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25 years of Bird boxes at John o Gaunt.

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

I sometimes get asked what my favourite time of year is and to be honest I like all the seasons for different reasons but if I had to pick a favourite It would have to be Spring. Coming out of winter when the ground is often frozen, trees sleeping waiting for the weather to warm up, animals hibernating getting ready to wake when the temperature is just right. It feels like the world is waking up when you slowly see things start to grow and turn green, the first leaves on a tree, thesound of birds singing in the morning, the first Butterfly, summer migrants turning up on our shores. It is a fantastic time of year as I watch everything come alive.

But apart from all that Spring is my favourite time of year as the bird breeding season starts to get into full swing.

25 years ago in 1996 the nestbox project was born. I had this little idea of trying to help our resident Barn Owl as the building it roosted in was getting renovated so I got in contact with the Hawk & Owl Trust and they came out to help errect a Barn Owl box on the John o Gaunt course. A few years later we put up a Kestrel box. This was just the start of what was to become a hugely successfull project.

The Barn Owl box was used for a few years without much success then the Owls departed the golf course and the box was taken over by other birds such as Kestrel, Stock Dove and Jackdaw. In 2009 we put up another A frame box on Carthagena course after a few sightings of Barn Owl but there was still no breeding untill 2012 when we had a pair of Barn Owls breed on both sides, unfortunately, prob due to the wet weather all the chicks died then 4 years later they bred successfully on Carthagena and raised 4 chicks which all fledged but still nothing on John o Gaunt course, however fast forward to 2021 and it is quite fitting that they should return to the box on the projects 25th anniversary, 9 years after they last nested in it, this time they had 3 chicks, 2 survived and fledged and could be seen hanging around for a while afterwards. fantastic news. Over the years the Kestrel boxes (now 1 on each course) have produced quite a few chicks, whilst not used every year they have been successfull and for several years on the trot we had a pair nest/breed on both courses raising 7 chicks between them each time, In 2019 the Kestrels on Carthagena raised 5 chicks, the most we have ever had in a box.

(Top - Barn Owl and Kestrels from 2021)

followed by Barn Owl from 2016 and Kestrel from 2012)

Just a quick note to add, The Barn Owls and the Kestrels were ringed under supervision from an appropriate licence holder. More to follow on ringing later in the blog.

A few years after the first Kestrel box was errected in 2000 I had the idea of putting up a few small boxes for birds such as Blue or Great Tits, I started with just 4 in and around the clubhouse car park and then towards the winter I began to wonder just how many I could get up on both courses. I enlisted the help of an expert friend of mine who was a bird ringer and looked after nestboxes on another golf course. We walked round both sides looking at where we could put some boxes, at the end of the walk he suggested we could comfortably get around 70-80 boxes, well, I just fell about laughing, don't be daft we won't get that many. Fast forward to the present day and we now have around 125! We started with some on the John o Gaunt course in 2001 then added some on Carthagena in 2002 then gradually increased over the years to its present number.

These are the types of boxes we have now:

Small with 25mm hole for Blue Tits or Coal Tits

Small with 32mm hole For Great/Blue/Coal Tits but also Nuthatch or Sparrows

Stock Dove Type box primarily for Stock Dove but is also used by Jackdaws, Grey Squirrel and Tawny Owl.

A-frame for Barn Owls

Tawny Owl Box

Woodpecker boxes (filled with wood chippings)

Treecreeper boxes

We also have 3 Swift boxes up around the clubhouse and to help to encourage Swifts we also have some speakers and sound equipment in place to play back the sounds of Swifts on a timer. The Swifts have not nested yet but it is hoped they will as small groups of Swifts are often seen flying over the clubhouse/carpark during May & June.

Photos: Kestrel Box and Swift boxes

Photos: Small box for Blue or Great Tits, Stock Dove type box and an A-frame for Barn Owls

In the spring I go round checking the boxes to see how many chicks we have, most years we have between 3-400 chicks. 2012 was the worst year after all the wet weather we only had 226 contrasting with our best ever year 2019 when we had 502 chicks fledge from the boxes.

When checking boxes this year I came across a big lump of mud on the front one box, I smiled when i saw that as I knew exactly what was in the box. For only the 2nd time in 25 years I had a brood of 8 Nuthatches and the first time on the Carthagena course, a few days later I found another box of baby 6 Nuthatches on John o Gaunt. Fantastic stuff. Great to see.

Here are some photos from the boxes:

It is always a great priviledge to be able to hold such delicate creatures in the palm of your hand.

Photos from top left:

Great Tit chicks, Young Blue Tit, Blue Tit Chicks

Photos from bottom left:

Me checking a box, Nuthatch chicks, Jackdaw Chick

Bottom photo:

Stock Dove Chicks

Bird Ringing

During the years of the nestbox project I have also been training to be a bird ringer and have now qualified to a C permit level enabling me to ring any young chicks i find in the small enclosed boxes unsupervised. I can ring other birds such as the Barn Owl and Kestrel under supervision from someone with the appropriate licence.

The bird ringing scheme is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Each individual ring has a unique number on it and enables us to track birds if they are refound such how far they travel and how old they might be. A Blue Tit I had ringed as a chick in a nestbox on the Carthagena golf course turned up 3 years later when it was refound on John o Gaunt Course and a Kestrel that was ringed as a chick in a box was recovered (found dead) nearly 20 miles away. The ringing scheme is an invaluable scheme to scientists and birdwatchers around the UK and the world in finding out so much more about a birds movements and longevity. Just to add,you have to undergo training in order to get the licence to be able to ring birds safely, to find out more check out the BTO's website:

It is always a great priviledge to be able to hold such delicate creatures in the palm of your hand.

This project has been a home for more than 5000 chicks. It has been a huge sucess and played a major part in increasing the local biodiversity. Making a bird box is just one small part of helping our wildlife but can make a huge difference. If anyone would like advice on nestboxes or would like to purchase one just drop me an email. Details on the website.

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