June 26, 2007


Living in a country stretching 1800 km North-South, with a very elongated form, comprising fjords and mountains, most Norwegians are very concerned about the weather. The weather varies a lot, and the regional differences are often extensive. Where I come from, we are used to having three seasons in a day, every day. It is just the way it is - and we have a saying sounding something like this: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes". If you will see this yourself; take a look at our local university's weathercam. At this site you will find years of weather statistics and great time-lapse videos.

Because of our above-average interest of the weather, we have a topic at the Science Centre called "Climate and weather". We have just started developing teaching material within this topic, and will spend some time testing and improving this. Last fall we bought a weather station from Davis called Vantage Pro2, and because of ground frost we had to wait until this summer to install it. Only last weekend we managed to get it running, and now during the first Science Club week we are testing it for the first time. Marte and I spent several days last week making a visual display to accompany the indoor panel to the weather station. We made a board where the kids can display their weather readings from the last 24 hours and a map of Northern Norway where they can create their own weather forecast.
Other science centres with more money at hand than we have, have hi-tech versions of this, with a professional TV studio with blue-screen technology. Although we could wish for something sophisticated like that, we are still pleased with our homemade pre-tech version.

The final peep-show

Being busy preparing our summer science club, I have not written about our nest box since the tragic, yet natural events taking place almost two weeks ago. After loosing three young ones the parents managed to rear the four chicken left, and they all survived until they could leave the nest. They grew remarkably fast, although there were huge differences between them. The two birds sitting closest to the box opening seemed to get more food than the modest ones at the back of the nest, and they were obviously developing at a different pace. As soon as they got feathers they started polishing them and flap their wings.

Last week the big ones started peeping out the hole, clinging onto the wall, flapping their wings or simply standing on eachothers heads. And Friday the two bold ones were gone, leaving the two minors to guard the nest. Next morning they too had flown the nest, and fortunately we got takes of these two nestlings trials and successful escapes. The last three days (22/6, 21/7) of film is now finally up at our website, but we still have hours of raw footage to edit of the days prior to the 21st.

Next year we intend to copy this attempt, and do some improvements to the nest box to get better live and still pictures. But we will not, even if it was a fun project, copy a Norwegian bird show from 2003. A Norwegian guy called Sten Magne Klann made a number of nest boxes decorated in a special manner, and took some adorable art shots of them. The photographs ended as an exhibition at Bogstad in Oslo called "Piip-show". A web-based version was also launched, and got huge hit rates both from Norway and the rest of the world.

The UV Animal

With July a few days away, here is a craft activity with a scientific twist. From a number of science toys dealers you can buy pony beads sensitive to UV light. I have bought mine from Educational Innovations - 240 beads for $6.95. Out of the sun they are white, and when they are in the sun they change to various colours like yellow, orange, red, purple and blue. This is an excellent reminder to use suntan lotion if you have tender skin like me.

The webshops suggests making a simple bracelet of the beads, and that works well with small kids. For kids aged 7 and up (and boys who don't want to use bracelets), a colleague of mine, Anne Bruvold, has made a different product of the pony beads. She has called it "The UV Animal" (UVdyret), and here is a description of how to make it:

You need 25 UV beads, 2 normal pony beads (for eyes) and 70 cm elastic band. Start at the tail end, tread one bead onto the elastic band and make sure the two ends are of the same length. Continue with the next beads as the drawing underneath shows, and take care to get the body and the legs assembled correctly. If you want to make the animal with beads of specific colours, take them outdoors to "activate" them before you choose which ones to use. Good luck!
I have made a number of these and have attached them to bags and rucksacs. You can also put it on your throusers, like this boy has done.

June 14, 2007

Horror show

Nature is harsh! The last couple of days there has been a dramatic reduction of the number of chicken in the nest. From the original seven, they dropped to six, then five and the third day there were only four young ones.

What has happened to the dead ones has been an enigma. I saw one chicken being carried out by a parent, and the day after I was able to catch on film an even more bizarre episode. As the day before, one of the parents tried to bring a dead chicken outside, but was unable to get it out. After a long fight to succeed, it gave up and tilted the dead one back into the nest. And apparently it then started eating from it. If you want to see this for yourself, you can find the movie here.

Warning; may not be suitable for sensitive adults - kids seem to cope with this in a more natural way! (According to my 7 year old son who was with me when this happened, calling me a sissy!)

June 11, 2007

Real life in a nest box

Yesterday I checked the nestbox and was a bit worried about one of the chicken. It was smaller and weaker than the others, and was not able to fight with its siblings to grab the food. The parents seemed a bit disturbed, they came into the box multiple times without bringing any food, as if they were stressed about something.

And sad to say, my worries were justified. When I came to work this morning, I could only count six chicken. It was rainy today, and rather poor light conditions inside the box, so I could only count their open beaks when the parents brought them food. So I concluded that one of the chicken had died. And at two o'clock this was confirmed. I could not get it on tape, but one of the parents suddenly grabbed the dead chicken (which was still inside the nestbox) in its beak and carried it outside. It was a tough battle for the adult, it seemed almost to heavy and to bulky to bring through the drilled hole, and it had to try several times before it succeded.

It was sad and rather weird to be an eye witness to this, which probably happens each year in most nests. Being human I've got at weak spot for this small family, even if I know they are simple creatures which don't have feelings the way people do. And I hope the rest of them survives, at least long enough to leave the nest and see the world outside their small closure.

June 08, 2007

Seven hungry chicken to feed

According to our information, the eggs in our nest box would hatch some time between the 29th of May and the 3rd of June. This was a bit problematic because the whole staff was going to Lisbon from the 31st to the 3rd. So we got ourselves a couple of babysitters, Kristin and Jørgen worked on shift monitoring the nest box while we were away.

The eggs hatched sometime between the afternoon of the 31st and the morning the 1st. Kristin came at eight o'clock and found 7 chicken and one egg, and sent us an sms right away. Imagine how proud we were, and a bit sad because we weren't there to see it for ourselves! :)

Since then we've monitored them closely, and taken films and photographs daily. They change remarkably from day to day, and now being one week old they have huge problems cramming into the tiny nest. The last egg never hatched, and it was probably the one that was laid last. Shortly after the hatching this last egg disappeared, and we don't know if it was removed from the nest or simply eaten. I've read elsewhere that the female adult eat the egg shells after hatching, probably to refill her calcium reserves.

It is quite funny to watch the live footage. And we've got some press coverage lately because of it. Both the local papers has stories about it in their net editions; called "Are you ready for Bird Brother" (why didn't we come up with this title ourselves!) and "A close look at the Great Tit". The University of Tromsø has linked to us with the heading "Songbird reality-TV" and even our national TV has written about it with the title "Busy Great Tit Mom".

Because we don't have a live webcam, you can't take a look at the action right now. But we have a number of films from the nest at our official webpage for your amusement. For those of you who don't understand Norwegian; to see the latest film - click at the photo. Older films are linked underneath; ordered by date. For still photos, take a look at this page.
If there are other monitored nestboxes out there, it would be cool if you could send me a note about it. I know of a few, mostly in Norway; here is a list:
Mobil blogg (Blue Tit, only still photos, in Swedish)
Tårnfrid-kassen (Falcon, live webcam, in Norwegian)
Midttun skole (Great Tit in Bergen, weekly films, Norwegian)
Blåmeishybelen (Blue Tit, video, stills, Norwegian)
Familien Selander (Great Tit, video, photos, Norwegian, links to other pages)
If you know of other pages, I will add them to the list.