Birdwatching is my obsession. If I’m unable to get out at the weekend to one of my local parks I am full of regret and woe. Thankfully, I mostly do find time, and as I work at a school I am currently on Easter Holidays. What better time to go out hunting for eggs?
I got into birding (and subsequently nesting) through my father, who is an expert on birds and knows quite a lot about other things too. He is always on hand to answer any queries I may have about identification of birds, methods for finding nests, recognition of calls and songs. He’s basically an ornithological wizard and during this time of year we are regularly texting each other updates of our nesting successes in a seemingly cryptic language, like:
“First Lotti about N3. Different bush”
“Meapi 4E WA at Manor Common”.
Its not actually a secret code that my father and I have developed to deter rival nesting gangs from spying on us (we don’t have any rival nesting gangs), it’s just the code that is used by anyone submitting data to the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Nest Record Scheme (NRS).
Lotti = Long-tailed tit
N3 = Nest 3/4 built
Meapi = Meadow pipit
4E WA = Four eggs warm (indicating incubation has begun)
‘Different bush’ is actually a secret code and I defy anyone to crack it.
Anyway, the NRS is a vital scheme and the BTO do invaluable work with all the data sent off to them by nesters throughout the UK. You can read more about the NRS in my sidebar (or at the bottom of the page if you’re on a phone) and you can read much more and find out how to get involved by going here.
So, for most weekends since Christmas I’ve been out on my local patches surveying what birds are about and which spots might make good nesting sites.
Two weeks back, as I was stalking a pair of courting Robins, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a nest hole about three meters up in an Ash. There looked to be some fresh scraping around the hole and I had seen Great spotted woodpeckers in this part of the park on a previous weekend – but as these thoughts were going through my mind, the luminous green head and deep red bill of a Ring-necked parakeet popped out of the nest hole, looked at me and slowly ducked back in.
I had stumbled upon my first nest of the year. Even though it was a nest that I wouldn’t be able to properly survey without an endoscopic camera, and it belonged to a non-native species that some birders look down on, the rush of joy and excitement of discovering it was still there. Finding a nest is like being let in on a secret. Witnessing something that is happening all around you but is seldom seen. So I moved back from the nest, found a tree to lean on, and stayed there for several hours.
The female emerged again not long after I had fallen back and was joined by her mate who had been faithfully standing guard in a nearby tree.
They mated and then flew off to feed. This indicated to me that she had just laid an egg, as many birds mate straight after laying, and she did not return to incubate.
Most birds lay one egg a day and don’t start incubating till a full clutch has been laid. This is so all the chicks hatch at the same time and grow at a similar rate. The exceptions being birds of prey (and other large birds) who incubate from the first egg and in difficult years depend upon having a a runt of the litter for the stronger chick(s) to devour. This type of behavior, which is shocking to many, is broadcast live most years on BBC’s Spring Watch. 🙂
I returned the next day to see if my theory was correct – that pair of parakeets were at the laying stage. This time I had arrived a bit earlier and was able to observe the female go into the nest, stay in for about twenty minutes, re-emerge, mate, and then fly off to feed without returning to incubate. Nailed it.
After watching the parakeets coming and going I became keen to find some new nests, which I could fully observe. But after a couple of weekends I wasn’t having much luck.
I had found two Long-tailed tit’s nests, but both were in the middle of the thickest brambles so I couldn’t inspect the nests without leaving an obvious path to them, which would be appreciated by any predators. I had also found a definite nest site of a Robin, but that too was inaccessible, as it was in the middle of a large wood pile and removing any sticks would risk damage to the nest.
I was getting pretty distraught, as you can imagine, until I came across this Mistle thrush at building stage.
Great! I thought. I’ll leave it to its building, check up on it soon. It’s only about four meters up in a pretty climbable tree. Totally recordable.
Though, to my horror, upon my return the next week, the birds were gone and the only bits of nest which were left lay at the foot of the tree. Early predation perhaps? Or the birds just decided it was a rubbish site? It did look pretty flimsy at the early stage of building. Nevertheless, I courageously carried on, mostly searching for where the thrushs had moved on too, they’d have to try again somewhere. Unless they were dead.
Thankfully they weren’t dead, and I found their new nest not far away. The female was incubating but, alas, the nest was just out of reach in a less climbable tree.
Needless to say, at this point I was starting to lose faith entirely. What was I doing? Why couldn’t I find any nests? Who goes around looking for nests anyway? It’s a mug’s game.
These kinds of thoughts weighed heavily on my mind, until Easter Sunday. I was returning from another unsuccessful nest hunt around the park, beside myself with feelings of defeat, when I noticed another Mistle thrush’s nest! This one was much higher than the previous ones, about 7 or 8 meters up, but I’m really good at climbing trees so I went for it. As I ascended, planning my route, testing branches, an ecstatic rush coursed through me – partly adrenaline (not fear) from climbing up the tree, but also the excitement of what I might find upon reaching my target. I was not disappointed.
A beautiful egg, one which I had never seen before. And the nest, decorated with feathers. Great. Totally worth it.
Don’t look down though!
Stay tuned to see how the nests progress, don’t get too sad if they get predated though, it happens often. That’s life!