Nestbox Diary - 2006
April (part 2)
12 April - The first egg - maybe! Just a temporary report for the moment, check again later for amendments.
This morning (I was up to watch this live!) she started to wake up at around 5.15am and by 5.23am, as I could hear the first of the dawn chorus, she was busy tucking the soft bedding into the sides of the nest cup. She quietened down again around 5.30am and stayed that way until she suddenly reacted to a series of calls from very close to the nestbox. In the sequence I recorded you can hear the female's squeaky 'machine gun' responses to the males calls. (I don't know to what extent the recording is affected by the acoustics of the nestbox).
Once this exchange was over his call became louder and repetitive, but with a slight change after a while, as you can hear in this second sequence. The calling finally stopped when his partner left the box.
I'll be adding the sounds to the Sounds page later today.
After further periods of rest and work on the nest cup, at around 5.48am she perched half out of the nestcup and remained very still for just over four minutes.
When she finally moved again I am certain I caught a glimpse of an egg. I have replayed the sequence a number of times without success to try and pinpoint when it would have been laid. I had this same problem the last time the Great Tits nested.
The right-hand image shows her looking back into the nest cup, and I have indicated what I think is the first egg - the curved shape is difficult to see in the poor lighting, but it shows up a bit more clearly as I run my video recording. Subsequent images show bedding covering this area.
At this point, the calling from outside stopped and she reacted by 'twittering'. When the calls resumed she seemed to answer them several times before pulling more bedding down into the nest cup and leaving the box at 5.54am, at which time the calling from outside ceased.
Since then (written at 8.25am) she has been back to the box ( at 7.28 and 7.32am) with more 'soft stuff'.
Now I'm waiting for the 'sunspots' to clear from the webcam picture so that I can look for any signs of an egg in the mirror image.
Sheila has just watched the video recording several times with me on our main TV and I think it's safe to say that an egg was laid at around 5.52am. The Great Tit had kept still for four minutes, and immediately after we could hear a slight bump she turned enough for us to see the curved outline of one end of an egg. Straight away she tugged at the bedding and it was hidden from us.
If we are correct then it has happened on the same date as the first Great Tit egg was laid back in 2004.
By lunchtime I have seen three more visits, at 10.36am, 12.06 and 12.54pm, each time accompanied by the calls of the male from a perch nearby.
I have removed the mirror for the moment. It was too low relative to the nest and would have obstructed any future photography. Before I put it back I may lower the camera slightly to alter the angles involved.
Away from the Tit Box, I went to inspect the Swift boxes a little earlier, with the intention of adding some old nesting material (a recommended strategy to make the swifts think the box has already been used). I had a surprise when I got to the top of the ladder and looked up, as I could see twigs in the upper box. It looks as though a Starling has moved in! The lower box does not have such easy access and so is still empty, and it now has a ring of feathers and other bits ready for any Swift that may look in.
I've added a second sound sequence near the top of this entry.
This evening she was back in the box at 7.04pm, and settled down very quickly. There were a few vocal exchanges with her partner, but he didn't come to the box tonight.
Another image that I have just collected from the webcam shows her in the usual sleep position, with her head tucked under a wing and her feathers fluffed up. You can just make out the white patch that is on the back of her neck.
I've made a very slight upward adjustment to the night-time lighting, and I'm pleased (and relieved) to say that it doesn't seem to be bothering her.
13 April - A frustrating start to the morning. The Great Tit slept until 5.37am when she woke up suddenly and soon started her calling, which was answered straight away. The sound of her partner came closer as she started pulling bedding into the nest cup.
A few minutes later and I think the male was perched right above the box. She continued to work on the nest with several pauses.
Her posture at 5.54am (right hand image) was held for a relatively long time, and was the only time that I thought egg laying was about to happen, but once again there were no sound and no other visual clues to confirm anything.
There was a bit more pulling on the bedding before she left at 5.58am.
She returned to the nest at 6.27am for four minutes of work on the rim of the nest cup., and again at 8.06am for about a minute.
