A Harrowing Nesting Adventure…

The time had come to check the infamous Mistle thrush nest, which was covered in my first and second blog posts.

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If my calculations were correct, the eggs should have hatched. With all that I had learnt from nesting literature and the NRS forum, I was anticipating an aggressive display from the adult birds. What I had read had made me somewhat anxious, as the nest was quite high up and I didn’t want to tarnish my never-having-fallen-out-of-a-tree record.

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As I approached the tree, I was greeted with raucous alarming from both parents. Surprisingly, I was not the cause of the alarm. The pair had spotted a menacing-looking Crow nearby and had begun to fearlessly launch themselves at it. I watched closely and imagined I was the Crow, hoping to prepare myself. After a few fierce dive-bombs from one of the Thrushes, the Crow decided to forego it’s predatory meal and flew far across the park. Both parents left the tree to see the Crow off – the perfect time to begin my assent.

Having visited this nest twice before, the path upwards felt quite familiar, so I climbed as quickly as possible to minimise disturbance and any chance of attack from the protective parents. But, as soon as I was a few meters up, the cacophony of two alarming Mistle thrushes surrounded me.

I continued climbing but braced myself every few seconds as I felt the birds swoop by my head. They were getting so close that I could feel the air, being pushed from under their wings, parting my hair. Thankfully, the birds did not make contact and I was able to reach the nest without injury.

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Two healthy looking chicks and one unhatched egg, most likely not fertilised.

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I hastily clambered down, but as I looked to ground I was greeted by the unnerving sight of another wild force, circling the bottom of the tree.

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The fox hadn’t spotted me so I was able to get a quick picture whilst dangling from a low-ish branch.

I wasn’t actually unnerved by the presence of the fox, they are shy creatures and avoid direct contact with people (it could probably just smell the empanada in my backpack that lay at the foot of the tree). The encounter simply added to the wildness of the situation, and made me feel happy to be doing what I was doing   🙂

The Nest Record Scheme gets about 70 records a year for Mistle thrush, which is relatively small when compared to the ~1,300 received for Blackbird and ~500 for Song thrush. I am currently monitoring three Mistle thrush nests, and hope to find more next year.

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Nests from Cornwall

During my short stay in Cornwall last week my father and I were kept pretty busy monitoring his already-discovered nests, searching for new ones, and going to the pub. After reading this blog my step-brother Jake said he was inspired to join us on one of our nesting expeditions – even willing to get up 9am! Nice to see the blog is already making a difference to people’s lives! 😉

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After checking in on a few roadside Stonechat nests (no eggs yet) we stopped at a local patch and happened to park right beside a Wren’s nest.

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The male Wren will build five or six nests like this, called cock’s nests, and try to persuade a female in the area to use one. After inspecting each in turn, a female will let the male know if she’s convinced by lining the nest of her choice. The cock’s nests that don’t get picked may go on to be used by the pair for a second brood, or, if the conditions are good, a polygynous male may have more than one nest going at once. The one we found was not yet lined but it’s early days yet!

Later in the day we visited another spot and found our first chicks of the year. These day old Blackbird beauties, which featured in my last post.

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And, after inadvertently flushing a tawny owl from its roost, we found a Song thrush nest with one egg.

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Needless to say a joyous time was had by all and we rewarded ourselves with many pints.

The next post will be an update on how it goes inspecting the Mistle thrush nest from my first and second post. Will I get dive-bombed and fall out of the tree? Should I wear protective goggles lest my eyes get gouged? Wish me luck!

Bees and Birds

Spring is clearly upon us. The sun has been shining on and off, and on the good days I’ve seen quite a few bees and flies zipping about. I thought this Common green bottle fly was looking very striking.

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Birdwatching is obviously where it’s at, but when I’m out birding I find it impossible not to notice the smaller airborne creatures. The Hairy-footed flower bee below is particularly good at hovering.

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I was struggling to identify what species of bee this was (I’m fairly new to Apiology) but, after posting a couple of images on r/whatsthisbug, I was speedily enlightened. Someone also jumped in to let me know that the purple plant in the foreground is Lamiun purpureum, commonly known as Purple dead nettle. Go internet!

Anyway, back to nesting.

Firstly, an update on the Mistle thrush nest from my last post. As you no doubt remember, the Mistle thrush must have just started laying when I found it, as the nest had only one egg.

A Mistle thrush’s clutch can range from 3 to 6 eggs, 4 being commonest. So I returned to the nest five days later to see how many the bird had decided to go for. When I arrived at my new favourite-to-climb tree, I could see that one of the adults was incubating. I waited half an hour or so for the bird to fly off to feed, rather than disturb it’s strict incubating schedule, and began my intrepid ascent for a second time.

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Looking good! Just 3 eggs, the minimum a Mistle thrush will go for, but they’re probably just being cautious as it’s quite early in the season. They will have a second brood later in the year so it’ll be interesting to see if they go for a larger clutch when the conditions are better (if I can find the nest!).

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As I was admiring the intricate details on the eggs I suddenly sensed some movement in the branches above me. I turned my head and was startled to see one of the parents no more than a foot away from me! I instinctively snapped a quick pic before promptly leaving the nest.

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I left in a hurry not just to save the bird any unnecessary agitation but also for my own safety – as I recalled reading in A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests that “adults [with young] may even attack you at nest.”

After this, I found myself wondering what it might be like inspecting a nest 7 meters up a tree with one arm clinging to the trunk and the other shielding my beautiful face from a dive-bombing Mistle thrush. So I did what any sensible nester would do: posted a query to the NRS forum.

My post was met with a good number of informative and reassuring replies, one even from a co-author of the Field Guide to Monitoring Nests! They mostly said similar things like – “Sam, you’ll be fine. They are only small(ish) birds and rarely attack”, and “I monitor five or six Mistle thrush nests a year and have never had one make contact.”

Fine, I thought, just a bit of vocal scolding from the bird and maybe a bit of nearby swooping, but my face should remain intact and I should be able to keep my cool and not fall out of the tree.

But the next day I got a different response from another long-time nester who said – “I’ve had Mistle thrushes give me a serious whack on the head and it does hurt! After a few attacks it is beyond a joke and I would recommend a hard hat when visiting a nest with young.”

Oh God I thought, I get enough strange looks as it is – scrambling up trees and taking photos in a very busy London park – I’m not going to have to wear a funny looking hard hat as well am I?!

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Luckily a second reply from the co-author of the field guide put my dilemma to rest. He clearly knew the nester who had warned of painful whacks, as he called him out for being a southern softy, and also made the more serious point that wearing a hard hat is not advised as it may cause harm to the attacking bird!

So it’s settled, I don’t have to wear a silly hat – moreover, I mustn’t for the bird’s sake – I’ll just keep my visits as brief as possible and brace for impact!

I have been away for the last week visiting my parents in the South-West. I did some good nesting with my father so there will be another post coming soon with some pics from Cornwall. For now I will leave you with the first chicks of the year for my dad and I, three little Blackbirds.

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Cute right?! Its funny how something only a day old can look so wizened.