Nestbox Diary - 2006
April (part 1)
4 April - I'm back, and the Great Tits are nesting in the Tit box (starting yesterday)!!! I will put together a report as soon as I get my act together, and in the meantime, a big 'thank you' to everyone who has taken the time to send me webcam images for these last few days.
Between my going away on Thursday (30 March), and yesterday morning the Great Tit(s) continued to visit but without any start to nesting. I don't know what the weather was like here, but down in South Dorset it was quite mild, but very windy (from the South-West) indeed for the first few days. Then, yesterday was very different, sunny and far less windy, although that had shifted round to the North-east, and so was noticeably cooler. I see that the local weather station recorded quite a bit of rain two days ago.
It was yesterday that all changed in the birdbox. Thanks to some detailed information and a lot of webcam images from Dave Hall in Pembrokeshire and Mark Simpson in Dublin, I can record that the first bit of nesting material was brought into the box at 10.23am.
You can see that bit in the second of this sequence of images, the next two images showing progress between then and noon.
This second sequence shows progress during the afternoon session.
It seems that she worked at a frantic pace until around 1.40pm then had a long break before continuing some more.
As this sequence shows, a lot was done during the day, or at least, the first part of the day.
We returned home some time after 2pm and during the afternoon she appeared in the box several times, once settling down for several minutes, but I didn't see much nesting material being brought in.
Tonight the box is unoccupied, and I took advantage of that to get this image of the nest. So far it appears to be a mixture of moss and grass.
5 April - A bright, sunny day with a frost to start with, and quiet in the box after the efforts of the first two days' construction work.
The early morning video recording shows that the first inspection visit to the box took place just after 6.50am, and then nothing until I first saw a bird in the box at just after 7.30am. That too was just an inspection visit. Shortly afterwards a Great Tit (presumably the male partner) came to feed on a fatball. As he did so I spotted one pulling at moss by the side of the pond. Moments later she was in the nest.
Since then (up to nearly 1pm) I have only seen a couple more visits, with a few bits of moss delivered and time spent packing down what had already been brought in, and shaping the nest cup.
Coincidentally, while the Great Tit collected moss, the Blackbird was also gathering nesting materials, in her case, soggy plant matter from in the water of the small pond.
She flew first to the Birch and then into our Hawthorn tree, where she must be building her second nest of the season.
All remained quiet in the box until around 4pm when several bundles of moss were brought in from the pond.
Another pause followed before the process was repeated several more times at around 4.30pm.
6 April - Another slow morning. I didn't seen the Great Tits until they arrived to feed at about 9.40am, with a visit to the box occurring just afterwards. A short period of moss delivery and nest shaping then took place before the rest of the morning passed without any further developments.
I've taken advantage of the prolonged quiet period to move the camera slightly closer, now that the nest is under development.
I'm also looking at the possibility of setting up a second camera to get a better angle on the nest cup as it develops. This will use a front silvered mirror to give it a 'look-down' capability. If it works I may set up a separate webcam link for it - no promises on that!
There were no further visits during the day, and the birds were not seen in the garden.
7 April - A busy morning. After a late start has seen moss being brought in throughout the morning, as well as a couple of small twigs. The pair have been in or near the garden almost continuously.
Here, the female has just landed at the same spot from where a Blue Tit took dried grass earlier in the morning.
The Great Tit moved on to another area to collect moss before heading for the box.
8 April - I didn't see any visits to the box before 8.30am, but after that there were regular visits during the morning.
By the end of yesterday's visits she had brought in a little bit of hair. This morning she brought several more bundles.
Here, the female has returned to the spot she visited yesterday to get some more moss. I nearly got a decent image of her in flight, but I'm afraid it's a bit shaky!
This afternoon things have been quiet again, and I took advantage of the time to get this picture of the nest to show the hair. It looks like human hair rather than anything else.
There were no further visits to the box in the afternoon or evening.
This is what the webcam recorded at lunchtime, just after a visit at 12.40pm, and
this is the same scene, taken from a different angle with the Olympus E-20. The Great Tit continues to bring in the hair without spending time incorporating it into the nest structure.
I now have a flashgun permanently positioned to give light through the lighting port diffuser at the top of the box. It is set to give a very low level flash and is powered by an external battery pack and switch so that I do not need to touch it during the nesting season.
I will be using the E-20 for all photography in the nestbox because of its very quiet shutter. I'm afraid that the Canon 20D is far too noisy for this job.
10 April - A week since nest building started. This morning it is sunny but cold, 2C at 8.30am.
Yesterday afternoon there was just one more visit, shortly after the photograph was taken, and then the birds stayed away, apart from a visit to the feeders in the late, and wet afternoon.
A quarter of an hour later she was back with more, and this time I saw the first shuffle for days (right-hand image)
Her third visit came at 8am, but this was just another quick delivery.
During the rest of the morning my video recorded just three more visits (at around 9.45, 10.30 & 11.45am), and as this photograph taken at 1.15pm shows, she seems to have found some even finer hair or wool.
This is a webcam image of the same scene, taken a while later.
There was a slight disturbance for her when another bird appeared at the entrance at 7.55pm. I was out at the time, but looking at the video I can't see any white on that bird's head. Before it appeared there was some 'twittering' outside. When it appeared, it seemed to have a more pointed beak than the Great Tits. The female stayed low in the nest with her beak open until it had left.
Since I came home just after 9pm the female has been quite restless and seems sensitive to the slightest noise outside. She reacted as I opened our kitchen door at the opposite end of the garden!
It will be important to have the video recording from early tomorrow morning as past experience suggests that we could even see an egg laid tomorrow - my fingers are crossed!
11 April - I think we have to wait another day!
I have gone through the early morning video several times and I don't think an egg was laid this morning. The Great Tit was fast asleep when the microphone picked up the first, distant birdsong at around 5.10am, with our local Blackbird joining in some four minutes later.
Five minutes later the GT became restless and I became suspicious that she could be getting ready to lay. However, several viewings of the video later I decided that I was mistaken. By 5.30am she was very restless and left the box at 5.44am.
I was surprised to see her return at 6.36am with a beak full of fine bedding, bringing in a bit more at 6.50am, and I missed another delivery at about 8.08am.
Since then I have not even seen the pair in the garden (written at 1.10pm).
During the morning there were two periods of noisy activity just outside the Robin box, but nothing appeared on the nestbox camera images.
Taken at 1.50pm, this photograph shows that the nest remains untidy. Looking back to the 2004 diary, this seems to be the standard for Great Tits - neat looking birds but scruffy nest!
One problem that I face with my camera arrangement is that it doesn't look down into the nestcup. I'm not able to set up a second camera to do this so the solution I have come up with is to position a front silvered mirror so that it appears in the top-left corner of the image, and angled to give a view down into the nest.
It was successful back in 2004, when I was able to use it for both the webcam and to take photographs of the eggs and then the young chicks. I will need to make adjustments once egg laying has started, but I wanted it in place ready beforehand - this morning's false alarm came as a reminder that it was a job I had meant to do a few days ago.
There was a fifth visit to the box with more soft bedding at 3.40pm, just before I added the mirror.
After a damp afternoon and evening, the great Tits returned to the garden soon after 7pm and by 7.12pm the female was in the box and the male was telling the world where they were!
I have made a recording of the calls that he made as he moved to perches all around the box - you can listen to it by going to the sounds page.
His partner was already settling down and seemed surprised when he suddenly appeared at the entrance to make his last check on her before heading off to his roost for the night.
Now that all is quiet she seems to be much more settled than last night, and by 8pm her head is tucked under her wing for most of the time.
Click on the images to see larger versions -