Nest Boxes – Rounds Three and Four

Our two nest box schemes are keeping Alice, John, Gail and I busy at the moment, hence this update covering the last two weekends; rounds three and four in terms of our visits. 
 
On 21st May we visited our Bowland site for Pied Flycatchers first, and ringed 14 birds. These were seven Great Tit pulli, six Blue Tit pulli and an adult female Pied Flycatcher. We've trapped all the females now, and last weekend we concentrated on the males. More of that later.
 
Blue Tit in Gail's hands
 
As usual in this cracking piece of semi-natural ancient woodland we had singing Garden Warbler, several singing Pied Flycatchers of course, three singing Blackcaps, two singing Chiffchaffs and a singing Goldcrest. Interestingly, and worryingly, no Willow Warblers though! 
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 
At our Tree Sparrow site, we ringed 35 birds, and all were pulli: 15 Blue Tits, a Tree Sparrow (the remainder of the brood were too big!) and 19 Great Tits.
 
The following Monday, Gail and I were in the northeast near Newcastle carrying out the final breeding bird survey (BBS) at this particular site. 
 
Gail and I watched a pair of Swifts mating on the wing, and neither of us could remember whether we had observed this before. If we have, it can only be a handful of times or less, based on the fact that we couldn't remember! During the act of mating and flying, the two birds together looked a little like a bi-plane, as the male was on top of the female, giving the impression of a single bird with two pairs of wings. Fabulous! 
 
The best of the rest of the survey, as I am fond of saying, included two singing Skylarks, a singing Whitethroat and a singing Yellowhammer
 
On Saturday (28th) we were back at our nest box sites. At our Pied Flycatcher site in the Hodder Valley, we ringed 39 birds and all were pulli; 5 Nuthatches, 26 Great Tits and 8 Blue Tits. We also trapped two male Pied Flycatchers in their respective nest boxes. One of these males was ringed at this site on 25th May 2019 in box 18, one of a brood of eight. In 2020, we trapped him in box 4, where he was the father of a brood of seven. In 2021 we didn't trap him at all, probably as a result of the heavy nest predation that was prevalent in the boxes that year.
 
Nuthatch
 
The biological data that this provides is of immense conservation value, mainly because the data is so robust and complete. If we take this male for example, we know the exact location where he was hatched (box & site etc), the date he was ringed, which boxes he has reared chicks in, we have trapped the female, and we will ring the pulli next week. So, we will have marked and recorded the details of every individual of that family, and we know exactly where that box is, exactly where and when the chicks hatched, and we know exactly how old they are. Powerful stuff! And even more powerful, when you use this date to measure and monitor the effects of climate change on changing bird populations. 
 
General mist netting to trap and ring birds for example, particularly outside a project, although still providing sound conservation data, doesn't provide as robust a data set as that of a project ringing the pulli and associated adults. I would extend this work if I could to include the Blue and Great Tits, if it was possible to trap the adults without causing too much disturbance, but sadly the Tits aren't as tolerant of what is minimal disturbance. And the bird's welfare always come first before the science.
 
The voluntary work that I, and other ringers, carry out through catching and ringing birds is of course very enjoyable, but the main reason that I do it, is to 'put something back', to help in the conservation of the birds that I am ringing. I suppose if you were to push me on this, I would say that my 'birding' is what I do for a giggle, in that it is less scientific, and carried out more for pleasure and enjoyment. Although having said that, it is possible to make your birding 'count' from a conservation perspective, and I try to do that as well. 
 
I nearly forgot, the second male wasn't one of ours, so the details have been submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), via their Demography Online (DemOn) program, and we should find out next week where he is from. More powerful data! 
 
Over at our Tree Sparrow site near Garstang, we just ringed ten pulli; 4 Great Tits and 6 Blue Tits. We check all the occupied boxes until the chicks have fledged, and it was pleasing to note that all the Tree Sparrows that we ringed have now fledged successfully, and the adults will now be thinking about getting on with a second brood.  
 
We'll be back at the boxes next weekend, for what might be the final check of 2022.
 
I received some sad news yesterday, that a lovely man, Bryan Yorke, who also happened to be a fantastic birder, botanist and all-round naturalist, had sadly passed away. This came as a real shock, as I had been reading some of Bryan's blog posts recently. Bryan lived just over the border from Lancashire, though he was a Lancashire lad, in south Cumbria, in fact in the same village that my brother-in-law and family live in, Burton-in-Kendal. 
 
His blog, I love Arnside and Silverdale, was always an interesting read, whether he was blogging about visible migration over his beloved Hutton Roof, or his home in Burton, or perhaps about ferns and other flora, it was always educational, as well as being royally entertaining. Besides being a great naturalist, Bryan was also a great writer and poet, and sometimes his blog posts included a poem that he had written about the subject he was blogging about, often accompanied by one of his quirky cartoons. 
 
Below I have posted one of his poems and cartoons from a blog post from April 2020 about a 'confusion' of Willow Warblers.
 
A 'confusion of Willow Warblers' by Bryan Yorke (above & below)
 
Flying in the dark through a moonlit sky,
Falling from high like little angels, 
Floating down on a wavering leaf,
The confusion has now begun.
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Daytime closed you were not seen,
Whilst morning waked you plenty,
So tred so soft our leaf explorer,
A 'bouquet' of special prize to us,
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Your music is a descending tale,
Which finish the year 'hou whit',
A choir with pairs sings thy will,
A 'fall' would be a lot of thee,
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Sylvia's hand of lucid intricacy,
You thread that weave so delicately, 
To house and raise a splendid cast,
It's a start to a 'wrench' fulfilled
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
I didn't know Bryan very well, but occasionally we would message each other regarding notable bird movements over our respective vis-mig watch points, or about Swifts in his village. Back in May 2018, I was reading one of Bryan's blog posts via Facebook, as I often do if I'm using my phone, rather than my pc, to look at such things, and I 'liked' his post. It was very early, in fact I was eating my breakfast, and at 4:03 am my phone 'pinged' with a message from Bryan that said:
 
"Seumus, I am not the only mad bugger up at this time!! I normally wake up and have a brew, and catch up a bit with my writings, then try and get back to sleep for an hour or two. Have a great day, Bryan".
 
I replied:
 
"You're not Bryan...lol! I'm just heading up to Cockermouth to do a bird survey, you too enjoy your day".
 
A priceless little exchange between two people mad about the natural world, and an exchange that I will now treasure. I send my condolences to Bryan's family at this sad time.
 
The natural world has lost a great friend, champion and orator, and Hutton Roof will never quite be the same without Bryan's presence in that exceptional landscape.