The lack of 'sun-spots' on the webcam image give an indication that it is a dull, grey morning outside.
During the rest of the morning (up to 11.30am) I saw just one more visit, giving one of the best webcam views yet of her.
At 11am I took this picture of the nest.
All the effort she has been putting into pulling the soft hair down the sides of the nest cup is making it look much neater than it did just a few days ago.
While 'in' the box I moved the mirror back into place to check again for eggs, but I was out of luck. I'm sure I could see most of the bottom of the nest cup but there was no sign of even one egg. Perhaps we were mistaken yesterday, although we agreed that she certainly went through most of the stages that we expected to see prior to laying.
It looks as though we (I) will be watching again tomorrow!
I had to toss a coin to decide where to put this next photograph, but as it involves one of the nestboxes it has ended up here!
A couple of days again I mentioned the discovery that one of the Swift boxes was being used. The coarse nature of the nest suggested, and these photographs, taken just before 1pm today confirm that its user is a Starling, and she is still building.
She was having terrible trouble trying to take into the box a stick that would have been better suited for a high wire walker. It was taken in eventually, after many trips back to the roof so that she could make adjustments to her grip on the stick.
Hopefully the lower box's entrance will be too difficult for another Starling to enter with out the landing aids that the top box has. Not that I want to deprive the Starlings of a place to nest, but with the Swifts starting to arrive in the country I would like to welcome them too.
I didn't see the Great Tits again until they came to feed at around 6.55pm, and it was only a few minutes later when the female headed into the nest.
I only heard the male calling for a few minutes after she entered.
The female spent a bit of time fussing around in the nest, including putting her head right down into the nest cup several times -perhaps she has got eggs hidden down there. Sheila tells me she did that last night as well.
This is one of those poses I would love to photograph, but wouldn't be foolish enough to try!
Anyway, she was still in this position when the lights dimmed around 7.30pm.
14 April - It would seen to be another 'I haven't a clue if an egg was laid' morning.
The dawn chorus could be heard on the nestbox microphone from around 5.10am, with our local Blackbird not joining in until 5.38am.
In the meantime, our Great Tit female didn't wake up (apart from a few itches to deal with) until 5.45am. She immediately started pulling the soft nest bedding in towards her, turning in the nest cup as she worked around the rim. At 5.46am she perked up as some noisy geese flew over. When their voices faded into the distance she called loudly, but there was no response from her partner who I didn't hear at all before she finally left this morning.
Over the next ten minutes the work on the nest continued, with several promising pauses, but by 5.59am she was looking out of the nest.
There was another brief session of work on the nest before she gave a very loud call and left at 6.02am.
There have been no other visits up to 9.20am - wrong - I've checked the video recording and there were three more visits in that time, at 7.37, 8.04am, when a large amount of material was brought in, and finally at 8.26am when a smaller amount was delivered.
A further beakful was brought in at just after 11am and was just dumped, just like all the rest this morning.
The new material has resulted in the nest looking very untidy compared with the same time yesterday.
I took this photograph of the nest just after noon. The light, solid object seems to be a bit of dried leaf that was brought in incidentally with a bunch of hair.
She seems to have found a supply of darker hair these last two days.
The Great Tits stayed away from the garden all afternoon, and I only heard them again just before 7pm. Then at 7.09pm a face appeared at the entrance. There were neighbours out in their garden, so perhaps the female was slightly uncertain about them. However she was soon inside.
The first thing she did was to deal with a woodlouse that I had seen just after it must have entered the box earlier on.
Once that problem was out of the way (I'm not sure if she actually ate it) she settled quickly without spending much time sorting out the rim of the nest cup.
This evening I have added an option to the webcam page to allow you to view it without all the text above and below it. This will allow it to take up less space on your screen. You'll see the link in the usual webcam window. I have also moved the camera slightly closer.
15 April - I slept late and so missed the early happenings in the box. However, going through the video I am certain that an egg was laid this morning.
