National Nest Box Week

Apparently it is National Nest Box Week, so it seemed only right to review our nest box endeavours in the garden and beyond. Not that our efforts to provide suitable des res’ in the garden have been entirely successful over the years, but we do try.  We had one old bird box on the garage wall for a few years and blue tits started nesting in it about 2014. Although we got photos and videos of the adults coming and going, we never managed to catch any of them fledging.

So last year we decided to replace the old bird box with a new one with integral camera. With hindsight perhaps we should have stuck with the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, because needless to say nothing nested in it.

We did get very excited when a blue tit roosted in it for a night within a week or putting the box up, but nothing else has used it since (apart from a spider which covered the camera with web!).

Anyway we’re living in hope that this year will be our year and we can have our very own Springwatch experience, but of course we may have to resort to just watching the real Springwatch again (no great hardship).

We also put up a wren/robin box last year, which also remained vacant. This open fronted box is on our fence, hidden by bushes and ivy. The ivy is starting to grow over the box, but we may well have to move this one anyway as the neighbours want to replace the fence this year.

So we may not have much luck on the home front when it comes to nest boxes, but we now have an interest slightly further afield. Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were advertising a “rent-a-nest” scheme to fund nest boxes on some of their reserves. So for Valentine’s Day last week, rather than muck about with flowers and chocolates, we sponsored a nest. You could choose between 4 of the local reserves, so we plumped for our nearest and one of our favourites – Knapp & Papermill.

Apparently we will get invited to view “our” nest box in the spring – fingers crossed something actually uses this one!

And finally, nothing really to do with nests, but we were thrilled to spot a small flock of siskins in the garden yesterday. We’ve only ever seen one in the garden once before (and then only on the trail camera, not actually “live”), so to see a whole flock was fantastic. There were at least 6 males, but we only saw one female – this could have been though because they are not as showy, so not as easy to spot. Unfortunately we were indoors and they were obviously outdoors, so photos had to be taken through our less than sparkling windows.  But a delight to see nonetheless.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Last weekend was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch – one of my favourite bits of citizen science to participate in. Unfortunately it was one of those dull, grey January days where the sun just doesn’t come out – and nor did many of the birds. Coupled with that, my camera was in for repairs so I couldn’t even take photos of the ones that did appear. I persevered though as it would have been a shame to miss out on it this year, having done it for the last few years.

So I spent an hour crouched behind my camouflage netting hoping neither the birds nor the neighbours could see me (neighbours think we’re mad enough as it is without seeing the camouflage!). As always seems to be the case, the birds which moments before had seemed so plentiful, all disappeared as soon as I got my notepad out. But my masterplan worked as I’d topped up all the bird feeders just before and they couldn’t resist indefinitely.

The sparrows were abundant as usual. I’ve no idea how many we really have visiting the garden, but I’m sure it’s much more than the 13 I managed to count in one go. I suspect we have closer to 25 or even 30, but they’re impossible to count all together, so I stuck with the 13 definite that I could see at once.  Next largest presence was the jackdaws – 5 of whom put in an appearance on the bird table. These are at least big enough and obvious enough to be much easier to count.

The rest of the birds came in just ones and twos: blue tits, robin, blackbird, goldfinches, starlings, woodpigeons, crow, dunnock, blackcap (female) and magpie. A total of 32 birds of 12 species. As usual I had several no shows – birds that have graced our garden in the days before and days after the count. These include the wren, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits and chaffinch – all of whom I’ve seen today.

The RSPB give you a nice little pie chart when you upload your results. It only shows 10 species, so misses out the crow and the blackcap, but at least represents 30 out of the 32 birds I saw.

You can also get a similar representation of the national results so far. So as of this afternoon, sparrows were leading the way nationally, as they were in our garden. But there was no sign of our second most abundant bird, the jackdaw, in the nation’s top 10. Perhaps we are just in a hotspot for jackdaws, or they particularly like the selection of bird food we put out here?

This year’s results for our garden were very similar to last year’s (https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/01/28/big-garden-birdwatch-2017/). So it’s good to know there are no dreadful declines here at least – keep putting out the bird food and they will come!

While I was skulking around the garden, Chris went for a walk near his work in Malvern. He didn’t do a bird count as he was moving around too much, but he did see a few more interesting birds than I did.

