5 Ionawr/5 January 2015
Today I spent a few hours in my workshop finishing off nest boxes that were needing repairs. I had to put new felt on some of my nest boxes that had been erect for a few years. These were taken down last November and hopefully will be put back where they came from.sometime this week or maybe next week. I also managed to give a new Barn Owl nest box a coat of concrete and tomorrow will finish it off with a coat of light pastal green masonry paint. This will also be erect hopefully this week as I have a few volunteers who are keen to help out.
Last evening I put out an sos on facebook asking local people if they knew of any land in Torfaen where I could possibly erect nest boxes. Well the response was increddible and I now have 8 new sites in the pipe line. I have also spoken to the farmer where my Redstart and Pied nest boxes are situated and asked if I could possibly expand my colony to other parts of his farm. It was a great response from Peter, he was very keen for more nest boxes to be erct around his land and he also mentioned that one of his neighbours has asked if it would be possible for my project to erect nest boxes on their land also. So as you can see I am going to be very busy although I must say very excited too.
4 Ionawr/4 January 2015
I often write about the Pied Flycatcher via my website. This is not a coincidence, rather a pure love for this tiny little bird. I first fell in love with this species about 5 years ago whilst visiting a friends nest box site in Powys mid Wales. Since then I always get extremely excited around March time while anticipating their return.
Opposite shows a map of the Pied Flycatchers European nesting breeding range, in red. The green indicates it`s wintering grounds mainly in mid west Africa. As you can see like many other summer visitor`s to the Uk it has miles to fly when returning to the Uk. Pied flycatchers range across most of Europe and into Russia. They winter in southern Europe and West Africa. In the UK, their breeding areas are concentrated in Wales and north-west England. The birds are not recorded as breeding in south-east England.
Flycatchers get their family name from their method of catching insects on the wing. The birds choose a prominent perch from which they make rapid forays after their insect prey.
Pied flycatchers arrive in the UK in April and establish their nests in tree holes or nest boxes. The nest can be anywhere between one and fifteen metres above the ground. Up to eight pale greeny-blue eggs are
laid and both sexes carry out the job of incubation. The eggs hatch after 13 days and the chicks are fed by the parent birds for another two weeks, before the young leave the nest. The birds start their return migration in October. In the UK, pied flycatchers are usually found in upland open mixed deciduous woodland, but are particularly fond of mature oak woods as these trees tend to support rich insect populations.
Above map show the Pied Flycatcher breeding grounds Above image is a Female Pied Flycatcher
The males have a striking plumage consisting of a white underside and black back, black head mask and black primary wing feathers. There is a noticeable white patch on the upper wing and a less conspicuous one on the forehead at the base of the upper part of the bill. Females have a brown back and head mask, while the upper wings and tail are darker grey-brown. The underside is more buff in colour than the striking white of the male. Juvenile birds have similar markings to the female. The birds can vary somewhat in their plumage depending on the local race of the species. There is a closely related bird found in central Europe, Asia Minor and North West Africa called the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). They are very similar in appearance to the pied flycatcher and, where the two species’ ranges overlap, hybrids have been known to occur. The call of the pied flycatcher is a sharp, metallic-sounding ‘pik-pik-pik’ and the song is a melodious high-pitched warble.
The pied flycatcher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as mended) in the UK. Listed as a species of conservation concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green list (low conservation concern).
Pied`s have an uncertain status in the UK. Having extended their British range since the 1940s, their populations are now thought to be stable. However, figures are uncertain as their preferred breeding habitat is not sufficiently well monitored for an accurate population census to be carried out. The initial increase in the population was thought to be the result of more nestboxes being made available, but the bird’s numbers show a slight downward trend based on figures from Welsh sites.The pied flycatcher is a species that appears to be managing to maintain its numbers but which might also prove to be vulnerable. The birds are regular users of nestboxes where these are provided, but they also show a tendency to suffer egg and chick losses due to adverse weather conditions. Where information is available on bird numbers, the populations seem to be fairly stable. However, their upland breeding sites are not being monitored with sufficient regularity to enable an accurate census of the species to take place. As it stands, the bird is currently listed as a species of conservation concern.
1 Ionawr/1 January 2015
So then, here it is, 2015 or at least the start of it. Now I am getting rather excited at the prospect of another warm Spring and another bumper return in terms of nest numbers. Will the Spring weather be favourable for our nesting birds as it was for the past two Springs or will it be like 2010 very cold with snow on the ground up until the end of April. Well fingers crossed it will remain mild up until the start of Spring and hopefully wam up even more and stay dry. I keep pinching myself at the thought of surpassing last years Pied Flycatcher numbers although realistically if I manage double figures I will be happy. If I am fortunate enough to get passed the magic number of 15 I will be ecstatic. Anyway I am getting carried away with myself here so I will leave you with two clips I took of me finishing a few roofs on 20 nest boxes I have been constructing over the past few days or so.
30 Rhagfyr 2014/30 December 14
I must admit that I got rather excited whilst finishing off some of my little Owl Nest boxes this morning in preparation for next week. It dawned on me that we are almost entering January and where my project suddenly gets hectic and a lot mre serious. I also contacted Gavin my fellow project volunteer and reminded him of the fast approaching work load. From reading his text response I think he is just as excited as I am.
This afternoon I made a start on preparing clothing, equipment and getting everything in order for the fast approaching breeding season. The Dipper`s will be pairing up shortly followed by the Tawny Owl`s. These two species are high on my target list and I have numerous nest boxes erect for both species. Starting next week we will be checking on all my Dipper and Grey Wagtail nest boxes to make sure they are all in tact and in full working order.
28 Rhagfyr 2014/28 December 14
Opposite small clip shows how I manage to apply the concrete that I use on all my nest boxes without getting concrete everywhere. The little tool that I use to keep the nest boxes steady is a cheap little vice that I purchased for £3.99 in one of those cheap Ironmonger stores which you can find in most Towns and City`s up and down the Country.
It is absolutley perfect for most size nest boxes although slightly too small for Tawny and Barn Owl nest boxes. This particular vice can actually swivel 360 degrees whilst the main body remains clamped to the table thus enabling me to apply concrete to all sides of the nest box.
