Saturday, 17 May 2014

A Handful of Nuthatches - May 2014

I was hoping to spend the weekend of 10/11th May trying to catch more Common Nightingales before heading off on a well earned break. Unfortunately near gale force winds over the course of the whole weekend made it impossible to use mist nets. Instead I decided to check a few nest boxes for a spot of pullus ringing which is something neither Chris or Rob, two of my trainees, had done before. On the first day I took Chris off in search of Northern Lapwing chicks and then on to check nest boxes.The first stop was my usual site just north of Portsmouth where there are regularly two or three lapwing territories. It was two weeks earlier than last year, but I had seen on the various forms of social media that chicks had hatched in many places, so it was worth a punt. 

When we arrived on site it was immediately apparent that the task of finding chicks was going to be much harder this year. Grazing at the site appeared to have virtually stopped and subsequently large areas of rush pasture had become dominant. Undeterred we pressed on and almost immediately I picked up our first chick wandering amongst the rushes. I was getting brief glimpses as it walked through the vegetation, but despite my best efforts I was unable to locate it. But they say that patience is a virtue and with some subtle positioning and stealthy movements (so as not to alert the parents) we had soon caught two chicks.

Northern Lapwing Chick, the first of two caught

Finding lapwing chicks can be challenging, even when you think that you know where they went down. If you alert the parents they utter an alarm call that makes the chicks take cover, usually in tufts of vegetation or small depressions, which makes things even harder. Fortunately I have an eye for them now and as long as they don’t run too far it is usually not too much trouble to catch them.

Northern Lapwing chick hiding in the tall vegetation

The first chick was a good size, weighing in at 95grams. It’s wing feathers were just starting to pop out of their sheaths so I suspect it was around ten days old. At this age they don’t seem to be phased by the whole experience and when being weighed they stand tall and stick their head out of the weighing pot to see what is going on.

Northern Lapwing chick being weighed

The second chick was considerably smaller, in fact half the weight of the first and was probably around a week old. Given the size difference between these two birds I suspect they were from two different broods, which would suggest there were more chicks out there for the taking, unfortunately we didn’t find any. There were five adult birds at the site, so one may have been still incubating, so it will certainly be worth another visit.

The smaller of the two Northern Lapwing chicks

Our next stop was a site in Gosport, where Chris has a load of nest boxes up. There were approximately 15 boxes to check, assuming they hadn’t been destroyed by the resident Grey Squirrel population. We had mixed success, the first two boxes were full of Blue Tits, with broods of 12 and 11, several other broods were either too small or were yet to hatch. A couple of treecreeper boxes had eggs in, but they didn’t look like this years, and more Blue Tits and a broods of Great Tits were in a couple of others. One box had a female Nuthatch on eggs which was a shame, as they may well have fledged by the time I get back from my break. Whilst walking around the site we stumbled across a young Roe Deer fawn that had been left at the base of the trunk of a tree. I stayed dead still in the hope that we wouldn’t see it….but we did!

Young Roe Deer 

Rob joined me on the next session. This time we started at Manor farm Country Park before moving on to the Hampshire and Isle Wight Wildlife Trusts Swanwick Lakes reserve. There were two boxes at Manor Farm, both with Great Tits and an incomplete clutch of eggs in a Blackbird nest. At Swanwick our first port of call was a box where Rob had seen some Nuthatch’s previously. This time we were in luck and a brood of seven were at an ideal size for ringing.

Brood of Seven Nuthatches in Nestbox

I always think that Nuthatch’s are hard core, since the don’t bother with all the most and feathers the Blue and Great Tits use when building a nest, a few leaves in the bottom of the box seems to suffice. These images clearly show the the strong bill, grey upper parts and pinkish underparts, no mistaking what they are going to grow up to be. 

A Handful of Nuthatches

There were over 20 boxes at Swanwick and the boxes had good numbers of Blue and Great Tit clutches, some too small to ring and some still on eggs, but by the end of the weekend we had ringed 100 chicks, 61 Blue Tits, 30 Great Tits, seven Nuthatches and two Lapwing. I am hoping that when I get back there will still be some birds in boxes plus it will be time to check the Barn Owls, Kestrels and Swallows.

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