Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Titmouse Chicks Develop

This is a continuation of our monitoring of the Black-crested Titmouse pair in our nest box.

May 26 - In the evening, I grabbed another color image of the nestlings at 3 days old. Note that along the crown, back, and wings dark patches are developing where feathers will grow from. They look like centipedes attached to the chicks. The female seems to have spent longer periods of time away from the nest box today.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Mammatus Clouds

After the day of severe weather in Austin with flooding and tornadoes, we observed Mammatus Clouds in the early evening.

This is the first time I remember a storm tracker putting a tornado path straight into our neighborhood. Fortunately, we did not get anything severe hitting us.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

First Titmouse Chick

This is a continuation of our monitoring of the Black-crested Titmouse pair in our nest box.

May 23 - Its hatching day and Memorial day weekend, perfect timing! Based on the time of the last egg, we had expected hatching to occur sometime over the last two days. The first egg hatched this morning at 09:00. The full hatching only took a couple of minutes.

In this first frame, the egg is just cracked at the top and the chick is pushing out. The mother participated in the hatching by poking and prodding at the egg.

As the chick wiggled a bit, the mother pull the egg shell halves out from under it and ate them both. Readings indicate that she might be re-absorbing calcium or just taking out the trash. That complete, she settled back on top of the nest and brooded some more.

At 10:00, we got another glimpse of the chick, this time begging for food.

At 10:10, the female left the nest and I took the opportunity to slip an iPhone through the ventilation slot to grab a picture without opening the nest box. The snake skin can be seen on the far left edge of the frame. I think that it is a piece of plastic trash that is lying on top of the chick. The female repeatedly tries to get the debris off of the chick but never moves it far enough. This color photo is the first time we have seen the speckles on the eggs; they do not show up in infrared at all.

Below is a link to a short video of the hatching sequence. In it, the female move out of the nest cup when the egg cracks. She then picks at the egg shell, eventually removing and eating each half in turn. At the end of the sequence, she feeds the chick some sort of scrap she picks up out of the nest.

The second chick hatched at 13:25 while the mother was away. Over the course of the afternoon, the first chick received all of the bits of food that the mother brought back to the nest.

There have been two other titmice frequenting the yard and the feeders. One dark crested and one that looks like another hybrid. Our female does not ever go to the feeder but regularly leaves the nest box and heads back away from the house towards the river. I assume that feeder food is not appropriate for the nestlings that probably need a diet of caterpillars. We have seen no evidence of any male helping out with the feeding. From our readings, I had thought that the male would help feed her.

May 24 - Two more chicks hatched overnight, one at 02:04 and one at 07:45 based on when I could see the mother eating egg shells. The video also captured her removing fecal sacs by eating then. She seems to have some trouble gauging the size of food that the chicks are capable of swallowing. On one round, she repeatedly stuffed a piece into one mouth after another, removing it when the chick could not swallow. She finally ate it herself. Here is another quick iPhone-through-the-vent shot at 09:45, an hour and a half before the last egg, isible in the photo hatched.

Mid-morning, something must have spooked the mother just after she came back into the nest. She guarded the entrance with a "snake-hissing" display as captured in this short video clip. Unfortunately, I had moved our outside camera to observe the raccoons that were tearing down feeders so I did not get video of what she was hissing at. Note the chick which was just fed expelling a fecal sac just before the mother begins her display. This is the white bit she picks up when she settles back down.

I grabbed some shots of the female leaving the nest box. These shows the coloration on the light chestnut forehead and pale gray crest which I am still assuming marks this as a Black-crested x Tufted hybrid.

The final chick hatched at 11:12 this morning. It took just over 24 hours for all of the eggs to hatch which is pretty close to the expected range. Here is a rare moment when all five mouths are open at the same time.

This is another iPhone image taken of all five chicks. I find it interesting that the only feathers that they hatched with is the tufts coming out of their crown. It is amazing that in a few weeks, these things will be able to fly.

Here is a very brief video snippet of the five

After the snake-hissing behavior earlier today, we decided up the ante on our house-sparrow deterrents. We put together a "sparrow spooker" to further discourage house sparrows from approaching the nest. On her first return to the nestbox after we installed the spooker, the titmouse did not even notice it and went straight into the box. However, on her second return, she did see it and was, herself, spooked. She made five attempts hovering in front of the box and escaping back to the nearby tree before finally taking the plunge into the hole. This had me concerned, so I kept watching the box. On a later arrival, I saw her once again enter without hesitation. Hopefully, she will adjust to the new decor quickly.

May 25 - This morning I took a slightly longer color video of the nestling with the iPhone. 

This afternoon, we had heavy storms and numerous tornado warnings throughout the Austin area including one that bore down directly on our location in Georgetown. During the worst of the downpour, the female did not stay in the nest box. This surprised me. Is it a coincidence or did she find better shelter somewhere else?