26 Rhagfyr 2014/26 December 14
Apologies for the incredibly scary image opposite, although I would just like to say cheers, and a happy boxing day to all my website readers from around the UK and a few around the World. We are approaching the time of year where we will be saying good bye to 2014 and hello 2015. I have to admit 2014 was very favourable to most hole nesting birds especially our Tawny and Barn Owls. I was lucky to have 4 successful clutches of Tawny`s and probably another 5 successful nest boxes although I failed to keep track on them all due to putting more time into my Pied Flycatcher nest boxes.
The highlight of 2014 for me has to be my success with my Pied Flycatcher and Redstart boxes. Firstly it was amazing to introduce two good friends to my Pied Flycatcher world with Paul Joy and Gavin Vella. Neither of my two friends had seen a Pied Flycatcher before so to introduce them to a part of Gwent which at a certain time of year has Pied Flycatchers as it`s dominate species is pretty amazing and so rewarding witnessing their expressions and enthusiasm. Not only did they see Pied Flycatchers for the first time but I also introduced them to Redstarts, Spotted Flycatcher, Yellow Hammers and at least 8 different Cuckoo`s. Again witnessing their excitement was so amazing to see and I am sure these two friends are hooked for life with regard for their love of birdlife.
Gavin who is a young man fresh from University where he has just graduated has become my regular Project volunteer and it is now very rare for my to venture out without Gavin shadowing me, such is his enthusiastic character.
Today I managed to knock up 12 nest boxes and to the stage where I coat them with concrete. I will probably be completing them in the new year with hopefully a few more to add. Below left is the finished side mount Barn Owl nest box which will also be erect in the new year and to a huge Oak tree.
Spotted flycatchers have declined substantially in recent years and are designated as a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. They are popular birds as they frequently nest close to house walls or in hanging baskets. They fly from prominent perches to catch insects, and are an endearing sight in country villages, so it is sad that their numbers have declined by about 80% over the past three decades.
Flycatchers cross the Sahara twice a year on their way to and from wintering areas in sub-Saharan Africa, where a loss of woodland may have reduced survival. Another explanation is that breeding success has fallen because of fewer insects, loss of habitat, and because of increased predation by woodland predators such as grey squirrels.This year’s delay in the decline following cessation of predator control is indicative of a change in numbers resulting from reduced nesting success. Most of this change in number was attributable to the establishment or abandonment of breeding territories in woodland, whereas numbers of breeding territories in village gardens remained largely unchanged through this period .
23 Rhagfyr 2014/23 December 14
The spotted flycatcher is an insectivorous summer migrant, which breeds in open woodland habitats throughout the UK. Mature broadleaved woodland, hedgerows that host mature trees, parkland and large gardens are the main habitats for this species. The species has been in decline since the early 1960s. During the Common Bird Census (1968 –1991) the species showed a 62%
decline in woodland and a 70% decline in farmland habitats. The species is listed as Red in the Birds of Conservation Concern System within the UK. Red List birds are of high conservation concern.
These appear to be important and could have population impacts if long-term climate change occurs. The key factor appears to be summer weather conditions as more birds breed early if temperatures are warmer and one study found that clutch sizes are larger when there is sunshine. The onset of the birds’ breeding season is ‘kick-started’ by the length of daylight hours, whereas insects’ lifecycles are temperature dependent. This causes problems for all insectivorous birds and bird species that rely on an abundance of invertebrates for rearing their young. Through the advent of climate change insects may have completed or delayed lifecycles and may not coincide with the birds breeding season.
Drought in the Sahel region;
This has been implicated in the declines of a number of trans-Saharan migrants. The spotted flycatcher passes through the Sahel region en route to wintering grounds in southern Africa. Changes in conditions in the Sahel or the wintering areas could be a factor in the species decline but no clear link has been established.· Changes in agriculture; Firm data on the importance of this for spotted flycatchers are lacking, but there is growing evidence that a range of birds found on lowland farmland are affected by low invertebrate availability during the
summer.·Loss of nest sites; Many spotted flycatchers nest in large trees and there has been a large-scale loss of these woodlands, parks and hedgerows (especially following Dutch elm disease), which are favoured habitats. However, there is no quantitative data on the effect of these losses.
I knocked up a Tawny Owl Nest Box this morning before starting my Spotted Flycatcher Nest Boxes. This is like a pitched roof style which I have never tried with a Tawny Owl nest box so it will be interesting to see if we are successful or not. The piece of batten at the front of the nest box is there in order for me to be able to get the landing tray fixed.
The piece of wood just under the entrance hole is there just to stop wear and tare whilst the Owl enters and Exit`s the box.
22 Rhagfyr 2014/22 December 14
The main reason for today`s visit to my workshop was to construct a few Spotted Flycatcher nest boxes. The Spotted Flycatcher is a rare bird these days although I have witnessed a few at my Pied Flycatcher sites. Spotted Flycatchers prefer open fronted nest boxes as opposed normal Tit boxes. As you can see I have started with 6 open fronted nest boxes and these will be completed tomorrow with the usual concrete coat.
21 Rhagfyr 2014/21 December 14
My friend Lisa asked if I could construct two House shape nest boxes for her. Lisa is a very talented artist and wants the nest boxes to put her arty designs on the outside of the nest boxes. Which is why I have not coated the nest boxes in my usual concrete coating. I shall drop them off to Lisa tomorrow and will be interested to see how they turn out. One thing is for sure they will have loads of colour. :0)
20 Rhagfyr 2014/20 December 14
Christmas it may be but that will not stop me constructing nest boxes in my workshop. I do start to get withdrawal symptoms if I`m not in my workshop constructing. As you can see in the image below I have built a new design Barn Owl nest box which will be erect in the new year.
19 Rhagfyr 2014/19 December 14
Nadolig Llawen to all my readers wherever you may be. Have a great Christmas
18 Rhagfyr 2014/18 December 14
Well my Autumn workshops came to an end at Coed Eva Primary School today and very reluctantly I had to say good bye and of course Merry Christmas to all the children who attended my workshops. I had invited the childrens parents into school in order for them to see what the children had been constructing over the past two months or so. The children were proud to show off their Hose Sparrow Colony, Swift, Bat, Dormouse, Robin and Blue tit nest boxes to be erect around the school grounds and of course the nest boxes they made to take home.
