24 April 2015

Chiff-ful start to the nesting season

Over in Cambridgeshire there’s been wonderful sunshine, but accompanied by overnight frosts. Thankfully this hasn’t put off the resident birds at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, where members of the ringing and nest recording group are getting ready to ring the first broods of Blackbirds. Also, our first Coot brood has just hatched, Long-tailed Tit clutches are about to hatch, Blue Tits and Great Tits are laying, and we’ve started monitoring our first finch nests: an almost fully-built Chaffinch nest was found a week ago and a pair of Goldfinches were spotted building last Thursday.

Water birds such as Coot (pictured) and Moorhen commonly hatch their first broods in mid-April

As for summer migrants, arrivals have been stalled by strong north-westerly winds, according to the BTO migration blog, and indeed Blackcaps at Wicken have been singing on territory for only a week and Willow Warblers still seem thin on the ground. One short-distance migrant, though, has been getting off to a flying start this season and keeping our nest finders very busy: Chiffchaff!

During Easter weekend we saw plenty of male Chiffchaffs singing from tree tops but no birds skulking lower down (a tell-tale sign of a female getting ready to build). Last Monday, things had got busier: males were singing back-to-back and chasing each other off territories and ‘hueet’ contact calls could be heard everywhere. Then, on Tuesday 14, we caught our first glimpse of a bird with a beakful of long grass—a building female! Early next morning we spotted another bird building and then on Thursday 16, Anne, our main nest finder, found five more nests, some almost fully formed (a characteristic domed construction). By Monday 20, we had found 11 nests, two lined with feathers, and that morning we found nest number 12 at an early stage, the female pinging back-and-forth with large bits of material.

Chiffchaff nest at Wicken Fen in 2014. Built just above the ground, the nest is dome shaped, made from reeds and some finer grasses, and lined with feathers. c.200 Chiffchaff nests are monitored across the country for NRS each year.

So what to expect this weekend? Those lined nests will probably have eggs, though females may still be building on other territories. Nest recorders elsewhere have begun reporting Blackcaps on eggs, Whitethroats and Willow Warblers building, and Chaffinches on full clutches.

How far along are nesting birds on your patch? Help the BTO collect vital data on nest productivity and timing of breeding by taking part in the Nest Record Scheme.

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