Mixed Feelings

We now know the location of the Goldfinch nest. They’ve chosen an old ivy-clad, and previously pollarded, willow tree that died two or three years ago from Honey Fungus. At the time we cut off all the dead willow branches to use for kindling, and the ivy has since pretty much taken it over. We now call it the ivy tree. The Goldfinches are nesting near the top, on the field side.

The “Ivy Tree” is to the far left.

I’ve seen one of them, I assume the male, spending a lot of time hanging around outside at various vantage points. A securing cable for the near-by pole for the electricity line is a favourite, if uncomfortable-looking, spot.

He’s been singing his heart out which is his way, I think, of proclaiming his territory. I’ve seen him chase off other Goldfinches that have been passing by or pottering about in near-by trees. And then his partner occasionally pops out from the nest and they go off to do a bit of together foraging.

Yesterday one of them arrived back at the nest with what looked like a piece of grass or two, so maybe they’re still applying the finishing touches. Finished or not, the female is spending most of her time on the nest at the moment.

The thick coat of ivy seems to make the old willow tree a popular location. Pigeons have nested there in the past and a pair of Robins are currently nesting further down, about three foot off the ground. There was a pair of them nesting there last summer and the young fledged successfully – we watched them leave the nest one by one on a sunny afternoon – so it may well be the same couple back again.

In the winter I looked over the area where I thought the Robins’ nest was, but couldn’t see anything. The old tree trunk is hollow and there’s a long narrow opening which the ivy has now largely overgrown.

The entrance to the hollow inside extends maybe a couple of feet above from where it’s visible.

I suspect the Robins might be entering through the ivy and that the nest is actually inside the tree. Then again, the ivy growth is pretty thick and the nest might just be nestled against the trunk with the leaves covering it.

One of the residents. They don’t like going in when anyone’s watching.

There’s more than one pair of Robins in the garden and field, and they’ve had a few tussles lately. We’ve also noticed them having a go at a pair Dunnocks, who I think may be the pair now nesting in the largish bramble patch (to the right in the picture at the top) along with the Thrushes and Long Tailed Tits.

Robin with Attitude – is there any other kind

It’s all pretty competitive out there. And dangerous. The old willow tree with the Goldfinches and Robins is next to a couple of conifers in which I suspect there are one or two other nests as there’s been a lot of small bird activity there recently. Every time a member of the crow family flies by a flurry of small birds raise the alarm and chases after them.  They went berserk a few days ago when two jays passed through at the same time. 

A potential nest-raider watching over the garden, looking out for any give-away signs

A lot of birds become more predatory at this time of year it seems. We have a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers regularly visiting the garden. They’ve always been welcome visitors in the past, but they’ve taken Great Tit chicks and Blue Tit chicks from our nest boxes in recent years – once wiping out an entire brood, so my feelings about them have become a little mixed. 

I’ve also had a soft spot for our resident pair of Carrion Crows. I saw one of them, a year or two ago, messing about in the stream and watched as it selected a white stone from the gravel bed and then flew off to his partner in the field who he presented it to. Which was kinda cute and endearing. Then a few days ago I stepped out of the back door and heard a loud commotion by the stream – wild screaching and flapping. I saw a Crow with what I thought initially might be a duckling in its beak – we’ve had mallard broods here in the past – but a male Blackbird’s loud alarm call, and its sudden appearance chasing after the Crow, which was flying away across the field almost immediately, suggested otherwise. Seeing the fluttering, screaming bird in the crows beak was pretty shocking. I thought it was a bit early for fledglings – I haven’t seen any about – but on the other hand I wasn’t aware that Crows took mature adults.

It all happened very quickly and I only managed to get a hurried picture of the Crow with its prey when it reached the other side of the field. The yellow edges of it’s gaping beak as it was being carried away, and its mottled chest, suggest the victim may well have been a fledgeling rather than an adult, but I don’t think there’s enough detail to be sure. Whatever, it’s now also a case of mixed feeling when it comes to crows. 

Another spring casualty

There’s a lot of new life about at the moment, but quite a bit of sudden death too. I guess that’s the nature of Nature. It’s tough out there.

It’s All About the Brambles

The birds are doing their usual springtime partnering-up thing and I’ve noticed one or two species returning to nest sites that they used last year. Once again the brambles are proving popular.

A pair of Long Tailed Tits are back, which is a bit of a surprise as I thought they’d deserted their nest, situated in one of the larger bramble patches in the field opposite, last year. I’ve read somewhere that if nest sites are predated, the birds will not return, which doesn’t seem unreasonable. But than again maybe this is a different pair and the site just has potential-long-tailed-tit-nest-site written all over it. Who knows.

Anyway, the pair of them are now busy collecting building material for the nest which seems to include little bits of dried grass…

…lots of cobwebs – presumably to help bind other materials together…

Plenty of cobwebs under the eaves and in the corners of windows

…and what looks like pieces of lichen from a near by willow tree:

I thought lichen seemed an unlikely building material but I’ve learned from a website called Nurturing Nature that Long tailed tits do indeed use lichen for the exterior of their nests. In the pictures on that site it looks like a kind of green/grey pebble dash which camouflages the nest and, I’m guessing, might strengthen the structure too.

I’ve also noticed that the Long Tailed Tits seem pretty relaxed about hanging around above the nest site – in between, that is, their frantic sessions of nest material collecting. Their occasional laid back attitude is very different from the nervousness of a pair of thrushes which are back nesting in the same bramble patch but on the other side. They’re incredibly secretive. I’ve never seen them hanging out close to the nest site and they always seem to approach it in a very round about way, taking their time about it too. They seem to do everything they can to avoid attracting attention.

Spot the Song Thrush, watching me watching her. She subsequently flew off without going into the nest. It really does feel like they know when they’re being watched.

I first noticed them this year when on one of the pair nipped out from the bramble patch and swiftly flew away. The pair that were nesting there last year always flew off at high speed when exiting the nest. My assumption was that they felt exposed out in the open with all the potential predators about. We didn’t see any thrush fledglings last year and I wondered whether they might have been predated too. But they could have just moved away to somewhere with better cover as soon as they’d left the nest. It’s quite open in the field and Sparrow Hawks are regular visitors. Particularly when there are fledglings about and they have their own young to feed.

I saw one of the thrushes again yesterday, going into the brambles with a mouthful of goo-like material in its beak. Seems a bit early to be feeding young but maybe it was a beak-full of mud, which I know they line their nest with. There’s a ready supply by the stream. Talking of lining nests, I read on the Nurturing Nature website that Long Tailed tits use something like 1500 feathers to line their nests. That’s a lot of little feathers to find. Apparently the tiny young need serious insulation to protect them from frosty spring nights. I think they’re now approaching the finishing stages of nest construction as they’ve just started collecting feathers. Just another 1,498 feathers to go.

Other possible bramble-nesters I’ve seen include a Dunnock that I noticed sitting proprietorially on another bramble patch that I’m pretty sure a pair of them nested in – or at the base of – last year.

And I’ve seen a Gold Finch hanging around on its own which is unusual – they usually come in pairs or flocks – and I’m wondering whether he has a mate brooding a clutch of eggs near by.

I also saw a robin singing its heart out perched on some painfully sharp-looking brambles a while ago, but that may just have been a good vantage point for his performance. 

With all the different nest-raiding corvids about – magpies, jays, jackdaws, a resident pair of crows and even the odd raven passing through  – the thorny barrier of a thick bramble patch must seem like good nest protection for smaller birds that can nip in and out to their nests without a problem.

Yesterday, in one of my regular wanders up the garden I saw – and heard – a male Blackbird chasing away one of a pair of Jays. And there was a magpie lurking around as well. They were back again pretty quickly. The odds do not look good. Maybe the Blackbirds will try a bramble patch next time.

Below is another picture of one of the delightful Long Tailed Tits. I include it here just because I like the image – a bit Japanese print-ish – and it’s also the first time I’ve noticed the curious circular bokeh effect of the new lens.

I think Long Tailed Tits are becoming one of my favourite species.