We finished off today by watching the video diary we have put together by Gavin Vella. The parents looked like they enjoyed the 10 minute video with one or two praising the quality and the content. More importantly the children really enjoyed watching themselves on screen with lots of giggles.
13 Rhagfyr 2014/13 December 14
The UK’s Little Owl population is continuing to decline at a rapid rate. Results from the British Trust for Ornithology-run bird surveys indicate that Little Owls have declined by 64% since the late 1960s. The Little Owl’s breeding range has also contracted by 11% since Bird Atlas 1968-72. The current Little Owl population estimate is 5,700 breeding pairs.
Whilst the Little Owl is listed as a Species of European Conservation Concern, this species has no formal conservation status in the UK and is excluded from the Birds of Conservation Concern listings because they are classified as a ‘naturalised introduced species’. If included, they would be red-listed because their population has declined by more than 50 % over the last 25 years.
This year I will be attempting to get a Little Owl family into one of my Nestboxes. They are seriously in decline like the Barn Owl so I know this will be a tall order but obviously the more nest boxes I erect round the Borough then the more chance I might get a pair to nest in one. Above is a short video showing my little vice that I use when applying my concrete coat. The little vice actually swivels which enables me to apply the comcrete on all surfaces of the nest box without having to pick it up.
13 Rhagfyr 2014/13 December 14
What a cold day today especially working in my workshop. I didn`t really plan to build any nest boxes today as I intended to do a bit of christmas shopping. However I was googling Little Owl`s last night and checking out nest boxes suitable for this species. So instead of shopping I ended up designing another Little Owl box as you can see opposite. This particular design has the tunnel built inside and obviously totally different to my last design when the tunnel was fitted on the outside of the nest box and obviously slightly more bulky. Being slightly more bulky means it could present problems when carrying and fitting. So that is really why I decided to head for my workshop and not Cwmbran town centre and obviously avoiding the weekend rush.
12 Rhagfyr 2014/12 December 14
I had to spend yet another day in Coed Eva Primary today and finish off by fitting roofs to about 30 nest boxes. Boxes included x2 Swift, x2 House Sparrow, x3 Bat, x3 Dormouse, x3 Robin and x3 Blue tit nest boxes that the childen have made with the intensions of erecting them around the school buildings and ground. Luckily the school has reasonably big grounds with 2 wooded areas. The school is fenced off and there is no exit during the evenings so I am hoping the nest boxes will not be interfered with out of school hours.
This afternoon after finishing school I came home to my workshop and decided to work on a Little Owl nest box that I have on the go at the moment. This particular nest box is the Dutch letter box design with the hole on the front upper left of the box. Inside I have built a small tunnel leading off the entrance and into the nesting chamber. What I have also done is make another external tunnel, again on the face of the nest box. Hopefully you can see exactly what I have achieved by watching the video opposite. The tunneis are to prevent Jackdaws from gaining access although Grey Squirrels are quite capable of navigating their way around the tunnels and into the nesting chamber.
11 Rhagfyr 2014/11 December 14
Today I spent most of it at Coed Eva Primary School putting the roofs on all the nest boxes that the children have constructed over the past 12 weeks.The children were busy with their christmas activities throughout the day which pretty much gave me a golden opportunity to get a lot of work done.
20 Nest boxes needed coating with concrete so obviously I have generated more work for myself tomorrow also. I have to wait for the concrete to dry overnight before I attempt to fit the roofs. I did manage to finish off 2 Swift,2 House Sparrow and 3 Blue tit boxes and these are the nest boxes the children constructed in teams in order to erect around the school grounds and in time for Spring 2015.
So tomorrow I will focus on getting all the roofs fitted on all remaining nest boxes and ready for the childrens presentation next week.
10 Rhagfyr 2014/10 December 14
Above image shows the finished nest boxes from today
Pipistrelle bats are the most common of the 17 species of British bats, and the smallest. They vary in colour from pale brown to almost black, but usually they have red-brown fur. They have small dog-like faces with a broad flat head and short, broad ears. They have fairly narrow wings and a short tail. Their ears and muzzles are darker than their fur.
The bats emerge from roosting around 20 minutes after sunset, generally earlier on warmer nights.
Their fast jerky flight as they pursue, catch and eat insects in mid-air, distinguishes pipistrelle bats from birds. Usually these bats fly 5-10m (17-34ft) above ground level; alternatively they may be seen flying low over water.
The population of pipistrelle bats has declined in the UK over the past 30 years, between 1978 and 1993 there was a national decrease of 70 percent. All the UK species of bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and it is illegal to harm them or disturb their roost sites. If you find bats roosting in or near your house, let Natural England or your local bat group know, and also seek advice from them before using sprays in the garden, or treating your home with chemicals.
Pipistrelles and other bat species have declined for many potential reasons, including loss of roost sites, toxic treatments of roof timbers, and loss of suitable feeding sites such as hedgerows, ponds and old grassland. Their decline is also partially attributed to the use of chemicals in agriculture to control insect populations, thus depriving the bats of food.In urban gardens, cats pose a threat to many pipistrelle populations because they catch the roosting bats. Other predators are less likely in urban gardens.
To help maintain pipistrelle bat populations, you could put up a bat box which will provide roosting and safety for the bats, and you could also encourage twilight and night insects by planting night-scented flowers such as honeysuckles or evening primrose.
Bats occupy a wide range of habitats, including grassland, mature woodlands, farms, parks and gardens - as long as there are suitable structures to roost in. They also need hedgerows and wood edges, or man-made linear features, for their protection and navigation. They often prefer open grassy areas surrounded by trees or bushes near waterways or ponds, which provide a water and food source and roosting areas.
The pipistrelle bat is one of the most urban of UK bat species and is becoming more reliant on urban habitats, roosting in buildings and foraging in nearby wooded parks and gardens.The two most important aspects of a garden to pipistrelle bats are trees and ponds.
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. I’m a great place for you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.The two most important aspects of a garden to pipistrelle bats are trees and ponds. Mature trees provide roosting, shelter and safety, and they also play a fundamental role in their life cycle. Pipistrelle bats use trees for roosting sites where they can give birth to their young in a protected and sheltered environment and in winter they can safely hibernate in deep crevices. Tree habitats with their associated shrubbery attract a wide variety of insects which bats prey on.
