It feels as if we are on the home straight as far as our nest monitoring is concerned and, as is usual by this time of the year, we are all starting to flag a bit. It has been something of a broken season for me, with less time in the field because of work pulling together a field guide to monitoring nests. Mind you, my involvement with the book has also enabled me to see nests that have been new to me. It has also been a fantastic opportunity to learn from the real experts in this field, discovering the tips and tricks that can help you pin down the location of a nest so that you can then monitor its progress and complete a nest record card. The information contained on these cards is used by the BTO (www.bto.org/nrs) to inform conservation practitioners and Government as to the changing fortunes of our breeding birds.
As such, it was good to be back out in the reed beds over the weekend, to see the progress of our Reed Warblers and to marvel at just how lush and tall the beds had become. Many of the warbler nests now contained bright-eyed chicks, soon to fledge ahead of their journey south to Africa. Others contained newly laid eggs, with a handful of birds laying a second clutch in the same nest as their first but with others building anew. A couple of pairs had combined the two approaches, building their new nest on the top of the old to make a bizarre looking tower, woven between the reed stems.
One of the nests I checked on Saturday contained a young Cuckoo that we’d ringed earlier in the month. This Cuckoo was close to fledging, and sat on the rim of the nest, dwarfing the now flimsy construction that had once housed it. Alert, the chick turned to face me and opened its bill to reveal a vivid orange gape, a super signal to its foster parents to feed it with insect prey. I suspect that the brightness of the gape served another function, perhaps to warn off potential predators.
The one downside of working the reed beds this late in the season is the presence of a growing army of horse flies. They linger along the margins of the pools, most often where there is some damp and dappled shade; they soon discover any exposed flesh or, for that matter, any flesh protected only by a thin piece of material. My interest in insects means that I can still marvel at their jewel-coloured eyes, even when some of them manage to bite me. It has been a long season but a good one.