Bristol Swifts blog of activity and observations of the swift colony around our house in Bristol. For details of the location of each box see Swift nest box location on our house.
Wednesday 23rd August
They’ve all gone and so the 2017 swift season draws to a close.
It’s been an extraordinary year, a record-breaking year in fact. Here’s a brief summary of whats happened during their time with me.
They arrived late, over a week later than normal. The first one back arrived on May 1st. Over the next 3 weeks nearly all of last years birds joined it. However one noticeable absence was my roof tile pair, they’ve been with me since 2005. A huge loss to me, they were the reason I got hooked on swifts in the first place. I really do miss them.
By the end of May, 17 out of 20 birds had returned and breeding commenced. We had a wife swapping male, who left its mate for another and the attack of the honeybees in June, which sadly resulted in the death of 3 chicks. However to counter this we had 5 new pairs arrive, so despite those setbacks the colony grew in size to 14 pairs, a new record. 11 of the 14 pairs bred (another record) and between them they produced 20 fledglings, another new record for the colony. The last chick to go left on Monday evening in total darkness, very odd!
Yesterday the last 2 adults followed it, and their departure brings to an end my blog. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing and it seems like only yesterday that my first bird arrived back home. How time flies when you’re having fun – please excuse that pun! I hope my daily updates have been of interest and more importantly, shed a little more light on these fascinating birds. I’ve attached a record of whats happened to my colony over the last three years and it shows in more detail just how remarkable this year has been.
Time now for Jane and myself to relax and take a little break, but don’t worry the blog will be up and running again next spring. However in the meantime if you have any burning questions you can always get hold of me via the contact page.
One final thing, due to the positive response we had from our Swift/ NGS open day this year we’ve decided to do it all again next June. So if you missed us this year, make a note in your diary for Sunday 24th June 2018. I don’t know what the weather will be like on the day, but I can guarantee the swifts will be here.
Goodbye for now.
Mark & Jane.
Tuesday 22nd August
8am. Well the chick in nb5 south had the last laugh on me. After spending the last 2 days outside filming it peering out I decided at 9pm last night to call it a day. It was almost dark and one the the adults had been back since 8.30pm. I thought if the chick was going to leave it would have done almost immediately after it was fed. As it was still there at 9pm I assumed it was safe to go inside. As I was writing the 9pm blog I watched it get up from the nest, move to the entrance hole and go. It was pitch black outside. Why it decided to go then I don’t know, I’ve never known one fledge in total darkness before. Perhaps it got fed up of me with the camera looking up at it, who knows. That was my last chick to fledge. There is still an adult in nb1 north and the single parent in nb5 south however I expect both to leave today. They don’t stay long this late in the season after their chicks have gone, one or two days at the most. Unlike my first pair whose chicks fledged on July 18th, they stayed on for another 24 days. I’ll check to see if they return tonight if they don’t I can start to bring down the boxes. I’m going to give them a good scrub, someone told me honey bees leave a scent trail so I want make sure I get rid of any trace of it before I put them back up again next year.
Colony status; 20 out of 20 chicks successfully fledged, 26 out of 28 adults gone as well.
Monday 21st August
9pm. I really thought the last chick in nb5 south would fledge today. I’ve been outside filming all day, convinced it would go but no, it’s still here. Both parents returned together at 3pm. It was its first feed of the day and I thought it might go immediately after they left. It followed them to the entrance but stopped short of actually going. I’ve some lovely footage of it peering out but nothing more. Interestingly only one parent has returned tonight so tomorrow must be its last day. Up early to try and catch it going.
Only 3 birds left now. One adult in nb1 north and the chick and a single parent in nb5 south. I think they’ll all be gone tomorrow,
Sunday 20th August
9am. I was wrong both parents are still in nb1 north, so there’s still 4 adults and 2 chicks here. However I thought the chick in nb5 south was going to leave last night. For about an hour it was peering out of the box. It was nearly 9pm and just getting dark, the perfect time for chicks to fledge. But just as I thought it would go a Herring gull flew overhead squawking and scared it back inside and that was that for the night.
It’s been looking out again this morning but at the moment it’s still here. I’ve managed to get some nice footage of it peering out but I don’t think I’ll be lucky enough to catch it fledging, they’re so unpredictable.
7.30pm. The remaining chick in nb1 north has gone. It probably fledged sometime this morning, slipped away when I wasn’t looking. Both adults have just returned an are cuddled up on the nest. It wouldn’t surprise me if both went tomorrow. Colony status; 4 adults and 1 chick.
Saturday 19th August
8am. One of the chicks from nb1 north has gone. Not sure when it went, possibly late last night or early this morning. I think one of the adults might also be missing from the same box as well, I’ll check tonight to confirm. As it stands in nb5 south there are 2 adults and 1 chick and in nb1 north 1 (or possibly 2) adults and 1 chick. 18 out of 20 chicks have now fledged and migrated south along with 24 (or 25) out of 28 adults. If I didn’t have the cameras in the boxes I wouldn’t know there were any swifts still here. They come and go so quietly now that unless you happen to be looking up at precisely the right moment you don’t see them at all during the day.
Friday 18th August
Just got back from a weeks holiday down in Devon. Hundreds of swallows and house martins everywhere, but no sign of any swifts. I thought I heard some over Otterton, but maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. Whilst in Devon we were kindly invited over by Stuart and Gerry to see swift boxes in the tower at St Mary’s Church, Kentisbeare, a small village near Cullompton. We were absolutely bowled over by what they’ve done in such a short time. Nine boxes and a sound system have so far been installed, with another two boxes to be added soon. The local school children have made the nest cups, so the whole community has been involved with this project. Although they didn’t manage to attract any breeding pairs this year there has been lots of activity around the tower. Along with Stuart and Gerry was John. He’s from a neighbouring parish and keen to do the same thing there. We’d like to thank them for asking us over and making us feel so welcome, it was the highlight of our holiday. There’s a picture of Gerry and Stuart outside the church (with me in the middle) plus a couple of Gerry and me inside the tower inspecting the boxes.
All my swifts are gone except the two pairs with chicks. The 3 remaining chicks are due to fledge this weekend so they won’t be here much longer, something for me to savour for a few more days at least. Colony status – 4 adults and 3 chicks.
Sunday 13th August
7am. A few more birds went yesterday. I’ve just checked the cameras and only 14 adults are still with me, that half the colony now gone. The good news is the 3 remaining chicks are looking really healthy and full of energy, which is a good sign. Another week and they’ll be gone as well. The season winding down rapidly now, however I’m already starting to think about next season. I’ve got 6 more boxes to prepare and work out where to put them. Something to keep me busy in the next few weeks I think.
Saturday 12th August
9.30am. A much quieter display last night with a much smaller group of screamers taking part. It only lasted for about 30 minutes or so, mind you the weather didn’t help, damp and drizzly. When I checked the cameras later 4 adults had gone, only 17 adults and 3 chicks left now. No screaming parties at all in the morning now. When they leave their boxes most disappear straight away for the rest of the day. Probably going to a local feeding area to stock up. The only birds to return during the day are the 4 adults with chicks who sneak back in alone and without any noise. You’d hardly know there were any swifts still left there’re that quiet.
Friday 11th August
9am. Treated to another lovely display last night and the weird thing is another 2 adults have returned. I’m now back up to 21 from a low of 13 on Tuesday, how bizarre. All 3 remaining chicks did really well yesterday with plenty of feeds being brought back by their parents. They’re starting to do more exercises now with rapid wing flapping and press-ups the most common form of work-out. They’re also beginning to wander around their boxes a bit more, it won’t be long before I see their little white faces peering out.
