Thursday, 28 April 2011

Five years of magic!

Derby Cathedral viewed from Amen Alley
It is just over five years since we installed a nest platform for peregrine falcons on Derby Cathedral. So we thought we'd take celebratory look back at what our Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project has achieved in that time.

First, it's worth reminding ourselves just how scarce peregrines had become due to pesticide poisoning in the 1950s and 60s. In the 1970s, there were several years when not a single peregrine was seen in the whole of Derbyshire. The first returning breeding pair was reported in 1983 in the Peak District. By 1990, there were three pairs including a very visible pair at Willington Power Station, five miles south of Derby.
The first signs that peregrines might be using Derby Cathedral came in 2004 when prey remains were found under the tower. However, the birds themselves remained unnoticed. An article in the local paper even suggested that Satanists were throwing dismembered bird corpses at the cathedral!

Then early in 2005 the cathedral architect took the first ever photo of our male bird when he leaned over the top of the tower and spotted a "strange looking pigeon"! Soon after, a couple of us went to the top, found prey remains and saw the birds too. In spring, we observed display but, with nowhere suitably flat to nest, the female bird disappeared around mid-March, only to return again in the autumn.

In the winter of 2005 a partnership between Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Derby Museum and The Cathedral was formed. Our plan was to take our time and work out how and where we might fix a metal nest platform, should that ever be allowed. But then in March 2006 our birds showed really serious signs of courtship and nest scraping. They had chosen the largest alcove available, but to still clearly far too small to be successful. So we hurriedly agreed to build and fix a wooden nest platform to the tower. We were encouraged with help and advice from urban peregrine expert, Nick Dixon, and the support of Tony Grantham, the Cathedral's Head Verger, and an anonymous donation of £5000.
Having gained the Cathedral's full support and necessary permissions, a nest platform was built by Nick Evans and installed by him and the museum’s Nick Moyes. Amazingly, within a fortnight the female was incubating her first clutch of eggs on the gravel bed set down inside the platform.
Colin Pass's photo shows one web camera plus adult
and juvenile on the edge of the platform.

It caused considerable interest, and thousands of people flocked to Cathedral Green over that summer to see them. A series of Watch Points with telescopes was quickly organised by Nick B to meet the interest. By July three young had fledged, although one youngster had to be rescued from the road below. Spurred on by the huge interest shown (and by our frustrations at not being able to see into the nest from below) Nick M decided to try and set up two web cams in 2007 and started blogging about his attempts.  This went rather well so in 2008 he wired up a further web cam to give a view out along the top ledges above the nest. We were approached by local entrepreneur, Ashley Sims, who wanted to make a DVD about our birds. That went rather well, too.
Since 2007 the total number of visits to our webcam and blog is now a remarkable 1.7 million. Collectively, we know you are watching or reading this from more than 70 countries around the world - though most of you are from the UK.

The project team post regular updates on this blog to keep everyone informed about what’s happening and give links to YouTube video clips of the ‘highlights’. These were extracted by Nick M. from two video recorders installed high up inside the Cathedral. In total these 50 YouTube clips have been viewed over 290,000 times!

Our blog also give us the chance to ask for donations to the project – £2500 came in last year, mostly from you - our amazing band of addicted webcam watchers.

In 2010, the blog alone was viewed over 193,000 times (that's double the number taken by all of Derby Museum's webpages combined!). We wrote 50 blog posts last year, and you made 2,535 comments, all pre-moderated by the team. Wildlife Trust volunteers have run 138 Watch Points on Cathedral Green since 2006, and our specially-made location map has been viewed over half a million times! The remains of over 50 species of prey have been collected and identified, with expert assistance from Ed Drewitt in Bristol.

The project has generated remarkable publicity with many news stories on TV, radio and in the press, as well as many feature articles in local and national magazines.
In 2007 Alan Titchmarsh's Nature of Britain series featured our brand new webcams in its regional broadcasts, as did BBC TV’s Springwatch. Then last year Autumnwatch 2010 showed our ‘world first’ video clip showing the birds bringing back live prey at night. Recently, the project gave advice to BBC Radio 4’s writers for an ongoing but exciting storyline about peregrines in The Archers (we're sworn to secrecy, but listen here at 8 mins 15 seconds). 

We've had our ups and downs, of course. Last year two chicks died in front of the cameras, which upset many people, especially as we were legally barred from intervening. Other fledged birds have had accidents resulting in death or injury. But this is nature - not everything survives. Cathy, the young female injured in 2009 is still being cared for by a local supporter of our project, whilst another that killed itself has just been 'set up' by a taxidermist.
It goes without saying that the project would never have got underway had it not been for the very close partnership between the Wildlife Trust and Derby Museum. The key technical elements of platform fixing, web cam and blog management and the use of YouTube, Flickr and Twitter have all been achieved by the tireless work of Nick Moyes , mostly in his evenings and weekends.
So, a big celebratory thank y
ou to absolutely everyone who has supported this project over these five great years - to webcam watchers, blog commentators, corporate and private donors, Watch Point volunteers, tourists and visitors, superb local photographers and the many supportive people in Derby City Council, at DWT and at the Cathedral. Although we've attracted people from right around the world, ours really has been a local project that has mostly captured the interest and imagination of many local people. . .

Whether you are reading this in Derby or in Darjeeling, thanks for your interest, comments and for your generous donations. Here's to the next five years!

