Thursday, 28 May 2015

Thinking outside the box.

The inspirational figures in my life can usually be categorised: wildlife photographers, wildlife conservationists, wildlife presenters, and the lucky ones which fit into all three of these categories! I like to do my fair share of everything, but my main interest is finding creative ways to get closer to our natural world. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to come up with solutions to problems, whether it's deterring poachers in Africa or trying to get a shot of that illusive Bitten among the reeds! I have been ever so inspired by shows such as 'Spy in the Pod' and 'Spy in the Huddle' which have used ingenuitive and creative ideas to achieve their aim. At last years Birdfair at Rutland Waters I even got to see the Penguins used in the program.

After seeing these incredible contraptions I was dying to make my own. As there aren't many penguins around my patch I had to think of a more common animal to try out my new invention with. I visited our local garden centre and found the perfect thing…a female Mallard duck decoration. I then spent the next day in our garage, figuring out the best way possible to transform this cheap garden ornament into a high-tech piece of filming equipment! 

I sawed off the front section of the duck (I felt a bit bad doing it even though it was a fake duck!) I then used an old plastic cup to insert into the chest and I sealed it all up with hot glue. This cup was the perfect size to house my GoPro camera (not luck at all…) I positioned weights and floats inside the ducks body to make the water level lie in the centre of the lens, with half the lens above water and half below. I thought that this would give a really nice composition for my photos. There is also another mount for the GoPro underneath the duck to get completely submerged footage, which is probably better for fish footage. 

I am going to use an old remote-controlled boat to manoeuvre the duck in the water. I have not quite finished this section of the duck get, as I still need to seal it all off, leaving enough room to change and charge the batteries. This RC boat can go pretty quickly so I'm not sure what the other Mallards are going to think when they see it zooming past! On a serious note however, I do need to take care when using the duck as I don't want to injure anything with the motorised fan or rudder. Anyway…so that was a little taster of what is yet to come this summer. Keep an eye out on your local lakes for an unusually fast Mallard!!

Another current project has been my Bird Box project.

I came up with this idea a while back and I began to plan it in detail to ensure I didn't disturb the birds in any way. I bought a relatively small wooden bird box which was suitable for Blue Tits in particular. Using a chisel and a mallet I removed the back panel from the box and replaced it with glass frame (having obviously removed the picture!)

Me and my dad cut a rectangular hole in the wall of our garden shed. We made sure that this rectangle was the same size as the bird box back to make them fit together tightly. Once I secured the box to the shed wall with a staple gun I surrounded the glass panel with layers of fabric to minimise the amount of sound reaching the bird box. We then left the box and waited…and waited. One early spring morning we had our first visitor. It was incredibly exciting, but I made sure to limit myself to one visit per day to take a photo of the progress. Soon enough nest building was underway!

Here are the two individuals, with the female (Juliet) popping into the bird box with some moss to cushion the box with, and the male (Romeo!) having a pit stop at the bird feeders.

Juliet the female Blue Tit
Romeo the male Blue Tit

I can identify the male because he has very distinct feather loss on the right side of his face, possible caused by feather mites according the BBC's Springwatch. For the first few day moss was brought into the box, eventually covering at least 2/3rds of the available space!

Next came the finer materials, such as hay and hair (some of which was collected from my nest material dispensers)

And finally the nest was sprinkled with feathers for that extra bit of comfort. It looks very cosy...

Over the next week 7 eggs were laid by the female. She then postponed her incubation by a further day before she began the sit-a-ton! Here is a description I wrote describing this spectacular event: "The emerging oak leaves above our shed act as a stain glass window, projecting tinted light through the nest box hole and down onto the hay which lines the bowl. I must have sat for a good two hours watching the female Blue Tit constructing her home, delicately placing every feather around the edge of the nest, as if they were scatter cushions. Her paint brush-flicked eggs lying dormant until she decides she’s ready for the springtime sit-a-thon; her male companion paying her occasional meals-on-wheels visits before returning into the trees again." 

The chicks hatched on the 16th of May, and it was all so magical.


  It's sad knowing that in just a few days both sets of chicks will be gone: the Blue Tits and the Great Tits. It's been an incredible experience watching them hatch and develop into the chicks they are today (Sounds so cheesy!)

 It's not all about the chicks though. It has also been an great experience to watch the parents build the nest, lay the eggs and care for the chicks in the way they have. Because I can recognise the male Blue Tit because of the feather loss on his face it makes everything even more personal. In fact I saw the male on the bird feeders earlier on today, probably getting a well earned snack after all that hard work! Below is my predication chart which I made months ago! The eggs were laid a little sooner than expected but the hatching day (16th of May) was exactly right. There are 7 chicks in the nest (I originally thought there was only 6 but I must have missed one!)

Here are the chicks just one day old, with the female bird coming into check on them. I always have the welfare of the birds first, so I do everything possible to prevent any disturbance. You can only see five chicks in this picture, but I can assure you that there are another two hiding somewhere. The feeding of the chicks seemed to peak mid-morning and late afternoon, with the middle of the day seeming a little more quiet.

After just 13 days the chicks now look like this (below). Their feathers have all grown and they look almost ready to fledge. The more confident individuals have been flapping their wings and parading round the edge of the nest this morning, so I suspect they are going to be gone in a day or two. What I love about this bird box is that you can get so close to the action (and get some nice up-close images) yet remain completely separate from the nest, therefore not disturbing them at all.

I reckon that the chicks will be gone by the end of the weekend. Once they're gone I'm going to get out in my patch with my camera and see if I can spot any of them among the trees. And who knows, some of them may return to this box again next Spring and have their own chicks (and I won't even know!) I'm going to get the chicks ringed next year so I can learn to identify individual birds on my patch...

The Great Tit chicks are also progressing very well. The mother is sleeping next to them as I type this (the chicks are way too big for her to incubate them, she's tried already!) These chicks seem to be taking a little longer to develop compared to the Blue Tits. This could be because they are slightly larger birds, or it could be the fact that I can only see them using the camera, giving me a less clear perspective on their size, unlike the Blue Tits.

The reckon that these chicks will be gone as well by early next week presuming everything goes to plan, but you can never be sure what is around the corner! Lets all keep our fingers crossed for both these sets of birds. 

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