The 2009 Nestbox Diary
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16 June - We have been away for the last three weeks, mostly in Cornwall after spending a few days in South Wales on a family visit. Now that we are home again, the diary should get back to normal over the next few days.
Unfortunately, while everything was working when we left, it seems that the laptop running the webcam must have crashed soon afterwards and so it hasn't been possible for you to follow progress in the nestboxes, particularly the Great Tits.
However, I have been recording activity in the nest boxes and I hope to be able to add a summary soon. The Great Tits' second clutch seems to have done well and tonight there are five healthy looking chicks and their mum in the box. It looks as though the chicks are just about ready to fledge.
The Starling boxes haven't been used since the first brood, and the House Martin nests remain unused, with not even a Blue Tit roosting tonight.
The Swift boxes offer a bit of a mystery. The CD of Swift calls has been playing every day during our absence, but tonight the two boxes are unoccupied. However, a lot of extra straw has been brought into the upper box, and the lower box also shows signs of being visited. A quick check back through the time-lapse recording reveals that there have been no visits by Swifts so far, and it is House Sparrows that are responsible for the changes seen in the boxes. A Sparrow has also been in the left-hand Starling box.
There were at least ten Swifts flying low over us this evening so despite the presence of Sparrows, I will continue to play Swifts calls until the Swifts finally depart.
17 June - A bit of catching up -
The Great Tits' second brood of five eggs was laid between the 16th and 19th May. After what appeared to be an uneventful incubation, the first chicks hatched on 31 May.
The first made its debut at 5.13am. The second chick was seen for the first time at 5.54am.
It was 9.41am before the mum was seen to be eating the shell of a third chick, although the chick itself wasn't visible until 10.04am.
After that, there were no further hatchings that day.
The next day (1 June), there were still just three chicks at 6.30am. At 6.56am the mum delved down into the nest cup and brought up a large portion of a shell, and when she left the nest eight minutes later a fourth chick was revealed.
After that there was a long wait before the fifth chick split its shell in half and emerged at 6.20pm.
The sixth egg is of course the infertile reminder of the first brood.
While I have recorded just under ten hours of activity in the box for each day during our absence I haven't got time to go through every recording in detail, so I'm reducing the report to just a few pictures -
First, this image was recorded on 7 June, and shows that all five chicks are looking healthy a week into their progress towards fledging.
Note that the infertile egg is still present.
Tonight the chicks are still with us, and all look very healthy, and I'm not able to tell which one was the last to hatch. In fact I think they look in better condition that the first brood did at this stage.
There has been a great deal of wing flapping all through the day and some short flights have taken place.
One left the youngster perched up between the top camera and the lighting for a short time before it rejoined its siblings. I'd be very surprised if they are still in the box tomorrow evening.
In past years the mother has sometimes left the chicks alone overnight at this stage, but she is in the nest with them tonight.
The mystery of the changes in the Swift boxes has been solved - a House Sparrow. This is the first time that a Sparrow has shown a serious interest in nesting in these boxes, so there must be a shortage of nesting space locally. I know that there were Sparrows in my neighbours' roof space before the Swifts returned there, so perhaps my boxes are offering an alternative venue.
However, I may be a bit premature as there isn't a bird in either box overnight, so we may still be looking at the early stages of nesting.
Until the Great Tits fledge I'm not able to record larger images from the Swift boxes, but it is obvious from these pictures that a lot of work has gone on in the upper box. House Sparrows usually construct a domed nest which can make it very difficult to use a nest box camera.
While there is no sign of similar construction in the lower box, additional straw has been brought in.
While I wasn't able to identify the sex of the bird in the upper box, it was only a male that was seen in the lower box, and he was obviously working on nest construction.
A male Sparrow also visited House Martin box 1 twice during the day.
Not having followed Sparrow nesting before I will be interested in what happens over the weeks to come, nest construction permitting!
Once the Great Tits have fledged I will be rearranging the webcam once more to give the Swift boxes priority, just in case the Sparrows do actually nest. It should also allow me to capture better quality still images from those boxes.
18 June - Just a brief note to say that the Great Tit chicks are still with us at the end of the day. However, mum is roosting elsewhere tonight so perhaps they will fledge tomorrow.
19 June - Fledging: part 1
It seems that fledging is going to be a reflection of the hatching, spread over two(?) days.
This morning the first chick headed out at 7.57am, with it heading out almost immediately after a parent had been in with food.
Although another chick did start fluttering its wings straight afterwards, it was nearly an hour before the second chick fledged at 8.53am.
Again, this departure closely followed the deliver of first a food pellet and then a green caterpillar.
The third, and last fledging of the day took place at 11.30am. This time, a chick looked as though it was on its way out when the process was interrupted by the arrival of a parent.
However, that chick took no interest in the food on offer, and while the adult was still present it flew up to the top of the box.
Once the adult had left the chick made several approaches to the entrance before it finally headed outside.
Through the rest of the day the remaining pair of chicks showed no interest in following their siblings, and tonight they are once again alone in the nest, staying close together, mostly side by side.
The House Sparrow male(s?) has been busy in both Swift and both Starling boxes, but didn't visit the House Martin nests today. The Swifts have still to visit their boxes, but late this evening I stood outside and watched a group of ten of them screaming and swooping low between the houses around us. I definitely saw one make a very close pass by the boxes, so my fingers remain firmly crossed.
20 June - Fledging completed at the end of a successful second brood by the Great Tits
After the two chicks had spent the night close together (and watched over by a P. phalangioides spider!), one received its first feed at 5.14am.
The pair went on to receive 20 feeds before 7am. Between 7-8am there were 8 feeds, followed by nine in the next hour.
In the next half hour there was just one more parental visit, and after 9.30am one of the pair became much more restless.
At one stage it looked as though it was about to leave when an adult arrived outside. It didn't come into the box, and soon as it left the fourth chick fledged at 9.49am.
As its companion flapped around the box and prepared to leave, the fifth chick remained very quietly in the nest cup. However, as soon as it was on its own it too became active, making practice take-offs.
Then it produced a last faecal sac, and after a couple of approaches to the exit it finally departed at 9.52am to bring the second brood to a successful end, at least as far as nest time is concerned.
However, it wasn't quite the end as a couple of minutes later their mum appeared at the entrance with food in her beak.
When she saw the nest was empty she immediately entered the box and, with a caterpillar still in her beak, she collected the faecal sac and left.
It was five minutes later when the male appeared, also with a caterpillar in his beak. In contrast to the female, he hesitated form some time in the box, looking down into the nest cup and appearing quite confused by the empty box.
Since he left none of the family have returned to the box (written at 1.40pm).
It has been an interesting, if somewhat frustrating nesting season for the Great Tits, with the rather disappointing first brood losses, but this group of fledglings appeared to be in much better condition than the first brood so I'm more optimistic that at least a couple of them should make it through to next year.
Up in the other boxes it's been a rather quiet day after a couple of hours of Sparrow activity after dawn and a visit into Starling box R by a juvenile Starling at around 8.15am. Again the House Martin nests remain silent.
Following on from the activity I'm seeing in the Swift and Starling boxes have I have decided to switch the webcam to cover just those boxes for the moment:
The quality of the images isn't great. I hope I can make some adjustments, but I don't expect to improve things very much until I can once again gain access to the boxes.
- Click on the images to see larger versions -