Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Proud Parents

One of our viewers, Andrea, kindly emailed in a photo she captured yesterday evening, when Mum came back to take over incubating her eggs. We've not seen much sign of the eggs since incubation started in earnest, but it should soon be over. Nothing is guaranteed in the world of wildlife, and we could be unlucky. But we're all hoping that at least half the eggs hatch out sometime next week, just as they did in 2007.

There's nothing guaranteed with our webcameras, either. Last week something appeared, dangling down over our second nest cam. Some of you kindly emailed in to alert us. Clearly this was a bone fragment of some sort and, whilst outside the Cathedral checking it out, I bumped into local photographer, John Salloway with his mighty camera. He kindly sent me the picture below. Evidently quite a large piece of prey remains had fallen from the tower and got caught on the anti-perching spikes atop the camera. We can't abseil down to remove it as it's illegal to disturb any bird on its nest, let alone a peregrine falcon. But assuming the eggs are viable, we'll be able to get it removed when the licenced ringers go down to put numbered and coloured bands on their legs of the new chicks, just as they did last season about three weeks after they hatched. This may eventually reveal scientific evidence as to where our young birds eventually end up.

Astute viewers may have noticed that the small world map on the bottom left of our blog has lost its cluster of big red dots. These showed where in the world you, our readers, hail from. (Or, to be more exact, where your ISP is located). Just click on the map to zoom in for a clearer view of each continent's viewers. We decided to changed the settings so that the map refreshes weekly, rather than yearly, so giving us a more up-to-date image of where blog readers are located. We may alter this to monthly if this doesn't work out. Let us know what you think.

Once again, we can reassure you there's an awful lot happening behind the scenes. Rather mundane was the replacement under warranty today of one of our DVD/HDD recorders which has been faulty for some time. We decided to pay for an upgrade, so both machines are now Philips DVDR3460H with 250Gb of disk storage for capturing some of those moments you tell us you've witnessed live on the webcams.

As well watching and waiting for the fairly imminent hatching (sometime next week), there is other exciting news that all of us in the Project Team have been working on recently, and are looking forward to bringing you in the next day or two.

Meanwhile, please keep returning and making those little red dots grow on our map of the world!

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

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Radio Two Webcam of the Day

Welcome to our Peregrine Project Blog.
We took a huge surge in visitors earlier today after being featured on national radio in the BBC Steve Wright's afternoon radio show as "Webcam of the Day". But things seem to have settled back to normal, with most of our regular visitors now already bookmarking us or finding us via a Google-search.

The pair of peregrine falcons nesting on the side of Derby's Cathedral 470 year old tower are currently incubating four eggs. We expect them to hatch around the first week of May.

These two pictures from our webcams were emailed to us by a Karen Anne in North America. She was lucky enough to get a clear view of their eggs when the parents changed shift just after midnight today. (The eggs are actually reddish brown, but look white under infra-red light.)

Shown below is a photo of a clutch of four eggs from Derby Museums’ collections which rarely see the light of day. These were taken in the times long ago when egg collecting was not an illegal act. Most museums rarely put any bird eggs on public display lest they encourage others to believe that egg collecting is an acceptable activity. It isn't. You can clearly see the reddish coloration, and their considerable size when compared to a UK pound coin (22mm diameter). We're currently pulling together some information on all the peregrine specimens in our collections for a new web page, and we'll bring this to you just as soon as we can.

Clutch of four peregrine eggs in the collections at Derby Museum & Art Gallery. Egg collecting today is an illegal act, and their are especially serious penalties for those taking eggs of rare speciesAs well as looking forward to our Cathedral eggs hatching, we have many exciting new developments coming up on this site, and in Derby over the next few months. This includes special Watch-points with telescopes and binoculars outside Derby Cathedral for anyone wanting to see the birds for real whilst out shopping in our city. These will be organised by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, whilst the webcams themselves were installed by Derby Museums. The third partner in our project is, of course, Derby Cathedral itself, to whom we are most grateful for their enthusiastic support for these magnificent birds.

Follow this link to read an overview of the peregrine project posted earlier in the year.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Watching paint dry!

Adult male incubating eggs. 21 April 2008 After the excitements of egg laying, incubation is, by comparison, hardly riveting web cam material! But you have to be impressed by the birds' single mindedness don't you? It must get very tedious just sitting there on the eggs . . . though, come to think of it, peregrines are past masters at spending hours just sitting about . . . even when there are no eggs to give them a good excuse! So maybe incubating eggs comes more naturally to a falcon than say, to a warbler or a flycatcher, birds that are for ever flitting about!
Here are a couple more pictures of our adults, hard at work. First our male, with his slighter build, shorter body and slightly darker head. IAdult female incubating eggs. 21 April 2008n close up you also see much brighter yellow around his bill and around his eyes than the female has. She is considerably bigger and rounder, taking up almost the entire width of the nest ledge.
Later on we'll post some more close-ups to show their faces in more detail.

