A Start at the end of the season…the 100th Wild Barley Post!

An industrial yard. A concrete square surrounded on all sides by tall brick warehouses. Scattered through the yard are stacks of wooden pallets, plastic drums and other working debris. Beyond tall gates is a labyrinth of roads that make up the network of industrial units sandwiched between river and sea in Great Yarmouth. A small lab leads through bolted wooden doors onto this yard. Above that is another set of offices accessed by a set of metal stairs. It is not the most obvious place you would go looking for nests, yet we know many species of birds will happily nest alongside human activity in urban areas. Most of the time you might think of pigeons, or blackbirds in your gardens, all associated with some sort of greenery. But there are some birds that will nest in the most seemingly unnatural areas. Think of peregrine falcons nesting on cathedrals and gas works, perhaps not so glamorous but gulls nesting on roof tops. Here in this yard there was also a nest.

An unlikely place for a nest...

Tucked up under the eaves of the metal stairs, sitting on a small ledge is a rather scruffy collection of dried grass and leaves. It’s not totally inconspicuous with bits of yellowing grass hang down from this ledge. The soft tsip-tsip call of a bird from the yard gives the identity of the nest away. Hopping from roof top to pallets and back again is a small robin-sized bird. Its vent and tail are a beautiful pale red with the rest of its body charcoal grey and black. He holds himself up right, cocky almost, calling to another similar bird who has that beautiful red tail but is more drab greyish brown above. The female. The pair are Black Redstarts, and we are privileged to have them breeding in our yard. There are fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the UK and because of this the nests have extra protection through licencing to prevent disturbance.

As a licenced bird ringer, with an open nesting pullus endorsement and having an appropriate schedule 1 licence I carefully and quietly approach the stairs, hoisting myself up on a bike rail to peer into the nest. Despite the bright sunshine and heat of the yard, the nest is dark and cool. A small neat cup sits amongst the seemingly untidy mess of grass, and within this five pink, blind and pretty much bald little chicks squirm. I leave them be, letting the parents return to tend their brood.

The first glimpse of Black Redstart chicks

When I return the chicks have grown. They have tracks of feathers down their bodies, tufts of fuzzy feathers form patches over the head and body, while tiny little pins are starting to poke through on stubby wings where feathers will grow. Their legs are well developed and are ready to take a ring. The process is quick and in a matter of moments the chicks are nestled back in the cup, waiting for mum and dad to return which is not too long.

Ringed and returned to the nest

A short while later and a careful peek into the nest reveals large, well feathered chicks. I do not hang around long. These guys have grown so much, they are open eyed and alert. I am as quiet as possible, moving slowly so I do not startle them. Their parents still tsip-tsip at me from the roofs as I retreat.

My final visit and the yard is quiet, I climb slowly up to the nest, already knowing the answer. The nest is empty, the dark corner quiet, the cup well flattened. The chicks have gone. Headed off into the big wide world, five extra souls to the UK’s Black Redstart population.

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