Nests and nestlings (mostly) (26 May 2003)

At this time of year I mostly concentrate on nest-finding and pullus-ringing, especially for species of conservation concern. As this is the first breeding season since I 'went digital', I have been taking photos of many of the nests, eggs and chicks.

Peregrines Falco peregrinus at an industrial site laid four eggs and probably lost two chicks soon after hatching, but the remaining two chicks were growing well when Roy Leigh and I ringed them. In many ways it is a pretty horrible site - as seen in the photo (below left), which shows an adult flying around and also the glowering storm on the day we went - but one of the nice things about the nest, on a lighting gantry, is that it is possible to view the nest ledge through a slit in the surrounding framework, including sometimes seeing one or both adults. The adult female, seen here, is a very brown-plumaged bird, and from the drops of rain on her back and wings she had obviously been off hunting recently.

Next, one of the chicks is shown on the exceptionally dusty floor where we ringed them, displaying the (temporary) effects of where I had plucked a handful of breast feathers to send off for DNA analysis, as allowed under my Schedule 1 licence. Finally, after the two chicks were replaced on their ledge, they huddled into the corner of the gantry.

Back on safer ground, the cryptic colours of Lapwing Vanellus vanellus chicks can make them very well camouflaged but careful watching of the adults, especially the female whilst the male with his long crest stands guard nearby, usually reveals their position.

I use my car as a hide for finding most Lapwing chicks, as I do also for watching Skylarks Alauda arvensis back to their nests (below left), which contained four chicks at the perfect age for ringing.

I borrowed three of Kieran Foster's home-made spring-traps and used them, baited with mealworms, to try to catch Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe. It worked, but I only caught one, a big Greenland (O. o. leucorrhoa) female, on a day when I'd forgotten the camera! However, on another day, a female Skylark succumbed to the bait, giving a rare opportunity to examine an adult. The legs, especially the long hind claw, are well adapted to walking around on long grass. They are one of the species where both adults and juveniles have a complete autumn moult, so it is not possible to age them beyond '4', but this individual looked very much as if it had two generations of primary feathers (see lower photo) with the outermost five (of the nine visible) appearing to be older and worn, and a somewhat different colour, whilst the innermost four look in perfect condition.


David Norman.


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