Waterways and ponds provide bats with the water they need to rehydrate, and also attract midges and other flying insects which congregate in their thousands and provide a ready feast for bats.Garden features which are associated with pipistrelle bats are old trees and bat boxes, undisturbed roofs and hollow walls that have access points, gaps behind drain pipes and between roof felt and tiles.Bats hibernate from late November to late March, and this is when they are most likely to be found in buildings and tree holes. In warmer months they may have several daytime and temporary roosts.
Pipistrelle bats feed on a wide variety of small, flying insects such as mayflies, lacewings, small moths, midges, caddis flies and mosquitoes. A single pipistrelle may consume up to 3000 insects in a night, showing both how important garden insects are and how useful bats can be in controlling unwanted species, so an abundance of insects is essential. For this reason they are an important addition to the garden to help to keep flying insect populations under control. In urban areas where much of the environment is man-made, bats rely on gardens and parks for roosting areas, food and water sources, so keeping trees and ponds in gardens is encouraged to prevent them from declining further.In the UK there are no predators which feed specifically on pipistrelle bats. Pipistrelle bats natural predators are owls such as the tawny owl and barn owl. Other British birds, such as kestrels, peregrine falcons and sparrow hawks, may also take bats. Weasels and stoats have been known to take low roosting bats, and it is also possible that foxes can do this. In urban situations cats are the most frequent predators.
09 Rhagfyr 2014/09 December 14
Bat boxes are artificial roosts designed to provide bats withalternative resting places. There are various designs of bat box, from wooden boxes that you can make yourself, to ready-assembled boxes and even integrated bat boxes that can be built into walls.
Providing bat boxes can increase opportunities for roosting bats, particularly when they are located where there are few existing roosting sites. However, where a number of suitable alternative roost sites exist it can take a long time for bat boxes to be used
regularly and in some cases they may never be used. Even in these situations, bat boxes can have an important additional function in encouraging interest and educating members of the public about bat conservation. The correct design and placement of boxes will help increase the likelihood of their uptake by bats.
Bat roost preferences
Bat boxes are now available from many outlets, and in a range of shapes and sizes, so some
knowledge of bats’ preferences will help you choose the best possible box.Microclimate within a new roost is a very important factor in terms of increasing the chance of successful uptake by bats. In general, they prefer warm spaces in the summer for rearing young
and cooler spaces in the winter for hibernation. The box should be draught proof and made from athermally stable material such as untreated wood, woodcrete, brick or stone. If possible, it is better to provide several internal chambers so that the bats can move around as their needs change. Although, it can take bats a long time to make use of artificial roosts, bat box location seems to be the most important factor influencing successful uptake.
Lack of warmth is the most important known cause of bat box failure, and structures for summer roosting should be positioned where they are unshaded for most of the day. Summer maternity roosts (in the northern hemisphere) should have a southerly or westerly aspect. On average we estimate that the bat box should receive 6-10 hours of direct sunlight a day if possible. It is always best to provide a number of different options for bats so that they can choose the most appropriate temperature based on their needs. This can be achieved by grouping a number of bat
boxes each with a different aspect, for example around the trunk of a tree (se
Wooden external bat boxes
External bat boxes are usually located on trees or outside walls of buildings. The most common
types of bat boxes are made from wood. Wooden bat boxes are usually cubic or wedge-shaped,
with a grooved ‘bat ladder’ and a narrow entrance slit at the bottom. These will last for
approximately ten years and can either be bought ready-made, in kit form, or you can make your
own from scratch
They come in a variety of shapes but key requirements are:
The wood should be rough sawn for grip and untreated on the inside.
To protect against moisture, air leaks and wood deterioration, apply one coat of primer to all
outer surfaces, including vent openings, landings and entry areas. Follow that with two coats
of flat exterior, water-based paint or stain. Do not use oil-based products.
In cool climates bat boxes should be painted or stained black or a dark colour using non-toxic
Bats do not like draughts. The entrance slit should be no more than 15-20mm wide, and there
should be no gaps where the sides and top join. A box that cannot be opened from the top is
best, as it will have fewer gaps for draughts, and will lessen the chances of the bats being
disturbed. (Bats may unintentionally be injured if the box is opened, for example by damaging
their feet and legs. A special licence is required in the UK to disturb bats and to handle them
One of the most successful wooden bat boxes is the Kent bat box. These boxes are not
available commercially but are very easy to make yourself
It is important that the type of bat box should be appropriate to the species it is aimed at. The
most frequently used bat boxes are small and only suitable for crevice-dwelling bat species. Some species such as horseshoe bats and grey long-eared bats do not use bat boxes.
Crevice dwelling bats crawl into their roosts via small gaps
in the range of 15-20mm high. Roughened surfaces or landing areas allow better access though landing perches should be avoided as these are not necessary, may even deter bats and encourage birds to nest within the bat box. It is important to locate access points where they are unobstructed but close to sizeable vegetation and flight lines. This allows bats to emerge earlier and forage longer. Bats are nocturnal and adapted to low light conditions. Artificial light sources should not be directed onto bat boxes or flight paths as most bat species find artificial lighting very disturbing.
Bat boxes come in many forms depending on their materials, function and location. Simple bat boxes are available commercially or can be home-made. They can be divided into the following categories: woodcrete external bat boxes, wooden external bat boxes and integrated bat boxes. Advanced forms of artificial roost creation include bat houses, bat barns and internal bat lofts.
08 Rhagfyr 2014/08 December 14
Well my time with Coed Eva primary has almost come to an end. The children have over the past 11 sessions constructed numerous nest boxes to erect around the school grounds and also a nest box each to take home with them. I can honestly say that I have really enjoyed the experience working with such enthusiastic children. The girls have really surprised me with their construction skills and again their enthusiasmn. I am hoping the Headteacher decides to recruit me for another term in January in order for our group to contruct a Tawny Owl nest box and a few hedgehog nest boxes and place them around the school grounds ready for Spring 2015.
06 Rhagfyr 2014/06 December 14
I spotted my first Kestrel hunting a roadside verge on the weekend and the first one for at least a year or so.
