The 2008 Nestbox Diary
January to March
21 February - The Starling cameras are fully functional again. In addition to replacing the camera in box R, I also removed and checked the other camera. This had not been invaded, but I took the opportunity of inserting a foam barrier around the sensor before replacing the lens. Hopefully I won't have to touch those cameras again this season.
22 February - Today I replaced the House Martin nests, coating each one with a new layer of mud and using mud (worm casts - the mud is already fine graded so you just need to add water!) to seal the gap between each nest and the wooden frame. The job should be finished, but I've decided that I need to remove nest 1 again to make adjustments to the directions in which the two IR LEDs are pointing.
The Starlings' routine has been the same as usual with them awake around 6am, out around 7am, making numerous visits between 7 and 9.30am, and then returning in the late afternoon, the female first (into box R) at 4.45pm and the male into box L at just after 5pm.
There were no visits between boxes tonight, and no serenades. However I'm including a short recording of the male's response to a car horn being sounded outside our house at just before 6.30pm.
Both birds had their heads tucked under their wings (pic 1) and were disturbed by the sudden noise (pic 2). The male made the two rather plaintive calls (of protest?!) heard on the recording, and within a minute they had both resumed their sleeping postures (pic 3). You can hear the short recording by clicking here.
I have heard a similar response on previous nights, but wasn't recording the cctv feed at the time.
Judging by previous observations, I think that the bird crouching in the corner with its beak open is likely to be the male.
I've only just got around to checking the video recordings for the last two days. They show that although great Tit did look into the box two days ago, neither then nor yesterday did one go inside.
The Starlings are getting earlier, leaving the boxes at around 6.56am on the 23rd, and 6.43am both yesterday and this morning, They are not returning any later than in previous reports. Over these last three days the female at arrived in box Rat 4.36pm, 4.18pm, and 4.20pm, the male in box L at 4.46pm, 4.46pm and 4.40pm.
I have finished sorting out the cameras in the nestboxes around the house. The LEDs in the House Martin nest 1 have been realigned (as has one in the lower Swift box), and all three Martin nests have been given an additional rough coating of mud! Next, I will turn my attention to improving the image from the side view camera in the Tit box - an after dark task to be done in the next day or so.
26 February - On a bright, but blustery day there were no visits to the Tit box.
The Starlings started their day by becoming active by 5.55am and leaving the boxes at just before 7am. Then there was a gap of 55 minutes before the morning visits started. These continued, with both birds involved, until just after 9am. During that period, there was a bit of 'new' behaviour - the male spent two sessions of vigorous pecking at the entrance of box L, once while his partner was busy pecking at the floor of box R.
When she entered box R at 5.23pm she was followed into box R by the male. She pecked at him as he entered and the two had a brief but violent encounter before the male puffed out his feathers, and sang for a short time before heading back into box L.
After that, both birds settled down for the night.
As I indicated yesterday, tonight I changed the camera used to give the side view of the Tit box. The replacement camera has a larger sensor and can be programmed to compensate for the bright area around the entrance. I will probably need to make further adjustments once I've seen it in action tomorrow.
27 February - the first bits of nest material are brought in.
The Starlings made an early start, active by 6am and out from their boxes at 6.43am. By 7am they were visiting both boxes and at 7.32am the female brought into box R a piece of dead leaf (possibly a fragment of bamboo leaf).
Over the next hour a couple more small bits were also brought in, although a couple of them were also removed, one by the male. I also saw what has to be described as a half-hearted shuffle by the female who was more concerned with the business of removing debris from the floor of the box.
The visits ceased just after 9am and as usual the boxes then remained unoccupied until the later afternoon.
Unusually, it was the male who first appeared in box R, just briefly, at just after 4pm. Then there was another gap before the female popped into box R at 5.10pm and left again. It was 5.30pm before both birds reappeared, spending several minutes together in box R before the male headed back into box L and they settled down to roost from 5.45pm onwards.
Their time together was a rather tense affair with a few pecks exchanged, although it didn't descend into anything worst.
Down at the other end of the garden, the Great Tits didn't enter their box today, but it was inspected from the entrance twice, first at 9.53am and then at 4.48pm.
I hope that I've sorted out the camera adjustments in the Tit box now. This picture shows the quad cctv image that I am seeing (at 9.50pm) as I write this tonight, with the Starlings well and truly settled for the night.
The colours in the two Tit box images are now more closely matched than previously, but without having this image available to me when I'm at the box I cannot make more precise adjustments.
Also, the brightness levels are better matched. It isn't obvious in the image, but there is a neutral density filter in place between the lens and the box entrance - it works better than the camera's own back-lighting compensation in the extreme conditions found here in the mornings.
I should point out that the Tit boxes would not normally be this bright at night. The daytime LED lighting is on continuously at the moment while I make my final checks of the cameras. Once I'm satisfied with that task, the LEDs will be controlled by a timer/dimmer arrangement so that they will only be on during the day, leaving the box only dimly lit at night in a way that has not caused the birds any problems in past years.
The image also shows the arrangement that I'm recording each day at the moment (from 5am until 7pm). The image of the Female Starling with the leaf was cropped from such an image, which is why it is of a lower resolution than the second image of the pair this evening.
28 February - My monitoring of the nestboxes has been a bit intermittent today as I tried to do some reconnecting of leads, but I was able to record events in both the morning and evening.
This morning the male was active by 6am and his partner by 6.15am, and they were out of the boxes by 6.45am. Between 7am and 9am both birds visited both boxes more frequently than on previous mornings. There was one violent encounter when the female entered box R and found her partner already inside - he left rather quickly!
The female arrived back in box R at 5.10pm. Her partner was nearby and can just be seen at the entrance in pic 1.
She soon left box R and entered box L (pic 2), and almost straight away the male entered box R (pic 3).
After spending just a short time in box R he then headed into box L, entering in an aggressive way (pic 4), and attacking the female.
This continued until after dusk, but even then the male went to the entrance several times.
Once it was dark, they started to calm down, settling side by side at the end of the box. Beaks were still being used occasionally until after 7pm, although the thrusts seemed to be more random. As I write this both birds have their heads tucked under their wings and all is peaceful...
Another day goes by without a Great Tit entering their box (or at least, not while I was able to monitor the box), although one did look into the box at 8.15am.
29 February - After last night's squabbling this morning was surprisingly peaceful in the Starlings' box.
After that the pair simply got on with the business of preening while it was still dark outside.
As dawn arrived they took turns looking out, and at 6.35am a peck on its rear end helped the male to decide to leave. The female left two minutes later.
The morning visits started at 7.11am and continued until 9.35am.
This afternoon the weather went downhill and it became dull, breezy and with light rain. Perhaps because of this the female Starling returned to box R before 4.30pm, although it was 4.50pm before the male returned, heading straight into box L. The two birds settled down for the night straight away.
The video recordings showed that there were no visits to the Tit box today. However, at 9.30am I watched from our bedroom window as the pair flew into the garden and seemed to take turns to perch within a couple of feet of the box for several minutes before heading to the other end of the garden to feed.
Click on the images to see larger versions -