Nestbox Diary - 2007
January to March
I've been keeping these nesting diaries since 2000, and as usual at this time I'm wondering what birds will choose to nest in our garden, and as usual many of my plans for the winter months have not been fulfilled!
Since starting the diaries, I've followed the successful progress of Blue Tit families in 2000, 2001, and 2002. They also attempted to nest in 2003 but were ousted by a Bumble Bee as the nest was completed. Blue Tits also nested here in 2005, but on that occasion they chose to use one of the Sparrow nestboxes! Great Tits replaced their smaller relatives and brought up their families in the Tit box in 2004 and then 2006 - the box remained unused in 2005. Robins nest in the garden and I was able to follow their progress with cctv cameras in 2001 (when they were joined by a young Wren - see the diary) and 2003.
Over the last three years we have had House Martins nesting in artificial nests at the front of the house, with two broods in each of 2005 and 2006. These have posed a special challenge, and for last year I installed a cctv camera to look down into one of the nests - unfortunately the wrong one! I hope to rearrange the camera before they return this year.
We have two groups of House Sparrow boxes which are used for both nesting and roosting by members of our resident flock. I have no access to these boxes and so they are only subject to the occasional photography from outside.
Over the last two years a pair of Swifts have been nesting in my neighbour's loft, ousting the sparrows that normally use that space. Last year I put up a pair of Swift boxes in the hope of attracting Swifts to our house. Unfortunately (sort of), I made a mistake and made the entrances a bit too big. This allowed Starlings to discover them and nest (needing to do some aerial acrobatics to deliver twigs, and later feed their young). Once nesting was over they have continued to use the boxes as a roost so I have a bit of a dilemma - do I leave the boxes alone, or shall I modify the entrances, and put up more suitable boxes for the Starlings?
14 January - Now for the reason for my starting the birdbox diary this early - the Tit box has had its first visitor (that I have seen!). I have to admit that the camera has only been operating for the last four days (it is usually in place by Christmas) so I don't know if there have been earlier visits. Mind you, I don't think the poor weather would have encouraged.
Both the Tit and Robin boxes have low level lighting permanently switched on so that birds can be come acclimatised to the present of illumination right from the start.
They also have cctv cameras in place, and this morning, on the first sunny day for a while, at around 10.30am I happened to be looking out of our bedroom window and saw a bird fly down from the Birch towards the box. I got downstairs where a TV is tuned into the cctv camera to see a face looking into the box. I switched the video recorder on just in time to see a Great Tit enter.
It spent about a minute looking around in the box before leaving again. This is the earliest that I have seen a Great Tit inspect the box. In 2004/6 they didn't appear until March.
The images are very poor, due to a mixture of dirty glass, low lighting level and cobwebs produced by some of the many Pholcus phalangioides spiders that thrive in the birdbox tower (- I must take some photographs for the garden diary). In pictures captured from the cctv camera you will see a dark area around the box entrance. This is due to the use of neutral density filters which reduce the amount of external light reaching the camera and causing image problems.
Since then, I have heard loud Great Tit calls from the garden, and a couple have been to feed a couple of times.
The old video recorder linked to the cctv camera(s) has started to cause problems, so I have just bought a hard drive/DVD recorder with a 250GB drive. I've only just started 'playing' with it but my first impressions are very positive. It's brilliant to be able to just keep it recording through the day without fiddling with changing tapes, and I will have no problem recording decent length daily sessions if we go to Cornwall during nesting - or course, it can also be used for recording TV programmes!
22 January - I have seen only one more visit by the Great Tit since the last entry, and that was yesterday at around 9am.
24 January - No visits yesterday, but this morning we had a marathon inspection.
For the first few minutes it actively checked the box (top-left image). It then reacted to the panic calls that accompanied a Sparrowhawk attack at the other end of the garden. It crouched down at the back of the box (top-right image), staying put for the next minute or so before resuming the inspection, which included several brief 'shuffles', behaviour that we see as the female compacts nest materials early in nest building (bottom-right image).
Both the Great Tit and the Blue Tit females indulge in this behaviour long before actual nest building starts, although in both previous years that I have watched Great Tits nesting I haven't seen shuffling take place until late March!
At the end of the visit she spent about a minute looking out of the box before leaving. There were no further visits during the rest of the day, although Great Tits were seen in the garden numerous times.
I'm still puzzled why the Blue Tits no longer show any interest in the box.
