The 2008 Nestbox Diary
April - part 1
1 April - A wet start to the day had me wondering what had happened to the Met Office forecast of a sunny day, but by 10am the skies had brightened, with sunshine and a stiff breeze.
The damp start meant that the Great Tit female didn't appear in the box until about 7.50am, but since then she has been in quite frequently. The Starling box, in contrast, is very quiet, with only a few visits seen up to 10.30am (although I still need to check the recording to see what happened early this morning).
One nice moment occurred in the GT box a short while ago when the male actually entered the box to take a look at progress and was followed in by his partner.
Before he left the pair 'posed' (with the male on the left) for a very suitable image with which to start the month.
Although it may not be obvious from the webcam image, the female has been quite busy today. She continues to collect most of the materials that she is using from the slope up to the West Wing, which is just a couple of yards from the box.
For the first time since the female started work on her nest, this afternoon we have seen her take a couple of rest periods while in the box.
By the end of the day, the bottom of the box was covered.
The overall height of the nest doesn't seem much different to what it was twenty four hours ago, but that belies the amount of moss and root brought in today (and compacted by frequent shuffles).
The go-slow in the Starling box continues with only limited activity today. A few bits, and a feather have been brought in but as the image shows, there is little to show for their addition.
And tonight, yet again the female is the only bird roosting in the boxes.
The male does turn up during the day, and at least once the pair met up in box R, but they are still waiting for that trigger moment that switches nest making into high gear.
I hoped to be able to capture a clearer image, but I'm afraid that they were moving too quickly.
Most of the time they were bringing in just small twigs, but I also saw an Oak leaf and bits from the conifers beyond the bottom of the garden.
The deliveries were interspersed with shuffles as the area below the camera was kept clear.
By noon there was clear evidence of the effort the pair had put in during the morning, and the progress made since yesterday.
The Great Tit female has also continued with her nest building. It was moss and a few roots during the morning, but during the afternoon while I wasn't recording a full frame image of the box, she obviously decided on something different.
It looks very much like animal hair, but I'll take a better look tonight.
Another higher resolution still image of the nest, taken tonight really shows the progress made today, with the moss etc building up high sides around the nest cup,
which can be seen more clearly in this second image, and you can see the clumps added this afternoon.
They could be plant material, but they certainly do look like coarse hair, possibly dog hair - I need to take a closer look at a couple of strands.
As for the Starlings tonight, the female continues to roost alone in box R.
I've just seen a weather forecast which does not look too encouraging for birds that are nesting at the moment. It seems that winds are swinging around to the North so that temperatures are going to drop again during the weekend.
Late News! I can confirm that the Great Tit has found a source of hair. Under a microscope I can see the scaly outer layer, or cuticle that is a characteristic of hair. The coarseness of the strands does suggest dog, and they seem to have cut ends, suggesting that someone nearby has given their pet a haircut!
Tomorrow morning I may try taking a microphotograph of the sample I removed from the nest. that may not be too successful as the lenses on my microscope are rather basic ones - something to do an eBay upgrade on at some point!
3 April - Those of you who are following the webcam will have noticed that the image is now slightly larger. I hope that the change hasn't caused anyone problems!
Despite the weather reports talking about it being sunny today, we had grey skies all day, although it has stayed quite mild at 14C (12C at 8.30pm!).
Here, they arrived in quick succession, both carrying twigs, and there wasn't an angry squawk heard! In fact there have been very few of the noisy, argumentative encounters that marked such encounters before nest building commenced.
There is no sign of other Starlings about at the moment.
This image of the nest at the end of the afternoon shows how the thickness is building up. I have seen the occasional piece of lichen and leaf brought in but they have disappeared into the mass of twigs every time there is a shuffle.
The female is alone again tonight.
In the Great Tit box, the dog hair is now being organised into a lining for the nest cup.
More hair was brought in today but I only saw one bit of moss delivered. In fact, if you compare this with yesterday's image you will see that the moss and roots at the sides have hardly been disturbed today.
By holding the camera at a steeper angle I can just about see down into the nest cup, but I wouldn't expect to see the eggs when they are laid.
To get around this problem, this evening I have introduced another bit of kit into the camera area behind the glass.
Seen here before being put into place, it is a front-silvered mirror mounted on an extendable/hinged arm. It has to be a front-silvered mirror as a normal mirror will produce double images.
My 'photographer's assistant' illustrates how it works. Very simply I position the mirror so that it allows me to look down onto the nest - not quite a vertical view, but close enough to ensure that I can see at least most of the eggs.
The picture I get has to be flipped vertically to correct the reverse image.
If you look back through my 2006 Nestbox Diary you will see how I used this technique successfully in 2006 to take photographs of the Great Tits' eggs and the early stages of development of their chicks. I'm hoping it will work as well this time.
The mirror is now in place and this is a test image, showing the very scruffy nest cup tonight.
4 April - For much of a warm, sunny day the boxes were strangely quiet. However, there was some activity in the morning, and the Starling box has gained a little more depth, with the clear area getting smaller.
Again, while the male was about to help with the building, he had disappeared by this evening and the female is roosting alone again.
For a while after returning (just after 7.30pm tonight) she takes a while to settle down, spending time by the entrance as though she is looking out for her partner.
