I’m crouched in a dense thicket, trying to squeeze my 6-foot 4 frame through a patch of hawthorn. My clothes offer little protection to the thorns, raking my legs and arms as I push through to the tree on the other side. There is a small clearing next to it, just wide enough for me to stand up straight. The tree is covered in ivy, coiled round with tendrils and leaves that swamp the trunk.
I sidle round the trunk until I reached the spot I had memorised, a stem of ivy that shot out horizontally and was tipped with a cluster of three budding leaves. This was where I had seen her leave and was the X that marked the spot. Carefully parting the foliage revealed that my suspicions were correct. Sat against the trunk, cradled in the ivy’s coils, is a nest.
It is immaculate. Woven out of grass into a cup with all the care an artist would show their finest creations. The inside is superbly lined with mud, dried and smooth as though it had spent time in a kiln. And held within this masterpiece sits the crown jewels.
In stark contrast to the earth lined nest, sit 4 of the most exquisite eggs. A pale light blue with freckles of black spotted across them. They look at odds with their surroundings, stuffed in the foliage. It feels as though they should belong in a safe, carefully packaged and locked away. Or perhaps in a glass case in a museum – a treasure from some ancient time.
A glimpse was all I needed, just enough to count the eggs and snap a quick picture. I forced my way back through the hawthorn and sat at the base of a tree a few metres away to lick my wounds. A few minutes later and a glimpse of brown signalled the return of the female. The Song Thrush perched briefly and then made for the ivy to sit back on the nest, none the wiser to my visit. Success.
Recording nests is a big part of the monitoring we do here at Creswell Crags and is crucial for gathering information on nesting success. By following birds through this crucial stage in their lives, we can be better informed to protect them.
Now I know what you might be thinking – “Isn’t it wrong to be going around sticking your head in nests?” You’d be quite right to question it but, as long as you are careful and keep visits to an absolute minimum, monitoring nests has no effect on their success. In fact, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are keen to rekindle the dying art of nest finding. Anybody can do it and the BTO actively encourage volunteers to find and record the success of nests. Of course, you must be careful – no one wants to be responsible for the failure of a nest – but by following simple guidelines you can be sure to have no impact.
I continued to monitor that Song Thrush nest throughout the next few weeks, seeing the chicks go from tiny, naked jellybeans to fully feathered fledglings. It wasn’t just Song Thrushes either. Chiffchaff, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Greenfinch, Blackcap, Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock & Bullfinch are some of the other nests whose stories we followed this year.
The wet weather at the start of the spring didn’t seem to hinder the early breeders, with Song Thrush and Blackbirds being able to forage for plenty of worms in the damp soil. The weather picked up at the perfect time for the rest of the birds to breed and it seems to have been a successful season for most species in general. 22 of our nestboxes were also used by Blue and Great Tits, raising over 100 chicks that I’m sure we’ll see visiting the feeders in the coming months.
It will be interesting to see how insect numbers were affected by the drought, and whether that has any knock-on effects to the young birds once they have fledged. Our ringing efforts will allow us to get an idea on the amount of young birds that are around and how many make it to through the winter to breed next year for themselves.