This beautiful scene shows a remnant of Scots Pine forest which has been regenerating after logging was carried out here about 60 years ago. It is home to some wonderful wildlife including many passerine (song) birds. Local ornithologists Robert and Stuart Rae, and Mick Marquiss (as well as many others) installed nest boxes here, some being put up 30 years ago, to provide habitat for hollow-nesting species. Amazingly most of the boxes are still going strong, and, encrusted with several decades of lichen, make a wonderful adornment to the beautifully-patterned bark.
Today we checked about a dozen boxes for nesting songbirds and it was pleasing to find that quite a few were occupied. One species we encountered was the Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), a stunningly marked species, named after the reddish-brown coloured tail. ("Start" is the modern English version of the word "stert" which means tail). Like many European passerines, redstart fill the nest box with pieces of bark, sticks, lichen and moss, building a neat little cup in one corner, which is then lined with fine grasses and feathers. A typical clutch is five, and as you can see, the eggs are indeed beautiful!
Once the eggs hatch, the male and female redstart are kept busy bringing food to their rapidly growing brood, which will fly the nest about two weeks after hatching. When close to fledging, redstart chicks' feathers help them blend in perfectly to the mossy surrounds of the nest hollow. Without their little beaks it would be hard to count the number of chicks present in this nest!
I was privileged to be allowed to ring two broods of six redstart: one brood being found in a nest box, and one in a nearby tree hollow. The chicks are removed one at a time from their nest, placed in a calico bag, and lowered carefully to the floor, where they are ringed before being returned to their nest. This individual marking study is part of a broad-scale bird research project being conducted by Robert Rae.
|A Common Redstart chick with an identification ring placed on its right leg.|
Seeing the chicks up close allows a wonderful view of their new plumage. In the below photo you can see the red-brown colour of the new retrices (tail feathers) emerging as their owners gladly point their bums in the air! The rufous rump feathers (on the top side of the tail) of the chick at bottom right are also visible.
I thoroughly enjoy 'finding the secrets' in a tract of forest that, at first glance, might seem devoid of life. During my lifetime of nature study, I have come to learn that no scene, no matter how dull, quiet, plain or boring it may appear, is lacking incredible examples of weird and wonderful wildlife that offer beauty, understanding and appreciation to those that are willing to think and look below the surface. A big thanks to Rabs, Stuart and Mick for showing me just one of the wonders of their backyard. "There is more to life than meets the eye."