She was fast asleep until close to 5.30am, when she was facing away from the camera, with her head down. Then, at 5.32am I could hear a distinct clicking sound, and her tail started flicking up. Then, suddenly, her body seemed to get lower as she arched her head so that her beak pointed almost straight up, swaying sideways as it did so. Then her head and tail dropped as the rear end of her body raised up. She held this position for nearly half a minute, and was obviously straining, especially during the last third of the period. Then her body and tail flopped down and she kept still for the next two minutes. Although I didn't see an egg, that was the sequence of events that I had been waiting, and now I have no doubt that an egg was being laid.
After that she alternated between resting and periods of work on the nest rim. At 5.45am she settled down for a longer rest that lasted some eight minutes, after which she became much more active, turning frequently as she pulled bedding into shape around the nest cup rim, and occasionally putting her head down into the cup, presumably to check or turn what must now be at least one egg (still unseen).
It wasn't until after 6.10am that she started looking out of the box, finally leaving at 6.15am. There was neither sight nor sound of her partner this morning, and she didn't call for him at all.
Unfortunately a technical hitch means that I cannot capture images form video at the moment, although I hope to rectify the problem this weekend.
During the rest of the morning there were only three visits.
The first of these saw her bring just s few bits in, and stay for about five minutes. The other visits were short, and she seemed a bit 'nervous' about something during the third one.
As these images suggest, we have cloud cover again this morning, giving more even lighting conditions for the webcam.
As I write this she has just brought in a large beakful of very fine bedding (at 12.29pm) with no sign of the previous uncertain behaviour.
I have just altered the webcam upload/refresh rate to renew the image every six seconds. It works for me, but I have a broadband connection, so please let me know if this causes any problems for you if you are using a dial-up link. If there are no difficulties I may reduce the interval a bit more in a few days time.
The Starling I mentioned two days ago continues to build its nest this afternoon.
She(?) seems to be trying to take in a complete plant on this occasion.
Against the same, north-facing wall of our house, the House Sparrow boxes are also being fitted out. I only watched for a short time this afternoon and saw nest materials being taken into three of the four boxes. Interestingly, both these pictures show how males assist in delivering the straw that is needed.
I know that the boxes on the west wall of the house are being used as roosts, but I haven't seen straw being taken into these as yet.
After three more visits during the afternoon (at 12.58, 1.05 and 2.35pm), this evening our Great Tit was back in the box at 6.52pm, and settled down very quickly.
16 April - I was downstairs just after 5.20am this morning, and I needn't have bothered as I was too late! She was already awake and working on the nest cup and occasionally dipping her head down into it. When she left the nest at 4.46am I rewound the video and watched the recording that had started at 4am.
She was fast asleep for much of the time (image 1), Then at just before 4.45am I noticed her tail being flicked up, and few moments later her head appeared from under its feather cover and started to nod up and down (image 2). Then her body suddenly straightened out, her body lowered and her head arched back with her beak open for a moment or two (images 3 & 4).
Then her body lifted back up, and her head dropped down to a position that she held for a while afterwards (image 5). The whole process was over very quickly and she was soon back in a sleeping posture.
Although I have seen this happen only twice over these last four days, I still suspect, based on her behaviour that there are more than two eggs in the nest. Unlike this morning, when I looked at the earlier video recordings I tended to go through the first hour rather rapidly because she was asleep. Perhaps I missed the few moments that it took to lay an egg. Sadly I reused the tapes so I cannot take a second look.
Anyway, since leaving the box, I think that she has been back just once (written at 11.15am).
However, there has been another face at the entrance during her absence. A Blue Tit had a peep inside (without entering). As far as I can remember, this is the first inspection by a Blue Tit that I have seen this year. I also saw one peep into my neighbour's box yesterday, so perhaps they haven't got started yet.
She spent the next nine or so minutes doing bits and pieces to the nest, including a couple of shuffles (image 2) and 'head down' checks on the eggs. After ten minutes she was starting to settle (image 3), then there was one last check of the bottom of the nestcup (image 4) and she turned, fluffed up her body feathers and tucked her head in (image 5).
