Monday, August 31, 2009

Caught Out

It was a visit to a smallholding to check and record the nest outcomes. Even though I was pretty sure the Swallows had finished, something made me look in the nest first used in May that’s just a foot from the one used for the second brood in July. Unable to see in the dark ledge, my fingers carefully felt in the cup to fall upon three tiny young. At it again for the third brood!

I checked around all the usual spots again, my pockets bulging with Bonios for the dogs, three Border Terriers, Mollie the Border Collie, Bess the Alsatian cross or my other pals the two Jack Russell. But where there are animals there are Swallows, whether dogs, chickens or horses or the nearby llamas. Animals mean both insects to eat and nest building material, wool, feathers and horse hair, strong and long. And don't let anyone say that photographing animals is easy, especially when they are trying to lick you to death. Think I'll stick to birds.




Each year I leave all the nests for the adults to decide what to do the following year. On balance I think it best not to take down the old nests, we don’t know what part the existence of last year’s nest plays in say encouraging pair bonding, building upon an old nest or starting from scratch with a new construction. Also in some years April or May can be quite dry when the adults may struggle to find the necessary damp building materials that often start a nest. What I do know is that as we might expect, the first spots chosen each spring are the ones in the darkest corners, the most sheltered and the least disturbed from the comings and goings of humans.

In a chicken shed another brood were well fledged but staying indoors this morning waiting for food from parents and maybe waiting for the sun to emerge before they took the plunge.

Back on the computer I filled out a new Nest Record on Integrated Population Monitoring and Recording (IPMR). The amount of information collected by Nest Records is quite phenomenal, including:

  • The habitat to several levels of precision
  • The height, position, direction and location of the nest and its exposure in relation to the habitat
  • Records of each visit
  • The stages of eggs and young
  • Adult activity, male or female, both or unknown
  • Nest outcomes whether success or failure
  • Chick handling e.g. numbers, siblings, development stage

On IPMR the system will even estimate nest statistics as in 1st egg date, 1st pullus date and fledging date. I estimate that the young from today’s nest should fledge round about 13th September and be independent of the adults a week or two later, setting off to Africa just before the end of the month. If the weather is as bad as forecast this week it could delay that schedule more because if we have a prolonged wet and cool spell the young sometimes go into a state of torpor that delays the normal fledging period.

The BTO call the Nest Record Scheme “a vital barometer to help monitor the health of the UK’s breeding birds”. I couldn’t agree more but they should add that it is a very enjoyable, rewarding way to put a little bit of science into one’s birding and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking to study birds in more detail.

Have a look at

Later this afternoon in the conservatory, after an aborted and very wet walk from Knott End to Pilling and a single Little Egret, I watched three Great-spotted Woodpeckers careering around the garden while squabbling over the peanuts on offer in neighbours gardens and vowed to buy some of my own tomorrow.


Fleetwood Birder said...

I hope you're not losing it Phil with pictures of bird scarers!

Pete Woodruff said...

Enjoyed the read Phil but if I'm honest I wanted to ask if you have an 'enlargement' of the Knott End pic opposite these comments. I think its an excellent photograph, thats official and one for Birds2blog sometime.

Phil said...

I think birders are in danger of demonising dogs, something i am guilty of when in fact it's the owners who can be the guilty party. Who couldn't say ah! to Bess?

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