25 January - No pictures today, but there were two visits during the first part of the morning. The first occurred at just after 9am and the second an hour later - both visits lasting just a couple of minutes, but including one 'shuffle'.
27 January - Yesterday I saw two visits, the first just after 9am and the second at around 10.30am. This morning I have seen four short visits into the box, occuring at 8.50am, 10am, 10.21am and 11.13am. In between these, there were three visits where the bird stayed outside, and just looked in.
I think the Great Tit(s) have been the most vocal birds in the garden so far today, especially just before and after visits to the box.
28 January - After yesterday's flurry of activity, today was quiet with just one visit recorded, at just after 9.30am. The birds were about during the sunny morning but I didn't see them once the skies turn grey in the afternoon.
29 January - On a dull, dry day there was just one brief visit, at 9.17am.
I have switched on the timer/dimmer device to bring on the white LED lights during daytime hours to condition the Great Tit to their presence. At the moment they are set to be very dim, but I will gradually increase their brightness over the next couple of weeks.
31 January - Bright and sunny, but, for the second day in a row there has been no bird in the box this morning (up to 10.45am).
Both mornings there has been a Great Tit at the entrance at just after 9.30am and this morning it gave the loud double call that I expect the male to give. Since them I have spent some time watching from our bedroom window, and I have been able to see just the one Great Tit in the garden (he? has just made several more visits to the entrance at around 10.50am, making much quieter calls this time).
This is slightly troubling - could we have lost the female for some reason?
1 February - We are back in business! By the end of yesterday afternoon there was still no sign of a second Great Tit, although the one that I could see spent most of the day around the bottom of the garden, visiting the entrance some eight times during the afternoon.
However, this morning I watched again from the bedroom window and soon after 9am I could confirm that there were indeed two Great Tits hunting for food at the far end of the garden ( but not coming to the feeders). Then, at 9.37am there was the sound of one arriving at the entrance. After looking in a couple of times it entered the box, staying for a couple of minutes.
I can't be sure, but, looking at the black stripe down the breast, it does appear to be the same bird that had visited previously.
Since that visit they did not return to the box at all during the remainder of the morning. They are still about, and at 12.45am I have just heard the male calling.
Trying to think what may have caused the lack of inspections during those two days, I have considered the possibility that it did correspond to my introduction of the LED lighting. At the moment they are barely on and are making little difference to the overall light level in the box. However, I will postpone increasing the brightness until I am satisfied that the birds are completely acclimatised to their presence. The aim is to not to bring them up to full brightness until nesting is underway.
It is now 4pm, and I haven't seen them in the garden since that visit.
The diagonal lines in this image are a sign that a spider is building a web between the camera and the glass panel, something I will deal with tonight.
3 February - On a bright and sunny morning there was only one brief visit, and that was earlier than usual at 8.40am, while there was still frost on the caravan shelter.
6 February - As temperatures stay below 4C we have had three days with no visits into the box, and only one brief inspection from the entrance on the 4th. The Great Tits are still about, feeding and often calling from the trees around the garden.
7 February - The box remained un-inspected again today, although the Great Tits seemed to be in the garden nearly every time I looked, or went outside.
Around lunchtime I watched a male displaying to its partner in the conifers, and I'm sure there was a third Great Tit nearby. I recorded a short bit of the calls being made before they moved too far away. I could only see one of the birds clearly, I think the male judging by the way it was 'strutting' about, but get the impression that at least two of the birds were calling. There was quite a bit of background noise, and you'll have to forgive the barking dog.
Click here to listen to the recording (it can also be found in the sound section of the website).
10 February - No more visits into the box as yet, but as the temperature creeps back up (5C at 9am), and despite it being a dull and damp day, we did get to see (and hear) a Great Tit at the box entrance this morning shortly before 9am. I can only surmise that, based on past observations, this could well have been the male. Both birds were seen feeding here during the day.
13 February - We continue to go through a period of no inspections, although we are seeing a daily, morning visit to the entrance. Both birds feed here frequently throughout the day, so I know that they are healthy. I have still to manage some photographs of them!
It is remaining largely cloudy, with the temperature staying below 10C - perhaps we shall have to wait until the next sunny day before we see a bird in the box again.
14 February - I'm afraid that a sunny St Valentine's Day passed without any interest shown in the box at all. It was slightly colder today, so that may have been a factor. As usual, both birds were seen feeding here.
15 February - A sunny day brought a face to the entrance, but no bird inside today.
16 February - Another single 'look in' this morning, at around 8.45am, and they continue to feed here throughout the day.
