Blashford Bird Box Bulletin

Introduction by Jim Day

Brenda Cook, British Trust for Ornithology volunteer and bird ringer, has been ringing and recording birds at Blashford Lakes with fellow BTO volunteer and lead ringer Kevin Sayer for many years now, but the nest box monitoring scheme is her own project and relatively new having started in 2012. She and her stalwart HIWWT volunteer assistant, Jacki, were actually in today checking, cleaning, repairing and replacing nest boxes where needed ready for the 2019 nesting season so this blog, based on her report which was e-mailed to us on New Years Day, is quite timely!

I believe it makes interesting reading so have sought Brenda’s permission to publish it here.  If nothing else it may help to explain to all those visitors who are curious as to why our nest boxes are so (relatively) low – basically so Brenda can see into them without the need for a step ladder, solving a H&S conundrum, generally making life easier and the birds don’t care anyway! Thanks to Brenda for her hard work and for sharing the data collected with us:

BLASHFORD LAKES NESTING REPORT FOR 2018 – by Brenda Cook

Each year since 2012 as soon as Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over I always begin to think about the Blashford Lakes nest boxes and it was the same this year in 2018. Spring would soon be arriving and the birds would be beginning to look at the nest boxes in preparation for building their nests. I wanted to do my usual checks of cleaning out, repairing and replacing the very old rotten boxes as soon as possible. The Young Naturalists (YN’s) had kindly made 12 new boxes this year which I planned to use to replace old boxes or site on new trees.

yn bird box

It was on January 13th that Jacki and I found the time and suitable weather to go round and do our checks in preparation for the breeding season. We eventually ended up with 62 boxes to start monitoring. The boxes have a variety of hole sizes from 25mm – 32mm to suit either Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit or Nuthatch. Each nest box now has a metal plate fitted around the hole to prevent predation from particularly woodpeckers and squirrels. This has been very successful. I also have a couple of specially made Tree Creeper boxes which I am hoping one day will be used for nesting.

The first official nest box check took place on 14.4.18 and we found nest building taking place in many of the boxes. There were even cold eggs in 3 of the nest boxes. I knew that by the following Saturday there would be females incubating eggs. The first naked and blind chicks were found in 2 boxes on 29.4.18. This was much earlier than in 2017 when we had to wait until 22nd April for our first chicks.  I was keeping a close eye on the new YN’s boxes and pieces of moss were found in a lot of these boxes, but not all continued to form a complete nest.

I took photos at different stages and sent these with updates so Tracy would be able to inform the YN’s of the progress in their boxes.

The early weather was not perfect for the nesting birds, but then as we all know conditions improved and it became hot and dry which meant the adults did not have to do so much brooding of the growing chicks and were able to spend their time collecting the plentiful food. Chick survival rate was good and also the numbers which eventually fledged. A total of 204 Blue Tit eggs were laid in the boxes and 169 chicks were ringed. Great Tit females laid 141 eggs and 102 chicks were ringed.

I was able to show the YN’s a little about nest box monitoring on Sunday 27th May. They came round with me in small groups and we looked in nest boxes to see different stages of nesting and saw the difference between a Blue Tit and Great Tit nest. The Blue Tits line their nests with lots of feathers and the Great Tits line theirs with hair, fur wool and other soft material, though rarely feathers.

The YN’s also saw adult birds in the hand and chicks at different stages of development. They actually saw me ring some chicks which they all seemed interested in, so maybe there will be some future ringers among the YN’s!

A total of 42 nest boxes all reached the egg stage which is from when the BTO like me to keep records to enter on the new online DEMON data system. Out of the 12 new YN boxes 6 of them fledged young successfully. The last check for fledging from the final nest box took place on 7.6.18.

I also found time to monitor a Blackbird’s nest in a bramble bush and 3 Reed Warbler nests during the breeding season at Blashford.

These are the results from all the nests I found at Blashford Lakes in 2018.

 

SPECIES NESTS EGGS PULLI RINGED PULLI FLEDGED NEST SUCCESS NEST FAILURE
BLUE TIT 23 204 169 154 21 2
GREAT TIT 19 141 102   70 16 3
NUTHATCH   1        4     4     4   1  
BLACKBIRD   1        4     3     3   1  
REED WARBLER   3     12     8     8   2 1
             
             

I am always interested in re-trapping the females who are nesting in the boxes. I managed to trap all females from the boxes monitored. This is time consuming, but if done at the right time provides me with data on their age, their survival rate how many eggs they lay, how many they manage to hatch and the numbers of chicks they have successfully fledged. I always take measurements of these birds. The most interesting is their weight. If the birds are of a good weight they have prepared themselves well for breeding. They have managed to find plenty of food and survived well over the Winter months. These birds are likely to lay more eggs, be good at incubating, and are fit enough and have enough energy to be able to feed their hatched young through to successful fledging. The heaviest female Blue Tit this year was 13.8 g and the heaviest Great Tit was 21.9g. I also managed to trap a few of the males and would like to try to trap more next year to add to my data and see if any have the same mate.