Spotting a kestrel hovering above the carriageway, oblivious to the traffic screaming by just metres below can always be relied upon to break up the monotony of a motorway journey.
Rapt in acute, unbreakable concentration, the bird seems to cheat the laws of physics, remaining motionless in the buffeting wind, never deterred from the task of scouring intently for that next fast-food fix of field vole.
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The incredible hovering technique described by poet Ted Hughes as “steady as a hallucination in the streaming air”, is made possible by countless minute adjustments and is an aerobatic display surpassed by no other bird.
But over the last few years those cruciform shapes suspended above the roadside have begun to disappear. They have disappeared too from our parks, villages, playing fields and un-loved wastelands – all typical kestrel stomping grounds.
For the kestrel has quietly, and without much media fanfare for such a well-known bird, suffered an alarming population collapse. The bird has declined by around 30% in the last 25 years alone and is now listed as a species of conservation concern across Europe.
The falcon was until recently our most common and well-known bird of prey. Affections for it soared following one of my favourite novels ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ which charted the relationship between an alienated teenager and his pet kestrel. Ken Loach’s film Kes, cemented the kestrel’s place in the nation’s heart. The kestrel was seen as approachable and knowable, unlike the psychotic staring sparrowhawk and the all too rare peregrine.
The kestrel’s dramatic decline is doubly shocking as it was viewed as a species that had managed to adapt to the rapid modernisation of our landscape. The bird lived in our towns and cities and even managed to hunt in the most inhospitable strips of land between our very fastest roads.
The reason for the decline is unclear but our willingness to farm the kestrel out of the landscape, a fate that has befallen many other species, is likely to be a major factor. Matt Stevens from the Hawk Conservancy Trust explains: “It’s difficult to be certain but there are a number of possible reasons. The most likely is a change in land management. Changing agricultural practices and agricultural intensification is likely to have had a major effect. Increased stocking densities of sheep and cattle on grasslands reduces grass length and results in fewer numbers of the small mammals kestrels prey upon.
The reduction of wild flower populations results in fewer insects and seeds which again means fewer small mammals for the kestrel. Other factors include loss of hunting and nesting sites and widespread use of pesticides, which reduces populations of ‘weed’ species and invertebrates which impacts on species dependent on them for food. We have also seen a loss of rougher ‘marginal land’ which previously held populations of invertebrates and small mammals.”
It was this rough marginal land that made our motorway verges so attractive to habitat-starved kestrels in the first place – they presented long strips of undisturbed grassland teeming with their favourite food, field voles.
A goal of halting the decline and maintaining a healthy population of kestrels is perhaps the most suitable approach and one which may allow for an increase in the future,” he explains.
“A reversal of the decline of kestrels is also likely to be reliant on a change in the way that the UK landscape is managed. Greater importance will need to be placed on the quality of, and connectivity between, habitats to ensure that populations of all native flora and fauna improve.”
As ever with our wildlife, it seems farmers may hold the key to the kestrels’ future, but in the meantime you can do your bit for the kestrel from the passenger seat. The public is being asked to send in their kestrel sightings to the Hawk Conservancy Trust to help build up the overall picture of how these wonderful falcons are faring.
02 Rhagfyr 2014/02 December 14
I have spent the last week or so trying to finish an order off ready to deliver to Oxford. It is a big order but I have managed to construct all of the order although it has taken me ages to paint it all first with concrete and secondly with masonry paint. This cold and damp weather prevents the masonry paint from drying quickly so I have had to use heaters in an attempt to dry the nest boxes out. If all goes well I shall be delivering the order to Anthony in Oxford hopefully on friday.
24Tachwedd 2014/24November 14
A very hectic day was in order with an early visit to Statley Albion of Abercarn. They have been supplying me with Ply and other materials for the past four years and I must say they have been amazing to me. So with a 4x4 full of ply and 2x1 lengths of wood I returned home to start construction.
Up to date I have now finished construction of 10 Multi Chamber Bat Boxes, 3 Tawny Owl nest boxes, 3 House Sparrow colony nest boxes and today I have cut out the sides for 10 Robin nest boxes and finished construction of a Kestrel nest box. All these nest boxes have now been concreted although the drying time is taking longer due to the cold damp weather.I may try to dry them out inside my workshop with my heater on full power in order to get all nest boxes ready to post out to my customer.
22 Tachwedd 2014/22 November 14
Today I managed to get another Tawny Owl box constructed to the painting on concrete stage. Outside temperatures resembled artic conditions this morning and didn`t I know it. My back pretty much tells me when it`s time to head back indoors and to warmer temperatures and this morning was no exception. However I battled through the pain and cold and managed to finish construction.
As you can see in the image opposite the nest boxes have reached the concrete coat stage which I will probably get to do when the weather is milder. The forecast looks more favourable next week so with a bit of luck I will have finished the entire order and coat them all in one go.
Image above right shows the inside of my Tawny Owl nest box. I try and make them as light as possible to make life easier when attempting to erect them. The frame inside the Tawny Owl nest boxes are usually made out of 2x1 although if I can get smaller and lighter lengths of wood then I would probably go with that.
21 Tachwedd 2014/21 November 14
Just a quick update to show what I have been up to the last few days or so. I am slowly but surely working through a big order and a Saturday working in my workshop was order of the day.:-) well up until the Wales v New Zealand game.
20 Tachwedd 2014/20 November 14
This short video clip opposite which was produced by Gavin was intended to show exactly what goes into making certain nest boxes. It was also intended to show my customer (Anthony) from Oxfordshire how time consuming certain style nest boxes are to build. Luckily I am experiencing less pain with my back and knees at the moment which is allowing me more time spent in my workshop.
Anthony`s order is a reasonably large order so will probably take around two weeks to finish and ready to post out to him. Obviously will juggle all this extra work with my school visits and general run of the mill work with my project.
19 Tachwedd 2014/19 November 14
Well today with the weather being favourable I ventured out for the first time in weeks. We have secured permission to erect nest boxes on a sight not too far from my village. This is actually common land and is used regularly by people walking their dogs. The presence of people has worked in my favour in other community Woodlands with most people Policing the woodlands for me and not allowing any children or youths disturbing or worse damaging my nest boxes.
I am very confident the nest boxes will be fine and fingers crossed we may attract a Pied Flycatcher.