Jackdaws we do of course have in the garden, but I liked this fluffed up one.

Although Chris did at least have a working camera, unlike me, he was still plagued by the same dull grey light that made taking decent photos a bit difficult. So apologies that these next 3 photos aren’t exactly fabulous, but the birds themselves were. A great spotted woodpecker, a kestrel and a tiny goldcrest. Not a bad trio to spot on one walk.

And as if seeing all of those wasn’t good enough, he even managed to come home with some decent photos of a wren. It’s obviously not the same wren that torments me daily in our garden (I swear it danced in front of the window today knowing I still have no camera), but it’s great to get any decent wren photos. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, so here are my favourite 4 photos.

So a bit of birdy citizen science for one of us and a bit of bird photography for the other. A weekend well spent I reckon.

A Bird in the Box

As the old saying goes (with just a minor adjustment) a bird in the box is worth two in the hand (although I’d be delighted if one landed on my hand too). So after blogging last Saturday about how excited I was that something had pooped in our new bird box, things got even better. I kept checking the box camera for more evidence of use, but didn’t really expect any more excitement. But at about 5pm, just as it got dark, the blue tit returned. I thought he or she was just going to check out the box again then leave, but it settled down in the corner and basically went to sleep!

I didn’t realise until I watched it just how much they fluff themselves up when they sleep. It looked like a totally different bird – just a small ball of fluff – it almost looked like a small mammal rather than a bird.

blue-tit-in-box

blue-tit-fluffed-up

It was still there when I went to bed, so I made a point of getting up early (on a Sunday!) the next day to check on our new lodger. It was still there so I sat with my finger poised over the record button ready to get a shot of it leaving. At about 07:30 as it was starting to get light, the blue tit started fidgeting and stretching its wings and then with little further ado, it was off.

I would have blogged about this sooner, but I’ve been hoping the blue tit would honour us with his presence again, so have been checking the camera as it got dark each night. No sign though of any return visits, so I’ve decided to blog with what I’ve got so far. After a bit of practice I’ve more or less mastered the new software enough to cut and splice assorted short clips together into one film. The Oscar candidates for editing have nothing to worry about though!

Since all the footage was shot after dark the camera had switched to infrared and the video is black and white. Hopefully if we can get a blue tit in during daylight we might actually get some colour footage, which would be nice. But in the meantime, here is the star of our show.

New Nest Box

With the Big Garden Birdwatch just around the corner, we’ve been reviewing what we could do to attract more birds into the garden. We already get quite a lot, but the more the merrier!  So I’ve added a few more bird feeders and have been keeping the existing ones well topped up. Spring will hopefully be here before too long, so we’ve also been looking at the nest boxes.

It may just be that we’ve been watching too much Spring/Autumn/Winterwatch, but we (well mainly I) have been longing to get footage from inside a nest box. Last year we were delighted to get shots like this of our blue tits using the old nest box.

Blue Tit on Bird Box

Of course as soon as we have a bit of success with one thing, we want more. Last year we could only film the adults coming and going, so this year we’re hoping to get the action from inside the box. So we’ve gone wild and bought a new bird box complete with fitted camera. We’ve only a limited number of places where we can put a bird box, so decided to take the old one down and replace it with the new one. We may of course regret this if the blue tits reject the new one and we get no nesting activity at all! So first job was to take down the old box. On opening it up we found last year’s nest still pretty much intact inside. It’s the first time I’ve ever really had the chance to look at a nest up close like this. It was very well made and still held together firmly. We were intrigued by the bright green stuff, which looks remarkably like the green fluff you get off a tennis ball – they certainly didn’t get that from our garden. The rest was made up of bits of grass, moss and possibly wool.

blue-tit-nest

There was still one tiny perfect intact egg inside – not even the size of a 5 pence coin.

blue-tit-egg

Slightly less attractive was a couple of tiny skeletons – presumably chicks that didn’t make it to fledging. Blue tits can lay large clutches of eggs, so we just hope that these skeletons and unhatched egg, were just the unlucky ones and most made it to adulthood last year.

blue-tit-skeleton

The new nest box is now up (still complete with wire netting to prevent next door’s cat getting an easy meal) and all ready to go. The new box has Perspex panels each side to increase the amount of light getting in for the camera. The transmitter is the black box to the right.

