The Attenborough Building, University of Leicester. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.
I have vivid childhood memories of the paternoster, and slightly terrifying rides on it. A paternoster is a type of constantly moving open lift, with compartments stacked on top of another and moving in a constant loop up and down the building. One each floor of the tower there were two openings, one for compartments going up and the other for those going down. The paternoster moved at a slow speed, but it was still unnerving to time your step into and out of the compartment, putting off thoughts of falling and being squashed, half in and half out of the compartment, or getting caught in the exposed mechanisms at the top and bottom of the ride. (Over-riding and under-riding were great thrills).
The paternoster is one of the last few surviving ones in the UK. The paternoster was invented in England in the 1860s, and the installation of new paternosters in buildings was banned in the UK in 1974, making the Leicester University one of the last to be built.
The 18-storey Attenborough Building opened in 1970, and is named after Sir Frederick Attenborough, the Principal of University College (as the institution was known before it became a fully-fledged university) and father of Sir David Attenborough and Lord Richard Attenborough. My father taught in the Philosophy Department, and his office was on the 15th floor, with fabulous views over Victoria Park and beyond. Peregrines nested on the tower, and I remember occasionally seeing them from my Pa’s office in the 70s. His department was closed in 1989 when it merged with and moved to Nottingham University, and he took early retirement.
The Attenborough Building. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.
The tower had conventional lifts, the paternoster, and (for me) an even more terrifying staircase around a central void which went up the entire height of the building. Being modern architecture, the stairs had no risers, just treads, and a gap between the wall and the steps, with what seemed like a flimsy railing between you and the terrifying abyss to the other side. I still have occasional anxiety dreams about climbing such seemingly rickety staircases …. Every now and then I would force myself to take the paternoster to visit my Pa rather than the lift. Different times: I can’t imagine an unaccompanied child would be allowed in the building on their own these days.
At 18.04 pm on 6 April I can see there are still two eggs on the nest. I do hope she lays more. Last year’s brood had four eggs. (By the way, do use the ‘full screen’ facility for the webcam: it’s a tiny screen otherwise and the details will be barely visible if you don’t enlarge.)
A peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) on the beautiful stonework of Salisbury Cathedral.
Also great to learn is that one and possibly two other peregrines have been spotted around the Cathedral. These might be the juveniles from last year’s brood.
Five eggs. The webcam view on (a wet) 16 May 2017.
Apparently three or four eggs are the norm in the wild, but in urban areas where there is plentiful prey (read: pigeons) clutches can number as many as six.
UPDATE 22 May 2017: I’m not sure when it was born, but there’s a chick in the nest now:
The first hatchling!
UPDATE 30 May 2017: Great excitement while watching the wonderful BBC Springwatch programme last night as they are featuring the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines. The first part is here, starting at 49:25. They are doing a follow-up part tonight. I hope it’s good news: every time I have looked at the the webcam the adult is sitting on the nest, so I have no idea how many chicks there are. I guess I’ll find out tonight.
Beautiful shot of one of the peregrines from the BBC Springwatch footage.
Peregrine on the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, from the BBC Springwatch footage.
UPDATE 31 May 2017: Well, the BBC is keeping us hanging on … another wonderfully-shot update last night on Springwatch, full of beautiful images, but so far no news of any chicks. The second instalment is here, from 24:26. One thing I did learn is that the peregrines are feeding on kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) and greater spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), among other prey. I guess the kingfishers come from the nearby River Avon with its watermeadows. One of my few ever kingfisher sightings was one darting across the road that enters the central car park by Sainsbury’s in Salisbury: a small tributary of the river runs alongside it.
UPDATE 1 June 2017: Finally we learn from Springwatch that a lone chick hatched, out of the five eggs laid – talk abut stringing it out! This is in contrast to four chicks (only two of which survived to fledge) out of four eggs last year. The non-hatched eggs have been removed from the nest for health reasons, because if the spoiled eggs break the chick could be affected by the rotten contents. The eggs will be analysed to see why they failed: worryingly the spectre of insecticides causing thin shells was raised as a possible cause. The upside is that the lone chick is getting all its parents’ attention and is being fed like a king, with consequent fast growth. The third instalment is here, starting at 49:41.
