Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Caw!!!

I wish I'd been near Derby Cathedral last Monday. Apparently around 3pm a pair of ravens arrived on the tower and started to feed on the cache of lapwing, teal and golden plover corpses that our peregrines had made. Feathers flew as they fed in turns on their free meals at the top of the Cathedral tower. Far larger than an ordinary black crow, these cousins of rooks and crows have, like peregrines, been increasing in numbers in recent years and are returning to their old haunts around crags and cliffs. But not for long here! When our adult peregrines returned to find the ravens on their "cliff", feathers nearly flew again. Apparently there was an almighty rumpus of calls and counter-calls, with the ravens caww-ing and the peregrines calling loudly as they screamed round the tower to clear these intruders from their home. Passers-by stopped in the street, put down their shopping, and loked up and watch the spectacle as the ravens were attacked again and again with mini-stoops by the peregrines until they eventually gave up and left the area.

We've seen our birds chase off other intruders like buzzards and other peregrines, but as far as we know, this is the first time that ravens have been seen here.
(With thanks to Andy Simpson for passing on his observations.)

Friday, 25 January 2008

Big Garden Birdwatch

RobinThis weekend, the whole of the United Kingdom is being urged to spend an hour birdwatching - and we don't even have to leave our chairs! Every year for over 30 years the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has organised a garden bird survey to assess how well birds are doing in our towns and cities. In that hour they want us to watch or own gardens and to only count the highest number of birds we see at any one time. (They don't want us to count one blue tit going back into our gardens ten times!) And if you can birdwatch your garden from the same place where you sit and watch our peregrine webcam, you can even submit your results online without moving a muscle!
OK, armchair birdwatching doesn't get us very fit, but it certainly helps show us how fit British gardens are for wild birds to use. Follow this link for more information on the Garden Birdwatch

In Derby on Saturday you can come along to the Market Square for the "Garden Bird Bonanza" where there's lots of family fun and bird activities. Help us do one thing for garden birds. Come along for free bird feeders, mask making and wildlife gardening tips. Visit the BBC Bus, or make yourself a free bird box, go on a bird walk (12 noon and 2pm) . The Museums will be there, and you can colour and cut out a peregrine hat or meet the folks from the RSPB who can tell you so much more about watching birds in your area. It's on from 11-3pm, and isn't too far a stroll from Derby Museum & Art Gallery, or our peregrines at Derby Cathedral, or indeed from all the other town-centre entertainments. (And you may even catch our peregrines on the Big Screen)

Remember, there's not much time left for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere to clean out our bird boxes of old nest materials or other remains of last year's nesting season. You could even install your own nest and camera to watch your birds in intimate detail, provided you remember that the birds come first, and that watching them comes second.


Good bird-watching!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Pudding Cam

Whilst waiting for feedback from the powers that be on whether we can spend some of the generous donations we've received during the year on a third camera, we decided to check out whether or not a dummy camera would actually fit. It now seems to have gained the name of "pudding-cam"!

We learnt quite a few valuable lessons whilst trying carefully to place it into position on the lead gutter. It certainly seems to work in principle, and could be placed there without causing any harm to the historic building, but would need careful mounting for those times when the wind blows strong. We are confident we could achieve this, and could capture some stunning pictures along the top of the ledge where the peregrine falcons spend a lot of time when away from the nest.

Latest Update: (24th Jan) We have now had the go-ahead from the cathedral's architect to try out "pudding-cam" , and he's happy that we won't do any harm to the structure of the building or the leadwork. We're especially grateful to the guys at Acam Technology Ltd in Derby who generously loaned us a dome camera to try out yesterday. This worked fine when connected to our video server, and we've also had approval from Derby City Council to run our cabling up the spiral staircase. Should you see the inside of a room on one of our camera feeds, it'll be pudding-cam being put through its paces in the Ringing Chamber.


Meanwhile, we have now reset our visitor counter to count from the start of 2008. Last year was our first year of webcam operation and we took 238,735 unique "hits". We have no idea at this stage if eggs will be laid, or if they'll hatch, so our success or otherwise in 2008 is very much in the laps of the gods.

New visitors to this blog you may wish to read an overview of the peregrine project, or add their names to our mailing list.)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Christmas Pudding - in January?

OK - so it may look like a Christmas pudding on a stick, but here's the latest step forward in the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project for 2008!

It's a dummy camera, all ready to be tried out. We're just waiting on the go-ahead from the Cathedral's architect before we try to see whether or not we could install a third camera high up on the upper ledge of the tower. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could see our adult birds mating, feeding or roosting on their look-out ledges? We think it just might be possible.


But we have to bear in mind issues such as avoiding damage to the historic stonework, or any visual harm that a camera could cause. So we hit upon the idea of inserting a small camera through one of the roof-top gutter openings. The hole is just 13cm square, and we think we've found a way of placing a camera so that it can be removed at any time (even during nesting). We would rest the camera on top of one of the lead gutters without obstructimg the flow of rainwater and, boy, have we had some of that this year! A pair of cords would allow us to extend and lock off a supporting plate once the camera had been inserted. This would make the long wooden batten sit up high on the sides of the lead gutter, looking sideways towards the gargoyles - or grotesques as they're more properly called. Once there, the camera and batten would have to be fixed down securely , but could easily be connected to cabling which we could run up the spiral stone staircase of the cathedral tower from our "control room" in the bell-ringing chamber. It could be strapped to existing power cables and would require no special routing. And the best part is that we think we could insert and replace it during the breeding season without the birds being disturbed in any way.

The camera would be a small dome model, just 12 x 10cm diameter, under a dark shiny cover, and placed less than 2m away from the nearest gargoyles, yet totally invisible to the naked eye and removable in an instant. We would use some of the donations we have received from supporters to purchase and install the equipment.
We'll let you know the moment a lump of polystyrene from the local recycling centre becomes a realistic web-camera option!