birdbox-system

The whole thing came pretty much set up and was all very easy to install. So we can in theory now watch all the action – assuming there is any – from the comfort of our living room. This is the current view of the empty box. Hopefully we won’t still be looking at an empty box in a few months time!

tv-view-of-birdbox

We’ve got plenty of blue tits (as well as great, coal and long-tailed tits) using the garden at the moment, so hopefully some of them are from last year’s brood and will remember what a great place our garage wall was to grow up!!

blue-tits

While searching for information on nest boxes, I discovered that the British Trust for Ornithology runs a survey called the Nest Box Challenge. They want people to submit observations on nests/nest boxes in their gardens. Since I can never resist filling in a form and a bit of citizen science, I have registered our new nest box. Fingers crossed it gets occupied and I don’t end up just submitting “empty” as my observation each time – although even that would apparently be useful data. Anyone interested in registering their own nests can find all the info at: https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Wildlife Hides – Part 3 The Kestrel

This is the third and final part of the blog about our wonderful day spent at the Wildlife Hides near Droitwich. Our last hide of the day was the Kestrel one. Once again we were a bit worried when the previous 2 groups had all seen kestrels feeding – would they be too full to fly down for us?

Initially all we could see was a very distant kestrel perched on a telegraph pole way across the field.

distant-kestrel

Dead mice were positioned in front of our hide, so we just had to hope she was still hungry. While we waited (with everything crossed) for her to fly down, we could at least enjoy lots of the small birds that were flitting about. The blue tits and great tits posed obligingly on a branch in front of us and a chaffinch was poking about in the mud on the field. A wagtail and an absolutely stunning bullfinch also made appearances, but we didn’t manage to get decent photos of either.

blue-tit

great-tit

chaffinch

While we’d been watching the small birds, the female kestrel had been joined by the male on top of the telegraph pole. After what seemed like an age they eventually both took off and after a bit of hunting about, the female landed on one of the posts in front of us. All 3 of us clicked away frenziedly, to the point that we didn’t even notice the male had landed until it took off again – d’oh! So we only got photos of the female, but she was stunning. I’d never been so close to a kestrel before and hadn’t realised just how beautiful they were.

kestrel

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kestrel-3

I think we made a bit too much noise and spooked her (and the male) off, but it wasn’t long before she returned. She was clearly wary of us though and decided to sit on the ground (actually on what looks like a great big turnip?) in the middle of the field for a while, probably hoping we’d go away.

kestrel-in-field

But as we stayed put in the hide and kept quiet, she decided to have another go for the mice.

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kestrel-10

kestrel-11

kestrel-12

We could have happily stayed and watched the kestrels for a lot longer, but by now the light was starting to go. Before we packed up for the day though we had one final visitor – an inquisitive squirrel. I know it’s not a red one, but I still can’t resist them.

squirrel

As before while Chris was taking most of the photos, I had a go at videoing. They are such beautiful birds to watch, but you get a real sense of their strength when you see her pulling at the mouse. I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of those claws or beak!

All the hides featured in these last 3 blog posts were at Nature Photography’s site near Droitwich, which is only a half hour’s drive from Malvern – brilliant! Other hide rental sites are no doubt available, but we were very happy with our day and couldn’t have asked for better views of the birds. If anyone’s interested in trying something like this for themselves, here’s their website: http://www.naturephotographyhides.co.uk/  They also have hides in Scotland for red squirrel and mountain hares – very tempted for next year!!

I know in an ideal world we would have gone out and found these animals for ourselves, but when you have limited time and resources, sometimes it’s good to take a short cut. The birds were all still wild and there were no guarantees of seeing anything, so it was a big thrill for us just being able to watch them. For beginners like us, it was also a good way of practising taking birdy photos – it’s very hard to practice if there’s nothing there to photograph!

Wildlife Hides – Part 1 Reflections

We ventured out from the Too Lazy garden yesterday and had an absolutely fabulous day at Nature Photography’s wildlife hides near Droitwich. I hate to admit it, but the big five oh is looming for me, so this was my birthday present – a day freezing my proverbial off while clutching a camera – but I couldn’t have asked for better. We’d gone for one of their “multi hide” days where you get to try out 3 different hides. We took so many photos that I’m going to have to split this blog post into three – one part for each hide we tried.

