The 2008 Nestbox Diary
April - part 2
7 April - The first Great Tit egg is laid.
I will have more details when I've gone through the recordings.
They may have lost the race, but as I write this at 7.30am both Starlings are busy nest building.
Soon after 5am it was obvious that the Great Tit female was getting close to laying. She was restless and settling down in the nest cup in all directions.
Finally, she stopped the turning around 5.11am and became quite still. By 5.20am she had her head head down and was breathing heavily.
As the next two minutes went by, she first started to raise her body. Then her head came up, her rear end rose even higher and she held that position for a short time.
At this time (5.22am) the only sign that the egg had been laid was that she suddenly relaxed a bit, tucking her head down once more.
For the next forty minutes or so she rested. The male could be heard from around 5.50am onwards by she didn't respond to his calls until she did just once just after 6am.
Although she did look out just after that interaction, a better chance to see the egg came at 6.15am when she climbed out of the nest cup and perched in the corner before heading for the exit.
I took this picture of the nest cup at around 11am, the earliest that felt it safe to approach the box, with neither Great Tit to be seen or heard in the garden.
Since then the while nest cup has been more or less hidden by further deliveries of bedding (with more brought in since the second of these images was captured).
This evening the female returned to the nest at 7.05pm. She spent the next ten minutes or so doing shuffles and flicking the blue bits about the box before finally settling down for the night.
As this quad image shows, shortly before 7.30pm it looked as though both Starlings were thinking about roosting here.
However, after 20 minutes during which both birds were going in and out of the boxes, by 7.50pm it was only the female who remained, roosting in box R tonight.
8 April - A second egg - I think!
At just after 5.10am the Great tit was obviously getting ready to lay. She was holding her body straight and breathing heavily. At 5.13am the rear of her body rose up, she held that position for a short time, and then relaxed.
She has been very quiet, none of the clicks I have got used to hearing in previous nesting seasons.
There are no cctv images to confirm the second egg as she had completely covered them before leaving the box at 6.13am.
There seems to be a greater sense of urgency in the Starlings' box this morning, with both birds visiting frequently.
While twigs are still being brought in there is more emphasis on 'finer' bits, and leaves.
In fact, as I look at the nest at 8.30am, for the first time I'm unable to see the wooden floor of the box.
It looks as though egg laying for the Starlings is not far off!
Our Great Tit female was back in the box at 7.04pm and soon settled down for the night after playing 'ping-pong' with one of the blue bits for several minutes, and taking time to check on the unseen eggs.
Going back to earlier in the day, I took a couple of photographs of the nest to record the amount of hair being used. This is the nest cup, now lined with lots of fine white hair on top of the brown hair that definitely appears to be coarser.
It doesn't look as though the female Starling is preparing to lay tomorrow morning. After looking as though she was going to roost in box R tonight, as darkness fell she moved across to box L, where she has stayed.
As with the previous two eggs, this one was laid in silence. The picture shows her at the moment of laying, with her body all fluffed up, her rear end raised, and her breathing heavily.
Another frosty morning meant that she was careful to completely cover the eggs before leaving, so there was no chance to confirm that an egg had been laid.
That state of affairs continued all day, and until after the female returned in the evening. Having tended to the eggs and done a bit of shuffling she suddenly left the box after the male called from nearby.
The ping-pong games continue nearly every time she settles down in the nest, and these three frames illustrate what I mean, with the lump of blue fluff being flung left and right several times before eventually ending up at the front of the box.
The Starlings had another busy session this morning. The female left box L at about 6.15am. It was 6.40am when the male appeared, going into box R with a small twig.
For the next forty minutes there were frequent visits with lots of small bits brought in, and then in the period up to 8am the pair brought in quite a few bigger (what looks like) grass leaves.
After that the box fell quiet with only a few visits through the rest of the day. Tonight, as I write this at 8.25pm the female has been in box R for the last hour and looks as though she is staying there tonight.
She seems to have settled much more quickly tonight, and I can't help but wonder if this is a prelude to her first egg being laid.
10 April - Great Tit egg #4 is laid, but the Starlings still wait.
This morning the Great Tit nearly caught me out. I had started recording images from the box at 4.30am, plenty early enough based on past experience, but the first few minutes of the recording showed that the female was obviously preparing to lay.
There was a short pause before her tail dropped as the rear of her body was raised as she laid her fourth egg at just after 4.36am.
As soon as the egg had been laid she relaxed again and tucked her head back under, staying this way for some time before making any other adjustments.
