No I haven't been on a James Bond activity weekend, I'm talking about Goldeneye the duck.
This weekend I've headed South on one of my work trips and instead of staying at my usual B&B stop on the way down I was invited to stay with my friend Nigel in Newtonmore and to go out with him checking the Goldeneye nestboxes he has at various locations around his local area.
Nigel has been studying Goldeneye for around the last 25 years and during the breeding season he regularly checks the nestboxes and records when the first egg was layed, how many eggs are laid, whether the nest was successful or not and whether the same bird uses the same nestbox each year. If a nestbox is found to have a duck in it then the duck is ringed and their weight, wing length and tarsus length are also recorded.
|A female Goldeneye|
The Goldeneye nests in holes in trees. To assist the ducks in finding suitable nesting sites Nigel has erected a number of nesting boxes. These are attached to trees at least six feet above the ground, which in one case during our tour of the boxes was just as well.
|The water level is usually nowhere near the base of the tree.|
|A closer view of a nestbox.|
|Nature attempting to blend the nestbox in with the surroundings.|
Saturday 20 April
I arrived at Nigel's place at the backend of lunchtime and after a quick bite to eat we set off to the first location. When we arrived at the loch the water level was quite a bit higher than usual. I was glad I had taken my chest waders but even they wouldn't let me get to one of the nest boxes!!
The five boxes that were accessible were all empty including one that had eggs in it on an earlier visit. The box had been robbed by either a Pine Marten or a member of the corvid family, most likely a Jackdaw.
Whilst walking around the site we saw our first Common Sandpipers of the year.
At the second site there were six boxes to check. Three were found to be empty, two had eggs and the third had eggs with a female in attendance. This gave me the opportunity to ring my first Goldeneye and to do the weighing and measuring.
Another good indication that Spring was definitely here was a mixed flock of 30+ birds made up of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows all flying back and forth over one of the lochans. There were also another couple of Common Sandpipers and a solitary Pied Wagtail.
We then moved onto the third and final site for the day. This site had four boxes. One was empty, two had eggs and the fourth had eggs and another unringed female. My second Goldeneye to ring.
As we were walking back along the river towards the car we heard a Dipper calling from under a nearby bridge.
Sunday 21 April
This morning we visited the final two sites that Nigel monitors. The first site had five boxes, three of which were empty and the other two holding both eggs and females. Although these two ducks were already ringed they were still weighed and measured.
While working our way around this site we saw 20+ Oystercatchers, 10 Common Gulls, 6+ Redpolls, a couple of Blue Tits, a Coal Tit, a Robin and a Treecreeper. Flying along the river were a pair of Goldeneyes and a couple of Swallows and overhead was a Buzzard which agitated some of the other birds in the area. We also heard some Pink Footed Geese and a Greenshank.
The final site held three boxes. None of them had any Goldeneye eggs, but two of them had been taken over by Jackdaws with one of them holding two Jackdaw eggs, which were a lot smaller than I expected.
We also saw a Little Grebe on the loch.
So at the end of our tour we had visited 23 boxes in total, 15 of which were empty (including the one that had been predated) and eight boxes with eggs of which four had females sitting on the eggs.
Although one of the boxes had lost its eggs since Nigel's last visit there were two boxes that had eggs in which had been empty on his last visit. Also a couple of the boxes had more eggs in them on this visit compared to the last one. So Nigel considered it to have been a successful tour of the boxes.
Back at Nigel's house there were also signs of breeding preparation going on with Song Thrush, Dunnock and Greenfinch all seen collecting nesting material and taking it off to bushes in the garden.
Also in the garden was a Robin, Chaffinches, Blue Tits, a Coal Tit, two Long-tailed Tits and a Rook.
I'd like to thank Nigel for inviting me along and giving me the chance to help out with his project and to ring a new species. I look forward to hearing how the nests get on and hope that at least some of the eggs hatch and the ducklings make it to the water.