18 April 2020

I have been monitoring natural nests during the corona virus lock down and basically using my hours exercise to find them for monitoring purposes. Last year and the year before I had reported that there seemed to be a lack of Song Thrush activity and indeed a reduced number of nests found. Last year I managed to find one Song Thrush nest as opposed to other years when I have found several along with Blackbird nests. 

So this year searching in my local small woodland I have found three Song Thrush and one Blackbird nest all with a healthy number of eggs and one song thrush nest with five healthy chicks. I have also been monitoring a Tawny Owl nest and as you can see in the image opposite there are currently three eggs. These should have hatched by now and I shall check next week.

Let me introduce you to my new Birding companion,  "Eira"
14 April 2020

So i would like to introduce you to my new birding companion Eira.Eira which means Snow in Welsh is now 9 months old and nearly ready to start monitoring with me. Obviously we are governed by this disgusting pandemic which is preventing me from monitoring at the moment although there are more local routes i will try to monitor.

  The English Springer Spaniel dog breed was developed as a gun dog to flush, or spring, game in the field, but he’s also a popular companion. Athletic and versatile, he’s been known to participate in agility, hunt tests, tracking, obedience trials and more, and he’s a great pal to have along when you go hiking or camping.

The English Springer Spaniel, named for the way he "springs" at game to flush it for the hunter, has long been a favorite with sportsmen, but this lively, beautiful dog also makes a wonderful family companion if he receives the training and exercise he needs.

English Springer Spaniels are smart and eager to please, not to mention enthusiastic. They are happy dogs and seem to have a good sense of humor. They usually do well with children if they are brought up with them from puppyhood and are affectionate toward their families. They also are generally good with other pets in the household, even small ones, but might see pet birds as prey since those are what they're bred to hunt.

Because they're hunting dogs, English Springer Spaniels require a lot of exercise, but keep them on leash in unfenced areas or they may decide to go hunting on their own. Because they are such good athletes, many non-hunting owners participate in activities such as obedience, agilityflyball, and tracking with their English Springer Spaniels. They also make great therapy dogs, bringing smiles to people in hospitals and nursing homes.

12 April 2020

The Long-tailed Tit is not a typical tit, in fact it isn’t actually a tit at all! It turns out that the long-tailed visitor to your bird feeders is actually more closely related to the babblers of India and South-east Asia than it is to the Blue Tits and Great Tits that we associate it with. But the long tail is longer than the rest of the body, so other than not being closely related to the true tits, the Long-tailed Tit is a very well-named bird indeed!

They are also on the increase, which is an unusual thing in British birds and one that is definitely worth celebrating, especially as a main part of their preferred habitat is towns and cities – meaning that these delightful little birds are an increasingly common sight for many of us. 

Feeding the birds in your garden is a great way to see lots of species close up, it is a rewarding experience for us and one that many people are rightly enthusiastic about. It is also very important for many bird species, with the Long-tailed Tit being a great example: the reason that this bird is doing so well in the urban and semi-urban habitats of our towns and cities is because of us feeding the birds in our gardens.

But, just because the Long-tailed Tit is doing well doesn’t mean that life is easy for it. The population in the UK is extremely vulnerable to the weather, with very cold winters resulting in large drops in numbers the following year. 

But it isn’t just the winter weather that can cause problems for the bird, the weather in spring and autumn is also strongly linked to the bird’s survival, with studies showing that warm weather in both seasons has a positive effect on numbers, whereas wet springs and cold autumns have a negative effect on numbers.

However, Long-tailed Tits are able to bounce back relatively quickly from periods of bad weather thanks to their potential breeding output. The result is large fluctuations in their overall numbers year on year; thankfully though, the trend is an upward one at the moment.

The winter is the time that Long-tailed Tits are at their most obvious. They form loose flocks ranging from five to 30 birds (even up to 50!) that rove the local area looking for feeding opportunities. Sometimes these flocks intermingle with other small birds, while at other times they are purely Long-tails!

Being in the middle of one of these feeding parties is always a delight. Their soft, bubbly contact calls fill the air and you find yourself surrounded by these great little birds, hanging off the branches above your head or flitting past your face as they move from tree to tree, seemingly oblivious to your presence.

Birds form flocks for many reasons. For example, the more eyes there are, the better the chance a predator will be spotted early enough for the flock to take avoiding action. More birds can also mean more chance of finding food (although it then has to be shared!), but it seems as if Long-tailed Tits form their flocks for another reason. They form them to keep warm. 

While, undoubtedly, the birds get other benefits from grouping together, it seems that a major reason behind this behaviour is to help the birds get through the long, cold winter nights.

Long-tailed Tits are tiny birds. Their long tail makes them look bigger than they are, but the reality is they are very small. Small bodies lose warmth far more quickly than larger ones and, therefore, Long-tailed Tits are prone to hypothermia during the chilly nights of winter. 

To combat this, the group of Long-tailed Tits get very busy as dusk approaches, feeding up before selecting a nice thick shrub or tree to roost in. Within the confines of the branches the birds huddle together. By getting up close and personal with the other members of the flock, who are often related, they minimise the amount of heat that they lose. It is a brilliant and sociable adaptation. 

Come the spring, with its warmer nights, the flocks disperse and the birds pair up to breed. The breeding season starts early for these little birds, often in February, but the reason for the early start has nothing to do with maximising the broods it can produce in the one year – it is all about their fabulous nest, an avian architectural wonder. 

