The Bird Box Diary
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1 April - The weather has played an April fool on us today with the first heavy rain for several weeks (and the sunniest March since 1907).
The colder conditions this morning have had a drastic effect on activities. This picture shows a moment when the male, who had been inside the box, chirping and, it appears, waiting for his partner to arrive, was 'caught' in the nest cup as she peered in through the entrance.
Although the rain turned out to be less than we expected during the rest of the day, I only saw a couple more visits after the one recorded here.
The right hand image shows the female shuffling, deep in the nest cup.
The male has continued to make frequent visits, with these images recording three that took place this morning.
In the left hand image the female is in the entrance and the male is down in the nest cup, only his tail visible to the camera.
Comparing it with yesterday's image shows that is is a little bit deeper (comparing the scratches on the wooden front, and the shaded area nearest the camera).
The female continues to remove bits every-so-often, only to bring many of them back in almost immediately. If anyone can suggest why this happens I would be interested in any possible explanations for the behaviour.
3 April - Between doing other jobs, I spent some time watching the male BT and his now very familiar behaviour.
While he can often be heard singing in the Hawthorn or other trees in our neighbours' gardens, he rarely sings when in the Birch tree next to the box. He can often be seen in the Birch while the female is away from the box, and he spends time perched on the branches, looking around, preening, and occasionally going to the box entrance to look in.
Eventually he may enter and when he does it is as though he is waiting for the female to appear.
If she arrives while he is in the box, he heads for the nest cup until she enters (bottom right image - with some straw) and then leaves without any other interactions between the pair.
The nest has grown appreciably today, with a real mixture of everything from large pieces of very coarse straw to tufts of moss.
Here she is caught in the action of removing some straw. She flew to a branch on the Birch tree where she dropped the straw before flying off to get more material.
The pattern of nest building, inspections by the male and the occasional meeting of the pair has continued as usual.
This image shows one moment caught by the webcam late this afternoon, and gives an idea of progress made during the day.
5 April - Nest building continued with great enthusiasm today, with the male taking more and more interest. The depth of the nest is approaching that of last year's nest, so we could expect to see feathers appearing soon as the female starts to produce the soft lining for the nest cup.
I plan to move the camera position tonorrow evening and to turn it through 90 degrees to give a 'landscape' view of the nest, looking down on it more.
I have been busy doing other things most of the day but I did get round to re-positioning the camera this evening. That task was not without its problems!
The pictures show the nest image before and after the camera change.
There was a dilema over when to do the job now that I know about the Robins' nest just below the BT box.
As I do not want to upset the Robin after dark (as she is very sensitive to disturbance), I decided to make the change while there was still some daylight, when the Robin was off the nest, and after the Blue Tit had finished for the day!
That combination was too much to ask for, and sure enough while the black curtain was up, and I had both hands on the camera, Mrs BT brought in some straw!
It was a case of freezing and waiting while she stared at me for what seemed like ages before she resumed what seemed like her usual behaviour.
When she left I moved the camera into a reasonable position which I then left. I will make further adjustments tomorrow.
A few more feathers have been brought in during the afternoon.
A busy day meant that I wasn't able to carry out any camera adjustments today - perhaps tomorrow.
Several times he almost seemed reluctant to leave and these two images from a video recording show his partner standing on him and expressing displeasure(?) at his failure to depart.
Several times I saw him investigating the nest material. This webcam image shows him picking up a bit of moss. This is not something that I see the male doing very often.
Finally, the nest at the end of the day, with a few more feathers collected and the nest cup somewhat shallower than it was.
This webcam image caught her arriving with a beakful of this material.
This evening I have taken a digital photograph of the nest to show this new layer in more detail.
I haven't mentioned the shuffling for a while, but it still goes on as she compresses the material around the nest cup. In this image it is clear how she has formed the cup right up against the glass. If it remains in this position it will give us a great view of the chicks as they grow (my fingers are firmly crossed!).
