Tag Archives: bluetits

Bluetit chicks growing

The chicks are a week old now, and the change in them has been remarkable. Counting them is still a bit of a challenge, as there always seems to be one chick or another buried under a pile of siblings, but occasionally we do get a glimpse of all eight at once.

They’re a lot noisier now than when they first hatched, and while they still look a little bit like monsters, their feathers are beginning to grow, and they don’t like quite so much like they’ll snap whenever they fling their heads back for food.

The parents have both been kept busy catching insects to feed to the demanding crowd, and disposing of droppings. Sometimes when a chick eats a particularly large insect you can see the bulge move down its throat as it swallows.

In the last day or so one or two of the chicks have looked like they were trying to climb out of the bowl of the nest, and almost making it. They’re getting a lot stronger and their stubby wings are growing.

They’re behind most of the nests in the dormouse site I monitor – the chicks I saw there on Saturday looked like mini-bluetits, complete with proper feathers, almost ready to fledge.

This time next week the chicks may have fledged. They’ve got quite a lot of developing to do before then, but it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve grown already. Of course, life is precarious for chicks, so I’m not counting my bluetits before they fledge. But they’ve done well to make it this far.

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Bluetits hatching

My weekend was made when I turned on the TV and saw the bluetits in our camera nest box were hatching.

The newly hatched chicks look so vulnerable, it’s amazing any ever survive to fledge. Their tiny necks look much to weak to support their heads, yet when a parent bird enters with an insect, the chicks manage to fling their heads back and open their beaks.

At first the chicks were silent, floppy little things. It’s hard to count how many there are as it’s not obvious what bits belong to which chick. By the end of Sunday, our best guess was that five chicks had hatched, and three eggs remained.

It’s wonderful to see chicks in the camera nest box. Last year a pair of bluetits started building a nest in it, but gave up. When we put the camera back in this February, we couldn’t remember if we had cleaned the box out last autumn, or if the nesting material in there was last year’s. It took a while to be sure that bluetits were adding to what was in there.

A few years ago we had two successful house sparrow broods, but nesting materials blocked the camera, so we couldn’t see what was going on.

The only previous time bluetits have hatched in the box, none of them survived to fledge, as one of the adults went missing, and the lone parent wasn’t able to keep up the supply of 100 caterpillars a day that each chick needs. I hope this year’s brood will be more successful.

It’s a privilege to be able to witness such a special moment.

Looking back at 2016

I’m looking forward to shaking the dust of 2016 from my sandals. But it hasn’t all been bad. Here are my highlights and lowlights from the year.

Highlights

I find January pretty tough – I’m not a fan of cold, and the lack of light gets me down. So a fun day out at the British Wildlife Centre with my fellow members of Surrey Dormouse Group was a welcome relief.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I love spring, and seeing the bluetits start to build a nest in my camera nest box meant the return home each day was exciting – what’s happened today?!

My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

As always, it’s a delight to watch hedgehogs in the garden, and even more exciting (and entertaining) to watch their courtship.

Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!

Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Butterfly on bramble flower

It’s been a good year for my dormouse site. In one box check we had 9 dormice (including 7 youngsters crammed into one box!), and we’ve now had dormouse activity in every part of the site, which is great news.

16g dormouse found in May
16g dormouse found in May

And it’s great that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has now come into force. On a smaller scale, it’s lovely to hear that the beavers on the River Otter are breeding.

Lowlights

Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.

It’s not been a great year for my garden birds – the Big Garden Birdwatch in January, when we saw only one bird. The bluetits that started to build their nest in the camera nest box soon abandoned it. And when I looked at the data over the year from June 2015 to May 2016, it confirmed that we’ve had far fewer birds than normal.

The referendum result was staggering, and, to me, hugely disappointing. It’s still not clear how it will affect many things, including our laws for protecting wildlife and the environment. The whole campaign was a bit of a disaster – even those campaigning for remain failed to make a case on the positive things that EU membership has brought this country, including cleaner rivers, beaches and air, and protection for species like dormice. One thing is clear: we need make sure whatever happens next does not damage this protection.

2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.

Bengal tiger
Machli

Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.

Belated nest discovery 

The mild weather of October has given way to a chilly November. Time to get ready for winter. So Dr C got the ladder out to take the camera out of the birdbox, which is hidden behind a tangle of clematis by our front door.

This year was disappointing for birdbox activity. We had a pair of bluetits who started building a nest, but they abandoned it before laying eggs.