I have discovered over the years that once females have used a particular nesting box they like to use it the following year. If another female has got there before them they nest in a neighbouring box and then return to their original box if possible the next year. The 4 oldest birds I had nesting this year were born in 2013 and most of them I have trapped each year while nesting.

Another piece of interesting data is that 5 chicks I have ringed in boxes over the years are now using nest boxes to produce their own young. 2 of these were ringed in 2015.

We have done a couple of mist netting sessions in November to help collect data for a new project on Blue Tit moult for the BTO. This has also provided me with some re-traps of this years fledged chicks. This data shows me which young are surviving and I hope to find them nesting in 2019.  There were 3 Blue Tit chicks from Box 102.  2 from Box 6b.  1 from Box 107A. 1 from Box 110 and 1 from Box 113. There were also some Great Tits re-trapped and these were  1 from Box D. 1 from Box 5A. 1 from Box 101 and 2 from Box YN 11(TB.) There was also 1 Nuthatch chick re-trapped from the four I had ringed.

We also caught 2 Blue Tit chicks from Box 110 on 29.8.18 and 16.9.18 during one of our mist netting sessions near the Lapwing Hide. The second bird was undergoing post juvenile moult. A Great Tit was also re-trapped on 24.10.18 and this bird was able to be aged as a 3M and was from Box YN 9(WH).

I am really pleased with all the data I have managed to collect since 2012. Each year I have increased the starting number of boxes which I begin monitoring. I have records of dates when the birds begin to nest, lay their eggs, their young hatch, the numbers of chicks I have ringed and finally the numbers fledged. I have evidence of re-trapping females in the same nest box each year and now there are chicks I have ringed who are using the nest boxes to build their own nests and have their own young.

Below are charts showing the results of my NEST BOX MONITORING for Great Tit, Blue Tit and Nuthatch from 2012 – 2018.

 

GREAT TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 75 51 19 6 5
2013 8 49 40 15 4 4
2014 13 93 88 44 9 4
2015 18 133 94 58 12 6
2016 19 121 81 56 14 5
2017 13 95 85 55 11 2
2018 19 141 102 70 16 3
BLUE TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 85 26 10 3 8
2013 12 101 65 32 7 5
2014 13 103 82 38 9 4
2015 12 101 75 59 8 4
2016 17 129 107 62 14 3
2017 16 148 137 87 13 3
2018 23 204 169 154 21 2
NUTHATCH NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 0
2013 1 7 7 7 1
2014 1 7 7 6 1
2015 2 13 12 10 2
2016 1 7 7 4 1
2017 1 3 3 3 1
2018 1 4 4 4 1

 

I always enjoy doing the nest box monitoring, but would not be able to do it without the kind permission and help from the people mentioned below.

I would like to say thank you very much to John Durnell and Bob Chapman for giving me permission to monitor the boxes. To Jacki Griffiths for helping me again this year and to two of my friends who filled in when Jacki was on holiday. To Jim Day who kindly lends me Jacki from her usual Saturday voluntary jobs and lastly to Tracy Standish, Geoff Knott and the YN’s for making the new nest boxes.

Making Preparations

Although it feels very much like winter there are preparations for the coming spring afoot. At Blashford Lakes I spent Tuesday working with our volunteer team clearing the Long Spit island and the open ground of the old Hanson plant making the ground ready for nesting lapwing, little ringed plover, common tern and black-headed gull. Lapwing can settle down to nest as early as the start of March and will be pairing up at nest sites well before then if the weather is suitable.

before

The Long Spit before clearance

after

Long Spit after clearance

It was very cold and we had feared we would also get wet as there were some fierce showers, luckily they mostly missed us and by the time we had finished the sun was out.

By way of proof of approaching spring I spotted a pair of blue tit checking out a nest box outside my kitchen window, luckily the Blashford boxes have all been cleaned out, a reminder for me to do mine at home.

blue tit investigating

Blue tit checking out the nest box outside my kitchen window at the weekend.

Today we were working with our new volunteer team at Fishlake Meadows, again we were making preparations for later in the year. This time it was scrub cutting in preparation for grazing parts of this new reserve. Although much of the reserve is open water and reedbed there are areas of wet grassland that is gradually getting ranker and invaded by willow and bramble. To arrest this we plan a light grazing regime to maintain the mix of grass, fen and small patches of low scrub. Today we removed some young willow and cleared small alder to leave a few larger trees that will provide valuable shade for cattle in the summer sun.

start

Making the first cuts – the Fishlake volunteers starting out.

We were lucky with the weather, it was cold, but we managed to stay out of the wind and in the sun making it feel rather pleasant, hopefully we will be as lucky next time.

finish

With the scrub removed these trees will provide valuable shade for the cattle later in the year.

