Less than three weeks ago a participant on Friday morning emailed to say she thought she had a Spotted Flycatcher nest in her garden, and would I like to come and check it out. In the early 1980s I wouldn't have considered this as anything unusual, as at that time we had at least 2 pairs nesting in the cemetery every summer. However, we never see them twisting after insects anymore from our headstones. The other Autumn a couple passed through our garden on their migration to Africa, but they were only with us for a couple of hours. Spotted Flycatchers aren't very colourful birds, but their confiding nature, and amazing hunting sorties as they twist and turn in flight after specific insect prey are marvellous to behold. They may be LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), but they are incredibly charismatic.
Spotted Flycatcher - one of the parents
On 26th February I travelled to a beautiful garden setting near Patrington to have a look. Sure enough there was a Spotted Flycatcher in the garden. I waited until the adult flew well away from the nest, and had a quick look. The chicks must have hatched only minutes earlier, as I could see at least 2 chicks both with eggshells still attached to their rear ends.
Recently-hatched chicks and eggshells
Remosal of a faecal sack
Elizabeth had only ever spotted one adult at a time, but both came in and brought food for their nestlings. On the final day of July I returned with my nephew, and the chicks had grown considerably, and this time it was clear that there were three inhabitants in the nest. Both parents arrived with rather large insects in their bills, including green bottle flies, and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.
Bringing in a Small Tortoiseshell
2 Young Begging for Food - 4 days old
I was in the East Midlands the following Thursday, when I checked my emails at lunch time to see another message stating that the 3 chicks would be fledging very soon. The following morning Elizabeth rang to say all three chicks had fledged, but I would be welcome to see if I could locate any fledglings in her garden.
The Day Before fledgling (c) 2013 Elizabeth Woollias
About to Hunt
Ben and I travelled to Patrington again, and we were immediately met with an adult Spotted Flycatcher making a two-syllable alarm call on next door's TV aerial. The nest was clearly empty, and although single syllable calls could be heard from various areas of the gardens only the parents could be seen. We waited patiently for a while, and the adults were seen catching insects, but there was no sign of the young. Half an hour later I noticed a very spotty bundle of fluff in some clematis near the nest. A chick had returned to its natal area, and was calling to be fed. I quickly took a few pictures, and then retreated so its parents could locate the bird and continue to feed it. There were plenty of White butterflies on the lavender, so I hope they discovered them to feed their hungry & growing youngsters.
Empty Nest Syndrome
Thanks very much to Elizabeth for permitting myself and Ben the privilege to watch these charismatic birds at close quarters.