Thursday 10th August
8am. Another good screaming display last night from about 7pm until 9pm. There looked like more adults then there should be and sure enough when I checked the cameras later there were. Yesterday I had 13 adults in my boxes, however last night it was back up to 19! I’m sure this temporary absence was something to do with the migration group seen over my house on Tuesday night. I think a lot of my birds got caught up in that frenzy, stayed out all night only to return a day later. I’ve never seen anything like it before and I can’t think of any other explanation at the moment.
A beautiful sunny morning, clear blue skies and light winds, most of my birds are already out feeding. The weathers looking good today, then a blip tomorrow before settling down over the weekend. A great opportunity for all my birds to feed well, putting on weight now is vital. The most crucial being the 3 remaining chicks who have another 10 or 11 days to go before they fledge, the more good days now the better.
Wednesday 9th August
9am. What a difference a day makes! Last night a large group of swifts gathered again over the house. There must have been over 30, wheeling and screaming in a tight ball quite high up. There weren’t moving in any particular direction they just seemed to be hanging about over the house. Every now and then a smaller group would peel off and whizz around the house a few times before going back up to join the larger group again. I like to think they were having a final look at the house before they went. This continued for about an hour then all of a sudden the large group started to move slowly in a south-westerly direction. About a dozen or so peeled off and returned to stay with me but the majority headed off slowly and disappeared out of sight a few minutes later. When I checked the cameras at 10.30pm 18 out of the 28 adults had gone. I never known so many birds go on one day. Perhaps it’s because it’s quite late in the season or maybe it’s because the weather is so awful, I don’t really know. Slightly worrying is that one of the missing adults is from nb5 south where there is still a 5 week old chick. Anyway the good news is when I checked the cameras this morning 3 out of the 18 had returned, including our missing bird from nb5 south. Perhaps they got carried away with excitement and followed the larger migration group for a while before returning home, anyway I’m pleased our missing bird is back with its chick. So a quick summary of the colony status this morning is 13 adults and 3 chicks still here.
Tuesday 8th August.
8.45am. A screaming party of 8 have just appeared. I can see one white face in nb1 south and another in nb1 west peering out, is this the day they both go?
9.05am. I’ve just witnessed my first fledging from an actual box after all these years and I even managed to film it, albeit a bit shaky. Our chick in nb1 west finally took the plunge and left at precisely 9.05am. I don’t know who was more nervous the bird or me but it was very special moment for me. I’ll add the link later. This one makes it 16 out of 20 now gone.
11.30am. Click on this link to see the chick fledge. It wasn’t the most elegant of take-offs but as least it got away safely. Apologies for the slight wobble on the camera just as it leaves, that was me nearing falling of the step-ladder with excitement!
The last chick in nb1 south also went this morning, probably around the same time. That the seventh chick to fledge in the last few days and brings to an end the mass fledging from my colony. A third have gone since last Thursday and raises the fledging total to 17. I only have 3 youngster left now. 1 in nb5 south an a couple in nb1 north. All 3 are due to fledge around the 21st August.
Monday 7th August
3pm. Well to my amazement none of the three I was expecting to go went yesterday. I was sure one of them would follow its parent out after a feed, but no they all stayed put. There must be a biological fledging clock inside each chick and they won’t go until it’s exactly the right time, regardless of the weather or time of day. That would explain why that chick fledged the other night at 9.30pm in pouring rain. They’re all looking out again today but none’s made a move yet, my money for what’s it worth is on nb1 west.
9pm. Just checked all my cameras and the single chick in nb5 north has gone. It was there at 3pm so it must have fledged sometime after that. A really good show tonight. Up to 25 swifts screaming around the house from 7pm until dusk. Despite this wonderful display it wasn’t enough to entice the other 2 chicks to leave. They’ve both decided to stay put for another day at least.
Sunday 6th August
7.30am. Up early today as I think 1 or 2, possibly all 3 chicks that are ready to leave might go. Last night was fantastic. At one time at least 15 swifts were screaming low around the house. I’m sure in that group was the newly fledged chick from nb1 south. Unfortunately the light levels were too low to film but it was great fun to watch.
Watching and listening to them as they performed their aerial acrobatics in the fading light reminded me of some of their long forgotten local names. Swifts have long been birds of mystery, and the subject of legend and folklore. They used to be called the Develing, Devil’s screech, Skir devil, Devil’s bird, Devil screamer, Screech martin and Shriek owl. However my favourite is Jacky squealer or Squealer. I think this name originated somewhere in Ireland.
Saturday 5th August
9.30am. Both chicks from nb6 north fledged yesterday morning. They were there along with their parents at 8am all snuggled up on the nest. I went down stairs to make a quick cup of tea but when I got back all 4 were gone. The adults must have left shortly after I saw them an I can only presume were immediately followed by both chicks. So much for trying to film them, I never saw or heard a thing! The first adult has also gone. It’s the one who has been spending its nights alone in nb3 west although its chicks are in nb1 west, very odd. However as one of its chicks fledged late on Thursday night I reckon it knew it was safe to go. The remaining adult and chick in nb1 west seem quite unperturbed that two are missing. That brings the fledging total to 13 with another 7 to go, plus the first adult out of 28 has also gone.
This morning 4 little white faces peering out and for the first time in over a week a small screaming party of 8 whizzing around. I reckon 1 or 2 will go within the next hour or two.
8.30pm. Up to 15 swifts screaming loudly and whizzing around the house. I can see 2 small white faces peering out, one in nb1 west and the other in nb1 south. I think they’ll go tonight.
9.30pm. One chick has just fledged from nb1 south. That makes the fledging total 14 with another 6 chicks to go. The adult who disappeared last night from nb1, the one who had been roosting in nb3 west, returned tonight but this time went back into nb1. The remaining chick in there got an unexpected but most welcome late supper.
Friday 4th August
8.30am. There was a beautiful sight yesterday in the four boxes with chicks ready to go. 7 little white faces were peering out, however what they must have thought of the weather is another thing. It felt more like autumn with exceptionally high winds and heavy showers, however despite this one brave chick fledged around 8pm from nb1 west. It’s the start of my mass fledging weekend. Another 6 to go anytime and if I’m really lucky I might even get the opportunity to film one leaving. That brings the fledging total up to 11 with only another 9 to go. All 28 adults are still here but very,very quiet. I’ve not heard that wonderful scream for days now.
Thursday 3rd August
11am. Sad news yesterday. One of the chicks from nb5 south fell out of the box and died. I’m convinced its because of the bad weather we’re currently having. Although chicks can survive for long periods without food I reckon it must have been starving. The weathers been so poor for about a week now that the number of feeds the parents have managed to bring back has dropped off dramatically. I think it must have followed one of the parents out by mistake whilst begging for food. It’s tragic I know but it’s how swifts cope with inclement weather, only the strongest will survive. It upsets me that I couldn’t do anything to help but I’ll get over it in a little while, at least the remaining chick will be well fed from now on.
However it wasn’t all doom and gloom yesterday there was some good news as well. 4 swift boxes on a house not far from me. Plus another 4 will go up when the scaffolding is moved in the next few weeks. The owners who needed to carry out roofing works already have one pair of swifts nesting under the fascia boards. As I had a few old boxes knocking about it seemed the ideal opportunity to take advantage of. The original nest has been carefully maintained and left intact so I’m hopeful this could be the start of a brand new colony. Many thanks to Matt, Andy, Debbie and Stuart the roofer for their hard work in getting this project up and running.
