11 May (cont) -- under the nestbox soon after dawn

Two woodpeckers share this part of the owls' territory -- a Great Spotted and a Green. The Green Woodpecker rushes around in the early morning shattering the silence with his cries (mystifyingly called yaffles by some), while the Great Spotted mainly drums -- remarkably loudly for a small bird. The Great Spotted is looking beautiful at the moment, with a splash of brilliant red on his most important parts and most of the rest in dashing black and white. I've seen the Green Woodpecker chasing one of the tawnies through this wood during the day. I'm very fond of the Green Woodpecker's calls, so here are some he made this morning at 06.13 and again 12 minutes later (add 1 hour for BST). The second extract, after the inserted silence, begins with a curious call (after which it sounds as if he has a shake), confirmed as his by another loud call 12 seconds later.

Green Woodpecker calls 710 kb mp3

And finally, this squawking bird passed over the wood just after 05.00 GMT. ( I didn't know what it was at the time, but Corinne did as she hears them in Docklands in London -- a Grey Heron)

Overflying bird 660 kb mp3 (128 kb/s)

Afternoon visit to nestbox

When I went to the woods in late afternoon on 11 May the chicks were, as I've suggested, a bit uncooperative about being filmed but the behaviour of the parents was a big surprise. The mother was lurking in the high canopy of the oaks most of the time -- I could hear her mewing -- but later on the dad came into the wood. The marvellous thing was that both then flew around high up in the oaks within 75 yards of me -- with me plainly visible trying to get photos of the chicks -- and ended up having one of their noisy encounters as if I wasn't there! So it seems Mrs O may have persuaded her mate not to be so silly!

At one point, for example, I spotted one of them sitting up in an oak not so far away where it could easily see me. As it was quite close I thought it must be Mrs Owl . . but then there was a hoot and he, for it was his lordship, got on with the serious business of chasing his wife.

Night of 11-12 May -- Pine nest owls

An unexpected development here -- this pair seem to have abandoned their nest. I sat under the tree for nearly two hours from about 9.15 pm GMT and heard nothing. I then left a recorder running while I took a walk round the woods. Checking this two-hour recording (11.10 pm-01.10 am) shows that there was no activity on the nest and no visit by the male. The only indication that they may have been in the vicinity was a brief exchange in the middle distance at 00.52 GMT, which I can't be sure is them. I stayed for about half an hour after getting back from the walk and heard them meet up in some larch or spruce about 75 yards away. It's likely to have been them as it's in their territory. Curiously, however, both owls flew out of the pine nest tree when I returned from recording a dawn chorus much later, at about 7.30 am.

So the conclusion at the moment has to be that this clutch has been abandoned for some reason. One would not expect her to be off the nest for such an extended period if there were eggs, so one has to consider the possibility that she's been sitting on an infertile clutch as the projected hatch date (21 April) is long past. As I last monitored these owls on 3/4 May, leaving an interval of six nights, I'd rule out the possibility that chicks have fallen out of the nest in the intervening period as there almost certainly weren't any chicks on 3/4 May.

The only reason for hope is that it was a brilliant full moon, and contrary to intuition, tawnies do not seem to be active at this time -- the woods were almost completely silent all the time I was there. If they have given up on this clutch it'll be interesting to see if they have another go. The fascinating possibility remains that she was sitting on nothing -- and just kidding herself and her husband!

In the dead quiet of the early hours, while I was walking round the wood, the Telinga dish picked up the unmistakable sound of a distant Nightjar. This must have been in Hemsted Forest, almost a mile away from the place where I was standing. So there you are -- a first Nightjar report! We thought they arrived in June. (Postscript: First and last recorded dates for Nightjars in Sussex are 8 April and 5 November. Source: The Birds of Sussex)


12 May -- Dawn chorus with Nightingale

Very nice this morning to be able to drive to a wood in the area, Backtilt wood, and find the Nightingale singing away in the darkness before dawn. The downside was I totally underestimated the time it would take to set up, so much of the recording of the time before he was joined by the members of the chorus is unusable due noises from me.

Anyway, here are three samples. In the first, recorded with the Rode (NT1-A) mics, he's singing almost alone in the pre-dawn darkness (03.10 GMT). The second, also with the Rodes, is 20 minutes later when the dawn chorus has started. In the third he's better picked out by the Telinga in its dish. These are not the best quality recordings, and in the first sample you can tell it's a weekday morning. Dawn choruses are best done at weekends, even in a secluded area like this. But it makes a nice change from owls.

Nightingale solo 3.9 Mb mp3, 160 kb/s

Nightingale + chorus 1 1.6 Mb

Nightingale + chorus 2 2.7 Mb

14 May -- London

The Swifts arrived today, a day earlier than usual. Swifts, that is, in the skies above my flat just a few miles northeast of central London. Corinne also saw them in Essex today. Neither of us heard their distinctive screaming yesterday. I must put up a pic or two of little Floppy the Swift who dropped through my bedroom window two years ago. (1 July 2006: Floppy's here.)


15 May

LONDON. Driving to Kent tomorrow for a week, so there's going to be a long break in the diary as unfortunately I cannot upload stuff from there. In any case there simply wouldn't be time -- it takes more time than you would believe to get the recordings and pics off the machines, log it all, and then prepare samples to go along with the text. The actual scribbling takes no time at all!

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