Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Blackbird Nest Record

Blackbirds are typical garden bird and a bird that nests in our garden every year. This year we followed in their foot steps all the way through from building the nest to the chicks fledging. Every year two pairs of Blackbirds battle try to nest in our thick Leylandii Hedge and in our Wisteria. This year the pair in the Wisteria claimed the garden as their territory and I only noticed they were nesting when I saw the female fly up from the lawn into the tree with nesting material. Blackbird nests are usually quite easy to find, however they can be quite tricky when they are located in bramble bushes and things like that, but they are worth looking out for.

18th April - Nest Found in Wisteria

As the days past the nest was almost complete, however they still needed to line it. I thought the Blackbird had abandoned the nest as it seemed to disappear 2 days earlier before the nest was lined line it so I was quite chuffed to see it back, especially as there were Magpies lurking in the trees nearby.

20th April - Nest not lined yet

After the nest had been lined by grasses, we checked it again and found that she had laid two eggs. This was really exciting, however in our garden we had Magpie's attempting to nest and on the look out for an easy snack. They did steal one egg however the male Blackbird kept fighting them off.

24th April - Nest lined and 2 eggs

The female started to incubate the eggs, so when she got off the nest we went to see how many eggs there were now. When we looked, it was great to find that there were actually five eggs, fantastic news.

25th April - Female starts to incubate the 5 eggs

As I watched the female feed herself, I waited in eager anticipation  for the chicks to hatch. The male Blackbird was never far away and stayed on Magpie and Starling duty, doing a great job.

Female taking a quick snack break - I put meal worms out for her.

And then after about 2 and a bit weeks the eggs finally hatched and then guess what popped their heads up. Five gorgeous naked chicks; it was great to see them hatched, however they were more prone to predators now with all the activity of feeding and the noise they were making.

11th May - all 5 chicks hatched and the male Blackbird brings in food with the female

As the chicks grew, both the male and female Blackbirds brought in food. The chicks started to fill the nest and it wouldn't be long before they fledged.

Chicks at 8 days old

The adults were quite used to us being in the garden and seemed quite relaxed flying between the Blackthorn tree and the Wisteria. We had planted some trees and I put a few worms we dug up out for her. She was down to get them in seconds.

By Saturday 24th May (the day before they fledged) all five were standing high out of the nest thinking about fledging and peeping out ready for their last meals in the nest.

24th May - Day before fledging

Finally on Sunday 25th May they all left the nest. Four were really sensible and went into our big Leylandii hedge; however one sat in the neighbours long grass underneath their garden chairs. This worried me because it was just below a dead tree where Jackdaws and Magpie's like to gather (also prone to cats). I didn't need to worry though, the female Blackbird visited it regularly with food and the male chased the magpies away.

Newly fledged Blackbird being fed

As I write this blog, all 5 fledglings are in the garden and doing really well. It has been such a great experience watching the whole process. They have had a great start in life, I wonder what the future holds for them.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Choughed to be Out

I was so excited and very privileged to be out ringing some very special birds on Saturday. I had been invited by Kelvin Jones from BTO Cymru last year (at the Bird Fair) to take part in ringing Choughs. I have waited ages for this day to come and it didn't disappoint one bit. I have seen Choughs over at South Stack several times and down in Cornwall when I was on holiday. So to have this opportunity to get up close was always going to be special. 

Me and my dad set off early as we knew the traffic could  be bad and we wanted to check out a small Nature Reserve called Spinney on the way that we hadn't been to before.  It was great there. It looks out over the estuary which was full of Little Egrets and we also spotted the odd Red Breasted Merganser. 

As we were watching a pair of Great Crested Grebes were being mobbed by a single Oyster Catcher. But then the rain kicked in so we moved on to where we were supposed to be meeting Kelvin.

As we arrived early we decided to have lunch at a cafe with a great view over a Lake, which this time had Goosanders on it. It was a brilliant start to the day, but I had a feeling that it could only to get better.

 Kelvin turned up and explained to us the plan for the day and where we were heading .We were also meeting Adrienne Stratford. Adrienne is amazing and is so knowledgeable about Choughs. She has been studying them for a very, very long time and has been able to understand more about these special birds - how and where they breed, their movements, their social lives etc. Colour ringing the Choughs has been an essential tool  in studying these birds. Not only that, she does all the rock climbing as well! Her dedication to Choughs was so Inspiring.

Before we started the journey up the mountain we had to unload the ladder and get out all the ringing equipment into a bag. We then set off up the cliffs (which was quite a trek).  As we set off we were treated to a pair of Wheatears foraging for food. However as we continued further up, the adult Choughs gave me a hint of where the cave we were heading towards was.