The female made many repeated trips in an out of the nest box with no problem. I think the spooker is no longer a concern for her. Typical  feeding schedule today has been: brood on the nest for 10-15 minutes, leave to forage for 2-5 minutes, return and take 20-30 seconds at most to feed one chick and eat any fecal sac, repeat. She has been taking less time to find food today than previously.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Raccoon vs Nut Feeder

Over the past week or so, we have had our bird feeders pulled down off the trees and torn apart. Danielle reattached the feeders with steel cable. Though the feeders now stayed on the tree, the contents were still being emptied. I moved the security cam to point at the bird feeders and found the culprit on video ... a raccoon.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Visit to Murphy Park

Near sunset this evening, we made another trip to Murphy Park in Taylor TX to see the egret rookery. Compared to last year, there were considerably more Cattle Egrets as well as an assortment of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Little Blue Herons. We did not see any night herons this year.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret (Danielle)

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Juvenile Little Blue Heron (Danielle)

Great Egret and nestlings
Great Egret and nestlings, Cattle Egrets (Danielle)

Camera Box Invasion

Went to check on the inside of the larger (owl) nest box today after having seen some bugs in the videos.  What a disaster. The leaf material became a nice habitat for roaches of which there were all sizes that scampered out as I removed the litter.  The camera box itself had become a cozy ant nest with hundreds covering every surface. Even ten minutes after pulling the lot down, there were still quite a few die-hard ants remaining. Back to the drawing board on how to set this up. The small nest box has not been a problem because it is more isolated from the ground or any trees.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

First Titmouse Egg

This is a continuation of our monitoring of the Black-crested Titmouse pair in our nest box.

May 6 - This morning, the female returned to the nest at 06:55 with no materials. She shuffled around the existing pile for several minutes and then settled down, occasionally moving bits around. She appears to have laid the first egg between 07:00 and 07:05 after which she pulled back to quickly look at it and resumed sitting on it and pulling materials around. She left the next box at 07:20 after what seemed to be a "recovery period."

I was surprised that the egg was laid today as the nest had no well defined central structure. I gather that the titmouse has a range on how much of a bowl is formed before laying begins. Sialis has a nice set of pictures of various titmice nests and a good description of the nesting process.

During the course of the day, she made 4 more deliveries of grass and fur at 11:40, 12:59, 14:35, and 15:53. During this process, she ended up covering the egg completely.

At this point, we are expecting eggs to be added, one each morning, until she is ready to start incubating the full clutch. Still no certainty that she will not abandon the nest so we will continue to avoid the area of the yard where the nest box is located.

May 7 - The female laid a second egg this morning between her initial arrival at 06:40 and departure at 07:15. The DVR skipped recording much of the intervening action.

This titmouse is definitely not following my script. This evening, she came back to the box at 20:00 and has not left. She appears to be incubating already with only two eggs. Sialis says that incubation begins after laying the penultimate egg and that three to nine eggs are laid, five to seven being most typical. So, she might lay a third egg, though it might not be viable.

May 9 - There are definitely at least three eggs in the nest as can be seen from this image just before her daily departure this morning.

May 10 - Now up to five eggs, so she is actually still on schedule for one egg a day.This shot taken just after she left the nest at noon. I am still confused as she still seems to be incubating. Is she, perhaps, not really heating them, just resting above them?


May 11 - Still clearly five eggs in the nest this morning as observed at 07:50 after her morning departure.Over the course of the day she left ten times,remaining away between 10 and 15 minutes. Several of those time she returned with additional nesting material, dropping it near the nest cup, and incorporating it later after she had settled her self back down.

May 12 - Still five eggs and continuous incubating except for 10 minute exits. With the new fur and continual scooting around over the eggs, a well defined nest cup has formed.

May 15 - I was surprised to observe that the female spent the entire night from 20:50 to 07:15 away from the nest box. I have also not seen the male since nest building completed. I had thought that he would be feeding her during this time. Is that why she was away ... an unwed mother struggling with a night job? Anyway, today back to the usual routine with eight absences of 10 minutes each.

May 17 - We added a bug attracting light in the yard last night. This morning at 09:00, the presumptive male made a quick landing on the roof of the nest box, flew down to the opening and then flew away. We did not hear any calls between them on the video, though she did react slightly to some noise. The male did not bring any food.

May 18 - Another day of regular trips away from the box with material brought in to augment the nest. At noon, she brought in a large chuck of snake skin. My readings indicate that this material is added to the nest to discourage egg predators. Research has shown that predators such as flying squirrels are less likely to predate a nest with snake skin in it.

May 20 - Another day of brooding and bringing material after her presumed feeding trips. She brought in another big piece of snake skin. Seems that she just about has a full snake in there.

All monochrome images taken with Hawkeye Nature Cam from birdhousespycam.com capturing in infrared mode