Wednesday 2nd August
7.30am. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a bad day today. The forecast is for heavy rain and wind. It’s not raining at the moment only spotting but all 28 adults are still in. If they don’t go out soon I can’t see the 11 chicks getting fed at all, just as well they can go without food for a day or more.
Tuesday 1st August
6pm. Apologies for the late blog but problems with the website resulted in me being logged out for 8 hours!
Checking my records most of the swifts in the UK arrived a good week to ten days later than normal. This has had a knock effect on when the majority of chicks will fledge. A third of my chicks (7) will go between the 5th and the 9th August. If my colony is a reasonable representation of the state of other colonies in the UK then this coming weekend will be the start of mass fledgings across the country. It also looks as if the weather might even behave itself as well as a weak ridge of high pressure is forecast to move in. If this is the case we could be in for a very good weekend as thousands of chicks fledge and head south. From Friday onwards keep an eye open from late afternoon onwards and look towards the south or south-west. If you’re lucky you might just see them. They’ll be very high up, screaming and moving in very tight circles but crucially, always heading in a southerly direction. Wonderful sight if you’re lucky enough to see it.
Monday 31st July
8am. Half my chicks have gone (10) and the average time its taken them to fledge is 43 days. How long it takes is determined by the weather and availability of food. Their stay in the nest has been recorded in Germany as low as 37 days and as long as 56 days. The first being a very hot summer and the latter a particularly bad summer. When a chick is born it weighs about 2-3 grams. It puts on weight rapidly, in good weather reaching it’s highest weight of about 56 grams in 4 weeks (28 days). After that it slowly loses weight as its feathers begin to grow to reach an ideal fledging weight of 40-45 grams (43 days in my colony). One of the remarkable things about the young swift is its capacity to starve in bad weather and also to put on weight rapidly in good weather. This adaptation allows it to flourish in a typical English summer when there always seem to be periods of cold and wet weather, such as we’re having now. So if we have a prolonged period of bad weather the chick can and will lose some weight. However it only takes one good sunny day for it to put on up to 10 grams, which could be as much as one-fifth or one quarter of it’s body weight in one day. Its ability to go without food for one or more days and survive is quite unique in small birds when compared to a similar sized nestling song-bird which would die after only a few hours if left without food.
Sunday 30th July
8am. Swifts never cease to amaze me. Last night at around 9.30 the remaining chick in nb2 south fledged. It’s parents had been in for about an hour and all three had snuggled up on the nest like they normally do each night. It was tipping down with rain and almost dark outside. I was just about to turn off the camera thinking that’s it for the night when suddenly the chick moved. Before I had chance to go to the window and look it had disappeared into the night sky. Why it decided to leave on such an awful night is beyond me, but something inside it must have said it’s time to go and off it went. That’s 10 out of 21 chicks now gone.
The next 2 chicks to go are in nb6 north next Saturday, August 5th. Then 5 go in quick succession starting with 2 in nb1 west on August 6th. The following day 2 in nb1 south, and lastly 1 in nb5 north on August 9th. Then there’s a gap of about 10 days or so before the last 4 go, sometime between the 21-23rd August. As soon as they’ve gone all the remaining adults will immediately go as well, bringing to an end the 2017 season.
Saturday 29th July
8am. The remaining chick in nb3 north fledged sometime yesterday. I’m not sure when but I think it must have been in the morning when the weather was reasonably OK. This morning at least 1 chick has gone from nb2 south, possibly 2. Last night one was poking it’s head out quite a way and having a look around. At 9.30pm I really thought it was going to leave, then it started to hammer down with rain and it thought better of it and went back in. However I sure it’s now gone, it’s sunny with light winds and I reckon it left really early. Shame because I had my camera all set up to film it. That makes 9 or possibly 10 out of 21 chicks now gone. All the 28 adults are still here.
9.45am. I’ve just managed to confirm only 1 chick has gone from nb2 south. An adult has just returned and fed the remaining chick who was out of view of the camera. It’s 42 days old and is ready to leave anytime, but I think it’s more likely to go either tonight or tomorrow morning after it has a couple more feeds.
Friday 28th July
9.30am. An interesting thing occurred last night. One of the adults from nb1 west decided to spend the night alone a couple of boxes away in nb3 west. I’m not 100% sure why, it was rather windy last night so perhaps it struggled to get back in to nb1 and went somewhere easier to enter, or maybe it just wanted a peaceful night away from the youngsters? I’ve noticed all the chicks in every box continuously pester their parents for food all night long. If any should dare move a muscle they are instantly jumped on and repeatedly pecked about the bill in the hope of a feed.
Thursday 27th July
9.30am. A cool, breezy morning. The single chick in nb3 north is the next to go but at the moment is showing no signs of wanting to go. After that the next chicks to go are in nb2 south and they’re due to go on Tuesday. However looking at the weather forecast it’s going to stay unsettled until early next week so I can’t see much happening until then. All 28 adults are still with me as well. No sign of any newcomers for over a week now I think they’ve all gone.
Wednesday 26th July
7.30am. I was right, one of the chicks in nb3 north went yesterday. The last time I saw it in the box was late afternoon, then around 8pm there was quite a bit of activity around that particular box and that’s when I think it slipped out. That brings the fledging total to 7 out of 21 chicks. The remaining chick in nb3 north could go anytime but not this morning as it’s tipping down with rain. It might be tonight but I think it’s more likely to go sometime tomorrow morning. After that the next chicks to go are in nb2 south and they’re due to fledge on the weekend. Chicks can fledge at anytime during the day but the most popular times to go are before 8am and after 8pm.
I’ve also noticed a change in the behaviour of the birds around my colony. They are not interested with banging the boxes and annoying the returning adults anymore, all they want to do is entice the fledglings out. They fly as close as they can to the boxes, several in very quick succession, screaming all the time whilst the chicks watch them from the safety of the entrance hole. It’s almost as if the adults are saying “come and join us it’s lovely out here”. It’s only the boxes with chicks near to fledging that they exhibit this type of behaviour. The other boxes with very young chicks are left alone.
A couple of video clips taken yesterday. The first one is of swifts trying to entice a youngster out of a nest box. The box in question is the zeist style box (nb5 west) about half way along the side of the house, next to the RH twin box. The chick is ready to go and looking out of the entrance hole all the time the adults fly close by. They also land momentarily on several other boxes to peep inside, however the chicks in those boxes aren’t quite ready yet. The second one was taken a few minutes later and somewhere in the midst of that screaming party is our newly fledged chick. I like to think they are saying to it “this is where you were born, remember it”.
Tuesday 25th July
8am. Fledging day today. I think 1 or 2 possibly 3 might go. There’s a large group of screamers whizzing around the house trying to encourage the youngsters out. I’m trying to film it but they’re so damn quick!
10am. Just watched the second chick fledge from nb5 west. It took several attempts to build up enough courage to leave. Looking out of the hole for a second before rushing back to the nest, then finally on the third go it slipped quietly away without any fuss. That’s 6 out of 21 fledged so far. I think one or both might go in nb3 north today as well.