Considering what happened this morning, I'll not attempt to get up in time for egg laying tomorrow, relying instead on the video recorder to capture the action, now that I have sorted out the wires so that I can capture the images on the computer. I have software installed that should allow me to do timed recordings on the computer itself, but for some reason it is not working, and I do not want to risk causing further problems during nesting. It is something I shall have to deal with when there are no webcams to follow later in the year.
17 April - It was a case of early to bed early to lay - at 4.17am. This makes the count definitely 3 eggs ( and possibly 5).
Here is a sequence of stills from the video. From image 1 to 5 covers just under 25 seconds. At the start of the sequence she is apparently fast asleep. Her tail started twitching and her head appeared, and then both were raised and her body sank down until her head was arched back, with beak open. This position was only held for a moment before both head and tail dropped down and her body was raised. She held this position for nearly 40 seconds, with signs of straining every so often.
The sequence ended when she finally seemed to relax, fluffed up her body feathers and tucked her head back under (image 8).
After resting for most of the next 75 minutes, she became active just after 5.30am and left the box at 5.43am.
I wasn't able to monitor the box during the day but I was watching when she returned for the night at 6.17pm, twenty five minutes earlier than last night. Perhaps I should start tomorrow's video at 3am!
18 April - Even earlier this morning - the next egg (#4 or #6?) was laid at around 4.11am during a sequence which took just over a minute, from being in her sleep position (image 1) to putting her head back under her feathers again (image 7).
She didn't become active in the nest until 5.38am, and at 5.48am she headed out.
However, at 5.56am she was back in the box, and after a short period of work on the nest she fluffed up her body feathers, tucked her head in and had a five minute nap. A few minutes after woke up she left again.
As this webcam image shows, at 7.29am the sunshine was streaming in on a bright, cloudless morning. The Great Tit had just brought in a beakful of soft bedding.
She made several more brief visits during the morning and early afternoon, and then at just after 3pm she came into the box and settled herself down, staying for nearly half an hour. Perhaps this is a sign that we are getting close to the incubation stage, although I would expect her to continue laying for a few more days yet.
This time when she left it was possible to see the tops of two eggs for the first time (although you have to look closely to see the right-hand one.
Once I confirmed that both she and her partner had left the garden I took the opportunity to change the glass (this is done by sliding the panes across so that the 'new glass pushes out the dirty one while at the same time leaving no gaps, so that if a bird enters the box I can just stop until the coast is clear again), and afterwards reposition the front-silvered mirror.
Although it isn't visible in the webcam, the mirror now gives me a view of the nestcup, allowing photographs like this to be taken through the glass. At no time do I need to disturb the nest.
This image is great news for me as the presence of six eggs confirms my conviction that egg laying did actually start on the 12th. Each egg measures about 18mm x 14mm, and they are the largest eggs laid by any of the Tits that live in the UK.
This evening the female was back on the nest by 5.36pm, and after a little bit of shuffling around, and a couple of head-down checks on the eggs, she was pretty well settled down in sleep mode by 5.55pm.
Having said that, and after she looked very comfortable for the next thirty minutes, she suddenly became active and left at 6.25pm. She was away just five minutes before finally returning for the night.
19 April - Egg #7
The tail flicking started just after 3.41am (images 1,2). Between each flick she seemed to take four or five very quick breaths. Her head was arched back within 25 seconds (images 3,4), and she held the final, head down/body raised position (image 5) for about half a minute before relaxing again.
After a bit of a pause she was restless for a while before settling down again until around 5.45am. By 6am she was very active, and left the box at 6.12am, later than usual after that very early start.
I've see her bring in small amounts of bedding several times before 9am, and at the moment the eggs are hidden, so no photograph to confirm the new egg.
Incubation is clearly underway now and she spent a lot of time in the box today. I wasn't monitoring the box for much of the day, but she was in there nearly every time I checked the video feed.
While I was working out in the garden I needed to get timber and other bits from the shelter right next to the nestbox. On each occasion that I had to do that I checked immediately afterwards to see if I had disturbed her, but she didn't leave the box at those times.
Click on the images to see larger versions -