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Still Around

The peregrines are still around Derby Cathedral, but are hardly ever seen via the webcameras at the moment.

These two pictures by local photographer and bell-ringer, Roger Lawson, shows where they sometimes like to hang out, as well as giving us a flavour of the festive season just passed.


Just after Christmas I climbed all 188 stone steps to the very top of the Cathedral Tower to check out a cable run and to measure up for a possible third camera. Popping my head over the stonework I both surprised, and was surprised by, our two adult birds who must have been on what we call the "gargoyle ledge" immediately below the top. We were all of us startled, and I watched both birds fly gracefully outwards and downwards below me, calling in alarm as they glided and flapped around the tower. Of course, disturbance like this is not really ideal, but they aren't put off by it, nor is it an illegal act until the time they start nesting again. I should have been more careful, though.

Looking down over the edge of the stonework, I saw the decapitated body of a small duck (mostly likely a female teal), which added to the remains of a lapwing and a beautiful golden plover which had been there since before Christmas. Peregrines tend to make a cache of food which they eat later. It would be fantastic if we could watch some of this activity at the top of the tower, and we're working on seeing if this might be possible.




There are a number of other potentially exciting developments likely to happen in 2008, but forgive us if we hold off announcing them until everything is resolved.

One thing we do need to decide is whether we reset the "hit counter" to zero for 2008, or whether we leave it running. What do you think? We broke the 240,000 barrier a few days ago, and it's pleasing that so many of you are still returning to check out the platform. (We will resolve the slipped camera in the next couple of months).

Meanwhile, work to redevelop Cathedral Green continues, with the task scheduled for completion by April. Here's a rather murky shot down across the Green - but then this winter in Derby has been murky on most days!

Happy New Year from all of us in the Peregrine Project Team.
PS: Since posting this, we were emailed by Ed Drewitt from Bristol Museum & Art Gallery who is an expert on identifying peregrine prey remains. He points out that we missed a couple of other birdy-bits in the picture. In front of the Golden Plover, and to the right there is a leg of some species of small Grebe. Above the Plover there is a Woodcock leg. Thanks Ed!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Mailing List

Would you like to receive a direct email-shot of any key events?
If so, please send an email to peregrines@derbyshirewt.co.uk giving your name, nearest town and your country. Please tell us if you're a teacher who uses (or would like to use) the webcams in class, as we may be able to send you more specific information to meet your needs.

(We may share the list between the three project partners to inform you of related events, and you can request removal at any time. Our mail list will be sent out "blind", so your address won't be seen by anyone else.)

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project - Overview

Derby lies in the centre of England, and the ancient tower of its cathedral dates back over 450 years. Records suggest that peregrine falcons have roosted and hunted from the tower at many times over the centuries. But then in the mid 20th century their numbers crashed suddenly, and they were virtually wiped out from many Adult peregrine in the skies over Derby. photo J Salloway.parts of Britain. A pesticide called DDT was found to be at fault, causing thinning of their egg-shells which then cracked during incubation. Only after DDT was banned, and peregrines given legal protection, did their numbers slowly start to recover. They began to return to their former haunts. In 2006 a pair started to show signs of wanting to breed on Derby Cathedral. A small wooden ledge was installed to help them, and three young birds were successfully raised. The following year (2007) we put up two webcameras and began this blog; the interest created surprised everyone. Two chicks that hatched out were watched live by many thousands around the world until the moment of fledging in June 2007.

And now, in 2008, it's all begining again. . .

What's happening now?
If all goes well the next breeding season should start around Feb/March 2008. Each day they often return to their nest ledge, just after dawn - so a visit between 7am-9am local time may reveal one of the parents. Notice that the nest scrape on the left hand side is already being well-maintained in readiness for next season. If you're lucky you may see the birds courtship and nest-scraping activities.

If you visit Derby in person, do look up at the gargoyles and highest ledges of the Cathedral tower where they roost, feed, or just remain on lookout to repel any intruding peregrines. They are often here for hours at a time. They do occasionally visit the nest platform to store prey, feed or just perch, and will then be visible on the web cams ….so it's always worth a look.

Last summer was the second breeding season on our specially constructed nest ledge. In October 2007 one of our colour-ringed juveniles was seen hunting over Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham.

Webcam Services
Our webcameras first went live in April 2007. (our thanks to Streamdays for their excellent hosting service) During 2007 we had 238,735 unique "hits". Follow these links to Webcam 1 and Webcam 2

Follow this link for an Overview of the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project. Our plans for the 2008 season include a third camera and a webcam image archive, giving the ability to store one image every hour, 365 days a year. Meanwhile, if you see anything of interest from the ground (or find any prey items) you can contact the project team. Click the "About Us" Tab or contact Derbyshire Wildlife Trust 01773 881188 (DWT in office hours) or email enquiries@derbyshirewt.co.uk

Follow this link to see stunning video highlights from 2007.

To play the video, find the image in each diary entry containing the triangular "play" icon. Click this to play video.

Follow this link for technical information on the webcameras and platform at Derby Cathedral.

You can also look back or search any past archived messages, either by clicking on the relevant month on the "Diary Archive" on the left side of this blog, or use the search facility to look for keywords at the top left corner of this page.
Peregrines on TV
Viewers in the East Midlands of Britain saw film of Derby Cathedral's Peregrines as part of a major new BBC TV series on "The Nature of Britain", presented by Alan Titchmarsh. This episode featured a number of sites in Derby as part of an "Urban Britain" programme. Follow this link to watch the full 10 minute clip. You can also see it being shown in the wildlife galleries at Derby Museum & Art Gallery.