Monday 24th July
9am. A lovely sunny morning with lots of activity outside. A group of 8 swifts are screaming around the house and paying particular attention to nb5 west. Somethings up I think. Sure enough shortly before 9am the oldest chick (42 days) in nb5 west slipped out to join them. As it did all the group immediately swarmed all around it in an excited mass. They’re still outside whizzing about now in an excited manner, I think they’re trying to entice the other chick out to join them as well. Looking at it inside the box it’s exercising like crazy, flapping it’s wings and doing press-ups. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went in the next hour or so. When the oldest chick fledged an adult bird with a full crop of food went into the nb3 west which is unoccupied, stayed a few minutes and then left. Not sure why it did that, perhaps it got caught up in all the excitement and went in the wrong box by mistake, who knows. That’s 5 out of 21 chicks now fledged.
Sunday 23rd July
8.45am. Both chicks in nb5 west are peering out of the entrance as a small group of adults fly close by. As they whizz pass the box they scream excitedly. I’m sure they’re trying to entice the youngsters out, it’s almost as if they know they’re ready to fly. I wonder whose in this group. Is it their parents or other swifts from the colony or a mixture of both? My guess it’s the non-breeders who make up the majority of these screaming parties. I think any adults with chicks are out finding food for their young and haven’t got time to get involved in these displays, but I would love to know for sure.
5pm. In the next few weeks if you’re on the M5 on your way down to Devon or Cornwall and could do with a break, we’re only 5 minutes off Junction 18. We’ll still have swifts here until about the 20th of August. Just contact me via the website.
Saturday 22nd July
11am. A warm drizzly morning with no activity outside at all. The only action is inside nb5 west and nb3 north where there are 2 forty day old chicks in each box. They’re spending more and more of their time strengthening their wing muscles now with bouts of vigorous wing flapping and press-ups. These press-ups involve lifting themselves off the floor by using only the tips of their wings. Other than that they spend the rest of the day just looking out of the entrance hole, usually side by side, peering into the vastness of this other world. They seem particularly interested in the other birds which fly overhead. It’s almost as if they know that’s where they’re meant to be. It must be terrifying for them as the moment to leave comes closer. All they’ve known up till now is the cramped confines of the nest box and this new world must look so big to them. Be brave my little fledglings. When the time comes have the courage to leave your cosy box behind in exchange for the vastness of space outside, it’s where you’re meant to be.
5pm. Here’s a short clip from inside nb5 west of the oldest chick (40 days) doing press-ups.
Friday 21st July
11am. It’s gone from high summer to autumn in a couple of days and needless-to-say my swifts don’t particularly like it. No activity at all and most of the adults are still in. Even those with chicks seem reluctant to go out and I don’t blame them. However in this period of inactivity I was musing about the swifts I saw over Sidmouth on Tuesday evening. Talking to my next door neighbour she said that there were “hundreds” of swifts flying around my house all day on Tuesday. Whilst that’s a huge exaggeration (30 at the very most) I think it was probably the day most, if not all 4 chicks fledged. As soon as they fledge they head straight for Africa which brings me back to my musing. If they did fledge on Tuesday morning and then stayed around for an hour or two before heading south they would have been somewhere near the south coast by teatime. So wouldn’t it have been fitting that there I was, sitting enjoying a pint in the Blue Ball on the outskirts of Sidmouth and high above me was one or two of my birds. Of course it’s pure speculation and highly unlikely. But what if it was true, that’s the beauty of day-dreaming.
Thursday 20th July
9am. All 3 chicks in nb2 north and the single chick in nb4 south have gone. They must have fledged sometime between Sunday evening and last night. My guess it was probably Tuesday. It was really hot in Bristol that day and that would have resulted in lots of swift action around the house. That makes 4 fledged, 17 to go. All the adults (28) are still here including the two pairs whose chicks have just gone. The next chicks to leave are in nb5 west and nb3 north around the 28th July. A sunny, breezy morning with no activity outside, hopefully it might improve if it warms up a bit.
Wednesday 19th July
7.30pm. Just got back from Devon and I’m sure some of my chicks have gone. I won’t be able to tell properly until it gets dark but a couple of boxes look empty. Down in Devon I saw my first big gathering of swifts. At least 50 over Sidmouth. I saw them last night around 7pm. They started off reasonably low, gradually rising higher and higher into a tight ball until they disappeared out of my sight. They seemed very excited, screaming and chasing one-another until they faded out of sight and sound. I’m sure this group contained some newly fledged chicks. The seasons drawing to it’s end, this was without doubt the first group to leave us. I’m not sure if you can but I felt happy and sad at the same time.
Sunday 16th July
10.30am. I think my first 2 chicks have fledged. I can only see 1 chick out of 3 in nb2 north. Although I can’t quite see the whole box I’m sure the other 2 have gone. That would make their fledging dates 40 & 41 days respectively which is about normal. I work on 44-45 days for an average summer but this has been warmer than normal and that would account for them leaving a few days early.
12noon. False alarm all three chicks are still in nb2 north. I can see one on the nest and the other two which I thought had fledged, are side by side peering out the entrance hole. Quite a bit of screaming activity although not much banging.
Saturday 15th July
10am. A damp, drizzly morning and our newcomers are still inside their boxes. They only arrived in the last few days but both seem to have settled in well. The LH photo is nb4 north and the RH one is nb3 south. There’s a small group of screamers whizzing around outside which I’m sure will entice the newcomers out to join them. I got a bit carried away yesterday and stated I had 15 pairs when in fact it’s only 14, I think the excitement was too much for me.
Friday 14th July
8am. Our new bird in nb3 south has found a mate. After watching it go in out on it’s own for most of the day yesterday at 9pm a second bird followed it in. I’ve just checked the camera now and they’re both snuggled up on the nest. Thats all 11 boxes on the north and south sides fully occupied and no more space to add any others either. If I had any doubt about putting up some more boxes on the west side I’m not now. Those old zeist boxes are definitely going up next year.
There’s still a small group (6) of bangers outside but it’s difficult to tell if they’re resident birds or newcomers. I think it’s probably a mixture of both. A bit of a cool north-westerly so I’m not sure if we’ll see much action today. In the meantime the colony continues to grow and now stands at 14 pairs; 11 breeders & 3 non-breeders. I’ve never known anything like it. It’s turning out to be a very special year indeed.
Thursday 13th July
7am. After a couple of quiet days the noisy newcomers are back. At least 10 whizzing around. 2 of them are probably the new pair in nb6 west but all the others are probably newcomers. My other new pair in nb4 north are still in. The good news is they’ve started to roost together in the nest rather than on the floor. The weather forecast for the weekend is meant to be overcast and humid, perfect banging conditions. If that’s right I expect to see lots of action around the boxes in the next few days.
1pm. A good morning for bangers. I’ve had 1 bird going in and out of nb3 south all morning. Whether it roosts in it tonight is another thing but at least it’s found the last unoccupied box on the south side. There’s still a small group of bangers hanging about but the level of activity has dropped off.
Wednesday 12th July
10am. All pretty quiet here this morning, even the 2 new pairs in nb4 north and nb6 west have decided to stay in and take it easy. There’s the odd adult out feeding but apart from that not much else happening.
Yesterday I built 2 corner boxes for my brother-in-law who has swifts nesting nearby in a neighbours house. He’s already has 3 zeist boxes and regularly gets them flying past but no takers yet. So we’re going to try our luck with the corner boxes. I’ve painted the interiors black and we’re going to put a medley of the dutch calls together, probably tracks, 1, 10,12 & 14. I let you know how he gets on.