Having the Robins as close neighbours has led to some disputes in the Birch tree just outside the box. This morning I watched as the female BT took on both Robins and won when they dared to perch on branches that are level with their nestbox.
11 April - On a cold, but dry day the female has continued to gather fine materials for her nest.
The mealworm feeder has been the busiest I have seen it so far this Spring.
I decided to take another digital image of the nest this evening, shortly before the light switched off at 7.30pm. I had just pointed the camera at the nest when the female appeared with this beakful of fine straw, similar to what she has been collecting over the last three days.
As I pressed the shutter, the male arrived at the box and entered, carrying a morsel of food in his beak.
I did not capture the moment that she took the food from him, but here he looks on as she turns away with the food in her beak.
This is the first time I have seen this courtship feeding happening this Spring and marks an important step forward.
Once these pictures were taken the male left, although not in the hurry that has been familiar up to now. The female, on the other hand, stayed and I had to keep still until she spent some time looking out of the entrance. After I had left and returned to the house she remained in the box for about 10 minutes, some of that time after the main light had gone out.
This behaviour marks a start to the count-down to egg laying which must be just days away now.
These two images show her settled in by the time the main lighting went out at 7.30pm and in the second image she is well and truly bedded down for the night.
In the past this has been a sure indication that the next stage is about to begin. My video recorder will be running from 6am tomorrow.
The lights you can see through the entrance are a bedroom, and (the lower one) the room I am sitting in to write this diary.
Throughout the day, she has been bringing in more and more of the fine straw. I watched her picking carefully amongst the moss by the small pond this afternoon. That was the first time that I had seen her on the ground to collect material. She also found a number of white feathers during the day.
Right up to the end of the day she continued with the business of getting the nest cup just right. here she is doing another shuffle. Immediately after this she pulled out a bit that must have been to rough (or something!) and removed it from the box.
After a short time she approached the entrance with great caution, looked out and then crouched down against the front of the box.
When I looked down the garden there were three Blue Tits by the Birch tree and one ( I guess her partner) was trying to chase the others away. He succeeded and everything was calm again very soon afterwards.
13 April - Last night's stay in the box finished just as the first glimmers of first light were detected by the camera (look at the entrance hole - you can just see the difference between the first and last images in this sequence).
It took seven minutes from her waking up to leaving.
This is her first visit to the box after her departure at 5.50am. She is already bringing in the first delivery of the day.
Visits continued through the day, although I don't think they were as frequent as recently.
She was still bringing in bits at 7pm, but as the first image shows, she was abviously ready to sleep before the light went out this evening.
Although a bit restless after that image was captured she has not left the box since and it just a ball of fluff as I write this at 8.25pm.
Just before 7pm I went to the box to take another photograph of the nest. Looking carefully at the large version of this image leads me to believe that she has found a supply of hair to supplement the fine straw that she has brought in.
Sadly, this is the last photograph that I will be taking of the box for the next ten days. I leave for Cornwall tomorrow and will miss the egg laying that is imminent.
After I have reviewed tomorrow morning's video I will be setting my recorder to record a short period around 6.30am each morning for the next six days in the hope of catching some of the egg laying action.
The webcam will continue in my absence but as I do not have the equipment to provide a webcam of both the Blue Tits and the Robins simultaneously, I have decided to keep it switched to the Robins until I return.
I will be back in plenty of time to cover the hatching of the Blue Tit chicks.
14 April - Just a quick note before I leave to say that she had left the box before the video recording started at 5am this morning, so no egg to report today.
24 April - I returned from Cornwall this afternoon and I have just looked through the video recordings made in my absence. They recorded a period of 45 minutes each morning, aimed to cover the period most favoured for egg laying over the last four years, namely between 5.30 - 6.15 am.
The recordings do not contain a single glimpse of our Blue Tits, and, presumably no eggs so far! They also show that here has been only little activity in the box each day. Looking at today's video image and the live image of the box this evening suggests no activity at all today.