Progress in the Great Tits' nest has all been concerned with bringing in soft padding for the nest cup and organising it.
The last time they nested here, nest building started on 4 April and the first egg was laid on the 12th, eight days later. Looking at my pictures of that nest, I would think a couple more days of searching out 'soft stuff' may be needed before this year's nest is quite ready!
Unfortunately, this weekend may bring a touch of the wrong sort of soft stuff in the form of snow if the forecasters have got it correct, and that after the temperature was over 16C today!
There were a couple of interruptions to the webcam during the afternoon, one due to me not reconnecting a lead properly, but the first was necessary while I did a bit of a reorganisation following the arrival this morning of a different multiplexer (eBay again!).
This one will allow me to monitor all nine nest boxes on one screen, and together with the bits I already use it gives me more flexibility when it come to recording and grabbing images for the diary.
5 April - Another day on which activity has been at a quite low level in both Starling and Great Tit boxes. However, that doesn't mean it has been uninteresting!
The Female Starling left her box at 6.32am. The male made his first appearance at 7am, at the same time as the female Great Tit made her first visit with a clump of hair(?) in her beak.
The Great Tit male turned up to look into (but not enter) their box at 7.44am, and it was 7.55am before the female brought in some more 'soft stuff'.
Just over five minutes later she was back with another beakful, and this time performed the only proper shuffle of the morning.
Just after she stopped, the male Starling did the same thing in their box.
Over the next hour the female Great Tit made two more deliveries, and then at 9.20am, when I wasn't around(!) she reappeared again, this time with a lump of something blue in her beak.
She put it down, but then proceeded to shake it apart, scattering bits around the box. Sheila, who was within earshot tells me that it was a very noisy session.
A little later in the morning I was watching when she returned to the box, this time with hair(?) in her beak. However, once she had put that down she attacked the blue bits again, flinging them about, all over the box, with a repeat of some of the noise she had made the first time.
This time I was recording sounds from the nest and you can hear her by clicking here . The recording starts as she enters the box and lasts just under 30 seconds and has a file size of 455KB). Originally the sequence lasted some 50 seconds, but has had periods of silence partially edited out.
Here is a closer view of the blue stuff, which appears to be a mass of synthetic fibres.
I can't help but wonder of the female's behaviour is somehow linked to the familiar blue colour of the fibres - very close to that of the Blue Tit. If it is aggression that she is displaying, then why bring the fibres into the box in the first place? Is there a difference in how she perceives the colour in daylight and then in the artificial lighting inside the box?
At 6.30pm, during a surprise late visit we had a repeat performance from her - I'll be interested to see if the behaviour continues tomorrow.
Outside, the promised northerly wind is getting stronger, making it feel quite a bit colder than the outside temperature of nearly 8C would suggest.
I will add up-to-date pictures of the two nests later this evening, if the female Great Tit doesn't decide to move in this evening, something that is likely to happen in the next day or so.
Late news - There will be no evening visits to the Great Tit box as the female has moved in!
Just after 7.20pm she suddenly turned up and spent the next few minutes making herself comfortable. However, her partner was being very vocal outside and she decided to leave. The main lighting turns off at 7.30pm so when she returned again at 7.35pm it was dark in the box, with only the low level lighting that is on permanently.
In the combined image you can also see the female Starling in box R. She went into box R at around 7.35pm, having originally gone into box L where she chased out the male when he arrived just after her.
Even after the Great Tit female had entered the dark box, the male continues to be quite noisy outside, and several times over the next five minutes he appeared at the box entrance, before finally heading for his own roosting spot.
Finally, the low lighting levels will make it difficult to make out the female in the webcam image once she is sleeping, and her head is tucked down.
The best things to look for are the white patch at the back of her neck (with a black border on one side) and the straight shape of the tail. The rest of her simply blends into the nest.
The big question has now changed from 'when will she stay in the nest overnight?' to 'will we see the first egg tomorrow?'. With snow forecast for the morning, I look forward to dawn with mixed feelings.
Around 9.30pm someone in the neighbourhood started setting off fireworks. The sudden loud bangs caused the female Starling to be stressed enough to leave box R. Fortunately, the street lighting illuminates the driveway enough for her to find her way into box L where she has remained.
What didn't arrive this morning was an egg.
The female Great Tit was restless by 5.15am, and over the next half-hour the blue bits were thrown about several times (so the behaviour is nothing to do with the LED lighting!), and the small white feather that you can see at the right of this picture received the same treatment.
Then, to my surprise, at 5.48am she left the box.
She was back in at 6.03am, and almost immediately I could hear her partner calling. Several times she responded before settling down again. I had hoped to include a recording of this interaction but haven't had chance to sort it out. Perhaps I will be able to add it later.
The male could be heard almost continuously for the next half hour, appearing briefly at the entrance at 6.13am. Finally, the female responded again to his calls at 6.32am and left with the nest still empty.
There were a few visits, complete with fine bedding, during the day, and at just after 7.20pm the female has returned and appears to be settling in for the night, although as I write this the male is calling form somewhere nearby again and she is responding between flinging the blue bits about again!
At 7.28pm the female Starling has just entered box R after what has also been a quiet day in that box.
Click on the images to see larger versions -