After the trek up the cliff we entered the mouth of the cave. As you can see in the picture below, Adrienne had to use some good climbing skills to get to the nest, as the walls were just plain slimy and the cave was full of water. We ensured the ladder was firm and safe and that the rope would not come undone. After Adrienne came back with the Chough chicks, she explained everything I needed to do, and then it was my turn to get involved.

I have to say the young birds were quite big (at least twice the size of a Blackbird) and a bit wriggly when held, so I let it sit flat on my lap which made it easier for me and more comfortable for the bird. 

After the ringing part was done it was time to do all the other processing i.e. weighing and measuring (the wing and the tarsus). All this data goes into the Chough Project which is really important. 

In this nest we found two chicks. Whilst I went on to ring my second one, Adrienne went to colour ring the first. That was amazing to see how she  uses the colour coded rings for recording data. Using codes and colour sequences on the rings helps tell you where the birds have come from if you see them again. You can then of course look back through the data and see how old they are etc. If you are out and about and see a colour ringed Chough please pass the information on to The British Trust for Ornithology.

Wow, a very lucky me ringing a Chough.

There was some deep sadness attached to the day though - whilst visiting our second nest site later in the day. Adrienne climbed up to the nest to get the chicks for ringing and they had gone- which was immediately very worrying and puzzling.  Then we spotted them dead on the floor - how had they got there and how had they died ? Adrienne suspected foul play and it looked like the birds had been taken out of the nest and crushed. Who would do such an evil thing; that got me really angry. 

To finish my blog post I want to end on a happy note and whilst I was ringing Choughs, I also saw my first ever Cuckoo of the year and in my life! An absolutely brilliant day.  

Thank you so much to Kelvin and Adrienne for letting me join them today and for explaining so much about the project to me. I wonder what lies ahead for the two chicks I ringed today - good luck to them, they will probably need it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Road Hog

We haven't seen a hedgehog around where I live for quite some time, so it was a pleasure to find one a couple of days ago patrolling the lane near our house.

Nothing was getting in it's way, not even the neighbours cat.

We watched it to make sure it got safely into a garden and away from the lane.  I really hope I see it again soon.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Swallows & Barn Owls

Today was all about our RAS projects we are working on (Retrapping Adults for Survival
We were very disappointed that we couldn't get out last week, as the weather was so bad which was so frustrating, as we'd had good hopes to steadily increase our numbers on the Blackcaps.

Our first RAS today was based on the Blackcaps. When we arrived several were singing and calling but working out territories is proving tricky and they did not respond very well today. It was interesting to catch a male which was caught a week or so ago and what appears perhaps to be an unpaired male.

Now after the poor start of Blackcaps we went onto our second RAS of the day; this time for Swallows. We managed to catch 55 birds of which we ringer 48. Some of the retraps were birds we had ringed the year before and some were controls (i.e from other sites). How amazing that these birds have have come back from South Africa to be with us for the summer!

One of the barns we went to contained an occupied owl box and a Kestrel nest. We firstly checked the Kestrel nest and found that the pair were on 5 eggs, fantastic news.

After we had finished with the Kestrel's nest we checked the Barn Owl's which contained 2 chicks and a couple of eggs. Barn Owls had a disastrous breeding season year last year, so it was again fantastic news. (You can find out more about Barn Owls on the Barn Owl Trust website).

This was quite early for the Barn Owls and the chicks are almost ready to ring. I never get tired of seeing these stunning adults up close, they are amazing to see and memories I will never get tired of looking back at.

I hope you all had a great weekend and thanks for reading!!! 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

What A Spectacle!

  As there is a band of warm air moving through Britain this week, I decided to set my moth trap up to see what we could catch, and compare it to last week's. The catch was quite fascinating as always and a whole new array of different species of moth ended up being caught, including all these...

Ruby Tiger the second species of Tiger moth I have ever caught, it was the first species of moth we potted and an amazing delight to see. I think most people don't even know these moths exist - they don't know what they are missing.

Ruby Tiger Moth

It was great to photograph, especially in the sun, and probably one of the best (colour wise) moth we caught through the session.

Ruby Tiger Moth

As you can see in this picture, this species of moth isn't just red on the top, but is a gorgeous scarlet red underneath as well. 

Ruby Tiger Moth

Even though I have caught these moth several times before, it was the first time this year I had caught a Hawk Moth, let alone a Poplar Hawk moth, and best of all there were two in the trap. That orangey pink colour of the under wing is really quite striking.

Poplar Hawk Moth

Another new species of moth for us included this moth called a Spectacle Moth; you might guess where it gets it's name from. I think it is just incredible the range of moths you can get and how they have evolved. 