Plans for 2018. Out of 11 boxes on my north and south sides only 1 is currently unoccupied. There’s no more room to fit anymore so I’m looking at the west side to expand. At the moment I have 6 boxes (3 are occupied) and more importantly, there’s room for another 6. As luck would have it I have 6 old zeist style boxes in the garage so I’m going to use them. I’ve already put 1 up just to see what action it gets. I’ve seen a few birds fly up to it but none actually go in. The reason I’ve opted for the zeist boxes, apart from the fact I’ve already got them, is the drop to the kitchen extension below is only 3.5 metres. I thought front entrance boxes would make it easier for the birds to get in and out of. I really prefer boxes with bottom entrances but as there’s not much room underneath I’ve opted to re-use my old zeist boxes. However whether they get used is another thing altogether and we won’t know that until next year. I’m going to paint all their interiors black today as it gives me something to do on these quiet days.
Tuesday 11th July
9.30am. You can tell the weather by the swift activity. This morning is quite fresh and there’s been no activity at all. Normally I hear the noisy newcomers around 5ish but not this morning. The only activity is the adults coming and going with food. It’s meant to rain all day today so they better get some feeds in before it starts. Still it’s meant to warm up after that and next weeks looking good also. We’ve only had about 1 day of rain in the last 5 weeks and as a result the chicks are growing fast. There’s an abundance of food out there, particularly aphids if my gardens anything to go by. Still that’s a good sign as aphids make up the bulk of their food, along with, believe it or not, money spiders.
Monday 10th July
6am. Here’s a link to the English translation of the Dutch calls, thanks Sharon for sending it to me. The noisy newcomers are whizzing around outside but they’re not showing much interest in the boxes yet they seem more interested in just making a noise.
3pm. A breezy, sunny afternoon and both our new non-breeding pairs (nb4 north and nb6 west) are busy nest building. They’ve both been bringing in small white feathers which have been wafted up in the breeze. A great sign for next year, if they’re nest building then they’ll be back.
Sunday 9th July
7am. The noisy newcomers arrived just after 5am. The good news is they aren’t as intense as they were a few days ago so I managed to get back to sleep till 7. Although it’s not the end of the season and lots of things can still happen, it’s turning out to be a pretty good one never-the-less. A quick summery; 17 out of 20 birds returned from last year and these have been joined by another 9 which is an incredible number. The colony has grown by nearly 30%. It now stands at 13 pairs, 11 breeding and 2 non-breeding. There are 21 chicks in those 11 nests and all should fledge successfully, barring any unforeseen disasters. The first ones are due to leave in a couple of weeks time and the last somewhere around 22nd August. And finally, there’s still 3 or 4 weeks to bag one or two of these noisy newcomers as well. Not bad at all.
4pm. There is a dutch website that offers free swift call downloads. There’s lots of tracks on it and several people have said tracks 10 and 14 (duets) are brilliant in attracting swifts in, followed by track 1. I’ve attached a link to it. For best results why not create your own medley of tracks 1, 10 & 14, definitely worth a go . It’s in dutch but I’m sure there’s a way of translating it into English if you want to.
Saturday 8th July
6am. The bangers are a bit late arriving this morning, they’ve only just turned up. Our new pair in nb4 north roosted again in the box, that’s 3 nights in a row. The strange thing is they sleep on the floor near the entrance rather than in the nest cup. Only one nest with eggs left now, that’s nb1 north. They’re due to hatch either today or tomorrow. The new zeist box I put up a couple of days ago has seen a bit of action with birds banging against it, however I’ve not seen any enter it yet, still time though. I’m playing the attraction calls next to it to encourage the newcomers to come and have a look, it seems to be working.
9am. The first egg has just hatched in nb1 north. The new colony total now stands at 20 chicks and 1 egg in 11 nests.
8.30pm. The second and last egg of the colony has hatched in nb1 north. The colony total stands at 21 chicks in 11 nests, hopefully all will fledge successfully in a few weeks time.
Friday 7th July
8am. Our noisy newcomers arrived at just after 5 am. Too tired to get up so just listened to their antics instead. The new pair in nb4 north roosted together again last night which is a good sign. I hoping the new Zeist box might see some action today. Still only eggs in nb5 south, it’s been 20 days since the first egg was laid so is due anytime.
9.30am. The first egg has just hatched in nb5 south. It’s been such a long time since the last one I’ve almost forgotten when it was (26th June). The new total for the colony now stands at 18 chicks and 3 eggs from 11 nests. It’s been manic outside this morning bangers everywhere. I’ve filmed them in action so you’ll see what I mean. Our bedroom window is only a few feet away from the 3 boxes getting battered.
Midday. New videos shot earlier today of yearling bangers, now on YouTube – click links below. All the action is on the south side of the house. The RH box nearest the window is nb1 south. The two on the corner are nb4 (top box) and nb5 the one underneath. All the boxes are occupied except nb3 (the one next to the drain pipe), however even that has been entered in the last couple of days so you never know.
3.15pm. Swifts are remarkable birds. The second egg in nb5 south that was flicked out the nest on Saturday night and remained on the floor of the box all night has just hatched. How it can survive being left uncovered for so long is a mystery to me. If it was any other species it would have died after a few hours but this one went well over 12 hours out in the cold before I replaced it back in the nest on Sunday morning. The new and unexpected total now stands at 19 chicks and 2 eggs (both in nb1 north) from 11 nests.
Thursday 6th July
5.30am. A new pair of birds in nb4 north. They arrived late last night and are still in there.
Lots of activity again this morning I’m hoping we might get one or two more newcomers interested in our boxes. The eggs in nb5 south are due anytime now, hopefully today.
5pm. Another very active day. Every 10 minutes or so the newcomers buzz the house. I reckon at least 8, perhaps 10 in the group. Probably made of mostly yearlings. They don’t seem too bothered about going inside any boxes, they’re more interested in chasing the adults back in. Still good to watch though.
7pm. There’s been so much activity that I put up another Zeist box on the west side. I’ve painted the interior black and placed it between nb5 and 6. The three I’ve been trialling this year have all been occupied so I feel it’s worth a go. There’s no camera in it but I should be able to see if it gets used.
Wednesday 5th June
8.30pm. Sorry about the delay in updating the blog but there has been major problems with the website. Hopefully all’s ok now.
Unfortunately I’ve also been in Pembroke all day at a family funeral so I’ve have missed most of the action, but before I left at 9 am I saw at least 3 newcomers enter 3 different unoccupied boxes. They were nb4 north and nb2 & 3 west. Plus I had several birds peep into nb3 south which is also unoccupied. I arrived home about 5pm to lots of activity, probably the most I’ve ever seen. They’re not bangers but groups of birds whizzing around the house screaming as loud as they can. At least 20 in one noisy party. This activity has coincided with flying ant day and the sky has been full of them. The swifts have had a real feast and their chicks must be absolutely stuffed! It’s still 25c and I’m going outside now with a large glass of wine to enjoy the action. I’ll update any new birds in boxes later, fingers crossed.
Tuesday 4th June
7am. A grey but reasonably warm start with no wind, perfect for prospectors. A small group of bangers are outside whizzing about. I’ve not seem them enter any boxes yet as they seem more interested in peeping inside the occupied ones. It meant to get really hot and humid from tomorrow. I expect to see some serious action then. A great time to play your calls. Warn your neighbours to keep their windows closed and start playing them as loud as you can from 6am tomorrow.
Monday 3rd June
6.30am. A big thank-you to all the people who came to our open garden yesterday afternoon. It was a great success and the real stars of the show didn’t disappoint either. The swifts were magnificent! Coming and going all afternoon with a few screaming fly-bys thrown in for good measure. I think most people spent the day looking up rather than down. The great news is we managed to raise over £300 from plant/card/dvd sales for Gillian Westray. A cheque will be winging its way to her today to help towards the brilliant work she does looking after injured/orphaned baby swifts, swallows and martins.