My work at this particular Woodland is not completely done because we have Tree Creeper, Tawny Owl and Little Owl nest boxes to fit at some stage. I`m not mobile enough at the moment to tackle a Tawny Owl nest box due to it`s large design. It`s not like erecting a Blue tit box because it is obviously 4 times bigger and requires at least two people to erect it.
To erect a Owl nest box we use rope to hoist it up the trunk of the tree until it reaches it`s position. The rope is then secured preventing the nest box from crashing to the ground. It is then fixed into place with two screw fixings.
16 Tachwedd 2014/16 November 14
As you can see I have not been to busy of late mainly due to back and knee pain. These ongoing problems have been a thorn in my side for over 20 years and unfortunately there is no light at the end of the very long tunnel. Very very frustrating as I have loads to do over the coming months. I did manage to stack my stock of standard size Blue tit boxes along with two Tawny Owl boxes ready to be loaded into my 4x4 and transported up to my new sites. Weather and health permitting I will attempt to erect a few nest boxes next week.
I am sure Gavin must be very frustrated due to the lack of activity so I must make every effort to erect some of my stockpile. I will be picking up numerous Dormouse nest boxes kindly donated to Project Nestbox from Blaen Bran Community Woodlands in Cwmbran in the morning and these are intended to be added to my other Dormouse boxes out at Woodlake golf club.
As you can see in the above images I have numerous Dormouse nest boxes in stock to add to the boxes donated to me by Blaen Bran Community Woodlands of Cwmbran. All boxes will be distributed around the golf course where I have been successful in attracting a few Dormouse last season.
28th October 2014/28 Hydref 14
After watching Autumnwatch this evening it was fantastic to hear that Barn Owl`s have done amazingly well this season in terms of breeding successfully. It was also suggested that record clutches were reported with one clutch reported with 12 eggs present. This is a fantastic size clutch for a Barn Owl although I would say maybe 8 out of those twelve eggs hatched with also predation of some of the chicks. It was also reported that many Barn Owl pairs successfully managed two clutches which again is great news.Opposite is one of my Barn Owl nest boxes which is in use although no nest to report yet just plenty of Owl pellets. Fingers crossed for this nest box I have a good feeling about it and I am sure we will have a pair nesting very soon.
23rd October 2014/23 Hydref 14
Unfortunately I am not able to update my site for the time being. I am actually bed bound as I type, and it looks like I will be out of action for the foreseeable future. My back has really caused me problems for a while now and two days ago I started getting intense pain in the lower region. I have recently had a MRI scan and I am hoping my GP can get an Orthopedic Surgeon appointment asap. I will update when there are further developments and meantime I will rest my back as best I can.
15th October 2014/14 Hydref 14
This evening I was kindly given 10 junior Hammers and 10 panel Saws to be used in my school visits. The kind donation was from Lisa at Sticks and Stones Photography in Cwmbran. Lisa is impressed by my school visits and the work that I do with the pupils so much so her company purchased these fab tools. Once again I am overwhelmed with the response I have received from local company`s kind donations. I have said this before and I will say it again these kind individuals have certainly restored my faith in humanity and goes to show how wildlife touches us all. Without these individuals supporting people like myself certain species of bird and animals would be struggling in our harsh environment and I would go as far as saying that species like the Barn Owl could have disappeared from the UK completely. Thanks once again to Sticks and Stones Photography of Cwmbran.
12th October 2014/12 Hydref 14
This breeding season I had two of my nest boxes taken by Dormice. So because of this I am going to erect another 5 in the areas of the occupied nest boxes. I will also apply for a Dormouse licence in order for me to monitor them throughout the season. Below show 5 nest boxes I have constructed over the past few days in my workshop. I have been a naughty boy in doing so as I promised my wife I would allow my thumb to heal with rest. Easy said than done now that I have new tools to play with ;-)
11th October 2014/11 Hydref 14
Since I started my conservation project I have met some amazing and genuine people. Sometimes people who share the same passion of birds and conservation in general. Some of these people I have met have been incredibly generous in terms of donations to my cause. I have been fortunate enough to have 2 company`s who donate endless amounts of materials like wood/ply and roofing felt. These company`s Davies Timber`s of Wales and Stately Albion of Abercarn have provided me with 100`s of pounds worth of materials over the past 4 years and for that I am so grateful.Recently of course I have been very fortunate to have a Dewalt Combi Cordless drill and skill saw purchased for me by Dean Cubit of the Window Doctor of Cwmbran. This was an amazing gesture as I was desperately in need of both at the time. Dean has been amazing and has repeatedly said if there is anything I can help you out with then please do not hesitate to ask.
Above image shows yet another donation to my conservation effort. Recently I have been talking to a chap named Stephen Calderwood via social network. I have no idea how we bumped into each other so to speak because Stephen resides in Northern Ireland. We both have the love of rugby in common and often talk about the pro 12 series. Stephen is obviously a Ulster fan and has recently been able to boast easy wins over some of our Welsh regions. I do not know the reason why Stephen decided to contribute to my cause although I am so grateful he did. Maybe now I have a Pillar Drill and can avoid any more injuries.
08 October 2014/07 Hydref 14
I was asked by Dean of the Window Doctor in Cwmbran to cut up an old solid pine table for fire wood. I agreed and this morning I cut the table up into small logs with my Dewalt cordless skill saw that Dean actually purchased and donated to my project. After completing this Dean explained he had some screws that he did not need any more. Well I did not expect what he had in mind as I initially thought it was a box of screws and not several boxes of all sizes. I do get through quite a few boxes of screws each year whilst constructing mainly Tawny Owl, Barn Owl and Hedgehog nest boxes so this huge number of screws donated is a massive help once again. Most of my screws that I use are purchased using my own money although every now and then I do get a box or so from kind donations from members of the public or company`s like Stately Albion.
06 October 2014/06 Hydref 14
Well as you can see in the images one of my drill bits took a dislike to me and gave a nice little bite to my left thumb. I was in the process of cutting some sheet metal I had donated to me by a lovely fella called Joe. Joe works for a Steel company called Mcwards Steel which is situated in my village. Joe actually got in touch with me through his granddaughter Megan, who attends Coed Eva Primary school. As most of my readers are aware Coed Eva Primary School is where I am running an after school club. A huge thank you to Joe and Mcwards Steel for kindly donating the aluminium and steel sheets. Every donation to my cause is greatly received and is always used to great effect.