Spectacle Moth

There is another species of moth that looked almost identical to the Spectacle Moth and this is the Dark Spectacle, however you can tell the difference because of how rough the edge of the Spectacles wing is compared to the likes of the Dark Spectacles wing which is smooth. They also come out at different times of year.

Spectacle Moth

Another species of moth this morning was the Brimstone; a beautiful species which stands out from the crowd .We had a total of 8 in the trap.

This in one of my dads favorite moth, it is called the Buff Ermine, a beautiful moth and the first one we had caught this year. 

Buff Ermine

The biggest moth we caught (apart from the Poplar Hawk Moth) was this Waved Umber, this moth really caught your eye and looked absolutely stunning, but wouldn't stay still for a picture!!!

Waved Umber

At first I thought this moth was a butterfly, however it was a moth called a Clouded Silver, this was one of the first moths that caught our attention inside the trap. 

Clouded Silver

Once we caught and potted all the moths on the inside of the trap we started scanning the grass on the outside of the trap, we came across two new species of moth for the garden; this first one called a Broken Barred Carpet.

Broken Barred Carpet

The second was a moth called a Pale Prominent. This moth reminded me of a dragon even though it doesn't look like it in the picture. It looked just like a piece of  tree bark and was rather hard to spot in the grass.

Pale Prominent

I hope you enjoyed the moths just as much as I did, I am becoming Wilde About Moths as well now!  All the moths are safe in the shed and will be set free after dark so the birds don't get them.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Last Walk with the Swarovski Bins

So my time with the Swarovski Binoculars has come to an end however I want to share my final experience with them...

A walk at my local patch...

My home is located in some beautiful British countryside in the heart of Cheshire. It is a stunning walk through the farmland and woodland and alongside the River Weaver, so I couldn't wait to use the binoculars out on my patch.

Before you even start the walk you have to cross a bridge over a railway line. The banks of the train line are covered in Bramble and Nettles, making great homes for both Lesser and Common White Throat. The view wasn't brilliant due to the bad weather; however the quality of the picture through the bins was brilliantly clear and I managed to pick out all the stunning features of the Common White Throat.

As we continued into the fields of my patch, we started to see some Corvids emerging from the freshly planted maze fields, most of which were Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and a few Magpies; but one of the birds was huge. Only noticing it when it took to the air I realised it was a Raven flushing all the Starlings which were also feeding with the other Corvids. 

So, so far a brilliant start even though the weather wasn't on our sides, seeing and hearing lots of different birds. I am almost onto the second part of talking to you about my walk, but first there is one other species of bird I haven't told you about which also (like the White Throats) breed on my patch.

This bird is in fact the spectacular Buzzard, probably the most frequent bird of prey we see here, but a bird I could never get tired of seeing and especially hearing. That haunting call they do to each other makes me feel so alive and alert. Unfortunately today there was no light which meant we couldn't see all the gorgeous feather colouration, but I still got great close up views through the Swarovskis.

Now, my second part of my walk brings me into a large mixed woodland, alongside the fields I have just been talking to you about.

This wood is home to lots of different species of bird (and other wildlife) and as you probably know most of those species are currently breeding. I observe this area very closely and it is always handy when you have a pair of binoculars with you, as it gives you a better view of the bird and how it's behaving, without getting too close and disturbing them.

I am doing a bit of nest recording in this wood (it is private so I am lucky to have permission to do conservation work and enjoy all the beautiful wildlife here) and along our path we were seeing that most of the adult birds are gathering food, which suggests most of the birds now have chicks . 

Most of the more recognisable bird nests I am currently observing include Blue Tit, Great Tit, Black Bird, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and a Dunnock. These birds are also ones I like to watch and enjoy along the walk.  I am never in any hurry to search out rarities, but what I have found is that if you enjoy watching the common species, every now and then a rarity will find you.

My favorite bird to observe at the moment in the woods has to be the Great Spotted Woodpecker, a common bird breeding here. Like the last couple of years I have found the nest of the Great Spotted Woodpecker, this year right by the side of my feeding station, just before we start the main walk through the wood.

Of course we can't forget all the other birds we saw along the walk, including the lovely Tree creeper a usual suspect we see hanging about near the feeders. The chattering Long Tailed Tits (my favorite of the tit family) often join us on our walk, flitting from tree to tree above our heads. 

So my last walk with the Swarovski Binoculars has been a massive success, with 26 species of bird recorded just today. They have traveled everywhere with me including to Norfolk and back. 

My last day with the Swarovski bins was spent as I think it should be; on my local patch making the most of all the amazing wildlife right on my doorstep.

Thank you so much A Focus on Nature and Swarovski for the opportunity to see that bit further. It will be hard letting the bins go, but they are now heading off to Ewan Miles on the Isle of Mull. I can't wait to see what he records with them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Good Question 20

It must be time for another Quiz Night Tuesday and it's back to music again this week.

So for this weeks quiz you need to name 15 music groups or artists with a plant in their name, for example The Stone Roses.  And then if you want to, you can say which ones are in your music collection! 

So have a go and leave a comment with all the ones you can think of. I have switched on the comments approval thing so you can't copy each other.

Good luck.

I will put on all the ones from mum and dads CD's tomorrow night, even the embarrassing ones.

And my answers are:

The Stone Roses, Buddy Holly, Guns & Roses, The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Super Grass, Lou Reed, Lilly Allen, Phil Oakley, Kate Bush, The Cranberries, The Beech Boys (cheating a bit), Chuck Berry, Hot House Flowers, Robert Plant, The Lightning Seeds, Prefab Sprout and The Tiger Lillies.

I think Chris will have to be this weeks winner for coming up with Britney Asparagus Spears! Cheating even more than we did.

Thank you all for joining in.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Retrapping Adults for Survival

As it was Bank Holiday Monday, me and my dad were out ringing for the second time of the long weekend. Today we were working on our RAS (Re-trapping Adults for Survival) project. You can find out more about the RAS project on the BTO website by clicking here. With this project we are trying to catch as many Blackcaps as we can; so far we are on 29 encounters, 27 of which were new and of course 2 of which were re-traps.

We think there are 25+ breeding pairs in the site we were ringing at, all of which owning territories in different parts of the wood, however working out those territories can be quite difficult which makes catching the birds also difficult. For instance if you are only slightly out of the bird's territory range, you won't catch it (as I said it can be quite difficult).

Over the last couple of weeks we have been catching a steady number of  birds perhaps 6 or 8 a session, which is quite a reasonable amount, however disappointingly we only caught one today (of course the session is still as enjoyable as ever); however we don't just catch Blackcaps when we put nets up in random places, we also catch any other bird flying through the nets path. Today we caught a lovely fledged Long Tailed Tit easily distinguished from the adult.

This is our second year of the RAS project and each year the information becomes more and more meaningful.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Friday, 2 May 2014

Chocolate Moths!

During the week I was lucky enough to have the chance to set up my moth trap, we all thought it was a good idea as my mum was away in London so it would keep us out of trouble.

We had just got back from Frodsham Marsh (seeing a Marsh Harrier, plenty of White Throats and a group of three Redshanks) when I thought of the idea. Just look at the sun shining through the primaries on this magpie at the marsh. I was very hopeful about the moth trap because it was a warmer night.

After eager anticipation over night I got up at 5:30am as I couldn't wait to see what I had caught.  We have only set the trap up a few times this year (not catching much); however I have to say that night turned out differently.

The catch started off with a few smaller dart moths (like Shuttle Shaped Darts), but when we turned over the first egg box we saw and potted this stunning Chocolate Tip, a new species for me.

Chocolate Tip

Our second brilliant moth (well they all were) was the Pale Tussock, this would have to be one of the best moths I have ever caught. It was truly stunning, but wouldn't keep still for a photo (this moth is another first for me). It really is worth going to Google images and looking at the caterpillar for this moth, you won't believe it.

Pale Tussock

We set up the trap at the perfect time really as this is slap bang in the middle of their flight season.

Another new species for us was the Scalloped Hazel, this one below the more duller version than the second one we caught...

Scalloped Hazel

Now I said before the "dart" moths we caught included was the Shuttle Shaped Moth like these in the picture below.

Shuttle Shaped Darts

One of my favorite small moths included this beautiful Flame Shoulder, certainly easy to distinguish from most moths but dad (maturely) made me go and check it.

Flame Shoulder

Out of all the moths, the smallest was the Chinese Character, this was my dad's favorite and I have to admit it was quite nice and a bit mouse like.

Chinese Character

This moth below may look easy to i.d however it wasn't, we were tying between two moths that almost looked identical, however me and dad came to a final conclusion that it was a Dark Barred Twin Spot.

Dark Barred Twin Spot (maybe)

Now back to the Scalloped Hazel. In this picture you can clearly tell this moth on the right was much more striking and the f.nigra variety dark form. When we first saw the moth in the trap we had not a clue, but our copy of Field Guide to Moths by Paul Waring, Martin Townsend and Richard Lewington really helped.

Scalloped Hazel (we think).

To end the morning a male Sparrowhawk came to join us, sorry about the picture it was taken through the window.

Then after all that work in the morning it was time for school!