Sunday 2nd July
6.30am. A clear blue sly so I’m up early this morning. I have another little test to undertake. Our new pair in nb5 south flicked out one of their eggs late last night so as soon as they go out I going to pop it back in. Swift eggs can withstand being left for some considerable time so hopefully it’ll still be OK. However I am a tad worried as it’s been out the nest for sometime now so it might be too late. Still I’ve got to try.
Last night a good friend of mine, Andy, called me in some distress. A neighbour of his had erected scaffold and blocked the flight pair to a pair of nesting swifts. The swifts were circling around desperate to get back in. The flat owners were very considerate and wanted to help us. So after a little bit of deliberation we decided to remove some of the scaffold boards and poles adjacent to the nest 3 stories up. By 9pm we had made a small hole and sat back and watched. To everyones delight a few minutes later one of the swifts flew back in. In the meantime the owners have been in touch with the scaffold company and on Monday they’re going to make our temporary alterations safer. Fingers crossed a bit of quick thinking by my mate may have just saved that nest.
Saturday 1st July
7am. Where did that month go! In a three weeks time my first chicks will fledge and be off, but before they go there’s still much to enjoy. Plus we have the bonus of the yearlings who should begin to arrive any day now.
Last night I had a wonderful surprise. The missing adult in nb4 south who I presumed dead after the bee attack on Tuesday returned. I was checking the camera in that box at 10pm just to make sure the single adult was back when in popped another bird. I’m sure it was the first time it’s been back since Tuesday. The chick couldn’t believe it’s luck, two feeds in a matter of minutes. Both adults then snuggled up on the nest, the chick barely visible underneath, allopreening one-another. Where it’s been for the last three days god knows but I’m very happy to see it back. It made my night. With 2 adults feeding it the chick has no worries at all.
Our single bird in nb3 west didn’t return to roost. I’m sure it’s one of the pair from nb2 west who seem to flip-flop between those 2 boxes. I’m hoping if we get a bit more decent weather they’ll come back together. I think I need to see them in one of the boxes for a few more nights to be sure they’ll return next year. At the moment it’s still 50/50.
Friday 30th June
11am. All pretty quiet here so far. No screaming activity at all. It’s beginning to warm up after a night of rain. 1 scout bee has just arrived and was duly dispatched with the spray. I’m getting quite a good shot with it. I’ve also confirmed that the third egg in nb1 is the one I repaired with nail varnish. It’s way past it hatching date so it must be addled. It was worth a try, but obvious it just wasn’t meant to be.
Thursday 29th June
7am. I managed to remove the dead chick from nb5 north when the adult left for a moment yesterday afternoon. No sign of any bees also which was a great relief for everyone. I’ve order some spray called Bee-quick which bee keepers use when collecting honey. Bees can’t stand the smell of it. So when it arrives I’ll be ready to spray it over the entrances if the bees return. I also actually managed to check all my cameras properly yesterday for the first time in 3 days so here’s a quick summary of the colony.
There are 24 adult birds in 13 boxes. 11 boxes have breeding pairs in them, except in nb1 south where 1 adult has gone missing. Between them they contain 17 chicks and 5 eggs. I think the third egg in nb1 south is addled so only 4 are viable and likely to hatch. If they do that would bring the chick total to 21. In the other 2 boxes are newcomers, in nb6 west there is a non-breeding pair and in nb3 west a single bird.
I’m not sure what happened to the pair in nb2 west, perhaps the single bird in nb3 west is one of them? I’m still hopeful that I might be able to attract one or two more as there’s still a small group of newcomers around. No activity this morning as it too cold but the weathers meant to improve over the weekend so I expect to see some action then.
Wednesday 28th June
7am. The bee attack has claimed 1 more victim. One of the adults in nb4 south failed to return last night. This is the same box as the 3 week old chick who was stung to death yesterday. I presume it was either stung and died or deserted the nest when the bees first entered on masse. All’s not lost though, the single adult left is more than capable of bringing up the one remaining chick, so barring any future mishaps both should be ok. Plus when/if it returns next year there’s no reason why it can’t find a new mate and continue using the same box. I also have inspection panels on all my boxes which allows me to have a look inside without taking the boxes down. When this adult has gone out I’ll have a quick look inside just in case the body of the other adult is in the box but out of view of the camera. In nb5 north I’m hopeful the adults will remove the dead chick themselves. I’m reluctant to open the inspection panel as there is an adult constantly on the nest and I don’t want to disturb it at the moment. It’s raining this morning so I don’t expect to see the bees today but I can’t be sure they won’t be back when the weather improves, time will tell.
11.30am. The third chick in nb5 west which was much smaller than its other 2 siblings died this morning. It hatched 3 days after them and was always last in line to be fed. The last couple of days with the bees bought it all to a head. Their presence severely reduced the number of times the adults returned with food and I think this was the final straw. It just couldn’t compete with the other two for food and I was too busy with the bees to notice it was struggling until it was too late. The colony has suffered a blow but I think it’ll be OK. The revised total now reads; 17 chicks, 3 fatalities and 5 eggs in 11 nest plus 1 adult fatality.
Tuesday 27th June
What an afternoon yesterday with the bees. It started off around 2pm with about a dozen or so. They were mainly targeting nb5 north and nb4 south. Anyway I managed quite easily with my water spray to moved them on from these two boxes until 4pm. Then out of the blue several thousand turned up and went straight for nb4 south. There’s two 3 week old chicks in there and directly underneath is nb5 south with a bird sitting on eggs. Luckily I was in the garden watching just as they arrived. I’ve still got my old bee-keeping equipment from last year so I donned the mask and up the ladder I went, smoker in hand. It took about an hour to finally disperse the swarm, but eventually they left. The sitting bird left nb6 as soon as the bees arrived, but the poor chicks in nb4 had to put up with some in their box whilst I battled with the swarm. I’m hoping they’ve swarmed somewhere else and won’t be back but I’ll stay on guard for the next few days just in case. All the adults returned to their boxes as soon as the bees had gone thank goodness. God knows what would have happened if I hadn’t been in the garden at the time, I think I would have lost the 2 chicks without a doubt.
6am. Three or four bangers are flying up to the boxes. I watched them last night and they’re getting really close to going inside. They were landing momentarily on the strip below the entrance hole and peeping in but couldn’t quite pluck up enough courage to enter, perhaps today.
4pm. Terrible news. The bees returned this morning just after 7am. I spent hours trying to stop them going into nb4 south & nb5 north and eventually in the last few minutes they’ve finally given up and left. Unfortunately I’ve just checked the camera and one of the chicks has been stung to death. Probably by accident, bees aren’t aggressive but I expect the chick sat on it or something and the bee stung it in defence. I’ve just removed it from the nest as it was too big for the adults to remove. If there is a positive note from this sorry saga is the single chick will now receive all the food, so providing the bees don’t return should be OK. Also if I get any other problems in any of the other nests and need to foster a chick somewhere there’s room in this box now. All very sad.
7pm. The grim consequences of this mornings bee swarm are just starting to emerge. In nb5 north a newly hatched chick, no more than 1 or possibly 2 days old, has also been stung to death. It’s still in the nest cup, however it’s small enough for the adults to remove so I’ll leave it there for them to move. I still haven’t managed to check all my cameras so there may be more bad news to come. This is turning out to be a very bad day indeed.
New total 18 chicks, 2 fatalities and 5 eggs in 11 nests.
8.30pm. I’ve managed to check all of the other nests and it looks like there were the only two fatalities. It’s forecast to rain tomorrow so that will stop the bees from swarming and hopefully give my swifts (and me) some much needed respite.
Monday 26th June
6am. They’re back. The noisy group of bangers who’ve been absence for a few days are whizzing around the house with renewed vigour. Let’s hope two of them are the new pair from nb2 west come home again.
10am. The second egg has just hatched in nb1 south bringing the total to 18 chicks in 8 nests and another 7 eggs in 4.
Also our single bird in nb6 west has just brought a new mate back with it. No sign of the pair in nb2 west although there are still a few newcomers whizzing about.
3pm. The first egg has hatched in nb5 north. The new total now stands at 19 chicks in 9 nests and 6 eggs in another 4. The pesky scout honey bees are back again and I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying (in vain) to stop them entering the boxes. They seem particularly determined to go into nb4 south where there are 2 three week ago chicks in there.
Sunday 25th June
9am. Another very quiet start to the morning, no activity at all apart the the adults returning with food. I’ve spent the last 2 hours trying to work out if it was the nail varnish egg that hatched in nb1 south, however it’s proving very difficult as the nest is always covered. I know what the nail varnish egg looks like as it’s slightly bigger than the other two, hopefully sometime today I’ll get a good look at it.
Once again only our single swift in nb6 west returned to roost last night, no sign of the new pair in nb2 west for a second night. Tomorrow morning is meant to be slightly warmer and sunnier and more importantly, virtually no wind. I’m hopeful we’ll see a marked increase in both screaming and prospecting activity.
8pm. A huge thank-you to all the people who attended our garden/swift open day. Excuse the pun, but for me the time just flew passed far too quick. I wish I could have spent more time talking to everyone and I apologise if I didn’t get opportunity to speak to you. However the good news is we’re doing it all again next Sunday so do come along, and if you and want a word, grab me by the shoulder!
8.45pm. I don’t want to get too carried away but I’m 99% sure that the egg that has hatched in nb1 south is the cracked egg I repaired with nail varnish. I just managed to catch a glimpse of the 2 remaining eggs in the nest and they look exactly the same size (the nail varnish egg was much bigger). If it is then that’s a first for me.
Saturday 24th June
8am. What a difference a couple of days make. Temperatures back to normal or maybe even a tad below and virtually no screaming activity at all. Out of my new birds only the single swift in nb6 west returned last night, the other new pair in nb2 west stayed away. I’m not too bother by their behaviour as it’s quite normal for non-breeding pairs to come and go throughout the season. I expect they’ll re-appear when the weather warms up again.
Late last night the second egg hatched in nb1 north. That was probably the most excitement I saw all day. The new total for the colony stands at 16 chicks in 7 nests and 9 eggs in another 4.
10pm. The first egg has just hatched in nb1 south. What I can’t tell at the moment is whether it is the cracked egg I repaired with nail varnish on the May 31st or the second egg that was laid on 3rd June. I do hope it’s the cracked egg. The colony total now stands at 17 chicks in 8 nests and 8 eggs in another 4.
Friday 23rd June
8am. I managed the first lie-in for over a week. The noisy newcomers have only just turned up and whizzed passed once, but that was only half-hearted. All quiet now. The second egg has hatched in nb6 bringing the total up to 14 chicks in 6 nests plus 11 eggs in another 5. A quick reminder of the nests with chicks, nb2 north-3; nb3 north-2; nb6 north-2; nb5 west-3; nb2 south-2; nb4 south-2. Remember if you click on the link at the top of the blog page “swift nest box location on our house” you’ll see all the positions of my boxes. Hopefully it’ll make more sense of all the nb jargon.
8pm. The first egg has just hatched in nb1 west. I have a soft spot for this particular pair and I’m so pleased they’ve hatched their first egg. They arrived last year as a new pair and laid 2 eggs in June. Everything was going great until 2 days before they were due to hatch on July 7th disaster struck. An intruder entered the nest and after a brief fight with the sitting adult threw out both eggs. Even after this tragic set-back they still stayed in the box before finally leaving together in mid August. I was hoping they’d come back and try again this year and today was their answer, I’m really chuffed!
New total now stands at 15 chicks in 7 nests with 10 eggs in another 5.
Thursday 22nd June
7am. Yesterday was the hottest day for 40 years and I was a on tender-hooks. Reports were coming in from around the country of baby swifts falling out of their nests and/or eggs being ejected. Unfortunately yesterday proved to be a disaster for many with their boxes over-heating. The chicks inside so desperate to cool down venturing far too close to the entrance holes with tragic consequences. The good news is my boxes passed this test. I spent most of yesterday regularly checking each box just to make sure everything was Ok. Sure the chicks looked hot inside but none of them moved towards the entrances holes which was a relief. They were all panting a bit but stayed on or near their nests. Last night the temperature dropped and everything has returned to normal this morning. However I hope we don’t get too many more days like that, far too hot.
Out of the gang of 6 newcomers who’ve been with us for about a week, 3 have claimed boxes. That’s the pair in nb2 west and the single bird in nb6 west. There’s still 3 flying about and I watched them last night trying to enter some of the other unoccupied boxes without success. I’m hoping they might find their way in soon, perhaps in the next few days if I’m lucky.
The scout honey bees also returned yesterday morning but I was ready and waiting. A quick spurt of the spray sent them packing, hopefully they won’t come back.
2.30pm. The first egg has hatched in nb6 north. That’s a new pair who turned up on 20/21st May and laid 2 eggs in early June. The total now moves to 13 chicks in 6 nests with 12 eggs in another 6. Much quieter today activity wise, although in the last hour I have seen 3 birds flying up the the boxes on the west side. Probably the 3 remaining birds from the gang of 6.
Wednesday 21st June
6.30am. The good news is that all the adults returned home safely last night so the sparrow-hawk didn’t catch any of them. However it might have been one of the gang it was chasing so I’ll never know what actually happened. I have new birds in nb2 west. I think it was the new pair from nb3 who just swapped boxes for the night and a new bird in nb6 west. That’s one of my zeist boxes which rarely gets much interest shown in it so I’m well pleased it’s being used. The noisy newcomers turned up on the dot at 5.30am and are doing the rounds, impossible to sleep when they’re making all this noise outside.
Tuesday 20th June
6.30am. Not a very good nights sleep, far too hot. It’s 21c already and our group of bangers are at it again. One thing I have noticed with this extremely hot weather is the eggs are being left unattended more often. Yesterday afternoon most of the birds with eggs were out however as it’s so hot it probably doesn’t make any different to them or do them any harm. Whereas the birds with chicks are having a great time, food is so abundant they’re coming back with large bolases very quickly. So fast in fact that sometimes the chicks are so stuffed they can hardly eat anymore. A bolas is a large gooey plug of insects, sometimes as many as 500 and this is divided up and given to the chicks. In time as the chicks grow they will be given the whole bolas.
9.30am. It’s been quite an eventful morning so far. I’ve had new birds enter 3 unoccupied boxes for the first time, nb4 north and nest boxes 4 and 6 west. Plus our new pair in nb3 west are coming and going into their box at regular intervals, I even saw one of the doing a bit of nest building which surprised me.
10.15am. A second egg in nb1 north. That brings the total to 11 chicks in 5 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.
