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Update from Dunsford Woods 18th May

The latest update from Dunsford Woods from David Price...

Having provided an update for previous visits, I'm now in the situation of "I've started so I'll finish", so with apologies for the fact that this is becoming something of a rather rambling blog I'll carry on inflicting my home-spun observations on you.

Well, in Box 20, (where the "first Dunsford egg" was laid), three young had hatched yesterday with 4 eggs, still to do so.  In their monograph on the Pied Flycatcher, Lundberg and Alatalo give a range of 13-16 days for incubation so this was just about on cue after 13 days.  On the subject of incubation, I have noticed that in several cases on my previous visit (on 12th May) I recorded typically 6 or 7 eggs that were warm (or perhaps "warmish") so on the basis that incubation had started and I assumed the clutch was complete, only to find yesterday that the clutch size had increased by one or two eggs or in one case from 6 to 9.  I started to doubt my ability to asses warm and cold.  However looking at the chapter in the book on incubation more closely, they mention that the female "actually starts incubation by gradually spending more time on eggs during the laying period" and by the time they get to laying the 5th egg 82% of females will spend the night on the nest, though "full incubation normally begins when the last egg is laid".  It would seem that these "warmish" eggs that caused me confusion are a result of this increasing occupancy of the nest towards the end of laying.  There are several other pairs that are not far behind, and so should be hatching over the next few days - and as I sit here with the fire lit, and the wind and rain beating against the window, (and a rather unsettled weather forecast for the next few days) it's slightly worrying that this is perhaps not going to be great for feeding small young and trying to keep them warm.

In terms of numbers, we're still at 20 pairs that have laid, so no improvement on last year as yet  There are still at least four apparently unattached singing males.  Peter and I had coffee (as you do) halfway round, and happened to chose a spot mid-way between two of these males, and they just never stopped singing the whole time we were there.  However, I'm puzzled by two of these singing males as they are occupying areas of boxes where complete nests were built a week or more ago. As I understand it, nests are solely built by the female, so there must have been a "lady" around a couple of weeks back when the nests were constructed.  So what's happening here?  Feel a bit sorry for these males, - flying all the way from Africa to sing themselves to a standstill and have nothing to show for it before they head all the way back again.

Caught 3 more incubating females, making 17 caught in total.  This time two of the three were unringed, (rather spoiling the previous percentage of 93% already ringed), but that still means that 14 of the 17 (82%) were already ringed.  Interestingly 6 of the birds are four or more years old.  Five originated from elsewhere, - Yarner 2, Heathercombe 2 and Sampford Spiney 1.  (None from your patch across the road in Bridford Woods yet, Judith!)

So far 5 Great and 27 Blue Tits have occupied boxes and laid, still far fewer than last year (10 and 30 respectively) which is surprising considering last year's successful breeding season and favourable winter.  Several boxes had young up to 2-3 days old yesterday, though the typical sight inside most tit boxes was of birds still incubating or perhaps brooding very small young.  However, five of the 32 nesting pairs (4 BT and 1 GT) have failed already.  All but one were cases of eggs abandoned, the other was a box full of 11 dead BTs a few days old.  Looking more closely at these I realise that they are all in Section A (ie the first stretch from Steps Bridge to the "corner").  My assumption when eggs are deserted and there is no sign of nest disruption is that it is due to the loss of one of the adults - so I wonder if there is some systematic adult predation taking place away from the nest in this part of the woods.  Haven't seen a Sparrowhawk, but guess it's a possibility.  (Haven't heard the Lesser Spots in this Section recently either - which is perhaps also worrying).

Two Garden Warblers are still present, which is a change from previous years when they sing tantalisingly in early May but then apparently move on.  They are both in thick scrub - one on Boyland Common and the other in dense vegetation at the end of the B section clearings.  We still have wall-to-wall Blackcaps, and we heard two of the three Wood Warblers - though didn't actually see them, despite cricking our necks for a good 15 minutes.

What else? . . . Willow Warblers still reasonably numerous, Redstart still present at the top of B8, a newly arrived Spotted Flycatcher in B3, fledged Long-tailed Tits seen and Dipper & Grey Wagtails feeding young.  A bit windy on Boyland Common for sorting out numbers of Yellowhammers and Tree Pipits, but both species recorded.

Should be plenty of birds hatching in the next few days - let's hope the caterpillars are there for them and that the weather improves.