January to March 2004
When last year's nesting season was over, we decided that the row of Leylandii trees that dominated the western end of our garden had become unmanageable and should be removed. This was decision taken with some reluctance at the time, but it has made our garden seem much bigger, and hopefully will not have too great an impact on the wildlife that visited us.
My main concerns had been about nest sites. The Blackbirds, Collared Doves and Robins had used them, and old Greenfinch nests had been found during previous pruning sessions. However, there were no signs of the Greenfinches having used them in the last couple of years (- I think they might prefer the conifers that grow beyond our garden fence) and all the other birds regularly use other sites, so I hope that the impact will be smaller than I first feared.
As part of the redesign of the garden, the Blue Tit nest box was moved a few feet to be next to the fence. Other than moving it, the only change that I have made to it was to replace the box roof with one that extends out further to the sides. This, along with some tall bamboo plants provided by on of my sons, provides extra shading from the afternoon sunshine.
Back on 14 December I looked out of my bedroom window and spotted what was a less than promising sign for this Spring in the form of this Blue Tit cleaning out my neighbour's nestbox, which hadn't been used for years.
It was there again on 9 January, but in the next week it started to take the occasional look into our box.
On 24 January my optimism was raised when the female entered the box, but this was the only time I have seen her in there this Spring.
The pair have been almost permanent residents in the garden throughout the period. On one occasion I spotted them checking out one of the Sparrow nestboxes.
Through February there was no nestbox activity seen at all and it wasn't until 24 March that I saw the female once again cleaning out my neighbour's box.
During the quiet wait for action we did have one moment of very noisy activity on 5 March when a (male?) Wren perched at the entrance, looking in, displaying and singing loudly - completely overloading the microphone!
On 9 March a pair of Great Tits, not regular visitors, came to feed in the garden and peeped into the box briefly.
It was not until later in the month, the 24th that they returned around 9am and spent around ten minutes at the entrance , pecking at the wood and calling loudly.
Then, on 25 March the most encouraging steps were taken when the pair returned, again at 9am.
This time the female entered, spent a good few minutes in there and at one stage was fed by her partner at the entrance.
A great deal of wood pecking went on again. Having got used to the Blue Tits doing this, the difference in the power of the Great Tit is very noticeable!
These pictures show what I assume is the female as she left after one of a series of visits through the morning. I hope to get similar shots of her partner in the days to come, as long as the visits continue.
26 March - This morning I woke to the sounds of hammering on the birdbox entrance at just before 7.30am. There were then frequent visits in the first part of the morning, especially around 9am again.
This is a webcam image of one of those visits.
In an air of optimism have been organising the webcam. This will be maintained from our 'old' computer which is now upstairs. Although the computer is 'hard-wired' into a network, the video signal gets to it via a wireless link and there is occasional interference which may show up as vertical bands on the webcam. I hope to minimise this when other problems are sorted.
You may also find some problems with the webcam pages themselves - they too will be sorted over the next few days.
Time was spent drumming on the entrance from both outside and inside the box, and the glass received a bit of the same treatment!
Later this morning the webcam caught a moment when both birds were at the box with the bird outside calling. Just after this image was recorded the male entered the box and in a flurry of feathers it looked as though the female left before he did moments afterwards (at least I think it was that way round!)
Visits continued through the afternoon with both partners coming to the box, and the second entering a couple of times - the webcam is still to capture one of these moments.
In addition, another piece of behaviour, repeated twice during the day, reminds me of the Blue Tit female.
This image shows the female crouched in a corner as she shuffled on her front in the same way that the Blue Tit did from the time just before she started to bring nesting materials. Soon, this action was being used to compress the materials as she brought them to the nest.
The two images show events captured by the webcam at lunchtime, when the male turned up to inspect the box (although I'm not sure which one is which in the left hand image).
Moments later the female was down onto her front, wings spread, shuffling across the box, pushing invisible straw into the corner.
Those last two images were of rather poor quality ( a combination of a computer crash and me forgetting to reset something).
This afternoon we treated to another long visit in which the entrance and then the glass was hammered hard (should I be using toughened glass?!) and this time she carried out a couple of dramatic shuffles, one of which is shown here.
She also spent time inspecting the box from the vantage-point of an old, blocked-up entrance, giving the best view yet of her underside, especially the central black band down her breast.
I've just realized that, although the time shown in today's images is correct, the label should read BST (British Summer Time).
Just when I thought that we had seen the last of the pair for the day, they reappeared at just after 4pm. One partner entered the box (the male I assume) and spent time inspecting it. As was the case with the Blue Tits, when the female arrived the male called, stepped aside as she entered and then left quickly.
It comes complete with leaves, shoots and roots - something I never saw the Blue Tits do! She took the plant out and returned with it several times before finally leaving it on the floor.
