Nature Notes for 2nd October, 2014
Recognising that the summer was really over, we have our own preparations to make. Last week we took down the nest box so that it could be cleaned and returned to its place in the crab-apple tree, ready to provide a sheltered winter roost for small birds like wrens or long-tailed tits. Blue tits make substantial nests: an outer mesh of twisted stems and grasses and a deep cup lined with moss, wool and hair – very safe and cosy. Yet it’s always an anxious moment when we open the box. Will it contain a collection of small skeletons as it did one year, or will it be trampled and empty – evidence of 100% breeding success? This year – a mixed result: one tiny red-speckled white egg and two little skulls all buried in the soft lining of a well-used nest. Still, my reference books tell me that blue tits can lay as many as sixteen eggs! I guess some of the flock of young birds currently visiting our garden actually originated in this small, rather dusty space.
Now the breeding season is over, we can start to estimate its relative success. I say, “over”, but a friend tells me that a determined pair of house martins in an Addingham barn has just successfully fledged their third brood. The youngsters are busily practising their flying skills round the barn while still being fed by their parents. As yet, there seem to be plenty of flying insects about during the day, but the temperature by the barn was only 5 degrees C one morning, so it’s a race against time to get the youngsters ready to migrate before food runs out and bad weather besets the route south. Overall, though, martins seem to have had an excellent year.
Two good summers in a row have boosted numbers for several struggling species. There was good news at the WNS meeting last week about barn owls. They have had an excellent year in Bowland, one of their strongholds, with large broods of as many as 5 and 8 chicks reared. Those of us who follow the TV programme Springwatch know that in poor years the owlets increase their protein intake by eating their smaller siblings. Not this year! I can remember when WNS recorders were lucky to get news of one barn owl sighting in Wharfedale: this year there are reports of several successful nests. Let’s hope the winter is kind to these beautiful birds.
Wharfedale Naturalist Society
Long-tailed-tit by Paul Dickson [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons