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Visitors to the Medway valley

Posted on 27th April, 2018

Spring has finally arrived and the breeding season is under way. In mid-April, blue tits were already building nests in the five recently-erected nestboxes in East Farleigh churchyard – and I expect to find clutches of up to fourteen eggs when I check the nests at the start of May. At the same time, the great tits using the nest boxes in my garden were a little more advanced. When I checked them, the nests were complete, but looked empty. However, a probing finger revealed that each contained three cold eggs (half the full clutch of 6 – 8) buried deep in the animal-hair lining of the nest cup.


Male Great Tit feeding his mate as she incubates.

Note the animal hair lining of the nest - Blue Tits use feathers instead.


Virtually all small birds lay one egg a day, first thing in the morning after the shell has been added to the egg overnight as it descends the oviduct. The parents (usually, but not always, the female) only start incubating them when the clutch is complete. Great tits, however, have evolved the practice of concealing the eggs, out of sight of potential predators that might just happen upon the nest, until the last egg is laid and the female starts sitting on them. Watch this space for regular progress reports.


The explosive sound of a singing wren can be heard in just about every month of the year. But it is now finally getting down to mating, and raising young in a tiny domed nest in a crevice in a tree trunk, or tucked away in an untidy outbuilding. I’m currently watching one in an inaccessible corner of a girder under a tiny bridge. The male wren constructs several nests then, when he has attracted a mate, he allows her to choose the one she wants to breed in, and she furnishes her chosen nest with moss, feathers and lichen. Before you think “Ah, how sweet”, you need to know that while she is busy at the avian equivalent of Ikea, he is looking for another female to install in one of the other nests. Being so small, wrens are very vulnerable to long spells of freezing weather so having multiple mates and breeding attempts is an effective strategy for maintaining the species’ numbers.


Just when you need the rope!


If you happened to miss David Attenborough’s fascinating programme about eggs a few weeks ago it’s worth seeking it out on iPlayer.


A cuckoo was reported in the village on 11th April and has been heard almost daily since, and the explosive song of the blackcap (like a robin on steroids) is a daily feature in most gardens with a reasonable size tree. The swans on the river at East Farleigh almost certainly have eggs? Some village swan-watchers were concerned about one that often seems simply to be floating with its head tucked under a wing. Although many UK mute swans have been affected by avian flu this winter, there have been no signs in Kent’s swans, so it is unlikely to be ill. In this case it is probably a male who has little to do while his mate incubates the eggs. So he is just loafing: no comment needed ladies!


Another exciting visitor seen in the valley (perched on the pylon near Barnjet Priory on the other side of the river) is a peregrine falcon. Peregrines like nothing better than a plump pigeon, so they are now doing well in the South East where tall buildings and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pigeons are to their liking. You can watch live video of the pair nesting on a specially constructed platform here. Norwich Cathedral Peregrines


Unfortunately these wonderful creatures are still relentlessly illegally persecuted, along with other birds of prey, in parts of northern England and Scotland where grouse are intensively reared for shooting for sport. So keep your eyes peeled for the fastest animal on earth, above us here in The Farleighs!

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Comments (3)

Super...thank you very much!!!
Hi Suzannah

Assuming it's also black and white, it's definitely a Great Spotted Woodpecker. If the red is on the back of its head, it's an adult male. Adult females don't have any red on their head. If the red is on the front, ie. its forehead, then it is a juvenile bird that has just left the nest. A juvenile will moult those red feathers in its first few months, and replace them with the male or female head plumage by the autumn.

Hope that helps,

We are getting a woodpecker in our garden near East Farleigh bridge...it has a red head and belly. Just wondered if you knew what sort it was?