Then she returned with a beakful of moss to finish of the sequence. If previous behaviour was encouraging this has to be step forward.
29 March - There was no doubt about the nest building by lunchtime today.
Shortly afterwards we had the first encounter between the pair when the male had been inspecting the box. The female arrived (top left) and there was an interaction between them (top right) which included a momentary mounting of the female by her partner before the male left (bottom images).
Once he had left she got about the business of sorting out the floor of the box before going out to collect the first nesting materials. A pose identical to the one captured yesterday!
Over the next 45 minutes or so she brought in a mixture of straw and moss, which was arranged, and rearranged frequently by her shuffling, and then everything went quiet for a couple of hours.
The webcam caught this moment when activity picked up again briefly.
In this sequence, the female (at the front in 1) approached the male and seemed to peck at his neck (pic 2).
This was followed by a 'kiss' that was catch by the webcam (pic 3).
Following that he moved round the back of his partner (pic 4) and once again mounted her briefly before leaving (pic 5)
This time the female was already in the box (pic1) when the male entered to the right of her (pic 2) and she seemed to peck at his neck, and then his back (pics 3,4) before moving round behind her and mounting very quickly before leaving.
After this I have seen only a small amount of straw being brought in during the early afternoon, and there was yet another, even briefer encounter between the pair around 2.30pm.
I'm looking for ways of distinguishing between the two partners without trying to use the black bib stripe. Even though this is bolder in the male, its isn't often easily picked out during action in the box. However, there does seem to be another different between these individuals.
This image of the pair has the female on the left. Look at the line formed between the black of their heads and the white below. The male seems to have a slightly smoother line, and for the moment at least the female has a black feather that breaks that line.
This has shown up in a number of images over the last few days, and only time will tell how reliable it will be.
After the 2.30pm visits the pair made no further appearances at the box for the rest of the day. I wonder if the Sparrowhawk attack in the garden had something to do with this (It was not a Great Tit that was caught!).
30 March - A sunny day, but very little was brought into the box today, with no visits at all after the late morning.
This time he remained in the box until nearly 7.40am, during which he alternated between looking out and pecking furiously at the door (left pic), and fussing around in the nest, including doing several shuffles (right pics), although these were not as thorough as those carried out by his partner.
She appeared at the entrance for the first time at 7.30am, and again a few minutes later before she finally entered just before 7.40am. Her arrival was the signal for another session of bonding behaviour. As soon as she landed he pecked gently at her back and then there were a few moments of very delicate beak to beak pecking before he turned to leave.
As he flew up to the entrance his partner took one last (again, gentle) peck at his tail feathers. It is all so much more gentle, and in slow motion compared with the Blue Tits rushed encounters. She shuffled and pecked a bit at the entrance and left.
It was 8.15am when the whole process was repeated, with the male arriving first, drumming at the hole before entering, the female arriving and a then similar sequence of courtship taking place.
A few minutes later it happened again, but this time the female even did a bit of shuffling between pecks while her partner watched!
At 8.35 the meeting had a couple of different moves. Again, the male was in first and when his partner entered she brought a small bit of moss. He pecked at the back of her neck a couple of times and she lifted her right wing momentarily as he pecked her lower back. As he turned away she moved up behind him and pecked at the back of his neck. He responded by pecking at her head and after pecking at her beak he left.
Over the next hour the female returned to the box a number of times, sometimes with straw and a few times without. On one visit she arrived at the entrance with something in her beak but spent time pecking at the wood instead of going in.
At 10am there was another encounter between the pair and after that I only saw another two brief visits by the female in the next hour or so.
If I can make time I will add some pictures later to this entry.
31 March - Today has been even quieter in the box. The first to appear was the male at 7.40am, spending a few minutes pecking at the outside of the entrance before entering and pecking at the inside of the hole.
He was back a few minutes later to do the same thing, except this time he called quietly at one time while in the box. Then, at 7.48am he entered a third time. This time his partner arrived and entered but there was none of the usual behaviour between them. and he left quickly, with her following soon after.
Half an hour later, at 8.18am he appeared again momentarily, returning two minutes later when the female entered the box while he was still inside. This time he pecked at her beak as she entered and then left as soon as she landed. She left almost immediately.
The male looked in again at 9.12am but didn't enter. Four minutes later he returned and spent about two minutes outside, pecking at the wood before entering for the last time today. The female arrived soon after him and again he pecked at her beak as she entered and left without further ceremony. This time she spent a short time pecking at the straw before she too left for the last time today.
There were a couple of times when one of them looked into the box during the rest of the day, and I saw the pair several times in the Birch tree, which is near the box, but I'm puzzled why the nest building should stop completely like this. No straw or moss was brought in at any of the visits. I shall be watching with interest tomorrow.