Norwich Cathedral Urban Peregrine Project 2014 | Update 01

The short days and long nights of early January leaves us in little doubt that we are firmly in the throws of winter. Yet, in a few short weeks the peregrine falcons at Norwich Cathedral will start to prepare themselves for the new breeding season – and the team at the Hawk and Owl Trust need to be ready too. To this end, at 9.00am on 10 January 2014 our little expedition team set off on the annual maintenance trip and scaled the 313 steps up the cathedral tower then spire to the nest box.

ncupp_2014_01Once there we first took samples of gravel from the nest box so that the county’s official Beetle Recorder could carry out a scientific study to find out which beetles, if any, also make the peregrine nest their home. A peregrine nest can be an attractive environment for many insect species and entomologists are keen to take these rare opportunities to study them. Needless to say, we are happy to help as studies like this paint a more complete picture of the peregrines habitat.

After this we then set about cleaning of the gravel and removal of old prey remains. The general condition of the nest box and its mountings were also checked and we made sure that the rainwater drain holes were not blocked. It was gratifying to find that the box was in fact in very good condition and didn’t need any repairs.

There were two modifications that we wanted to carry out though. Firstly, we felt we should modify the front ledge of the box to make it easier for the pre-fledgling peregrines to grip while wing exercising. Consequently a new ledge was installed which has a rougher surface, as can be seen on the webcam.

We also fitted a ‘light shield’ on the side of the box nearest the camera. This will prevent the light from the lamps that illuminate the spire at night from blinding the top camera. It has grit embedded on the top surface so it’s not slippery to any peregrine that perches on it.

Both of these modifications can be seen in the image above. Clearly the male peregrine finds the light shield a comfortable place to perch and watch the world go by.

Finally, to the great relief of the CCTV techie, the camera lenses were cleaned. They were filthy, as I’m sure many of you still watching the webcam would have noticed. The images below show ‘before’ (left) and ‘after’ (right). Keeping the lenses clean, particularly during the relentless easterly winds which we had last spring, is a real problem that has no practical solutions. Access to the nest and cameras is very restricted during the breeding season, but the bird’s needs must come first.

Before (left) and after (right) the camera lenses were cleaned. Quite a difference.

So, with our work done for another year we made our decent. Even though it is a hard climb – and not one for those who suffer from vertigo – it’s also a real privilege. Not just for being able to become involved with peregrine falcon conservation but also to get to see aspects of the beautiful and historic Norwich cathedral. It really is an architecturally stunning building.

Volunteer Stuart Horth and Warden Nigel Middleton preparing to service the nest box
Volunteer Stuart Horth and Warden Nigel Middleton preparing to service the nest box

Peregrine falcons are intelligent and naturally cautious birds, able to assess the risk of danger and avoid it if at all possible. It’s part of their strategy for survival. Despite our haste and care in carrying out the maintenance work both adult falcons were clearly aware of our activities at the nest and carefully evaluated the danger from a distance over the following hours. It was not until the next day, at 08:48, did the male (tiercel) venture back to the nest. After many minutes of nervous inspection he settled to his routine of guarding his territory:

We had originally planned to upgrade the cameras for the 2014 season but a review of the whole system showed that we need to make other changes to the CCTV equipment first. This work will also enable us to link with Norwich Castle and provide a live stream for their exciting ‘Wonder of Birds’ exhibition to be held during the spring and summer. However, we are now committed to installing new technology cameras after the 2014 season.

Norfolk peregrines generally lay their eggs in the second half of March. That’s less than 10 short weeks away, and the clock is ticking. On your marks, get set……

David Gittens | Volunteer – Wildlife CCTV,
Hawk and Owl Trust – Sculthorpe Moor