Network member David Price gives the latest from Dunsford woods, from his visit on 13th May

As expected most of the birds in nest boxes were hard at it producing eggs on a daily basis, performing just like battery chickens.  The majority of the Pied Flys were in the midst of laying, some had started incubating and others were not far behind the rest with nest building.  In all there were 6 already incubating, 17 laying and 3 completed nests - a total of 26 active nests.  This is well up on last year's 22, and only two short of Dunsford's best ever total of 28 way back in 2007.  There were definitely some singing males that had as yet not got a nest site and perhaps not a partner, and there were one or two new nests at a very early stage which might develop – so there may be more breeding pairs to come.   After a protracted and slow start in April and early May, things are certainly looking a lot more encouraging.

However, it's not been all plain sailing for them.  Box 61 was an early nest where there had been one egg some 5 days earlier, so I approached quietly in the hope that the female may be sitting - (one of the advantages of the overnight rain was that the dead oak leaves underfoot were totally soggy and for a change didn't sound like walking on cream cracker biscuits!).  I managed to get to the box quietly and stuff my hand over the hole without that rather disappointing situation where the female flits out when you are literally only a metre away.  I looked inside hoping there may be an incubating bird present.  Instead I was surprised to see that the cup of the nest had been covered over with dry grass and leaves, rather like tits do when they leave their nests during laying.  Hmmm – interesting.  I teased the material aside to reveal how many eggs there might be, only to discover a totally empty cup.  What's happened here?  Did I make a mistake in recording one egg last time?  Then, looking closely, there in the bottom on an oak leaf was the evidence to exonerate my recording abilities - a small piece of blue broken shell.  I guess the egg or eggs had been predated and the birds had abandoned.  However, presumably not phased by this, the pair had picked themselves up from this set back and started again, as in the next but one box was a brand new nest compete with 2 eggs.  Let's hope they fare better with this attempt.  (The box in between was where the dormouse had been having a nap on last visit – but he was no longer using it for a bit of a siesta). ...continue reading "Dunsford wood update, 13th May"

Nest box monitor David Price gives an update from Dunsford Woods...

So another breeding season starts, but what sort of April have the Pied Flycatchers arrived and found?  Not great I'd suggest, particularly after such a mild winter.  I had one particular oak tree in leaf at the beginning of April, but then most of them seemed to go into some sort of torpid state and are only now really starting to do much.

First Pied Flycatcher arrivals at Dunsford were recorded on 11th (3-4 males).  They weren't there on 6th and in view of the gale force north westerlies from 7-9th, they probably didn't arrive until at least 10th.  Can't compete with Yarner's first arrivals on 6th.  No females recorded but the males were rather skulking and not singing much, so females could have been around.  All probably devoting most of their efforts to finding food I guess.

Since then not much demonstrative activity on show from most pairs, and as a result it's been difficult to assess actual numbers.  As of the last visit on 27 April, there were some 9 nests or what might be nests on the go, - though some of these may be abandoned.  Also at some nest box locations males were singing but there was no sign of nest building.  Taking these two factors together I optimistically reckon there may be 18 males/pairs present.  This is some way short of last year's 24 pairs, of which 22 were in boxes.  Are there still birds to arrive?  Wouldn't be surprised after the predominance of arctic northerly winds.  Doesn't look like the cold conditions will abate for at least another week.  I think I'd hang around in sunny Portugal for a bit longer if I was still on my way! ...continue reading "Latest news from Dunsford Wood"

The latest update from network member David Price who monitors at Dunsford Wood, Dartmoor.

With all the cold, wet weather and the gale force winds over the past two days, I set off this  morning with some trepidation as to how birds had fared trying to feed young.  It wasn't actually too bad - most of the tits were big enough to put up with a couple of days of cold weather and a "light" diet for a day or two.  The first brood of Pied Flys had one dead - but it was the runt of the brood, and the second was similar.  However all the rest had come through relatively unscathed.  Several Blue Tit broods had fledged - hopefully not in the middle of the worst of the weather on Monday afternoon.   One brood of 10 "exploded" on me - had hardly opened the lid and they were all out!  Pleased to see that they were all very competent fliers, and were straight into begging for food on various branches - the adults were a bit phased by this, but soon got stuck in. The remaining paltry survivors of Great Tit broods are close to fledging, not a great year for their productivity I'd guess.

Managed to ring some more Pied Flycatcher broods, and catch a few more males birds. One bird at Box 21 foiled me at my second attempt - he obviously wasn't much into child care.  Was flitting about a fair bit, calling and occasionally singing, but wasn't going to bother providing food for his offspring.  As a result of capturing the male at Box 32 have detected yet another potentially unattached male - singing away whilst the breeding bird was safely ensconced in a bag. ...continue reading "June 3rd update from Dunsford Wood"

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. ...continue reading "Update from Dunsford Woods 18th May"

David Price has been monitoring nestboxes at Dunsford Woods in the Teign Valley since the 1980s. As he sends us such good updates we now include them here as a blog. Here is his update from 5th May.

The Pied Flys are now either laying or finishing off nests, I reckoned that there may be around 22 pairs - perhaps just a couple more than last year, though some nests not yet laid may in the end not be used, and others may still be built.  Box 20, the celebrated "first egg box" had gone from one to 6 eggs (still cold), and 4 others had 1 or 2 eggs.  I also re-captured a female - a bird ringed as a breeding adult in 2013 at Dunsford, and recaptured last year as well.

Though the tits seem quite numerous throughout the woods generally, they haven't been queuing up to use the nestboxes this year.  There were perhaps 24 occupied in total, compared with 30 last year.  Some are incubating, others still laying, though I did have several which seemed to have finished laying some days ago, but eggs were still cold - (perhaps they are having a "breather" before getting down to the serious business of sitting on eggs for hours on end). I hope they haven't abandoned. ...continue reading "Update from Dunsford Woods 5th May"