Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Blue Tit Webcam - Part Two

A few days had passed and the two hatched chicks were growing and feeding well.

The three remaining eggs had not hatched and we assume that the other chick must have died at hatching and its body and egg removed while we were not looking.

The chicks change in appearance every day. Feathers form and darken. 

Most of the feeding and all of the nest tidying is done by the female bird, but the following fuzzy photo proves that Mr Blue Tit does sometimes come along bearing gifts of grubs and maggots!

The female regularly flies out to collect food but spends much of her day brooding her chicks and keeping them warm. She is a busy mother and fusses around moving feathers and fluff. She still appears to be turning the unhatched eggs, which we assume must be either unfertilised or addled by now? 
Sometimes she almost turns somersaults as she tidies, turns and feeds.
On recent wet days, I have watched her on a nearby tree branch, shaking the rain out of her feathers before she returns to the nest.

This morning was an anxious one. Only one gaping mouth was feeding when we first looked in at the nest. Had the larger chick or the mother bird trampled the smaller chick? Had the wet, colder days taken their toll?

A few minutes later, Mrs Blue Tit returned with a white grub and a second gaping mouth appeared.

Two hungry chicks are now waiting for more and the parent birds are out in this morning`s sunny garden, on their perpetual hunt for food.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Blue Tit Nest Webcam - Part 1

A recent birthday present was a bird box with a webcam already installed. A great idea as we love watching the webcams on the BBC Springwatch programmes every year.

We put the box up on a north facing wall that is sheltered from the worst of the rain and the hottest sun. A wire leads through into the house so that we can watch the nest via the television.

Within a few days, a pair of Blue Tits had taken possession of the box and started to build a nest. Bottom layers of hay, dry bracken and moss were built up to make a thick, firm structure. Over the next few days, the birds added moss and horse hair from the moulting New Forest ponies outside.

The dark hair comes from Jay and the grey-white hair is from the Grey Pony. They have been moulting heavily so have appreciated a few good grooming sessions. We left piles of shed hair out in the yard and watched from a distance while birds of all varieties gathered it up as nesting material.

Some of the feathers may have been found, but we have watched the parent Blue Tits out on tree branches near the nest, preening each other and removing old feathers as part of their courtship and bonding behaviour. Both birds have brought the feathers into the nest, but the female seems to have been in charge of arranging and rearranging them, to make the nest soft and warm for herself and the coming chicks.

Mrs Blue Tit slept in the nest from an early stage. Within days of completing it, she began to lay her eggs. A total of six have been incubated over the last two weeks. The female only left the nest to feed herself at this stage and spent a lot of time fluffing herself up and rolling the eggs around under her body.

Sometimes, the male bird would bring a flying insect as a food gift to the female, but when we saw her bringing back a small white maggot in her beak, we knew that the first egg had hatched.

Two days later, two chicks had hatched and a third seemed to be emerging from its egg.
Both birds began to feed them and the rate of growth has been astonishing to watch.

More to follow. Please excuse the poor quality photos, but it has been a real privilege to watch the secret life of a pair of our garden birds as the days have gone by.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Tyger, Tyger.......

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. Most people seem of a like mind. There is a feeling of discomfort at watching wild animals enclosed, however good and humane their treatment. On the other hand, conservation and the global breeding programmes for endangered species are essential if these creatures are to be protected for the future.

I have always felt unsure about keeping the Big Cats in captivity. I know it has to be done, but they do seem to exhibit pacing and other stereotypical behaviour. Having said that, the Siberian/Amur Tigers, the leopards and the cheetahs at Marwell are all in superb condition.

This beautiful Amur Tiger was viewed at close quarters through a tough, transparent wall.
It followed the fence line around to the small pond and then looked at its own reflection in the water.
The photograph below reminds me of the tiger in Judith Kerr`s wonderful children` book, 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Marwell Zoo on a Cold Spring Day

In the last week of the school holidays, we went on a family visit to Marwell Zoo, near Winchester in Hampshire.    

Marwell Zoo opened in 1972, in the grounds of Marwell House, a fine country house with its origins in the fourteenth century. In the 1500s, the house was owned by the Seymour Family. Their daughter, Jane, was the third wife of King Henry VIII.

Marwell Zoo was founded by John Knowles, the then owner of the house and land. By building a collection of animals, many of which are extinct in the wild or severely threatened, the aims are to conserve species and to educate the public. The animals are well cared for in environments which are adapted to their specific needs and enriched to provide as natural behaviour as is possible within a zoo setting.

More information can be found at http://www.marwell.org.uk and on Wikipedia.

We saw a fraction of the 1200 animals, of 235 different species, currently being cared for and bred by Marwell Wildlife, the conservation charity that runs Marwell Zoo. Photography isn`t easy through wire fences, so only a few images were reasonable enough to post.

Above and below is a cheetah. Like all the animals, it appears to be in very good condition.

The Giraffe House provides a warm, loose-box type of environment, where the animals can come and go at will. They have a field to wander, but preferred to be inside on the cold day when we visited.
Giraffe breed here, so the photographs show animals of all ages. Below, a group are feeding from their high hay rack.

We wondered if this young one was teething on the wire?

They have strange and beautiful faces.

Child with Mother.

A Hartmann`s Mountain Zebra

Grevy`s Zebra, grazing a large field alongside Scimitar Oryx from Sub Saharan Africa. Both species have been successfully bred at Marwell. The oryx was extinct in the wild but is now being reintroduced by the captive breeding programme.

Dorcas Gazelle - again from the desert lands of Africa.

A member of the large colony of Meercat who live at Marwell. Sunbathing under a heat lamp was the best place to be on a chilly afternoon.

Marwell House, behind part of the large, enriched enclosure for the Rhinos, who were all inside sleeping when we visited. We could stand on one side of a transparent wall and watch them dozing in a group, just yards from where we stood.

A lizard, camouflaged to the slightest difference of colour and light of its background rocks. 

A snow leopard feeding; one of another species endangered in the wild.

South American Capybara, grazing.

 It was a busy day at Marwell when we visited. Spring daffodils brightened the park and many excited children were enjoying a day seeing animals from across the world. It was heartening to see the next generation being encouraged to learn about and to love the wild creatures so endangered in their native lands.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A Happy Birthday Bonfire

To celebrate the Queen`s 90th birthday on Thursday, beacons and bonfires were lit across Britain, as they have been for centuries to mark special occasions.

In one village, a local farmer invited villagers onto his land and the Parish Council encouraged people to build the bonfire with garden prunings and woody waste. 

Villagers gathered round at dusk. "Happy Birthday to You" was sung to the absent Queen, who was enjoying a birthday dinner with her family at Windsor Castle that evening.

The farmer lit the bonfire to loud applause, although the green prunings took a while to catch alight.

The local herd of red deer wandered nearer, as they usually do before nightfall, but were startled by the fire and a crowd of human beings on their familiar fields. They turned tail and headed back towards the woods.

People gathered to chat and exchange news. Cider and apple juice, from the local cider farm, were enjoyed. Children played in the field as the darkness fell, before being shepherded home to bed as they all had school in the morning.

Some of the village dogs came too.

The fire took hold as night fell. We stood in the heat of the blaze, warmed on a chilly evening.
Flames hypnotised the watchers, as they have since early human beings first made fire.

The crowd began to thin. A small community had celebrated for the Queen and come together for a few friendly hours.
People wandered homewards across the dark field and left the bonfire burning through the  night.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Easter Flowers at Kingston Lacy

Spring is here. Light evenings and ( sometimes) better weather means more time spent outside, so I am falling behind with my blog yet again.

Here are some photographs from Easter weekend, which began with warm sunshine when we walked through the grounds of Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne. It was a beautiful day. 

The Slate Grey Dog is growing well and enjoys her outings with the family. She is pulling less and walked nicely around the woods and park. She met friendly dogs and children, which she loved.

An Easter Egg Hunt was in progress, so the woods resounded with the voices of children.......

....and the calls of birds.

Most of the woodland daffodils are the small, wild varieties but drifts of larger flowers grew nearer to the paths.

Trees beside the "snowdrop walk" have been coppiced.

Early spring is the time for yellow flowers. Drifts of celandine shone in bright sunshine.

Across the lane, in the old kitchen gardens, glasshouses are being renovated and used again. Allotment holders were busy preparing their plots for a new season`s growth.

Walking back towards the house, we passed the Japanese Garden, waiting among wintery trees for the blossoms of spring.

Flowers bloomed in bright colours in the  camelia walk.

Rooftops of the fine old house showed above the treetops.

Clumps of pale primroses were quieter, lovelier flowers in unexpected places.

At the end of the woodland path, the way opened out onto acres of grassland and bare trees.