Ur­ban bird­ing

A bird­ing trip to Derby could pay more div­i­dends than you might think – and while its fa­mous breed­ing Pere­grines are a de­light to see, they may present you with a rather grue­some scene!

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

Last month Le­ices­ter and this month Derby – our cities of­fer the birder much va­ri­ety

TO MEN­TION THE city of Derby among those in bird­ing cir­cles is to elicit rap­tur­ous ap­plause for the city’s fa­mous breed­ing Pere­grines. These fa­mous birds are lo­cated on Derby Cathe­dral, the roof of which has un­der­gone ren­o­va­tion this year, work which, thank­fully, has not af­fected the birds.

The Pere­grines are also the stars of a very pop­u­lar we­b­cam and blog (its web ad­dress can be found on the op­po­site page) that has gar­nered in ex­cess of four mil­lion hits world­wide since 2007, when the cam­era was first in­stalled. There is a new male present this year. The pre­vi­ous male pro­lif­i­cally fledged 37 young since 2006 with the same fe­male. Derby Cathe­dral (right) has an im­pres­sive tower which was built in

c1535 and is the sec­ond tallest in Bri­tain. The birds of­ten perch atop the grue­some-look­ing gar­goyles, or to give them their cor­rect name, ‘the grotesques’, that adorn the tower, to sur­vey the scene or to dis­mem­ber their prey. If you were to take a peek at the sur­faces be­low the gar­goyles you might wit­ness a scene of ghoul­ish hor­ror – the man­gled re­mains of the birds’ dis­carded vic­tims. More than 50 bird species’ re­mains have been dis­cov­ered on and around the build­ing. They range from the ob­vi­ous pi­geons (of Wood and Feral va­ri­eties) to birds that you wouldn’t imag­ine a Pere­grine tack­ling, such as Waxwing and two Corn Crakes – one of whom was a bird that em­anated from the Nene Washes (Cam­bridgeshire) rein­tro­duc­tion scheme. Some­times, the heads of vic­tims can be found dis­carded on the ground around the cathe­dral. How­ever, these are usu­ally swept clean by the vicar, con­cerned that the un­sightly bod­ies would be off-putting for vis­i­tors. In­deed, when the Pere­grines first took up res­i­dence on the cathe­dral, the ran­dom bird heads scat­tered around were seen as some sort of sa­tanic rit­ual! Else­where in the city, along the River Der­went, there are breed­ing Grey Wag­tails and Goosanders to be seen and, dur­ing the win­ter, Dip­pers bob through the cur­rents. If you are lucky, you may even spot one of the city’s Ot­ters. The Swift, the feath­ered em­bod­i­ment of hazy sum­mer days, is in de­cline in Derby, like in so many of our cities in the UK. Their de­cline has been brought on by the lack of holes for nest­ing in

the new builds and by the fash­ion for the wa­ter­tight re-roof­ing of older prop­er­ties. A new ini­tia­tive by so­cial hous­ing agency Derby Homes has seen the pro­vi­sion of Swift nest­boxes on newer hous­ing and avoid­ance of re-roof­ing on the prop­er­ties where the birds are known to nest. Stand­ing in the some­times rau­cous shadow of Pride Park Sta­dium, home of Derby County FC and in the mid­dle of a to­tally unattrac­tive in­dus­trial es­tate, lies The Sanc­tu­ary – a 12-hectare na­ture re­serve that a small num­ber of lo­cal con­ser­va­tion­ists fought tooth and nail to be created from a land­fill site in 2003. It is en­tirely fenced and there is no en­try, so you have to ei­ther view the site by peer­ing through the chain-link pa­ram­e­ter fenc­ing or at a cou­ple of spe­cially-erected bird­ing blinds that over­look the flooded pits and lightly-veg­e­tated mounds. The fenc­ing means that parts of the re­serve are not ob­serv­able, par­tic­u­larly around the back. A few weeks into its early ex­is­tence an oblig­ing Dart­ford War­bler was dis­cov­ered and de­cided to stick around for six weeks. It was the county’s first record of this largely south­ern heath­land spe­cial­ist in more than 160 years. De­spite its in­nocu­ous­ness, The Sanc­tu­ary is a mini ur­ban hotspot for mi­grants. Wheatears are an­nual with some­times fairly rea­son­able falls of birds dur­ing the spring. The buffier, leg­gier and slightly big­ger Green­land race is also worth look­ing out for dur­ing the month of May. Ring Ouzels were to be ex­pected dur­ing pas­sage, but oc­cur­rences seem to have dried up in re­cent times. Lit­tle Ringed Plovers are reg­u­lar, while a glance sky­ward could pro­duce a drift­ing Buz­zard or a view of one of Derby’s Pere­grines. The Sanc­tu­ary very re­cently nar­rowly staved off a threat from the city coun­cil to de­velop the site as a cy­cle track. Al­though the coun­cil’s at­tempts ul­ti­mately failed, it was not be­fore they had ac­tu­ally started work, de­stroy­ing parts of the re­serve and leav­ing be­hind huge ugly mounds of rub­ble. Worse still, the au­thor­ity said that it had no bud­get to clear up the mess. Derby is an un­ex­pect­edly good bird­ing venue that de­serves time and ex­plo­ration and one of the best ways of en­joy­ing the wildlife this city has to of­fer is by bike along the River Der­went, as most of the main bird­ing sites are sit­u­ated close by to the wa­ter­course.

See birds and his­toric build­ings along­side the River Der­went

WHEATEAR The fenced-off Sanc­tu­ary re­serve near Pride Park an­nu­ally hosts Wheatears

DAVID SAYS Derby is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of a city where bird­ers have yet to un­cover all of its avian glo­ries

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