Monday, 4 November 2013

Checking Nestboxes in Deep Cliff Wood, Saturday 16th November

We had another fascinating event at Deep Cliff Wood in Harden on Saturday 16th November, as we cleaned out the nest boxes we made in January 2012, getting them ready for the breeding season next spring.

Checking inside one of the nest boxes

One of the best things about opening the next boxes is you never what what you're going to find. Here’s a full list of what we found this year (and last year's results for comparison):

Box Number 
What we found this year (2013)
What we found last year (2012)
Empty and clean
Bird poo!
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Complete Blue Tit nest (no eggs found)
Complete Blue Tit nest (no eggs found)
Empty and clean
Partially-built nest
Empty and clean
Bird poo!
Partially-built Blue Tit nest
Blue Tit nest with two eggs
Empty and clean
Partially-built Blue Tit nest.
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Blue Tit nest with one egg
Successful nest
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Empty and clean
Blue Tit nest and bird poo
Successful Blue Tit nest
Blue Tit nest with three eggs (one hatched)
Empty and clean
Partially-built Blue Tit nest.

Last year, out of the 14 nest boxes, we found at least ten of them had been used. This year, we found only four had been used. What's going on? We don't know for sure, but we have some ideas.

This year, the spring was very cold (it felt like winter would never end!), but we had a lovely warm, dry summer. By the time the warm weather arrived, it's possible many birds had decided it was too late to begin breeding. In 2012, the summer was very cold and wet, whereas the early spring was very warm. It's possible that birds started nesting early but abandoned their nests as the weather became colder and wetter.

We may never know, but by continuing to monitor the nests and comparing the records from one year to the next we may be able to see some patterns in the birds behaviour. It interesting to note that the four nest boxes that were used this year were also used last year. All of the boxes that we found empty last year were empty again this year.

The good news is in nest boxes 3, 10, and 23 we found complete Blue Tit nests. It is likely the birds in these nest boxes successfully raised families!

Nest box 3

The Blue Tit nest from nest box 3

Looking at what we found in nest box 10

The Blue Tit nest and egg from nest box 10

The Blue Tit nest from nest box 23

Nest box 6 contained a partially-built Blue Tit nest. Birds stop building nests for several reasons: maybe one of the parents were injured or killed (possibly by a predator like a Sparrowhawk), or maybe they were struggling with the early cold weather. If, the birds were struggling to find food or keep themselves warm, they may have decided to stop and try again later when the weather improved. Building a nest, laying eggs, and then raising a family is very hard work for a small bird. They will only carry on if they have a realistic chance of raising at least one chick.

All the other nest boxes were empty and clean. Here's hoping these will be used next year.

Whilst looking around we found lots of different types of fungi. This weird-looking black fungus is called Dead Man's Fingers, and you can see why! This fungus often grows on dead Beech trees.

Dead Man's Fingers - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Some Airedale Otters found a couple of Beech trees which had been 'girdled' or 'bark ringed'. This means a strip of bark has been removed from around the entire circumference of a trunk of a tree, killing the tree. Foresters and tree surgeons sometimes use this technique to kill unwanted or damaged trees and thin out a wood or forest. The Otters noticed what looked like red paint above the area where the bark had been removed. On closer inspection we found this was actually a fungus: Red Coral Spot fungus.

Red Coral Spot fungus - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Like last year, we Common Earthball fungus, which often grows near Birch and Oak and there are plenty of those in Deep Cliff Wood. We also found Fairies Bonnets and and Birch Bracket Fungus.

Common Earthball - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Fairies Bonnets - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Birch Bracket fungus - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

We also found lots of acorns, which not surprising given the number of Oak trees in the wood. Many of them were germinating - the acorn sprouting roots and shoots, beginning to grow into an Oak. There were two sites in the wood where we found lots of acorns and hazel nuts that had been eaten, probably by a Grey Squirrel. It was interesting that whoever had eaten the acorns, they had chosen a specific place in the wood to eat them.

Germinating acorns - Deep Cliff Wood, 16th November 2013

Who's been eating eating these acorns?

We finished the event with a fascinating and challenging tree quiz: matching the fruits (such as conkers, acorns, haws and rowan berries), with the leaves from the corresponding trees. Tricky, but lots of fun. Well done everyone who took part - we all learnt a lot of new facts about trees.

 Quiz time!