I've had a look around some of the other current BT diary sites and it seems that most have just started egg laying this week, so I would hope to see progress here very shortly.
Just to confirm that no eggs had been laid I checked the nest at 7.45pm this evening, and took the opportunity to take this photograph so that the nest could be compared to its state the last time I looked on the 13th.
25 April - NEST ABANDONED?
I have kept watch on the box all day today and there has been no Blue Tit activity in there at all. There have been only a few Blue Tits seen in the garden, and none of the calling that we usually heard prior to our trip away. I am beginning to resign myself to the possibility that the nest may have been abandoned.
I set a video to record activity from well before dawn this morning and the only activity seen in the recording and throughout the day has been the occasional coming and going of a queen bumble bee. She was first seen leaving the box at first light and has made a number of further trips out during the day.
I cannot be sure as to why the pair would have given up on the nest. Perhaps it is because of the bumble bee - there were previous encounters which the Blue Tit did not seen to enjoy. There was no sign of the bee in the video recordings made during my holiday although its appearance at 5.50am this morning was in the time period being recorded each day. (As I write this at 3.55pm it has just appeared from under the nest and left the box again.)
Before my holiday I did watch several encounters between the Blue Tits and the Robins. With their eggs hatched, perhaps the Robins regarded the Blue Tits as intruders too close too the nest.
The other obvious alternative to consider is that the female BT has been taken by a predator, our local Sparrowhawk(s) or a cat.
Finally, could it be that things are simply on hold because the weather has turned colder? This could be the case, although I would expect to see the occasional visit, and the presence of the Bumble bee squatter could be a problem if the BT's return.
All is not lost.......
In the time before webcams, long ago, we had a bumble bee nest in a space provided for hedgehogs under a shed. An inspection hatch allowed us to watch with some fascination as the nest grew and finally 'died' as the Summer progressed. We watched as they filled pots with honey (the whole shed smelled of honey!) and pollen tended the larvae and took turns to use their wings to provide air conditioning for the nest.
If the bumble bee has moved in with the same idea then the nest (and the webcam) will not be wasted - it may well turn out to be an interesting challenge, with a lot more close-up camera work required.
27 April - I guess that I should rename the diary from Bird Box to Bumble Bee Diary from now on as there have been no visits by a Blue Tit to the box, not even to the entrance these last couple of days.
I mentioned my surprise at how early in the morning the bee seemed to become active. As well as recording the early morning on video I was also recording webcam images through the night, and this morning again the bee was active before dawn.
The two top images show the bee leaving the box at 4.21am yesterday (she was out of the box for about 46 minutes) and then 4.38am this morning when she returned an hour later.
After that initial outing her subsequent trips were much shorter, no more than 15 minutes each time during the morning.
Now that (bird) nesting has ended, I did some tidying up of the camera equipment in the box and took advantage of that job to move the camera position to get closer images of the bee as leaves and returns. The webcam will be kept running on this scene (bottom image) while I consider other webcam options around the garden.
28 April - It took until this evening for the webcam to capture a decent image of our bee. Good enough to have a stab at identifying it as Bombus hortorum, a large bee, which is an abundant species, especially in gardens.
It has continued to make trips out all day despite continuously wet weather, and I have to wonder whether it has already started constructing the first cells and laid the eggs that will become the first workers. At 8.40pm it has just returned to the box - sunset was at 8.18pm.
This morning it made its first trip out at 4.51am, a good 15 minutes after the camera first detected first light, and it was back in within five minutes. Incidentally, at 3.04am it nearly had a visitor when a snail quietly glided past the entrance!
In the picture, the green that you can see through the entrance is an Ivy leaf with raindrops on it. The bee doesn't seem to mind it so I will leave it in place as it will help as a shade again the morning sunshine.
29 April - No picture today, but the bee continues to make trips out of the box.
On one occasion I watched as she flew to the White Dead-nettle plants by the pond, spending time going around the flowers before making a bee-line (sorry!) back to the box. It looks as though she is either feeding grubs or building up a food store.