Bitterns, bullfinches and blue tits: Springwatch is back.

by Matthew Cobb

It’s that time of year again in the northern hemisphere, so the BBC is treating us to three weeks of nightly live TV in the shape of Springwatch. This is a family-oriented programme that each year broadcasts live over three weeks from a key site of biodiversity in the UK. This year – the programme’s 10th anniversary – it’s coming from Minsmere, an RSPB reserve in Suffolk.

The programme is a mixture of live cams and pre-recorded pieces. I know some readers get infuriated by what they see as ‘dumbing down’ and occasional silliness, but you have to remember that it’s a family programme, and I think it does a remarkable job of introducing non-specialists to the natural world. They never flinch from showing natural selection at work even when it’s grim and will upset children (last year they showed a grass snake nomming a whole nest of reed bunting babies which we’d been following for a couple of weeks). And one of the presenters, Chris Packham, is always introducing the latest research on the various animals they show.

Among the cameras that they’ve installed this year is this one on a bittern nest (I’ve put a screenshot below, the cam itself is here). The bittern is an incredibly elusive bird thatnests in reed beds and is astonishingly camouflaged (nearly as good as a nightjar…). There’s been a lot of rain on the site, and the nest could be flooded (an avocet nest they were watching got drowned on the first night, and the two eggs were lost). The parents spend quite some time off nest.

The feed rotates between the ‘scrape’ (a stretch of mud that has an avocet nest on it), a badger’s sett (not much going on in the day), a reed warbler’s nest and the bitterns…

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 7.19.00 AM

 

They also have a camera in a very noisy blue tits’ nest. The chicks are ready to fledge – it could happen any time.

Finally, the third feed rotates between a rabbit’s nest in some hay, a fantastic bullfinch nest in some very scratchy thorns, a nightingale nest and some bees…

The cameras are live 07:00 – 23:00 each day, UK time. UK readers can also catch up by watching previous episodes.

7 Comments

  1. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    In the blue tits’ nest, it looks like there are 3 biggish chicks and a couple smaller ones. Hope they all will make it, but I am not sure.
    I just saw how the parents get rid of poo. A chick turns its rear end upward, extrudes a poo packet, and the parent plucks it out and flies away. Even this is awesome.

    • Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Compared to most years, the blue tits seem to be of an even size – on last night’s programme they showed how the chicks move round during the day so they all get fed (the position of the nest means that the adult is always in the same position).

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        I was watching further, and saw the rotation as well. I agree the sizes are similar, having seen small chicks in the background move to the foreground, whereupon they seem a lot larger. An effect of the camera, I guess.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted May 29, 2014 at 12:27 am | Permalink

          Blue tits, like most passerines begin incubating only once the full clutch is laid so the chicks hatch more or less synchronously and are similar in size. In raptors and various other birds, such as herons, incubation begins as soon as the first egg is laid so the hatch is asynchronous and there is a clear size hierarchy in the brood. This is considered to be an adaptation to unpredictable food supply. If conditions are poor at least the most competitive chick(s) will get enough food but the runts will die (in last night’s Springwatch we saw two bittern chicks being fed their dead sibling). If conditions are really good all of the chicks might survive.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      A chick turns its rear end upward, extrudes a poo packet, and the parent plucks it out and flies away.

      Hundreds of parents are (I guess : someone else’s problem) scribbling furiously to genetic engineering companies to see if there is a retrofit kit for their children.

  2. Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    And they’ve got cameras in Knapdale in Argyll (Scotland, if folk aren’t too sure) to see the European beavers which have been reintroduced as part of a scientifically-monitored licensed trial. The beavers are hopefully going to be on air on the 29th May and 2nd June, if my information is correct.

  3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I CAN SPOT THE NIGHTJAR!

    (No, I’m not bittern at all.)


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