So it was a little galling when he discovered a birds nest on top of the nest box. It looks like birds did nest this year, on rather than in the bird box. And all this time, it was easily watchable from our sitting room, if only we had known to look.

Bird nest on top of the camera nest box
Bird nest on top of the camera nest box

I am not sure what sort of birds nested there – it looks quite different from the many bluetit and wren nests I have seen, but they have usually been in a box, rather than freestanding. Any ideas? My best guess would be robins, given how frequently I saw them in the back garden this spring.

I’ve no idea what happened in this nest. Was it abandoned before any eggs were laid, like the one in the box? Did they lay eggs? Did the chicks fledge. I will never know. I would like to think they did, and that perhaps they will be back next year. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for them!

Do you have any ideas about what made the nest?

Hedgehogs are back!

The bluetits have started nesting. I saw my first dormouse of the year on Saturday. And the hedgehogs are out of hibernation, active and hungry. Spring is here!

image
I’m also feeling that urge to get outside and do stuff. Hopefully the long weekend will give me a chance to work on a couple of projects I have been planning.

Bluetits have started nesting!

After last year’s no-show for birds nesting in our camera bird-box, I was very excited earlier this week when I got home to find a bluetit roosting in it, who had clearly been bringing in nesting materials.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I’m trying not to count my chickens (bluetits) before they hatch, as I know that sometimes they’ll start building nests in several places, before settling on one. But it’s still a positive sign.

Of course, it was only once the bluetits had started using the box that I realised that I’ve misplaced the adapter that lets me plug the camera into my computer. So for now I’m having to make do with taking photos of the TV screen. But I’ll try to rectify that in the next few days so I can get some better images and some video.

There’s been a bluetit roosting in the box every night since that first evening, and they seem to have been particularly busy at bringing in nesting material this morning.

Progress with nest building
Progress with nest building

I’m glad it’s bluetits nesting in there this year. The year before last we had house sparrows, which was great, except their nest covered the camera, so we could only hear and not see what was going on until the chicks were big enough to have flattened the nest. Bluetits have more open-top nests, so hopefully we’ll have a better view.

The only time bluetit chicks hatched in that box previously one of the adults disappeared soon after they hatched, and we had to watch while another chick died each day, until there were none left. I’m hoping for a more successful outcome this year. I’ll keep you informed!

Bird nerd part 14: ready for spring

March is here, and with it, blue skies, green shoots and birdsong. Fed up with winter, everything seems keen to get on with life. I’ve noticed birds in the garden hanging round in pairs, so it was high time I got ready for the bird breeding season as well.

The nest boxes were already clean, so all that remained to be done was to reinstall the camera in the box at the front of our house. Dr C, chivalrous as always, climbed the ladder, while I hung out of the upstairs window to pass him the cable.

That done, we’re ready for spring. Each day we can check the camera to see if there’s been any progress. I love the feeling of suspense as I wait for the telly to warm up and reveal any changes.

House sparrow about to fledge
House sparrow about to fledge (2014)

In previous years we’ve had bluetits and house sparrows nest there (not at the same time), although last year, for the first time, nothing showed any inclination to nest there. Still, the lengthening days make me an optimist, so I am hopeful we’ll have our own springwatch again this year. I will let you know how we get on!

Dormouse (or rather bluetit) box check, May 2015

Saturday morning was glorious, so I was feeling pretty optimistic as I set out for the May dormouse box check. We hadn’t seen any dormice in April at my site, but a month can make a big difference to small mammals. And Dr C was joining me (along with four other volunteers) for the first time.

The woods looked like a bride, dressed for a wedding in the freshest foliage and bedecked with flowers. Spring was everywhere, and the contents of the boxes reflected that.

Sadly, we had no dormice (nor any other mammals). But many, many birds nests, with lots of chicks. About a third of the boxes contained bird nests, which limits the nesting sites for dormice. But we can’t (and wouldn’t want to) disturb the birds.

Anyway, most of the nests were bluetits, who only have one brood a year. By next month most of the chicks will have fledged,  the nests will be empty, and dormice can move in. While dormice are more fastidious housekeepers than other mice, they’re not above building their nest on top of a used bird nest. And, when the bird nesting season is well and truly over, we will clean the old bird nests from the boxes, to give the dormice a more hygienic option.

So, I was a little disappointed we didn’t get any dormice. Especially when other site leaders posted photos on Facebook of all the lovely dormice they had found. But I refuse to give up hope, as we know there are dormice in the wood, and they did use the boxes late last year.

Still, I think I may have to change what I call the box checks – not dormousing, but bluetiting.