Above: White-fronted bee-eaters are stunning even by the standards of their family. This and three other bee-eater species are thriving at a very well-run private set-up that Gary reports on, © Shutterstock.com/Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

As the weather starts to turn, GARY BRALSFORD has been busy stripping the flights of nest-boxes and nesting material, though two species have proved to be late bloomers. He also reports on some special birds kept by his friends, and a pleasing message from the AS.

Birdkeepers should be preparing their birds for winter now that autumn is upon us. I have removed all nest-boxes and nest material from the flights, apart from my pair of African yellow zosterops (Zosterops senegalensis), which built a nest and were sitting tight on three eggs at the time of writing. My broad-ringed zosterops (Z. poliogastrus), also known as montane white-eyes, did the same and were sitting on three eggs. If these fail to come off, then they will be stopped until next spring.

My friend, Robert, has started his aviary repairs. He removed the roof of several flights to renew the wire and fitted new polycarbonate sheeting to protect from the weather and obvious predators, like sparrowhawks, owls and domestic cats. I have had a sparrowhawk problem for a week and had to bring my birds in from the outside flight. It was a beautiful female but I do not want her taking my birds.

I have trellis with plastic ivy attached all around my flights, plus creepers, such as clematis and honeysuckle, around the outside of the mesh. You can stop sparrowhawks getting at the birds, but the panic caused can cause real damage. Mine had the sense to fly inside the shed and did not return until the all clear. But to avoid any risks, I locked them inside for a few days.

A birdkeeping friend in Essex has had his white-throated (Merops albicollis) and white-fronted bee-eaters (M. bullockoides) lay eggs in the nest-boxes located in his mock sandbank nest-box wall. It’s a fantastic achievement to keep bee-eaters in good condition, never mind for them to attempt to breed. He had four eggs and three eggs in different clutches, but three got broken and the others disappeared. The white-throated were candled and all were fertile. His commitment and care should be commended.

My friend also has Northern carmine bee-eaters (M. nubicus) as well as little bee-eaters (M. pusillus). I wish him well for next year’s breeding season with these fascinating birds.

Simon Matthews of the Avicultural Society (AS) has confirmed my Moussier’s redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) breeding as a UK first. Simon is now the AS breeding co-ordinator, having taken over from Dave Coles. I think Dave still helps at times and so does Reuben Girling who has been involved with the AS for many years. All you need to back up a first breeding is to have a witness, if possible; take photos of the breeding; and produce an article on how it was achieved.

Softbill keepers will have sold surplus stock or picked up new birds at the recent National Exhibition. The one show I would love to go to is Zwolle in Holland. This show is three times bigger than Stafford and a softbill keeper’s dream. With breeders from all over Europe selling their surplus birds you come across some real gems. If any readers went to this year’s event, which took place on September 23, then please share your experiences.

See you in November for the dreaded firework season.      

Gary Bralsford’s UK first breedings include chestnut-backed thrush, green wood-hoopoe and lesser kiskadee.

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