Later on I caught just a glimpse of one of the eggs as she got up out of the nest cup, but they were completely covered by the time she left the box.
I had wondered if the Starling would have laid this morning, but it seems that we have a little longer to wait.
Compared with yesterday, the nest cup is now looking well defined, so it cannot be long before that first egg appears.
This evening the Starling has decided to roost in box L again - I'll be interested to see if she moves back across in the morning. Last year the female laid her first egg after 9am, so I'll be on an extended watch!
The Great Tit female was back in their box at 7.09pm, and there were no opportunities to see the eggs.
11 April - Just a short entry today. First of all, I have to assume that another Great Tit egg (#5) would have been laid this morning. I have looked through my recordings, which started at 4am, and I think it was laid at around 4.38am after the female had kept very straight and still for about ten minutes. However, it certainly wasn't as obvious as on previous mornings.
Tonight she was back in the box soon after 7pm and I will be watching again tomorrow morning.
We still wait for the first Starling egg. Again tonight she looked as though she was settling down in box R but then switched to box L to roost.
12 April - While deciding if/when the Great Tit laid an egg this morning is uncertain, even after I watched the early morning recordings several times, the Starling seemed to get close, but then failed to deliver!
The female Starling returned to box R at 7.17am and was soon perched at the edge of the nest cup as though she was getting ready to lay. However, she left soon afterwards and was away until around 8am when she spent a while organising the nest cup, turning frequently as she appeared to be shaping it.
Perched at the side of the nest cup, her breathing became slow and heavy, at around 52 breaths per minute. She moved around to face the front of the box and her breathing became even more pronounced.
This carried on for over eight minutes before she was disturbed by another bird appearing at the entrance. However she was soon perched over the rim again, although this time she didn't remain still for long as she was disturbed again.
This time she didn't return to the nest cup but continued the heavy breathing (which by now was over 80 breaths per minute) at the other end of the box, beak slightly open and body obviously straining.
There were several more position changes before 9.47am when she suddenly decided to leave, with no egg laid.
During the day she visited the box numerous times, bringing in more bits of the nest. I took this photograph of her at 12.50pm.
Tonight as I write this at just after 8.30pm she is in next R, perched on the edge of the nest cup , looking towards the entrance - I'm waiting to see if she decided to move next door before the last of the evening light is lost.
At 9.15pm she is still in box R, but is still 'on her feet' near the entrance, breathing down to between 40-45 breaths per minute.
I shall be recording the images from this box throughout the night to see if she finally lays an egg tomorrow morning.
13 April - The Starlings' first egg, and the Great Tits' 7th -
Laid between 8.56am when the female Starlingentered the box, and 9.10am when I caught this first glimpse of it.
A few more details to follow later.
Not too many details after all as it turned into a bit of a hectic day in the Jones household. The female Starling left the box at 6.41am having gone through a sequence similar to that I described yesterday morning. The male appeared around 7.16am and had a shuffle in the nest. After several short visits, the female arrived in the box again at 8.56am and this time she settled down into the nest cup. As I mentioned already, the egg was laid sometime between then and 9.10am.
Unlike the Great Tit eggs, it was visible on the webcam quite frequently during the day.
The Female Great Tit laid an egg at 5.05am this morning - that should be her seventh. Looking again at yesterday's morning recording I'm now satisfied that she laid her sixth egg at 4.54am.
During the afternoon while the female was away the male Great Tit came to the entrance several times, looked in, and called quite loudly.
A few minutes later he appeared again, and this time he entered the nest and passed to her what was a tiny morsel.
Afterwards, when it seemed that he had stayed too long she gave him a peck. He left, and she settled down for the night.
It was as she did this that I noticed that there were quite a few, what appear to be small blue feathers scattered across the nest. They look awfully like Blue Tit body feathers - has she been plucking a dead Blue Tit?
14 April - Egg #8(?) for the Great Tits was laid at around 4.57am. As usual, there is no visual confirmation of the egg but the video showed the moment quite clearly.
At 4.56am as she was preparing to lay, her body and head were straightened so that the while flash was central (top/middle-left images). Then, her body was lowered and her tail started to flick up (middle-right image).
Finally, her tail dropped down, her head was brought up and she arched her back high as the egg was laid (bottom-right image).
You know that it's all over when she tucks her head back into her plumage and goes back to sleep!
As I write this at 8.45am it looks as though the female Starling is preparing to lay her second egg. She has settled into the nest cup and didn't budge when the male came blundering in!
The mystery of the 'blue feathers' has been solved - they are neither!
