Friday, 21 September 2007

Butcher Bird and Swallow Family Life

Just as I was packing my camera ready to go to the monument my phone rang and Jack Chantler uttered the magic words "Red-backed Shrike in the paddock". Although they are not particularly rare they are always a welcome addition to the Bockhill year list.

Red-backed Shrikes were never particularly common in Kent, even in the last century when they bred in most counties in southern Britain. The national decline during the second half of the 19th and then through the 20th century was largely caused by the later colder springs the country experienced during this period. The final demise as a breeding bird was thanks to egg collectors, who valued collecting the beautiful eggs far above the conservation of the species.Unfortunately they are still active, albeit illegally in the country. The last breeding pair in England were on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in 1989 and despite a huge effort they repeatedly fell prey to the egg collectors. The birds we get are on migration and are breeders from northern Europe, most likely in Scandinavia. A few appear on the east coast, from Shetland to Kent, when they are on the move. They often sit around on the sheltered side of a bush, making occasional forays to catch a large insect or very occasionally a small mammal or bird. The old name of "Butcher-bird" relates to their habit of storing their pray in a larder by hanging items on thorns, or in modern times, barbed wire. Usually they stand out as a pale bird sitting in the bush.

Although this one didn't allow very close approach, I did manage to get a picture that is just about recognisable.

We ventured down to the bay to do a bit of "sea-watching" and in the main that's what it was, with a good Sandwich Terns, a few Commic (Common or Arctic) Tern and Gannets passing, but nothing to get excited about again. As I was about to leave I saw this family of Swallows, four youngsters, waiting to be fed by the two adults feeding over the lawn next to the "Boat House".

Most of the time the four youngsters sat contentedly waiting for one of the adults to bring them food.

Occasionally one of the juveniles would fly of and intercept an adult, ensuring that it got that particular beakful. I wondered if this was the family from the adults I watched collecting mud in the car park on July 27th. Incubation is normally about 16days, from the date the last egg is laid and then fledging is a further 19 days or so. It just about works out if these birds have been out of the nest for a few days, which seems likely. It's good to know that the car park fiasco contributed to a successful clutch of Swallows!


Steve said...

Another good find for the Bockhill crew! And some great photos of the swallows Tony!

deslilas said...

Nice to get your beautiful pictures of swallows, I've spent hours some weeks ago watching young swallows breeding in one of my plum trees. The only way to know if it was an adult or a teenager was to follow the food.