Meanwhile, as April moves on towards May, the peregrine's closest relative, the hobby, is making its long migration back to the UK from southern

Hobbies are smaller than peregrines. While they mainly eat birds caught on the wing, they are adept hunters of insects as you can see in the photograph. Dragonflies are a favourite food in summer and hobbies regularly eat them in mid-flight, discarding the wings which flutter to the ground beneath.

Unlike peregrines, hobbies nest in trees, using old nests of crows mainly. Like peregrines they don't do any nest building themselves, but lay their eggs in the cup of the existing corvid nest.

Hobbies are therefore not restricted in their breeding range to places with either cliffs or buildings. In Derbyshire, they utilise farmland, nesting often in isolated trees or small clumps of trees but rarely in woodland. Because hobby eggs are still collected by thieves, it is necessary to keep the whereabouts of these delightful little falcons secret....

Hobbies also breed much later than peregrines, the young hatching mainly in July and fledging in August, getting a little flying practice in before they have to start their first migration down to sub-Saharan Africa.

Nick B

Post-script: Sometime during today a fragment of peregrine prey blew off from the top of the cathedral tower, as often happens. Unfortunately it became caught on one of the anti-perching spikes placed on top of our subsidiary nest camera. Whether it will dislodge itself or move out of view remains to be seen -what we can't do is go down and remove it, at least not until our chicks are ready for ringing. Follow this link for more information on the camera installation

Nick M.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Quiet time?

Male peregrine incubating four eggs. The small white fleck on the right side of his face is a good feature to look for (as is the darker head colouration) when the cameras are zoomed in.It may seem a quiet time on the webcams right now, but there's much happening behind the scenes. Most importantly the four peregrine eggs are developing under the warmth of their parents. We're only getting rare glimpses as the adults change shifts after a few hours of incubation each, and we're looking forward to them hatching early in May. The female is a much larger bird than the male, and you get a real sense of size difference during one of these change overs. Here we see our male peregrine. Notice the small white "beauty spot" on the right side of his face; when size is hard to judge, this is a good feature to look for if the camera is zoomed in. (Because of comments left about how hard it is to see it, I've added an arrow to the picture to show where to look. Sorry if I gave the impression it was huge)

The ravens returned briefly this morning after an absence of five or six weeks! 2008 was the first time that ravens have ever been reported in Derby, apart from the odd bird flying over. Full story here. I spotted them whilst outside the Derby Museum shop - just small dots against the skyline. But from that distance a small dot had to be a huge bird. So, dashing back in to get a pair of binoculars, it was a pleasure to see both birds on the top ledge of Derby Cathedral's tower, although a little worrying lest they decide to stay and possibly affect the nest success of our peregrines. But they didn't stay long - perhaps they were just passing through, on the lookout for a free meal from one of the prey items our peregrines like to cache on the tower. I'm sure it's too late for them to still be trying to find a nest site. Either way, they weren't buzzed by the peregrine falcons this time. Perhaps they felt that simply sitting tight on their eggs was the best plan.

Other plans are afoot, too. There are still more new developments to the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project this year. Thanks to Acam Technology Ltd, we already have our third webcam working away on top of the tower, but behind the scenes we have engineers from Capita purchasng and configuring some more equipment for us. Capita are Derby City Council's IT Support company, and last year they generously offered to sponsor our project with free IT support and £1000 of equipment. Unfortunately the financial offer came a bit too late in the season to be realised, but now with their support again we're pressing ahead with plans to install a new networked computer and a wall-mounted display screen into the Nature Gallery at Derby Museum & Art Gallery. The chance to have live video and audio close to our peregrine on display is just too good to miss! It's important that our visitors and funders understand that we use our museum collections to tell a story of local wildlife, but that it can sometimes be equally valid for our staff to become involved in active conservation and interpretation of living things out in the wild, beyond our four walls.

We're very grateful to Capita for their support, as we are to all those who have given us support of one kind or another. There are some more exciting developments happening in the next few weeks that everyone will see, but we'll bring you news of this when work behind the scenes is complete.

Speaking of which, work on the DVD of The Peregrines of Derby Cathedral is now very nearly complete. Last week saw us throwing handfuls of feathers from the top of the cathedral tower in order to bring a degree of continuity to the video sequences of our peregrines plucking a pigeon on top of the tower. (We were lucky to find a dropped prey item that we could pluck and use.) Once again, more news of this soon.

And we've had strong media interest recently, bringing many new visitors to our webcamera following pieces on ITV Central and BBC. We're also supplying video clips of last year's young chicks for use in a "Heart of the Country" TV programme about falconry. We're gently pushing our peregrine site towards schools in Derby with a note going out tomorrow to all schools in the region. We know that many schools restrict access to blogging sites and YouTube and we've been able to unblock the former from Derby's educational establishments, but not the latter. Perhaps the new DVD will fill that gap. So now the Museum and the Wildlife Trust project team members are starting to find a few spare moments to turn their attention towards preparing some simple educational resource notes for classroom use of our webcams - we feel there are many opportunities for schools to use the presence of a celebrity species on their doorstep as a springboard to a wide range of subjects, ranging all the way from conservation right through to maths, geography and even issues of third world poverty. (More on that later, perhaps).

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

Monday, 7 April 2008

Hatching Soon....on a DVD player near you

Well, not the eggs hatching of course, but an exciting new DVD called 'The Peregrines of Derby Cathedral' will be available to buy very soon. Jasper Films have been working since February, gradually putting together a 35 minute DVD, the sale of which will financially benefit our Peregrine Project. Here's a promo video to give you a taste of what's to come. (Just click the image below of peregrine expert, Ed Drewitt, to play the clip)

Featuring Chris Packham of TV fame (and a vice-president of The Wildlife Trusts), plus the local Nicks and Ed Drewitt, plus lots and lots of video clips from the cathedral web cams, this DVD will be a 'must have' for everyone who has enjoyed watching these amazing birds either via the web cams or from the ground. As well as telling the story of our Derby birds, it will feature footage gathered from all over the globe, adding peregrine sequences we can't get via the web cams (such as flight shots). Their musical sound track will surely add a sense of mystery and drama, too!

So, watch this space for news of the hatching (i.e. launch) and how you can get hold of your copy.

(For Wildlife Trust members among you, an advert appears in the new issue of 'Wild Derbyshire', DWT's own magazine, which should be with you any day now. New visitors to this blog may also wish to read an overview of the peregrine project, or have their names added to our mailing list for major news items.)

Nick B

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Aren't Peregrines Perfect!

This year our three cameras and video recorders have captured some of the most intimate moments in a peregrine's life. We've filmed three mating sequences, as well as courtship and egg-laying, and there's much more to come. But thanks to comments left on the blog we were able to retrieve perhaps the most tender moment of all so far, when her fourth egg was laid on Friday 4th April at 19:52.

I don't think it needs any words from me. Just enjoy the video by clicking on the image below.

(New visitors to this blog may wish to read an overview of the peregrine project, or have their names added to our mailing list for major news items.)

Friday, 4 April 2008

Egg No 4

We have confirmed that we now have four eggs! Well done to "Mum". From comments left it seems to have been first seen around 19:40 local time on Friday evening.

Thanks to everyone who emailed pictures. This one is from Martyn Williamson in South Yorkshire. Please, please don't send any more for now as there's now a danger my work "Inbox" will overflow over the weekend! It's great proof of how many of you are keeping a close eye on Derbys birds.

Shown below is yet another amazing peregrine mating sequence we managed to record a few days ago. It was taken on 29th March, a day after the first egg was laid on the Derby Cathedral nest. It was 05:30 in the morning, and only just getting light. The sound is faint, as our microphone is located on the nest camera, some 20metres lower down - but you can hear it also picking up a bit of the dawn chorus over Derby city centre.

(New visitors to this blog may wish to read an overview of the peregrine project, or have their names added to our mailing list for major news items.)

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Egg No. 3

We have three eggs now. This photo was taken at 10:30 local time (now BST, as our clocks moved forward an hour last weekend from GMT).

Last year four egs were laid, but only two hatched. Despite this, the parents tried to keep the two new chicks warm whilst at the same time incubating the non-viable eggs for a considerable number of days. Eventually one got broken on the nest and - if I remember rightly - the shell was consumed by the female. The fourth got broken during the short struggle by our ringers (or banders, as they're called in the US) to safely capture the eyass (young chick) for ringing.

In answer to a number of recent questions left in "Comments", Nick Brown (DWT) recently wrote the following. His answers are well-worth repeating here:

"Loads of questions! Here's a few quick answers: By starting incubation right away, owls produce young of different ages. This is an adaptation to a fluctuating food supply (vole and mice numbers are well known to cycle from abundant one year to scarce the next). Often the smaller chicks die (or are eaten by their bigger siblings) and the brood size is reduced to match the food supply. Peregrines by comparison have a much more reliable food supply and usually rear all their 4 (even occasionally 5) young. So synchronised hatching makes sense.The reason the peregrines are covering the first and second eggs is to keep them warm (during what has been a cold snap of weather). Serious incubation - when she gets right down and opens up her hot 'brood patch' on the eggs -won't happen until at least the third and probably the fourth egg is laid.The last egg is often a bit smaller than the first three, so probably is slightly less likely to produce a strong youngster than the others. Some birds sit on addled or infertile eggs for weeks after the 'expected' hatching date. However, if say two of the four eggs hatch, the parents will start feeding these immediately while continuing to brood the other two eggs (and the small chicks). This happened last year on the cathedral. Gradually they just ignore the unhatched/dud eggs and focus their attentions on the two chicks."