Here is the Great Tit nest as it looks this morning. The clumps are of hair and not feather, and while there may be a hint of blue about some of them in the photograph,
as this closer view shows, they range in colour from white to grey, with a touch of various browns.
The picture includes one of the blue bits that the female seems to have tired of playing with.
The Starling's preparations for egg-laying were interrupted several times by her partner's arrival in the box, but an egg was eventually laid soon after 10am.
It is seen here being inspected by the male.
The female has been in the box quite a lot
this morning since the egg was laid, sitting on the eggs for short periods
even though I would expect her to lay at least five eggs before incubation
really gets under way - and unlike the Great Tit female she leaves the eggs
uncovered when she leaves.
A treat at the end of the afternoon as the Great Tit leaves some of the eggs uncovered after a visit , confirming the presence of at least five eggs. The photograph was taken via the mirror that I described and put into place back on the third of April.
To give an idea of scale for this photograph, the BTO page on Great Tits states that an egg measures 18 x 14mm and weighs around 1.7g.
We now have the largest clutch of eggs yet in this nestbox, and her long absences during the day indicate that there is at least one more to expect.
Unfortunately the depth of the nest cup defeats my attempts to get a photograph of the whole clutch, and this was the best I could manage by using the mirror.
The Starling also laid this morning, at around 9am, after which she has been away from the nest all day, apart form a few visits by her and her partner.
As I write this at 8.30am she is sitting on the eggs, and she has been fed at least once.
The big question now is 'has she finished laying?'. She sat on the eggs for a while yesterday morning before leaving them uncovered for the rest of the day - will that happen today?
I haven't had chance to capture an image yet, but I can also confirm that the Starling has also laid another egg, her fourth.
Again, when I visited the box I could only see six of the eggs via the mirror. Rather than repeat a similar picture to the one I posted yesterday, I thought I would concentrate on just one of the eggs this morning, to show more clearly the blotchy mature of the red speckles.
Since my first report, the Great Tit Female has spent much of the time sitting, so it looks as though the incubation phase has begun. This means that with the weather not playing any drastic tricks, and all else being well, we can look forward hatching taking place in the last couple of days of the month (after 13-14 days). Looking forward from then, it means that the chicks should fledge somewhere around 18-20 May.
To reinforce that incubation is under way, the male brought in what looks like a chrysalis for his partner at 10.13am, having brought her a small green caterpillar/larva earlier.
It is still possible that she could lay at least one more egg!
Even though she is seen leaving the next in this image, the female Starling may also have started incubating, and with the incubation period for her eggs being about 13 days, it seems that we have another race on our hands.
I would still expect another egg to be laid tomorrow.
A lunchtime snap of the nest cup showing nine of the ten Great Tit eggs.
17 April - No more Great Tit eggs laid this morning, but while that female has settled down into the business of incubating her eggs, with just the occasional visit by her partner and trip out, the female Starling has produced her fifth egg.
I think it was laid quite late, but I will need to check my recordings to confirm that.
I haven't pinpointed exactly when the egg was laid, but it was soon after 10am.
When it comes to incubating, a major difference between the behaviour of the Starlings and the Great Tits is revealed in this next image recorded shortly after 10.30am.
After she had recovered from laying her fifth egg the female headed out of the box at around 10.20am. Immediately as she left the male entered the box and settled on the eggs. This picture records a moment during a long pause after the female returned, and before the male decided to leave.
It was a quiet change-over with no impatient aggression shown by the female.
We see the male Great Tit in the box from time to time, but it is only to bring food to his partner - no incubation duties for him!
Last night some of you may have noticed that for a while there were no images on the webcam from the 'look-down' camera in the Great Tit box. This left me puzzled last night and I got up this morning ready to check video connections out in the garden, and the camera power supply (no chance of checking the camera itself). However, when I switched on the monitors it seemed to be working fine and has continued to do so all day. I fear a bad connection, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it is in an accessible spot.
Another problem seems to be literally (in the photographic sense) flaring up in the Starling box. As the year progresses and the sunset creeps further and further northwards along the horizon the box starts to be illuminated evening sunshine. This evening, sunlight striking dust (or mites!) on the camera lens virtually blinded the camera for a while. Tomorrow I intend to get my ladder out, and when I know that neither Starling is present I shall give the lens a quick wipe over.
Last year I had problems with mites finding their way inside the camera. Subsequently, I sealed the camera and I'm hoping that this time the problem is only on the outside!
Click on the images to see larger versions -