So first up a section on the Reflection Pool. We did actually start off at the Fieldfare Hide, but the fieldfares weren’t playing ball. There were lots in the field, but none of them came anywhere near the hide. The best we managed were some very distant shots – so far away in fact that we didn’t realise there were redwings amongst the fieldfares until we downloaded the photos at home. So here are some fuzzy photos of a distant fieldfare (top) and redwing (below).

fieldfare

red-wing

The Reflection Pool Hide was right behind the fieldfare one, so we cheated a bit and moved to that instead. The pool is set up so that you’re at water level to get the best reflection shots. In total we took over 1000 photos between us yesterday. A new record even for us. Here are some of my favourites from the pool – I have included quite a few (apologies) but there were just so many to choose from – even after I’d deleted several hundred rejects!

The blue tits and great tits probably frequented the pool the most while we were there. You had to be quick to get a photo though and we ended up with a lot of photos of pool with no bird!

blue-tit

great-tit

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I like this action shot of the great tit – shame the only bit really in focus is the edge of the pool though!

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Between visits to the pool, the birds sat on branches nearby waiting their turn it seemed. This great tit was particularly fluffed up against the cold.

great-tit-4

The robins’ red breasts were of course very photogenic reflected in the water; but even the blackbird looked good with his upside down twin!

robin

blackbird

There was a large group of chaffinches in the hedgerow next to us. Initially they were very timid, but once they’d settled a bit they came down and posed for the cameras. We never seem to get chaffinches in our garden for some reason, so we got a bit carried away (again) with the photos.

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chaffinch

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chaffinch-5

chaffinch-4

The prize of our time at this hide though was undoubtedly this Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Chris spotted him in the trees initially and we watched as he gradually got closer.

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woodpecker

woodpecker-on-feeder

Once he’d reached the bird feeder, we held our breath as he got closer to the pool – everything crossed that he’d land there. And he did! An absolutely gorgeous bird looking back at himself.

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You can’t really go wrong with the reflection pool. Whilst not necessarily always technically brilliant (often far from it), all the photos here had some appeal. I even love the photos that weren’t really in focus, like this one of a blue tit taking off. The colours and the reflection make up for the lack of everything else (like focus) you’d normally look for in a photo!

blue-tit-2

While we were in the hide we could hear geese flying overhead, so Chris stuck his head out to try and get some photos. Not easy against the sky to get the exposure right – but at least you can see they are geese!

goose

geese

So that was the first part of our day in the wildlife hides. We were already really chuffed with it all and it was only 11:30am at this point!

Parts 2 and 3 to follow as soon as I’ve waded through the next set of photos. We’d thought things were going well already, but then we went to the Kingfisher Hide…..

 

Out and About – Symonds Yat

We had what seemed like a brilliant idea yesterday to head down to Symonds Yat to see the trees there in all their autumn splendour. As usual of course we didn’t really see what we’d aimed to see, but as is so often the case with our wildlife days out, what we did see more than made up for it. For a start the glorious autumn sunshine we’d hoped for had been replaced with a dull grey mist. Secondly the trees down at Symonds Yat must be a bit behind the ones in Malvern, as they’d not really changed colour yet. So what we could see through the mist wasn’t really the autumn spectacle we’d hoped for. Still we headed to Symonds Yat Rock which sits high up overlooking the horseshoe bend in the River Wye.  The trees below may not all have been golden brown but the view was still stunning.

river-bend

river

We could see the cliffs where Peregrine Falcons nest and thanks to some very kind people who let us use their telescopic sights, we even saw one of the birds in a hole in the rocks. It was way too far away for us to get a photo – but at least we can say we saw a falcon!

symonds-cliffs

The same helpful couple informed us that the strange noises we could hear were rutting Fallow Deer in the woods below (I’d thought the sound was Wild Boar and was arguing with Chris about it, so  good job we met people who knew what they were talking about!) We didn’t see the deer but were reliably informed by our new-found friends that they do sometimes appear and go down to the river.

