foreign-ringed birds found at other peregrine sites, eg black headed gulls from Lithuania and Poland, but no arctic terns!