05 October 2014/04 Hydref 14
As you can see I have been busy in my workshop this weekend constructing a few different pieces for my new website`s store. I can`t wait to get the new site up and running although it still needs a lot of work doing to it. Gavin has really worked his magic on my new site and I think people will see the difference in quality and clarity.
04 October 2014/04 Hydref 14
Today I built a few prototype nest boxes ready for another photo shoot with Gavin. We are in the process of designing a new slick fresh bright website which includes a store page. In order for the store page to look as professional as possible I have made these prototypes for customers to be able to see them bare. Customers can then choose what finish they would like on their ordered goods. Pictured opposite and below are prototypes of a Dormouse, Bat, Swift, Dipper, Robin/Pied Wagtail,Grey Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, House Martin, Tree Creeper, and Standard size tit box. I`m hoping for better success with regard to selling more nest boxes on my new site and save all proceeds into purchasing much needed machinery for my project.
03 October 2014/03 Hydref 14
On a Wednesday I sometimes volunteer to work with a few autistic adults. The lads call themselves the Wednesday Warriors and fair play to them they pretty much try out many activities around the Torfaen area usually outdoors weather permitting of course.
Here is a video of this Wednesdays activities and as you can see the lads thoroughly enjoyed themselves as did Gavin and I. It is a pleasure working with the guys and talking to the fabulous staff that accompany the lads. I have to say one of the lads Owain is very capable and I honestly believe he could quite easily assist a carpenter on a building site with supervision of course.
02 October 2014/02 Hydref 14
Gavin is currently designing a new look website for Project Nestbox and I have been making a few prototypes and slightly different design nest boxes to actually advertise on my new site. There will be a new store section with pretty much every nest box you can think of. I have had a few sneaky previews of my website and I have to say WOW it looks amazing. Gavin has done an incredible job with the new site and it wont be long before it goes live.
26 September 2014/26 Medi 14
Whether or not you see Siskins in your garden could depend on a variety of things, including where you live and the weather. For many of us these sweet little yellow and black finches are winter visitors and nothing brightens those cold days like a Siskin! Traditionally birds of northern conifer forests. Siskins have discovered that our gardens can offer plenty of food when natural harvests are waning, so they move to central and southern areas in late winter to take advantage of what's on offer in our feeders. The male Siskin is as cute as a button with a black cap, yellow face, throat and wing bars and lime green on his back. Sounds good enough to eat! The females are equally pretty but more subdued (they have no need to show off) and our native population is increased in the winter by Scandinavian visitors too.
Thought I would post a few images of the beautiful Siskin as I have been asked by a few people of late asking "where have the Siskin`s gone". Jokingly I replied they are all visiting my friends garden as the images show above. North of my Borough they are quite common although this environment is completely different from South of the Borough.
Awoke early this morning and looked out of my kitchen window and realised how many nestboxes were sitting on my driveway. Even though they are on my property and do consciously think of my neighbours. It probably does look an eye saw from a neighbours perspective so I must arrange to start erecting as soon as possible. Gavin and I have identified new sites so it just needs a bit of organising volunteers.
24 September 2014/24 Medi 14
23 September 2014/23 Medi 14
I think I may have over done it today and I am now feeling the pain from standing up most of the day painting and making roofs for my 45 nest boxes. Proud to say they are all now finished and have been placed with the other 100 or so awaiting to be erect. I painted a coat of light green pastel colour just to finish them off to make them look nicer in the environment they will be placed and also to give then an extra waterproof coat.
23 September 2014/23 Medi 14
Occasionally I volunteer to hold a workshop with a group of autistic adults usually on a Wednesday. The guys call themselves the Wednesday Warriors and all the group which is about 6-8 adults all get stuck in to making nestboxes. Here are a few images off the group. I really enjoy working with these guys.
21 September 2014/21 Medi 14
I received this lovely email this morning from a couple who purchased one of my Pine End House Martin Nests. Always very rewarding to hear from your customers.
We have received the triple house martin nest boxes and are really impressed with the quality of the work and how well you have made them. They will fit a treat under the eaves of our porch and hopefully we can now avoid the trauma of collapsing nests next summer!
It was great to see the photos of the work in progress and hear how you were getting on with them.
We will let you know how the "class of 2015" gets on with them and try to get a couple of photos to send you when they take up residence.
You are doing great work, which we hope carries on for many years to come, and so thank you once again.
Graham & Rowan"a
20 September 2014/20 Medi 14
Today I have finished construction of 40 nest boxes. I also had time to coat them all in concrete which is a very laborious job indeed. However I do it in order for my nest boxes to last longer and obviously more importantly to keep it`s occupants warm and dry. The worse case scenario is for the clutch to fail especially if it`s a Pied Flycatcher or Redstart. Video opposite demonstrates how I coat all my nest boxes in concrete. Gavin, Paul and I will be very busy over the next few months erecting and replacing nest boxes.
18 September 2014/18 Medi 14
It is so rewarding when you hear from customers. The picture opposite was sent to me a few days ago by a Lady and Gent who contacted me about pine end House Martin nests. Unfortunately the natural mud nests had fallen down and they wanted to replace them with man made one`s.
As far as I`m aware my conservation project is the only one in the UK and possibly Europe
that constructs pine end nest cluster`s. A huge surprise when you consider that the Wild Bird food industry is worth millions. I suppose It is satisfying knowing that I am the only person in the Uk that provides for the general public albeit a few like minded one`s.
15 September 2014/15 Medi 14
Today I had to knock up a double cluster House Martin nest for a lady down in Truro Cornwall. She was very upset on the phone to me because one of the House Martin nests on the front of her house had collapsed and she wanted a replacement as soon as possible. Why the hurry do you ask, well she is due to have the outside of her house painted in two weeks time and wanted to take advantage of the scaffolding which will be erect next week.
God bless her she is going to bribe the painters and decorators with an endless supply of tea and fruit cake and gently persuade them to erect the nest clusters whilst up on the scaffolding. Marvellous idea I thought so I have promised to deliver hence my activity today.
