Monday, 20 April 2015

That's Nature

I'm afraid today's nest update is in strong contrast to the positive post I published yesterday. In fact, today has not been a good day for nests in general. This is the "other side" of nature as it were, and must be accepted, together with all of the exciting, happy elements.

After discovering that the blackbird eggs had hatched only a couple of days ago at most, I have since been keeping an even closer eye on the nest, hoping to see the parents busy feeding their young. I was puzzled that I hadn't seen either one of them for a day or so. I hadn't expected them to be on the nest anywhere near as often as when they were incubating, but a total absence didn't sit right with me.

Camera in hand, I ventured out with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I think I already knew what I was going to find, or not going to find more accurately. Sure enough, I snapped a blurred photo that confirmed all three of the chicks were no longer in the nest. This is such a devastating discovery as I've become rather invested in the blackbirds' lives, being able to watch them so closely from the house. Saying that, it was only yesterday when I typed the words "the success rate is only around 30-40%" so this turn of events really shouldn't come as much surprise to me.

I searched the surrounding bushes and ground thoroughly, hoping there might be a clue as to what had happened to the chicks. There were no branches out of place or any evidence of disturbance and the chicks' bodies were nowhere to be seen. We have at least two great-spotted woodpeckers that frequent our feeders on the other side of the garden, and magpies are also occasional visitors, so I have had to draw the conclusion that the chicks were predated by one of these. I am extremely disappointed, for the parents who have worked so hard and for myself as I was so hoping to see them fledge. I can only keep my fingers crossed that the female chooses to lay her next clutch in the same nest, although this is unlikely as whatever predator took these chicks now knows the location of the nest.

Unfortunately, this isn't the end of the bad news. I have also been monitoring a nest that was being built by long-tailed tits in the outer top corner of another garden hedge. I had seen a pair of long-tails flying back and forth across the garden with nesting material, but over the past week or two, they haven't made an appearance. My research told me that once the nest is built, it isn't uncommon for it to be left for a few days before any laying takes place. The timing works out about right for this and having frequently checked for activity close-up, I had determined that it was yet to be occupied and no eggs had been laid.

If this was definitely the case, it was just as well. After my disappointing discovery at the blackbird site, I noticed a large clump of feathers on the outside of the long-tail site. Upon closer inspection, there were feathers everywhere, clinging to the branches and gently rolling across the driveway like tiny tumbleweeds. I couldn't see much on the inside of the bush, more feathers and lichen, but enough to confirm this nest had been destroyed. With the location of the nest being so surrounded by branches, it is likely that this too could have been caused by magpies or crows. Again, I checked for any evidence of eggs but I couldn't see any, nor bodies, so my conclusion is that nothing was inside. I could well be wrong but it's impossible to know without having a camera on the nest.

Not a great day for nesting, it has to be said. I feel deeply saddened but have to keep telling myself that this is nature, this is what happens. Predation is part of the cycle. It seemed in rather harsh contrast that, as I was stood in the garden feeling pretty gloomy after my discoveries, the distinctive call of a cuckoo drifted through the trees: my first of the season.

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