Nick B on behalf of the project team (Nick Moyes, Tony Grantham and Nick Brown)

As a sad postscript to this story, Nick Moyes was recently and very suddenly made redundant after more than 25 years in his natural history post at Derby Museum. You can read more on that story here.
I am hopeful that both Nick M and the museum will wish to continue their close and invaluable association with the project, and that a way can be found for this to happen. If it does not, it is likely that this blog will not continue in as active a way as it has to date. We'll keep you posted.

For the latest news about what's happened this year, please see the previous blog post below.

Easter holiday family/child event organised by Derby Museum education & outreach team:

This Thursday 28th April 2011, 10am to 3pm at
Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
Free of charge but advance booking is essential. For more information and to book, ring 01332 641901.
"Imagine if you could see your dinner from a mile away or dive at 200mph! Discover Derby’s resident peregrines and make your own winged warrior mask".

Sunday, 10 April 2011

We have a Fourth Egg

Clutch sizes of three or four are normal in peregrines. But, because egg-laying was as late this year as it was in 2007, it seemed more likely that we would only have a clutch of three in 2011. However, reports of a fourth egg began coming in on Saturday morning (9th April) around 7am, which were confirmed later by this lovely screen capture posted to our Flickr Group by HelenSara. Four eggs! Your Peregrine Project Team maintain a table of dates for key events over the last few breeding seasons. Normally, as the female gets more experienced, the dates of laying get progressively earlier. Here are the dates for first egg, last egg and date of hatching over the last few years: 2007 3 April 9 April, 9 May Incubation: 30 days 2008 28 March 4 April, 4 May Incubation: 30 days 2009 23 March 31 March 29 April Incubation: 30 days 2010 24 March 31 March 1 May Incubation: 31 days 2011 4 April 9 April So we see incubation takes around thirty days, giving us an expected hatching date of 9th May. Quite why she was later this year is not known. Do we still have the original female as last year (we're 99.9% sure that we do)? Has the colder weather this year delayed things? The answer is we simply don't know. These next few weeks will be rather quiet times on the webcams, with the female doing most of the incubation. Sometimes the male will come in and take over while she feeds and preens, but she soon returns to oust him from his paternal duties.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Third Egg

Third Egg
At 20:40pm our third egg arrived, it seems.
I missed it myself as I was busy uploading the video clips of the last two egg-laying moments to YouTube!

Below is the first egg being laid at 11pm on 1st April 2011, after keeping us all guessing and worrying why she was so much later than last year. Had we got a new female, one expert asked. The answer was that we certainly weren't aware of one of the pair being replaced - but it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility.

Here's the second egg, laid at 11.20am on 4th April. Listen very carefully and you can actually hear the sound of it hitting the gravel!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Egg-tastic (Second Egg)

Egg number two arrived around 11.18am this morning, and the screenshot below was immediately posted to our Flickr Pool. In fact Marski101 and Craig both captured and posted this identical image, showing the newly laid, moist egg, which is darker and shinier than its counterpart.

On average, Peregrines lay clutches of four eggs, so it's likely that we'll see at least one more in the next couple of days. We can't expect all the eggs to survive to maturity, of course. In fact they may not even all hatch. But for now lets just wait and see how many we get.

Egg No. 2

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Finally, Our First Egg.

After keeping everyone on tenterhooks for days on end, Derby's peregrines finally have their first egg of the season. Around 10pm this evening she once again came down to the nest ledge and looked as if she was about to lay. And this time she did. The first glimpse of an egg was seen around 22.57 this evening.

First view - captured by webcam viewer, Jean Burton and posted to Flickr

Our pair have certainly kept us all on hanging on, causing a flurry of comments and concern from everyone here in Derby and, indeed, right around the world. Under infra-red light that egg looks like a white chicken's egg, but when daybreak comes you'll see the rich reddish brown of its true colours. Do not be alarmed when you see this egg and the others that are undoubtedly on the way being left, apparently unattended for hours on end. This is normal, and we'll blog about why this happens this later.
I was able to put the project's brand new smartphone to very good use tonight, having taken it to bed for a much-needed early night, after an exhausting and life-changing week for me. I had seen our female well and truly ensconced in that typical egg-laying pose at 10pm, but simply had to catch some sleep. I woke at midnight, turned on the smartphone (an HTC Desire HD) and went online to view the webcam whilst still under the duvet. There was the falcon, clearly in an incubating position. If any excuse were needed to get out of bed to make a cup of tea and do a bit of late-night computing, then surely that was the moment. Flickr To capture and post your own webcam snapshots which we can then put into our blog, follow the link to our Flickr photogroup at the upper left of this blog. There you can join up to our group, or if you're not sure how to, you can read instructions on how to capture and load up those snapshots. Please don't turn off the "share this" option as it makes it harder for the project team to capture your best screen shots and embed them in the blog.

Nick Moyes

formerly Keeper of Natural Sciences

Derby Museum and Art Gallery Please bear with us during the immediate period following my recent departure from Derby Museum. Currently I do not have direct access to our networks to control the cameras and video server, to take images or remotely reboot our video server if it freezes. If the latter happens, please leave a comment on this blog and also email We're putting steps in place for the Assistant Head of Museums to try to restart the equipment for the time being, should a freeze-up occur.