We are keen conservationist and have been monitoring birds and bird boxes at Brimham for years. We have a team of three, rangers Andy and Cath and bird survey volunteer Rob, and each year we start with our nest record survey around mid-April.
The 50 boxes spotted around the site at Brimham are built to attract blue and great tits, pied flycatchers, nuthatches and redstarts. We also have two open-fronted boxes for spotted flycatchers and an owl box. We monitor the boxes on behalf of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). After the cards have been completed we send them back and the BTO compile all the information in the bird trends report, which is a telling review of our environment.
We start looking in the boxes around mid-April and visit the boxes up to eight times throughout the spring, usually every two weeks. Firstly we will be checking for any nest-building, usually shown by some moss with blue-tits, who are always the first ones to build their nests. After a couple of weeks the nests become lined with hair and are fairly complete. Soon they have eggs, which can be buried beneath down feathers (to hide them) while the birds are out feeding. The blue tits can also be quite agressive and even spit at us!
Then the great tits build their nests, and finally we have pied flycatchers who are the last to arrive. Last year we had 186 fledged chicks.
The time scale for all these activities is usually two weeks once the eggs have been laid, then two weeks for the chicks to grow and fledge.
Last year we also had three male pied flycatchers, who had claimed their boxes, and spent weeks calling for a mate, displaying and flitting around quite vigorously, but sadly no females. We saw one chase off a redstart from his claimed box. I did see quite a few redstarts. It would be great if one nested in one of the boxes. We may make a tree-creeper box as there are a few pairs around where the other boxes are sited. We've never seen nuthatches at Brimham Rocks, which seems quite odd as there are lots in the area.
The open-fronted boxes were unsuccessful, as was the owl box, but this was put up quite late. Owls usually pick their nest sites for the following year during the winter months so our hopes for thsi year are high.
We have made most of the boxes on site in the workshops, and constantly have to repair them. Squirrels are always attempting to break into their cosy haven! And some of the boxes just disintegrate. There are quite a few casualties during the monitoring. Some eggs are abandoned, most probably due to the adults being predated; eggs can be eaten by small mammals and some just don't hatch.
We are quite proud of the valuable conservation work we are doing here. Brimham Rocks has a varied and diverse number of birds that breed and visit the site not only during the breeding season but also in the winter. Bird monitoring is a useful scientific study and is a reflection upon the environmental health of the area.
We always look forward to this time of the year with huge anticipation and excitement.
We're home to three rare species of heather including ling heather, bell heather and cross-leaved heath. These plants have helped us achieve the status of Site of Special Scientific Interest meaning the work we do here to preserve our moorland habitat is important on a world-wide scale.