The nests are basically a large pouch with a small entrance hole towards the top, constructed by both the male and female. They can take up to three weeks to make. They are made by using moss, lichen, feathers and spider silk, which the birds gather from the silk egg cocoons of various spider species. There are around 6,000 individual components used to make these wonderful structures. The spider silk is the glue holding together the moss, lichen and feathers, but it is even cleverer than that. 

A study of the construction of the nests revealed that the spider silk is used to form small loops that snare the tiny, hook-like leaves of the moss, creating a strong bond that prevents the nest falling apart, even when it is full of youngsters. You have to wonder if the person who invented Velcro ever watched Long-tailed Tits make a nest...

Once the nest is constructed, the birds then need to line it, and this itself is a mighty task. The tits line it with soft downy feathers, but they don’t just use one or two, they use about 2,000! It is amazing to think that they are able to find that many downy feathers, but find them they do, and the nest must be really comfortable as a result. 

I remember, many years ago, approaching a Goshawk nest site early in the season to check occupancy (under licence of course). On my way in to the site, I passed the raptors’ main plucking post (always a great thing to check out!) and, as I did, I flushed up a Long-tailed Tit. 

At the time, it didn’t register with me what this bird was doing, but as I think about it now it makes sense. A plucking post is going to be a great source of downy feathers. Nothing is wasted in nature.

Despite the care and attention that goes into building the nest, many actually fail. When this happens, the adults involved sometimes help out with a nearby nest, helping to provide the young with food and to keep predators away. 

The birds that do this are often related to the birds that they are helping, so they benefit by ensuring the future of related offspring. It is also thought that they gain experience, which may mean that the following year they are less likely to suffer a nest failure again. 

One thing is for certain, this behaviour greatly benefits the young in the nest. Studies have shown that they have much greater survivability if their parents have been helped out in rearing and defending them. The Long-tailed Tit is a social bird. Whether they are helping a relation rear their young or snuggling up to them in the depths of winter to keep warm, these are birds that look out for each other.  

You can see these little birds pretty much anywhere, except for the far north and west of Scotland. Look (and listen) for them in woodland, farmland hedgerows, scrubland, parkland and also in your garden – check your feeders! 

They will form a flock with other tit species during the winter months.

Old English names for the Long-tailed Tit include: Long-tailed Pie, Mumruffin, Bottle Tit, Bum Barrel, Bum Towel, Oven Bird, Bag and Hedge Jug to name a few!

10 April 2020

Today I was lucky enough to capture one of my Nuthatch nest boxes with the occupant making muddy alterations The Nuthatch is, perhaps, one of the most special birds to visit gardens. It has striking plumage of a steel grey back, black eye stripe, then pale orange-chestnut breast and underside. A relatively small bird of about 14cm long, it has an entertaining habit of moving headfirst down a tree trunk in search of food. Peanuts in a mesh feeder are a real favourite and the best way to attract the species to gardens.

In the spring and summer months the main food is tree-dwelling insects and their larvae, plus spiders and small snails. In the autumn and winter months the diet changes to mainly nuts and seeds, with the bird’s very strong and sharp bill being able to cope with hazel nuts, beech-mast and acorns. For the foods to put out for Nuthatches in the garden, peanuts in a mesh feeder are a real favourite, plus sunflower hearts and black sunflower seeds which they’ll more readily take from a ground feeder or table, rather than tube feeder.

The nest is built within a hole in a tree, plus nest boxes are sometimes taken. If the hole in the tree or nest box is too large, then both male and female birds may reduce its dimeter by plastering mud around it. The female bird prepares the lining to the nest, which is mainly made up of bark chips and dead leaves. There is usually one brood per year, though occasionally two, of between six and eight eggs. The female takes care of all the incubation but both parents tend the young which fledge the nest after about 25 days.

Nuthatches are highly entertaining to watch, and, for example, are the only bird in the UK to routinely move down a tree head-first. They will also cache food for harder times, with black sunflower seeds taken from garden feeding stations an apparent favourite. Their exceptionally strong and sharp bill allows them to even crack open a hazel nut, with the nut firstly manoeuvred into a crevice in tree bark, before the bird hacks away at it until the shell is broken open. An especially interesting behaviour is that adult birds not only maintain a territory throughout the year, but also rarely venture from it throughout their adult life. Indeed, the expansion of the species’ range has only been achieved by young birds being forced out of the adults’ territory after they’ve fledged.

9 April 2020

A very pleasant surprise today whilst out checking nest boxes in preparation for the returning migrant birds. I was surprised with how many males had returned early and were singing above me in trees where my nest boxes are situated. Obviously taken advantage of the southerly winds which helped them push up through Spain, France and England.  as I would expect there were no females spotted but hopefully they will be flooding int the country within the next few days or so. 

 

The pied flycatcher is a small, black-and-white bird of mature woodland, parks and gardens, with a preference for oak trees. It is a summer visitor from April and May onwards, and breeds mainly in western areas; it spends the winter in West Africa. Pied flycatchers may be seen sitting patiently on a perch, waiting for a chance to fly out and catch their insect-prey mid-air. They also search for insects on tree trunks and on the ground.

 

The pied flycatcher is slightly smaller than a house sparrow. Males are mostly black above and white below, with a bold white patch on the folded wing. Females have the same basic patterning, but are browner in colour.

Fairly common to uncommon summer migrant from winter grounds in Africa. Found in shady, mixed and deciduous woodland, especially with oaks. Feeds at all levels, sallying after insects in the leafy foliage; at times perches out on open fences. Breeding male is boldly pied, with big white wing patch and white forehead spot. Female and immature are brown above, with obvious white wing patch. Distinctive in western Europe, but farther east compare with very similar Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers.