Friday, 27 February 2009

Robin Nestbox Mk2

I bought this Robin nestbox about two years ago. I treated the outside of it, drilled three small drainage holes in the base and put it on one side until I got round to mounting a camera inside it.

IMG_4687 IMG_4689

As it was a sunny warm day I finally got round to getting on with the job. The camera is one I had removed from its original use as a security camera. It was faulty in that the infra-red lighting refused to work properly and the colour was very poor. Fortunately the main part was just a board camera and when I disconnected the light sensor the IR LEDs stayed on all the time. Just what I needed as the box was to be put in a poorly lit sheltered spot. Having taken off the lid of the box I then set about finding the best position and angle to mount the camera. Also the camera has to be focussed for close objects. It is no use focussing on the bottom of the box as any nest and bird will be closer to the lens so it needs to be focussed on a point about two inches above the bottom of the nestbox.

IMG_4698 IMG_4701

Once in position the camera was wired up properly and the hole for the wire was sealed with hot melt glue. Next job - some extra waterproofing in the shape of the sort of plastic used for damp proof courses in buildings. This was overlapped in all directions so it should stop any water penetrating to the camera. Any small gaps were also sealed with hot melt glue.

IMG_4705 Robin Nest Box Mk2

Finally I fixed the wooden roof back and chose a place to fix Robin Cam Box Mk2, ran the cable back to the shed and removed my first Robin Cam Box which was too much in the open to be really attractive to any respectable red breasted squatter. I put a few shavings in the bottom of the box and wired it up to my surveillance system. (Top right hand camera. The bottom pictures are the inside and outside of the Blue Tit nestbox)


I may be too late for this Spring but it will give plenty of time for it to be investigated for next year.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A Mild February Day

I spent the morning tidying up in the fruit cage. I might feed the birds and encourage them to visit the garden but they are not really welcome to help themselves to my blueberries and blackcurrants so I have those in a large walk-in caged area. While I was pottering about the garden I saw a Bumble Bee visiting a crocus flower. I think that was only the second one I have seen so far this year.

This afternoon as the Sun was shining for a change and the temperature had reached 11C I took the camera with me on our afternoon visit to the cricket field. In one distant field there were several horses; most standing so the cold wind was behind them.

Horses - Rumps to the Cold Wind

In another field were a few sheep. Only one of the lambs was in view.

Sheep with Lamb

All the time Bobby and I were on the cricket field we saw little wild life. Just a couple of Rooks and the odd Rabbit.

Rook and Rabbit

I've always been fascinated by the contrast between these trees. The poplar being more pliable is able to bend with strong winds. The older tree has lost one of its twin trunks and the other has been shaped by the prevailing winds.

Ravages of Time

As we left the one thing which reminded me that Summer is a long way off yet was the sight of a magnificent Weeping Willow seen here as it is today and compared with last Summer.

Weeping Willow in Winter Weeping Willow

Returning to the front garden I saw that there were more catkins and that the Mahonia was giving a good display of yellow flowers as were some crocuses.

Catkins Mahonia


Finally, just as we about to go back in the warmth, I spotted another Bumble Bee, well maybe the same one I saw this morning, visiting a heather plant.

Bumble Bee

So at least there are signs of Spring awakening even if I do have to wait a few months for Summer.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Monitoring My Bird Feeders & Nest Boxes

I like my comfort. I like to watch the birds at the feeders. To that end I trained a surveillance camera on the main set of bird feeders. All my cameras can be watched on an old 15 inch monitor I have in the corner of the living room.

As well as the cameras there are two multiplexers. One is in the shed and combines the views of the nest boxes. The other is in the living room and combines all the camera views. This one also has a hard drive so recordings can be made. Both can be remotely controlled so I can choose which cameras to watch. All the equipment, including the cameras, I bought, mostly second hand, on eBay over the past couple of years.

Various settings allow all the cameras to be seen at once:

Or just one: (I spy a Long Tailed Tit)

With this setting I can monitor the Robin box, top right, the Tit box and see any birds flying to and from the boxes:

A low resolution video of a couple of Long Tailed Tits observed on "Feeder Cam". Looks as though it needs re-focussing and the colour readjusting.

At the moment Squirrel Nutkins is attacking the peanut feeder so I guess the feeder I set up just for him/her is empty so I'd better go and top it up before it chews through the mesh.

This Wire is too Thick for me

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Bit more Colour

I can tell it's getting nearer to Spring without going out or even looking out of the window. I can hear the first lawn mower of the year droning away at a property opposite me. I would have thought the lawn would have been too damp, mine certainly is. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Walking round the village with Bobby this morning I could see that many of the old houses now have lovely carpets of white Snowdrops. Under the shade of the trees in one part of the church yard is the usual crop of yellow Winter Aconite. They always make a cheerful sight.

Winter Aconite

Wandering round my garden yesterday I noticed a few Dwarf Iris were in full bloom.

Dwarf Iris Dwarf Iris

Those along with several clumps of yellow Crocus and the hundreds of Snowdrops show that nature is awakening and there is better, well warmer at least, weather to come before too long. Also I notice that many of my dwarf trees show signs that the leaf buds are beginning to grow. For the first time this year I noticed that the greenhouse door is open. A few years ago I adapted an electric car aerial, along with a thermostat and some other electrical bits, to open and close the door automatically. The Sun is shining on the greenhouse and it must be must be getting near 18C in there for the system to operate.

Tit Nest Box

Virtually all of the wood shavings have now disappeared from the bottom of the box. All I can see is a few small fluffy feathers - whether shed by the bird or put in there on purpose I do not know.

Mid afternoon I spotted the Blue Tit make a brief visit to the nest box so it is still showing interest.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Long Tailed Tits

It always cheers me up when I see some Long Tailed Tits make one of their brief visits to the feeders. They really are one of my favourite sights. So many species squabble when they arrive in large numbers but these will feed peacefully even when they are all bunched together on one feeder. Occasionally they will try the peanuts but by far the most popular food with them is the large fat balls. Today, for the first time that I had noticed, I spotted one go inside the caged bird table. It had a brief look but didn't take any of the seeds. The wire mesh is to keep out the largest, greediest birds and give the smaller visitors a safer eating spot where predators cannot reach them. Altogether they visited three times today.

Long Tailed Tits

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tits

Canada Geese
About 7.15 this morning Bobby and I were walking along a track between two fields. From the distance a skein of five Canada Geese flew very low over the fields. On their way they passed almost over the top of us and I felt as though I could have reached up and touched them. A beautiful sight but alas no camera with me!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Predator Protection

Not really done much these past few grey days. As the temperature has improved there have been less frequent bird visitors to the feeders. I guess there is an improvement in some natural food such as spiders and flies appearing.

As the tit nest box doesn't seem to have been visited for a while I decided to add a bit of anti predator protection. The box is positioned near roof level at the back of my shed so it is within easy reach of predators. A while ago I bought some anti intruder spikes. They are moulded plastic and the very tips of the spikes are flat, not pointed, so they cannot easily pierce the skin. Each strip has three rows of spikes and would be uncomfortable to try to cross. Hopefully these will act as a deterrent to any would-be predator.

Hard to spot on this small picture but hanging in the artificial Ivy I could see several pieces of wood shavings (under the hole at about 5 o'clock) which the Blue Tit had thrown out of the box so maybe it has been tidying up ready to move in. I live in hopes.

Nest Box Protection

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Spring Around the Corner

I found this poem here on the internet in the section on Spring:


In February there are days,
Blue, and nearly warm,
When horses switch their tails and ducks
Go quacking through the farm.
When everything turns round to full
The sun upon its back -
When winter lifts a little bit
And spring peeks through the crack.

Dorothy Aldis

Bird signs of Spring approaching:

Throughout the Winter I only ever saw one Blue Tit at a time at the feeders. This past few days there are always two together (a pair?). Also where I used to get one Dunnock at a time I now see a couple.

Yesterday there was a Rook sat on a telephone cable. It was bobbing its head right down, making a cawing sound and spreading its tail feathers out in a display. This morning as thirty or more Rooks gathered on a nearby rooftop many were making the same gestures. I can't say I had ever noticed this behaviour before but it is only recently I have observed the local wildlife more closely.

This afternoon as I was walking home after taking Bobby for his romp on the field I saw a group of Goldfinches at a feeder in a front garden. When they noticed me they flew off. A short while later I saw several which were sat on branches. Some were twisting the whole body from side to side and at the same time making a very quiet sound while others just watched.

It would appear to me that with the slight rise in temperature and the longer daylight hours many species are starting their courtship rituals. Today's weather forecast for the week ahead looked much better as far as temperatures go and we might even reach double figures.

This afternoon I had just about come to end of a block of cheese so I chopped the remains into tiny pieces and scattered it on the bird table. A short while later the Chaffinches and Greenfinches, which normally spend most of their time picking up seed from the lawn, were feeding closely together on the bird table. They were so closely packed that the normally bossy Starlings couldn't get a look in.
The Robin wasn't interested. He carefully chose his favourite seed from between the bits of cheese.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

National Nest Box Week 2009

Today is the start of National Nest Box Week 2009 (14 - 21 February). Full details can be seen on the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website where you can also register for the Nest Box Challenge. Nest Box Challenge is a joint project between BTO and the BBC Breathing Places campaign. If you fancy building your own nest box then information can be found on those sites along with the RSPB's "Helping Birds" pages and many other wild bird sites.

Last year I erected two nest boxes. One (pictured on the left) is for tits and I bought this from a local garden centre. I chose this particular one as it used substantial thick wood, had a deep entrance hole making it more difficult for predators to enlarge the hole, and plenty of extra space above the entrance hole so I had room to fit a camera. The other is a rebuild of a bought one which I modified to be more suitable for Robins and installed a camera in that as well.

Tit Nestbox Robin Nestbox

Both these nest boxes are fixed on the back wall of a shed which is pretty well north facing though protected from the worst of the winds by a tall hedge which is about ten feet away.

As far as I can tell the Robin box has been ignored. Though I have tried to make it look more like it is in a hedge with the use of artificial ivy I think they probably still find it too exposed. After the breeding season I will move it to a much more sheltered position in a hedge.

The tit box was used by a Blue Tit as a roost on a couple of cold nights and the bird has made brief visits on quite a few occasions. When I set up the box I put a layer of fresh wood shavings in the bottom as recommended by several organisations. At one time I thought the tit was just tidying up when it removed a few of the shavings but as time has gone by the amount of shavings has reduced considerably. Maybe the bird is just using the box as a source of dry material for a nest elsewhere. Only time will tell.

Near the end of last summer I saw a large nest box being erected on a house in the village. That one is for Barn Owls so whenever I pass in that direction I keep an eye on it in case there is any sign of activity and I will be keeping a camera watch on it from time to time over the spring and summer.

Barn Owl Nestbox

If you are feeding and attracting wild birds to your garden then why not give a home to one of them. There is plenty of good advice to be found. Some people find their nest boxes being used almost immediately but don't be too disappointed if it doesn't get used this year. Many birds seek out and investigate possible nesting sites in the autumn and winter. It took nearly a year before I noticed any signs of the tit box being used.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Food - Glorious Food

With the cold, dull snowy weather over the past few weeks the birds have not hesitated in helping themselves to the food I put out. I try to use a mixture of seed so there is something available for all the different species which visit my garden. Originally I started with a typical Wild Bird Seed Mix from a local garden centre. One problem with the large bags is that one cannot see what the mixture is and I found it contains a high proportion of cereal which the small birds ignore. It is fine for attracting pigeons. Lately I have ordered a more expensive but more suitable mix called Ultiva Mixture which goes down well with the local bird population. This has a mixture of small seed including sunflower hearts which are popular with the finches and Dunnocks. With that I mix a small amount of Bogena which is a soft mix designed for insect and berry eating birds.

Wild Bird Seed Mix (on the left) and Ultiva.
Wild Bird Mix Ultiva Mixture

Coal Tit with Sunflower seed.
Coal Tit

A high energy source is the fat balls which can come in various 'flavours'. These are popular with all varieties of tits and the flock of Starlings which descends three times a day. Also the blackbirds will feed from them if there is something suitable to stand on which is close enough for them to reach. Suet treats always go down well. Some I scatter with the seed on the bird table, some I chop up with the peanuts in the feeder.

Suet treats. The pink ones contain berry and the others have seed and insect in them.
Suet Treats

Female Blackbird at the fat balls.
Female Blackbird

I had read that small birds love millet so I bought a bag of white millet seed to mix in but my visitors simply ignore them. At the end of the day most of these seeds remain on the bird table. Of course the peanut feeder is a great favourite with most of the tit family except the Long Tailed Tits which prefer the fat balls.

The Wild Bird Mix I scatter on the ground these days, along with a small amount of the Ultiva. This attracts Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Blackbirds along with Pigeons and Collared Doves.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A Bit of Colour

I was looking round the garden this morning after I had topped up the food on the bird table. A few days ago I noticed a little clump of yellow crocuses had appeared, along with a few snowdrops, in one of my planters. Also there are a couple of heather plants in full bloom and a variegated ground hugging evergreen is looking a particularly cheerful sight on a grey morning. The Corylus avellana 'Contorta' (Corkscrew Hazel) has been showing catkins on its bare branches for quite a while now.



To cap all that as I returned to the back garden there was a Robin singing away in a nearby tree. I went in and got the Zoom H4 recorder and captured a snippet of his song which can be heard by clicking HERE. I hope this works - if not please let me know. It should use whichever mp3 player is on your computer.

Robin Singing

Even though there seems no end to the cold dark weather for a while yet there are at least a few signs that Spring is on its way.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Blue Tit Nestbox

Yesterday evening it kept trying to snow and by the time I went to bed it was snowing gently. This morning there was a small covering everywhere but it was frozen solid and the village paths were very slippery, especially where the snow had dropped from tree branches and made pools of ice during the night. At the moment it looks more like Autumn. It has turned very misty as the rising temperature is melting the snow.

Today is the first time I have seen the Blue Tit in the nest box during the morning hours so once again I have hopes that it will get used in the Spring. I often see a couple of them visiting the peanut feeder so they are probably resident not too far away.

Blue Tit at the peanut feeder
Blue Tit

While I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea I watched a Rook attacking the fat balls in a feeder near the bottom of the garden. It has such a strong beak and was attacking the fat ball so hard pieces were flying off in all directions. On the ground under the feeder were three Blackbirds and a Collared Dove busily gathering up the pieces so nothing was going to waste.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Frozen Fingers

Another one of those mornings where every available bit of water was frozen solid - stiff as Thumper would have said. So; one of the first outside tasks was to provide some fresh water for my bird visitors as I had seen some Starlings vainly trying to drink from the frozen water in an old bucket. About half an inch of ice had developed overnight so I got the hammer and chipped it out of the bird bath and tipped out the cold water otherwise it would have frozen over again in no time and topped up with slightly warm water. Next I cleared the ice from the old bucket many birds prefer to drink from.
Ice from the Bird Bath

Next job was to top up the peanut feeder as it had proved very popular yesterday. I first process the peanuts by chopping them in a cheap electric food chopper I bought for under £10. It would be fairly useless for general kitchen use as it only chips away at things like peanuts but it does give some smaller pieces that the little birds can pull out easily. Also I mix in some fat pellets with the peanuts in the chopper to give a fat boost to the food on offer.

Lastly I had to brush off a deep layer of sunflower husks from the bird table. The tits usually take the sunflower seeds away to eat but the Greenfinches always shell them on the table. By the time I had finished my fingers felt absolutely frozen.

Amongst the visitors to the bird bath were:

a Coal Tit
Coal Tit at the Birdbath

and this female Blackbird
Blackbird at the Birdbath

By mid-day the bucket was freezing over again but these two Starlings managed to get a drink.
Starlings at an Icy Bucket

On the lawn a Greenfinch was picking up some of the scattered seed.....

while a Sparrow sat on a dwarf tree keeping a sharp eye out for predators.
Whats That up There

Meanwhile a Dunnock was making off with a Sunflower heart from the bird table...
Dunnock With Sunflower Heart

and one of the local Robins sat in the dappled shade.
Robin in Dappled Shade

There are two regular Robin visitors to my garden. One has a pure red breast and the other has a small white patch at the top of the red. I hope they are a breeding pair. All in all it was another pleasant morning watching the local bird life while the Sun was shining brightly. It definitely made up for those frozen fingers!
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