18 February - After a no-show yesterday, this morning saw a thorough inspection of the box (soon after 9am) for the first time since the 2nd.
Now, some great news about another of our nestboxes. As I have already mentioned in the garden diary, our cctv equipped Robin box is in use for the first time since I installed it in February 2004. Nest building was already underway when I first turned on the monitor at around 8.20am, and she was in and out throughout the morning.
As you can see from these images, the lighting in the Robin box is extremely dim. However, now that nesting has started I will be able to supplement the existing light with an additional one controlled from the Blue Tit tower. In the next day or so I hope to set up a timer switch to bring it on during daytime hours (and using a variable resisitor to introduce it gradually).
It's unlikely that I will a webcam for this nest, but I will definitely be following progress in these pages.
After her effort during the morning, the Robin seemed to take the rest of the day off, and was not in the box during the night.
For the moment rather more than half of the cctv image is obscured by a dark shadow - hopefully she will not block the view completely!
As you can tell from these images, I have increased the light level marginally. I may lower the resistance a little bit more this afternoon.
Today she kept going until the early afternoon, and again, the box is empty tonight.
There was another brief box inspection by the Great Tit this morning
21 February - There were no box visits by the Great Tits yesterday, but I have just seen one peep in through the box entrance at 8.45am.
On the other hand, the Robin was into her box by 7.15am, spending a lot of time in there during the morning. Unfortunately, the materials that she has brought in are now almost completely obstructing the view from the cctv camera, so it looks as though there will be no further images from in the box until the chicks start moving about in there! As I write this at 7.50am I can see movement beyond the leaves, so she is either in residence or visiting.
As I have explained in the garden diary, this afternoon I found that the Ivy tree, under which the Robin is nesting, is leaning over, suggesting that the old conifer around which the Ivy has grown, has decayed at ground level.
There is a real danger that it could fall so I had to risk disturbing the Robin in order to start stabilising the structure. I didn't need to approach very close to the box so I'm hoping that when tomorrow morning comes she will still be there. Unfortunately, I will have to do a bit more work on it tomorrow in order to make it safer before we get any more high winds.
22 February - A sigh of relief this morning - After yesterday's activity I was anxious to watch to the images from the Robin box. Recording started at 7am, and although the image is almost completely obstructed by leaves, I turned the volume up and listened. There was no sign of activity for nearly two hours, but just when I was beginning to fear the worst, at 8.53am there was the unmistakeable sound of a bird entering the box. In the five minutes since then I think so has been in and out of there several times and I have just heard her shuffling. All is well!
Hopefully the installation of a second rope will go just as smoothly later today - that was a job postponed, thanks to the rain and my feeling a bit weary!
I don't think there were any visits to the Tit box today, not surprisingly on a miserable, wet day.
24 February - There was some activity at the Robin box this morning, and them everything went quiet until the late afternoon when I heard her enter the box around 4.30pm.
There was a brief inspection of the Tit box from outside the entrance this morning, the first for a few days. Both Great Tits were in the garden for much of the day.
Yesterday I fitted the second rope around the Ivy tree and this afternoon I tied the ends together. Tomorrow I must hammer a fixing point into the ground at the side of the West Wing, and get the rope secured. Based on today's behaviour, I will do that in the afternoon.
28 February - We are in an 'in between' stage at the moment. I can see very little in the cctv image from the Robin box, but I do hear the occasional sounds of her leaving and returning. She must be incubating by now, and its frustrating not being able to see more of her.
However, the postman delivered another cctv camera this morning which I aim to put to use monitoring the entrance as soon as I can sort out a water-proof housing for it, and certainly before the eggs hatch. The camera has some clever electronics that help it to grab images under extremely low light levels - that will prove invaluable as the nest entrance is in deep shadow at all times. I tested it as dusk fell this afternoon, and with a telephoto lens mounted, from the house it allowed us to see frogs at the far end of the pond when it was too dark to see them with the naked eye!
As for the Great Tits, they continue to feed and sing in the garden but I haven't seen them visit the box over the last three days.
As I said in the garden diary, I have made a new pair of Starling nestboxes. I hope to put them up tomorrow. Once they are in place I will be blocking off the entrances to the Swift boxes to prevent the Starlings from continuing to use them for roosting and nest building in the next month or so. The new boxes will only be a short distance away on the same wall so I'm optimistic the move will take place.
The nest step will be to clean out the Swift boxes and modify the entrances, correcting the mistake I made last Spring.
Click on the images to see larger versions -