We may not have managed to see the deer or get photos of the falcons, but fortunately there was plenty of smaller animals that were much more obliging. Volunteers (possibly our two helpers from above) regularly put out bird food at the viewing point on the rock. This was attracting plenty of smaller birds who were clearly used to the flocks of visitors clicking away with their cameras (actually mainly phones of course, apart from us old fogies with actual cameras!) The highlight was a gorgeous Nuthatch – the closest either of us had ever been to one.

nut-hatch

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Various members of the Tit family were also making the most of the bird food. Coal Tits, Blue Tits & Great Tits were all completely unfazed by the visitors. Apparently Marsh Tits frequented the area too, but unfortunately not while we were there.

coal-tit

blue-tit

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great-tit

A Chaffinch completed the array of small birds we saw up on the rock.

chaffinch

One final surprise though was a visitor on the ground beneath all the bird seed. The Bank Vole had clearly learnt that there were easy pickings to be had here and was also relatively unbothered by all the people.

bank-vole

We could have spent a lot longer up at the rock, but we’d booked lunch in one of the pubs down by the river in Symonds Yat East, so headed back down. Symonds Yat East is on the Gloucestershire side of the river, while Symonds Yat West is in Herefordshire. You can get a tiny hand-pulled passenger ferry between the two – the lad pulling the ferry across must have biceps of steel, as he never stopped going back and forth all the time we were there!

As we stood watching the river and the canoeists braving the rapids, we spotted the unmistakable flash of a kingfisher. Of course we’d left the camera back in the car while we had lunch, so Chris legged it back to fetch it while I kept my eye on the kingfisher. I saw it dive into the water a couple of times and watched it fly back and forth across the river. Needless to say by the time Chris got back with the camera it had flown upstream and out of sight. We waited a while for it to reappear, but no joy. A lovely flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in though to complete our small bird collection for the day.

long-tail-tit

So the day may not have provided an autumn spectacle, but we saw a kingfisher, heard some deer, just about saw a falcon, met some nice people, watched a vole and got lots of birdie photos – I’d call that a result!

Hedges and Maybe Fledges?

It’s been a mixed week with the trail cam this last week or so. We’ve either had two happy successes in the garden or one success and one disappointment and we can’t work out which.  The undecided is our baby blue tits.

We’ve been filming the adults going in and out for a few weeks now. They seemed to be doing a good job feeding the babies and we could hear chicks chirping. Then suddenly about 9am last Wednesday the adults started flying back to the box with caterpillars, stopping, peering in and looking confused. We’d had the trail cam on the box continuously and this was a very marked change in behaviour. For the first couple of mini video clips I thought great – because the adults were hanging around outside, clutching the food which made for much better shots. But after the 20th clip of the same thing, we started to worry. We also couldn’t hear the chicks tweeting any more. There was no evidence on any of the films of predation (next door’s cat had been a likely candidate, but couldn’t reach the box with the chicken wire over it). Could the chicks have all fledged and the camera just missed them leaving the box? Have they just died in the box – why would they, when the parents were doing a good job with the food?  Here are a couple of clips of the confused looking adults.

The adults seem to have stopped using the box now, so we could check to see if there are dead chicks in there, but while we don’t know for sure, there’s still hope that they did fledge and it’s a happy ending. The adults are still feeding in the garden and disappear into various trees, so it could be there are chicks hiding amongst the leaves. There’s a lot of general chirping in our apple tree and next door’s damson tree, so fingers crossed they made it.

The definite happy event is that our hedgehog is back! He or she may have been around for weeks, but as we’ve had the trail cam pointed up for bird activity rather than down on the grass we hadn’t realised. So the upside of the end of the bird box activity was that I tried filming downwards at night instead of up! And lo and behold the hedgehog trundled into view.  The first film is a bit blurry – wrong lens or LED setting or something technical (blame the operator!)

Second attempt is a bit sharper and I’d added a bowl of catfood as a bit of a temptation which seemed to do the trick.

Previous years we’ve had a pair of hedgehogs (but of course no trail cam to record them), so fingers crossed we have two this year too. So hopefully more hedgehog action to come.

If anyone can shed any light on the blue tit behaviour – any thoughts would be much appreciated. It will be disappointing if they’ve fledged and the camera missed it, but not as disappointing as if they didn’t make it at all. One final happy thought though – when up this morning before 5am to empty the moth trap and check the hedgehog cam, I spotted what looked like a pair of Long Tailed Tit chicks in the apple tree – so one happy little bird family in the garden at least.