1 June 2017: the lone chick in its salubrious nest, surrounded by carcasses, shit and flies!
1 June 2017.
UPDATE 2 June: Just a brief update in last night’s Springwatch, with a live web cam view of the satellite-tagged female on the nest and film of the male eating a hapless green woodpecker (Picus viridis). The segment is here, starting at 8:13; it’s followed by a longer segment on some cliff-nesting peregrines.
UPDATE 8 June: Well, what a difference a few hours make! I checked on the webcam yesterday morning and it was down; I didn’t check back so got the surprise via Springwatch last night: a second peregrine chick has been successfully introduced to the nest and is already being happily fostered by the adults.
The new chick on the right; the original, Cathedral chick on the left. 7 June 2017.
The foster chick was one of three chicks in a nest in Shropshire; tragically last weekend the parents were found dead, cause as yet unknown, on the ground below the cliff along with a dead pigeon. Toxicology tests are being undertaken, but poisoning is suspected. Utterly shameful if that is the case. Luckily the chicks were unaffected. They were removed from the nest by RSPB experts, checked over by a vet, and rehomed in the wild: the other two have been fostered to another nest in the Midlands. The segment on last night’s Springwatch starts at 10:51. The male, 25-day-old foster chick was put in the nest at around 8.30 yesterday morning, and was accepted immediately by both the parents and the original Cathedral chick. He’s a bit bigger than the Cathedral chick, as he’s six days older.
Just after introduction. 7 June 2017.
The female (with her satellite tag) feeding the new foster chick. 7 June 2017.
Grumpy! Why aren’t you feeding me, mum? 7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
7 June 2017.
Not long and the chicks were snuggled together, and being fed by both parents. 7 June 2017.
The new family. 7 June 2017.
Such a beautiful sight. The new family. 7 June 2017.
More food. 7 June 2017.
The new siblings snuggled together with mum. 7 June 2017.
Last year: peregrine parent and three chicks, Salisbury Cathedral, 27 May 2014.
Good news—they’re back, they’ve nested, and this year they’ve laid four eggs!
The eggs were laid over Holy Week and over Easter, which seems satisfyingly appropriate for an ecclesiastical nest site. The first egg was laid on Tuesday 31 March 2015, and with an approximately 33-day incubation period, it should hatch in the first few days of May, with the others hatching around the end of the first week of May (the Cathedral’s press release says mid-May. I’m not sure how they arrived at that date).
Last year there was a live webcam on which you could follow the progress of the family. The press release says the nest is being monitored by two cameras, but I’ve had a good poke around on the Cathedral’s website and they don’t seem to have provided a link to them yet. Maybe they’re going to wait until the eggs have hatched. I’ll add the link (or write a new post) as soon as I find it.
2 MAY UPDATE: The webcam is back – link here (webcam at the bottom of the page).
Even without pics, this is terrific news.
Young peregrine fledging, Salisbury Cathedral, 2014.
The last year that peregrines successfully nested at Salisbury Cathedral prior to last year’s brood was 1953. And lo! One of my favourite websites, Britain From Above, has a series of photos taken of the Cathedral in September 1953. I like to think that as the pilot circled above the Cathedral, somewhere alongside him in this photograph are the fledged chicks from that year’s brood:
Salisbury Cathedral, 5 September 1953. Image from the Britain From Above website: click on photo for details.
Peregrine falcon and chicks on Salisbury Cathedral spire, 2014.
The 800-year-old Salisbury Cathedral is truly stunning. Its spire is the tallest in the UK, standing at 123 metres (404 feet) high. In 1995 I was very lucky to work on an archaeological project in the storerooms of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, opposite the magnificent west front of the Cathedral. At the time the west front and spire were being restored and I would watch the tiny ant-like stonemasons way up on the scaffolding, and admire their skill and nerve. It’s wonderful to think that peregrines are now flying around that same spire. Lovely news (perhaps not so lovely for the pigeons, mind …)
Salisbury Cathedral, showing the spire and the West front. Photo by Hugh Chevallier, June 2013.
I can heartily endorse the wise words of Gary Price, the clerk of works at the Cathedral: “I feel privileged to have played a small part in securing the peregrines’ presence here at Salisbury Cathedral for many years to come. It’s reassuring to know that a few small steps by various people can make all the difference to the local wildlife.”
This is such exciting news, and next time I go shopping in Salisbury I’m going to sit in the Cathedral Close until I see a peregrine. 🙂