Monday, 28 May 2012

New recruits

Juvenile Robin

Lots of new recruits around the garden, all making  early forays and no doubt availing of the great weather conditions to feed.  Juvenile Robins, despite not having the diagnostic red breast of the adult birds, are still distinctive.. They have the shape and 'jizz' of the adults that we are so familiar with.. that alert posture and shape and they have the tameness and inquistiveness that endears them to us.  

Spotted Flycatcher in Ash tree

Also around the garden, but definitely scarcer are Spotted Flycatchers: one of the last of the summer migrants to return to our shores they are not long 'in' and are straight down to nest building..  They are subtle in plumage and quiet too, but one you locate a bird they have some distinctive traits.  They like an elevated perch, often in an Ash tree I find, from which they swoop down or fly-catch insect prey before returning to their look out position. The call note is a subtle, soft 'tzee'

Inspecting an open fronted nestbox

They like to nest in crevices and holes, often in ivy but will take to an open fronted nest box.   The young birds are quite like juvenile Robins, being more scaly than the adults. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Hard Hat and a Crown of Thorns

The Swallows on the farm near the East Coast Nature Reserve are back and well advanced into the breeding season: five eggs is a full clutch, but what's unusual is the choice of nest site..

Definitely safety first, this hard hat hanging from a nail on a beam in the farm shed is as safe a nest site as a hard hat can be!

Risk is very much part of the nesting season: weather, cats, people, predators, its a real challenge.

Our Blue Tits are in a box on a wooden frame that surrounds an oil tank, about 2 meters up and the box is flanked by thorny Pyracantha. 

I got a fright one day last week when I saw the adopted tabby cat was back to its old tricks, sitting up on top of the box.. This happened a few years back when the box was sited up a Sycamore tree with a holly growing through it..

This time out I weaved some bramble cuttings through the area around the box to discourage the cat.. so far so good, the Blue Tits are delivering green caterpillars to the young at a rate of about one a minute.. incredible!  About another week of this and the brood will be ready to fledge, all going well.

Blue Tit bringing caterpillar to the nestbox

Removing a faecal sac from the nest

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Blackcaps: timeshare around the garden

  There have been widespread gains in the breeding population of Blackcaps over the last  40 years across Ireland, particularly in the westThe percentage change between the 1968-72 Breeding Bird Atlas and the just completed Bird Atlas shows an increase of 52% for Britain and Ireland combined.  An annual percentage change of 15.5% is recorded in the Countryside Bird Survey in the Republic of Ireland, with data recorded each summer since 1998.  

Our wintering Blackcaps actually leave us to breed in Central Europe
Male, photo by Dick Coombes

Right now we are hearing Blackcaps in hedgerows and gardens, not just the classic breeding territories in dense scrub woodland.  In winter they visit the bird feeders in gardens, especially in suburban areas and they are attracted to apples and berries in particular. They are easy enough to observe, often noted as territorial and bullying around the feeders.  Our summer population winters in Africa and the birds that winter here migrate out of Ireland in early spring, back to central and northern Europe to breed: so its a real changing of the guard and a strategy that takes advantage of current climate conditions. 

In contrast to the wintering population, summering Blackcaps are more likely to be heard rather than seen, remaining in dense foliage and feeding up into the canopy layer. The summer birds sing persistently: a short, scratchy, hurried warble.  Its just as well, I hear ten for every one seen in summer!

Female Blackcap with distinctive chestnut crown Photo: John Fox

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Swallows make summer

It was only in the last few days of April that the ‘home pair’ of Swallows, that nest on the roof under a gable, returned from Africa for the summer.  They are about two weeks behind their normal arrival date with us this year.  Last year they raised two broods , with 5 young in the first brood; its great to have them back, I am happy to wake each morning to their twittering outside the window! 

We are always amazed at the quirky choices and variety of nest sites that are chosen by Swallows:  a hard hat in a farm shed down in the East Coast Nature Reserve; bird hides are de rigeur, they regularly inspect the hide at the ECNR, all they need is a gap and they’re in!

Male Swallow at the ECNR: note the long tail streamers

Our home nest sits on the roof tiles but is tucked in under an eave, north facing. The nest has not been predated by Sparrowhawks, though it would be well within their reach and has survived storms, more or less intact until this year: Running repairs necessary this time.. plenty of mud available after the rain storms of last week.