Saturday, 29 April 2017

BirdBox2017: what's happening?

Here we are, already at the end of April, but there has been plenty of action.

We have suffered technical issues, system crashes and technical incompetence.

But we have also had a lot of nest building and a fair number of eggs.

The female blue tit took weeks to build her nest, while her partner chased every other blue and great tit out of our garden. Every day they would check out our 3 tit boxes plus the neighbours box. They even carried moss into each of the boxes, apparently to stake their claim [citation needed].

But eventually they settled down in our 28mm hole, Picaxe-Pi bird box mounted about 2m off the ground, on the side of our pergola. (this was my cue to open the 32mm hole, Pi-555timer box mounted 3m up a maple tree.

The female laid 9 eggs and is now about half way through the 14 day incubation period.

Yesterday (at last!) a pair of great tits turned up that were not going to be pushed around by a little punk blue tit.

The female started making a nest and (in true great tit style) it looks like she should have in finished by tomorrow.

Blue tit on eggs almost hidden under dog hair, while great tit rapidly builds her nest

We are so pleased to have both blue & great tits nesting in the same season, as I think this is only the 3rd time in the last 9 seasons that this has happened in our camera boxes.

I wish I'd kept proper records. Someone asked me about the chances of success, so I scraped together these numbers:-

"fledged" = chicks leaving the nest

We certainly had blue and/or great tits for each of the missing years (2010-2013) but I can't find any notes on numbers. What this does show is that getting 100% of the eggs to hatch and for all chicks to leave the nest is just not that easy. Losing a parent bird during this process can result in the eggs being abandoned (2014 blue tit), or a huge struggle for the remaining parent to continue feeding the chicks (2014 great tit).

Domestic cats are ememy #1, but I have also intervened when a woodpecker tried to break into a box, and when a sparrowhawk circled the box trying to panic the female inside.

Technical incompetence

At the end of March I noticed a dreadful problem. The PicaxePi system would not boot properly. It would get triggered, motion would start, I'd see the motion video on my remote monitor for about a minute, and then the system would shutdown. I could not remote into the system using VNC or SSH.

Fortunately this system is easy to access, so while the birds were away, I took the lid off and removed the SD card. Long-story-short, the disk was full. I'd allowed the video files to build up for 5 or 6 weeks, so there was not enough free-space for the system to boot into a desktop (therefore I could not remote into the system, find the problem and delete a few files).

I can't believe I was so stupid.

I have also now enabled SSH although I'm not sure whether I would have been able to use this for remote access either.

Technical problem

About this time, I did solve a couple of technical problems. The slow booting of the operating system was causing the system to fail to boot about 1 in 5 times. It also turned out to be the reason why the log files were not updating (i.e. file corruption).

Both problems were solved by creating a Gambas command line program which ran before the system booted into the desktop, and basically kicked the Picaxe a few times until the main Gambas GUI had a chance to take over kicking duties.

But for the last 4 weeks, the PicaxePi system has run as sweat as a nut!

And as for the maple tree system (designed in 2013) it just works!

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