Bird in handymans shed avoids foe in a bush
Robert Fuller, the Yorkshire Wolds wildlife artist, visits a friend with a powerful nesting instinct as featured in the Yorkshire Post May 2012.
BIRDS are busy nesting and raising their young at this time of year and I always enjoy the challenge of finding birds' nests. I have become quite good at it over the years.
Unfortunately I'm not the only one on the look out for nests. There are a whole host of predators looking for an easy meal.
Magpies, crows, jackdaws, jays and some birds of prey, as well as squirrels, cats, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, rats, weasels and stoats are all after the eggs and chicks inside them.
Given the length of this list, I sometimes think it is a wonder that anything survives at all.
Some birds seem to have found the answer. Despite their inherent fear of man, these birds deliberately build their nests in close proximity to people, hoping that their predators are even more scared than they are!
Mistle thrushes have got this tactic down to a fine art. I first noticed their unusual nesting habits whilst I was still at school - they chose to build their nests low down in a fork of a cherry tree right next to the playground where the noise could sometimes reach alarming levels.
A friend of mine, Nick Coates, has a pair that nests in his woodshed every year.
In fact his wood yard, where he spends most of his time, has become a haven for nesting birds.
I often go there to pick through all the interesting hollow tree stumps that he collects. We turn them into attractive natural - if rather heavy - nest boxes which we hoist up into trees. If I'm lucky I get a pair nesting in one and can photograph the birds with an attractive back drop to use in a future painting.
Nick is a keen birdwatcher and his garden teems with birdlife. He has had kingfishers nesting in the bank that slopes into his garden pond and tawny owls nesting in a tree stump box right next to the house.
But it is his huge woodshed that fills with nesting birds each spring. Tonnes of planked elm, oak and yew are stacked in the shed, naturally air-drying ready for use. In the centre of this is a workshop measuring 16ft x 20ft. This is where he does all his machine work. It is the noisiest area of the woodshed and, yet, bizarrely it attracts the most nests.
Over the years this busy spot has been home to clutches of mistle thrushes, song thrushes, wrens, great tits and coal tits - the latter chose a roll of carpet propped in the corner for their nest.
The last time I visited I was about to walk through the door when Nick called out: "Don't walk through that door there's a robin in the tool pockets."
I carefully peered in and behind an old tin was a robin sitting very self consciously on its small chicks.
In the opposite corner was a blackbird on a nest perched on top of a strimmer. The strimmer had been causally propped in the corner and I would have thought the spot was a bit conspicuous for the blackbird. But Nick reassured me: "Just don't look at her for long or she'll fly off."
Nick showed me a succession of mistle thrush nests from previous years dotted about the eaves. Each year the nest got closer and closer to his workshop.
Above our heads Nick had put a gutter up in the roof space to catch the drips. The pair had nested in it last year.
They have become so accustomed to Nick that no amount of noise he makes will put them off.
The female will come in and feed her chicks whilst he has the belt sander going, or the electric planer. Even the electric saw doesn't faze her.
But for some reason this year the pair didn't use the shed to nest in. Instead they chose a twisted bit of black polythene on the end of a raspberry row quite low to the ground as their site of choice outside. Sadly their eggs were taken by a predator, so hopefully they go back to using the shed again.
Nick's days revolve around the nesting birds in spring. When he spots them queuing up with morsels of food in their beaks to feed their chicks he discreetly leaves his workshop for a few moments while they tend to their families.
Just outside the workshop Nick showed me a song thrush nest that had been pulled out of a bush, its eggs laid broken on the ground. It was possibly the work of a magpie.
A week later Nick told me the same pair had built a new nest in his wood shed tucked away on top of a post. Hopefully they'll have better luck this time.
As we walked down the track leading away from the shed to look at some old oak stumps he had laid out in the field, Nick showed me a robin nest in a knarled oak log which was covered in burrs, lichen and moss.
Framed inside this beautiful piece of timber was the nest itself. The robin had carefully woven moss and lichen around the outside in the most intricate way. But, tragically, the nest had been raided and the eggs were gone.
And the meadow beyond was strewn with pheasant eggs, their insides neatly pecked out, undoubtedly by a crow.
Given the carnage outside the woodshed, I could quite see why many of these birds have chosen to stay close to Nick.