14 September 2014/14 Medi 14
As you can see I have been concentrating on House Martin Nest construction during the past few weeks or so mainly due to ill health and not being mobile enough. As you can see in the video it is such a laborious process and can sometimes take a week for each individual nest to dry before allowing cement onto the paper mache shell.
It is a laborious job although very uplifting when you receive photo`s from individuals who have purchased nest clusters from my conservation project. Below are a few more
12 August 2014/ 12 Aust 2014
As you can see in the picture opposite I have started to accumulate materials ready for my winter construction programme. The idea is to construct at least another 300 standard size nest boxes for 2015 breeding season.I do have one or two new sites in mind and I am hoping to get these up and running before February 2015.
I am so grateful for my suppliers Stately Albion of Abercarn and Davies Timbers Wales of Cwmbran who continue to support my Conservation programme. This is the 4th year both companies have supplied me with various materials and put quite simply if they didn`t then it would be impossible to continue at the scale that I am operating.
The image opposite show marine ply which was kindly donated by Stately Albion and will probably go into making Barn Owl and Tawny Owl nest boxes. The 9mm ply in the background will go into making standard size Tit nest boxes and a few Dormouse nest.
3 August 2014/ 3 Awst 2014
A lady situated in Cwmbran put out a SOS via facebook asking if anyone could do something with a injured bird in her backgarden. I decided to rescue this little Swift and is now attempting to feed it after purchsing a few insect meals from Pets at Home.
I`m not really sure how this one may pan out due to the fact most Swifts have recently started their migration back to Africa and this little one is still unable to fly. I am sure if this fledgling was taken to a local Vet the decision would be to euthanize the unfortunate baby bird.Good luck to
2 August 2014/ 2 Awst 2014
This time of year I most dislike even though the weather has been very favourable lately there is not really much to do out in the field. I have attempted to erect a few Owl nest boxes that I have constructed and are taking up space in my back garden. Luckily My son was at hand to help me out and because of his help we managed to erect 1 Barn Owl, 1 Tawny Owl and 2 Little Owl nest boxes today.
I still have another 5 Owl nest boxes in store up at Woodlake Park Golf course and will try to erect then during the remainder of the summer school holidays.
1 August 2014/ 1 Awst 2013
Today my wife and I delivered the chicken nest boxes that I made for my friends Lisa and Becky Hopkins. Both girls were very good ex school friends and we have kept in contact all these years. They both live on a farm near Raglan and where I have 1 Barn Owl, 1 Tawny Owl, 1 Little Owl and 20 small nest boxes.
The nest boxes actually took me all day Thursday to construct and they are really solid. Made out of half inch marine ply they should certainly out live the chickens ;-) The chuks lay a few eggs a day but I think they will lay more now that they are off the ground and In a more suitable box for their nests.
Next week I will be very busy with two new projects I will be involved in at Woodlake Park golf course. Just waiting for little Harry Woods (course owners son) to return from his holidays and then we can start work. My good friend and sidekick My son has also volunteered to help out so we will have a few in numbers which will be very helpfull.
Next week I will let loose what projects we will be working on and all I can say is this new project will be very very interesting indeed
31 July 2014/ 31 Gorffennaf 2014
It is always so rewarding to see products that you have made be a success in terms of housing nesting birds. In this case a gent in Newport purchased 3 House Martin nests from me back in March and fitted them to his house. The 3 nest cups housed numerous pairs who were fortunate enough to successfully raise numerous broods which is amazing and will add numbers to the local population.
15 July/15 Gorffennaf 2014
As you can probably gather I have not been so active lately after such an amazing Spring. I have been really struggling with my old problem with the knee and especially my back. I will undergo the surgeons knife soon and I am hoping my knee will be sorted for me to be slightly more active.
As you can see in the photo opposite I have a grand collection of new nestboxes all ready to be erect. I will probably erect as many as I can when I am a little bit more active and with the help of volunteers.
3 July 2014/3 Gorffennaf 2014
As you can see to your left I have been very busy constructing standard size nest boxes which will be used on a new site for next year. Some will be given to school children that are members of a after school club workshop I have been conducting ocer the past few months. The nest boxes destined for the school will be used either on the school grounds and maybe a few at a local woodlands. There is never enough spare nest boxes because there are always people who are looking for them. Usually people looking to but the odd one to erect in their gardens. Although every now and then I do get some big orders like the one where this person purchased 8 Tawny Owl nest boxes and 10 Pide Flycatcher nest boxes.
28 Mehefin 2014/28 June 2014
I have 2 Swift Nest Boxes on order as you can see in the video opposite and thought I should give some information on this secretive Bird. A light weight - weighing in at only a few ounces - it is considered one of the fastest living creatures on earth. Flying at speeds that reach over 100 miles (160 km) per hour, (so states "The Encyclopedia Americana") it's no wonder that this little bird creature is appropriately named the "Swift"! Although unimpressive in appearance (most of them are a dull gray or brown in color), swifts display a knack for multitasking. Easily the most aerial of birds, they are known to eat, drink, catch food, collect nesting materialand mate while in flight
In addition, research has shown that these amazing little phenoms even sleep while gliding in flight! Just how is this tiny creature able to preform such amazing feats? It's all in their design. Swifts are equipped with efficient crescent-shaped wings that curve backward, thereby eliminating much of the drag that slows the flight of most
In contrast to their flight prowess; due to their tiny hook-like feet and shortness in stature; swifts are not able to perch as other birds do (swifts seldom land on level ground). Nevertheless, their feet are ideally suited for clinging to vertical surfaces, such as caves, cliffs, and walls of buildings.
Therefore, when it comes to building a nest, since swifts cannot gather building material form the ground, they have to use ingenuity in gathering material for this particular task
Our swifts and its relatives form a group called the Apodidae - this is a very ancient group. They probably separated from all other birds in the Tertiary period (65 million years ago) or even the Cretaceous (70mya). Archaeopteryx was 150 mya, and Tyrannosaurus died out about the same time as the Apodidae separated! The earliest known swift-like bird, Priamapus lacki, was named after David Lack, the ornithologist who did the most work on swifts. Our swift’s closest living relatives are other swifts, swiftlets and tree swifts (which can perch) and the hummingbirds.