Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Surprise, surprise surprise surprise

Yesterday I was helping to run some training for colleagues. During the indoor session I noticed a Wren dashing rapidly back and forth, as if it was visiting a nest - and when we took our lunch-break, I had a look. There, sure enough was a Wren carrying food up to the edge of the office. More interestingly it was carrying it to an open-fronted nestbox. 'Aha,' thought I, 'this is an opportunity to have a quick butchers at the contents of a Wren's nest without disturbing the nest itself' - wrens tend to build a mossy globe of a nest which you can't check for eggs/nestlings without damaging; something no responsible person wants to do. But, a nest in a nestbox offers a chance to peek in through the front without touching...

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) at open-fronted nestbox

today I remembered to go and check the nest. I scrambled up the ladder with a colleague at the bottom, waiting to watch and laugh catch me if I fell, and to have a quick look at the nest herself. Typically the ladder was a tad too short, so I was balanced a little precariously near the top when I got my line of sight over the rim of the nestbox...


Big enough to swallow a poor wren!

WHAM! A huge orange gape came lunging out of the nest. At this point I nearly did fall off the ladder - partly though shock, partly through excitement: we have a baby cuckoo which has taken over the Wren's nest on the office! Interestingly, the Wrens seem to have taken over the box from something else themselves - the biter bit, you might say - but it seems to be the Cuckoo which will have the last laugh. I apologise for the shocking pictures, but it's so dark up there as to be almost unworkable, and trying to manually focus a lens whilst balancing on the top of a ladder is not for the faint-hearted, I can assure you.

With a little care and balancing, it was eased out of the nest, ringed, and  returned to the mossy comforts of it's home, where the poor wrens lost no time in resuming their feeding - they'll be worn to a frazzle by the end of this season.

Juvenile - pullus, in fact - Cuckoo. Interesting to note the number of white feathers on the head.

A timely pointer also to some on-going research on the behaviour of Cuckoos: we know next-to-nothing about their migration routes or wintering grounds, so the BTO have begun a project which has satellite-tagged 5 male Cuckoos in East Anglia and is following them through their breeding - and their post-breeding seasons, with some unexpected results already... well worth a look. You can follow - and sponsor - each individual cuckoo if you so wish.

A final point of some vague interest is that this is the second Cuckoo chick we've found on site this year, both attended by wrens - presumably the same female Cuckoo's work. Comfy nest to grow up in, mind.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


It's turned noisy in the garden now. The air is filled with a shrill insistent demanding whine, as recently-fledged Blue, Great and Coal Tits work a determined line along the trees and through the veg. The potatoes seem to be particularly favoured at the moment, which leads me to suppose that there is some sort of insect food to be had there - perhaps the aphids have found the potatoes themselves and are now being snacked on by the growing birds.

Moving out to the edge of the moors, and the situation is similar, though the number of birds out in the scrub is greater still. The addition of broods of Marsh, Long-tailed and Willow Tits, and the first fledgling Chiffchaffs, as well as a smattering of Robins makes the willow scrub echo with begging calls first thing in the morning. The grass has grown appreciably in the last month, and the first flowers of Creeping Soft-grass - Holcus mollis - are showing. Ragged-robin and Yellow Flag-iris raise patches of shocking pink and yellow flowers up above the green on occasion; the former is something of a magnet for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies at the moment, creating an outrageous clash of vivid pink and orange which somehow seems to look perfect.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary amongst Ragged-robin. The butterfly is mid-way between meals, which is why it's not sharp.

Maturing Large Red Damsel. Everything's in the throes of growing up and/or breeding at present. It's a fabulous time of year.

The Pied Flycatchers are also fledging in the woods. One, or perhaps two, more visits and we'll be finished with them for the year - it's frightening how quickly the season goes in many respects. Nice to see that we've again had a good breeding season for them this year (so far!) and we can hope for a good number of returning birds next year, all things being equal.

Pied Flycatcher and young. The youngsters at this stage haven't yet got to their full feathered state, so look like a cross between gawky teenager and Sesame Street character.

Male House Sparrow framed amongst the remains of our old kitchen