As we walked out to the worksite I saw a distant great white egret and on the way back we watched 2 red kite sparring with a pair of crow.

In the afternoon I returned to Blashford Lakes and got a quick picture of a water pipit outside Tern hide, nit the best I have seen but the best picture I have managed,

water pipit

water pipit

I am very lucky to be able to see quite a lot of wildlife as I go about my working day, however there are times when I should definitely have been looking the other way. As we headed out to work on the Long Spit on Tuesday we apparently disturbed an otter from the lakeside and it then swam by the Tern hide, somehow none of us saw it!

At Blashford we are also at the start of preparations of a different kind, we are planning a number of improvements around the reserve. To fund this we are hoping to apply for a grant and part of this process involves sounding out our visitors for their experience of the reserve. If you have visited recently it would be very useful to have your views, a questionnaire is attached here: Blashford Lakes Questionnaire if you are able to complete it and email it to us it would greatly help us with our grant application.

 

A Sandwich to End the Day

Bird News: Ibsley Waterwhimbrel 10, dunlin 1, black-tailed godwit 2, white wagtail 1, common tern 10, common sandpiper 2, Sandwich tern 1. Ivy Lake – Cetti’s warbler 1, pochard 1, water rail 1.

The day started brilliant and blue, there was nothing for it but to stand in a sunny spot and take in the bright and song filled morning, at least for a minute or two, every day should start this way.

trees and blue sky

My day actually started at the tern hide, at first there seemed nothing of note, then I realised there were some waders on the islands, in fact 10 whimbrel, mostly roosting, our first passage group of the spring and my first of the year apart from a single wintering bird on the coast back in January.

Much of the morning was spent  checking some of the nest boxes. A good few were occupied, mostly by blue tits, which were still laying and great tits most of which are now incubating clutches. Some were occupied by wood mice and one by grey squirrel and several showed signs that something had been inside but what was unclear.

We did come across several insects int he course of our wanderings including a mating pair of leaf beetles, I think this is the species which makes lace out of dock leaves a little later in the season.

beetles on nettle

One particular sycamore tree had columns of ants marching up and down it, I could not obviously see why there were so many on this one trunk, unless there was a sap run somewhere higher up.

ants on sycamore trunk

Looking closely to try to work out why there were so many ants and just what they were up to I spotted several ants checking out a beetle, at first I thought the ants were attacking it, but this was not so. The beetle did not seem to be enjoying the attention but each ant that approached wandered off after a few seconds once their curiosity was satisfied.

ant and beetle

The clear blue start to the day sis not last, cloud slowly built during the morning and developed into heavy showers by lunchtime and pretty general rain by the mid afternoon. The rain drove most visitors away, but this can be a mistake at this time of year. Very heavy rain forces down any birds flying over and in extreme conditions birds can almost drop out of the sky. The effect was not strong today but the intense showers did seem to produce a couple of black-tailed godwit, a dunlin and a 2 or 3 common terns. At the end of the day I just made it to the Tern hide ahead of another squall and was rewarded with the sight of a Sandwich tern flying down Ibsley Water as the rain cleared again. Sandwich terns do not often venture inland and this was my first sighting at Blashford, no doubt blown in with the squall. I also noticed a female white wagtail in the small flock of pied wagtails on the shore of the lake, only the second I have seen this year, although there is still time for more. The white wagtails, like the black-tailed godwits will be on their way to Iceland.

 

Larking About and Boxed Up

Bird News: Ibsley Water goosander 23+, black-necked grebe 1, redshank 3, chiffchaff 2. Ivy LakeCetti’s warbler 1, brambling 1. Woodlandwoodlark 1.

A foggy start meant I could see nothing of Ibsley Water first thing and rather little of Ivy Lake either. A black-necked grebe was reported from Iblsey Water later in the day and as I locked up I saw 3 redshank and a modest collection of goosander sitting on the spit to the east of the Tern hide.

It was Thursday so the weather quickly cleared so the volunteers could work in pleasantly warm, conditions. Today we were constructing a compost heap especially for grass snakes to breed in, or at least that is the hope.

volunteers building the snake heap

We also sorted out most of the remaining damaged nest boxes and put many of the back up as well as GPS locating them so I might just be able to find them again! The bird highlight of the day was most unexpected and happened just after I took the picture, my phone rang and then above the sound of hammering and the talking in my ear I caught the liquid notes of a singing woodlark drifting about somewhere high above us. It is one of the most evocative of songs and would have been wonderful if I could have got all the other noises to stop. I have seen the occasional woodlark on the reserve before, but never in March and never singing.

Other birds today included the or a male brambling, I am still not sure there is more than one, in the trees near the Ivy South hide and 2 chiffchaff between the Goosander and Lapwing hides.

Fog permitting, I will be doing a waterfowl count tomorrow so I should at least have a good look around and so something more to report.