11am. Just witnessed a male sparrow-hawk chasing 3 swifts. I heard a tremendous sound of wings above my head and when I looked up, there it was about 2 foot behind the third swift. The swift banked steeply sideways and disappeared out of view closely followed by the sparrow-hawk. I don’t think it caught it as the swift seemed more manoeuvrable, but it was close. Now the anxious wait until tonight before I can check if all the adults are safe.
5pm. Shock horror, a group of scout honey bees have been entering all my boxes on the west side. After what happened last year I was up the ladder in a flash with a spray (water & vinegar). It harmless to the bees but the smell puts them off. Anyway they’ve gone now and hopefully they won’t come back. My guess is they’ll swarm sometime tomorrow so I be ready if they do. After they had gone I checked the cameras in the west boxes to make sure the birds were OK and to my surprise found we have a third chick in nb5. How I missed it is beyond me but there you go. New total for the colony now stands at 12 chicks in 5 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.
Monday 19th June
6.am. A very busy final hour last night just before it got dark. It’s difficult to count exactly how many bangers there were but I reckon between 6 and 10. They entered several unoccupied boxes, mainly on the west side and eventually one roosted in nb3 west. They’re back again this morning, hopefully our newcomer from nb3 will be with them, maybe trying to find a mate to join it?
10am. Our newcomer in nb3 west has just arrived back with a mate? Both are inside the box, although there’s not any allopreening one another at least they’re not fighting. A promising first date.
9pm. Our new pair in nb3 west have just returned back and are cuddled up on the nest allopreening one-another which is a great sign. I don’t think they’ll breed this year as it’s a bit late, but it looks very promising for next year. Still 4 or 5 noisy newcomers whizzing about so I’m going back outside to see what happens. It’s still 27c which is amazing, I melting just stood still!
Sunday 18th June
5.30am. I can’t sleep with all this activity outside so I’m up already and trying to capture some more on film. Last night was fantastic. I went back outside at 9pm to watch and wasn’t disappointed, the action carried on until 10.30. Even though I saw the bangers enter several unoccupied boxes they seemed more interested in annoying the resident birds. They must have landed on the landing strips to nb5 & 6 north at least a couple of dozen times. The poor birds inside must have been hoarse with having to call back each time. When the bangers are in action I’ve noticed that at least one of the resident birds positions itself in the entrance hole. I can see their white faces peeping out. When the bangers land they are literally face to face shouting at one another.
11.45am. It’s turning out to be a pretty good day. Our female in nb1 north who threw out her eggs on June 3rd when her mate ditched her for another has just laid a new egg. After he went she spent about a week or so trying to attract a new mate and on the 12th June she found one. They’ve been together ever since and this morning all her efforts (and his) paid off. That makes 11 breeding pairs; 11 chicks in 5 nests and 11 eggs in the other 6. There may even be a second egg in nb5 south but I can’t see at the moment as there’s been a bird in there all morning.
5pm. A second egg in nb5 south. New total 11 chicks in 5 nests and 12 eggs in another 6.
Saturday 17th June
7am. Beautiful blue skies and warm already, it’s going to be a scorcher! Swifts love this type of weather and our gang of 6 have been active since 5.30am. I’m been filming some of their banging activity this morning which I hope to show on the blog later.
10am. The second egg has hatched in nb2 south, that brings the total to 11 chicks in 5 nests and 10 eggs in another 5. Still lots of bangers whizzing around although not quite as intense as it was a couple of hours ago.
1pm. Click on this link to see a video I took this morning of our gang of 6 bangers annoying the neighbours! They been arriving around 5.30am for a couple of days now. They bang the boxes about every 5/10 minutes and carry on doing this all morning till around lunchtime. After that they lose interest a bit only to pick it back up again around 8pm. Great fun to watch though.
9pm. If you’ve tried to look at the link please accept my apologies I forgot to make it public, it should be OK now if you click on it. Thanks Sharon for pointing it out. Still plenty of action tonight plus I’ve seen 3 newcomers enter several unoccupied boxes. As it’s so warm I’m going back outside to watch the action. I might treat myself to a large glass of wine at the same time, pure bliss.
Friday 16th June
6am. The gang of bangers are back again. I saw one enter an unoccupied box yesterday (nb4 west) but it didn’t stay long and never returned to roost in it either. Still it’s a start. It’s the middle of June, the swifts have been here 6 weeks and 10 out of the 20 eggs have hatched. My colony is made up of 11 pairs, 9 have bred and 2 are still thinking about it. They are the new pair this year in nb5 south and our single female who’s just found a new mate in nb1 north. Whether they breed is another matter but they’ve only got another couple of weeks before it’s too late, it’s almost unheard of for them to lay in July.
2.30pm. Our new pair in nb5 south who only arrived on the 29th May have laid their first egg. I was beginning to think they weren’t going to breed this year so to find an egg there was an unexpected bonus. Total 10 chicks in 5 nests and 11 eggs in another 6. In the last few minutes the sun has just come out and it’s warmed up considerably and with it so has the activity.
Thursday 15th June
5.30am. Got back late last night after a mini break down in Devon. Couldn’t confirm much on the cameras as all the birds were in. This morning our gang of 5 are back very early. It started off with just the 5 whizzing around the house then some of the resident birds came out to join in. So we had quite a large screaming party of 10 or more just a few minutes ago. I was wondering why some of the resident birds did this rather than just stay in their boxes and I think I know the answer. I’ve just witnessed several birds fly up the the entrances of occupied boxes to try to peep inside, however as soon as they land, another bird whose been following, immediately lands on it’s back and drags it away. I suspect it is one of the resident birds protecting it’s own box.
Both eggs have hatched in nb3 north. That’s the box where the male throws the first clutch out in order to get the female to lay again. He’s done it for the last 4 years and I can only think it’s because he’s not sure of the parental validity of those eggs. Thats makes the total 9 chicks in 4 nests and another 11 eggs in another 5.
The good news is our single female in nb1 north is still with her new mate. I do hope she lays again. The latest I’ve ever had eggs laid is on June 26th back in 2013.
2.30pm. The first egg has hatched in nb2 south. That’s 10 chicks in 5 nests and 10 eggs in 5. It was probably one of the best mornings ever for bangers. It started at 5.30am and went right on until 11am, virtually non-stop activity around the boxes. It petered out over lunchtime and some of the resident adults have been taken advantage of this lull in banging activity to bring back feathers they’ve caught on the wing.
Tuesday 13th June
6am. The wind has finally dropped and what a difference. At 5.30am the gang of 5 are back and doing and the rounds like never before, it’s like they got to make up for all that lost time. I’m not complaining though it great to watch.
Some great news from late last night. Our female in nb1 north, the one who threw out her 2 eggs after her mate moved out a couple of weeks ago has found a new partner. When I checked the camera at 10.30 she was snuggled up with him on the nest cup. Perhaps it was the same newcomer who entered nb2 west a few days ago? Now she’s got a new mate the interesting thing will to see if she breeds again, I think it might be too late, but you never know I hope she does.
Looking at the forecast it going to be hot for 2 days then a bit of a lull of a couple of days, then hot again. All you with attraction calls get ready to play in earnest as this is when the bangers will be most active.
Monday 12th June
7.30am. All the birds are still in as it’s still quite grey and windy outside. However on the floor of nb5 west there looks like a discarded egg shell, if so then one of the eggs has hatched. I have trouble seeing clearly into this nest because the the angle and position of the camera. I put the eggs down has being laid on the 26th & 28th May respectively. I estimate they will start hatching 21 days after the first egg was laid so I was expecting this to happen on 15th June. If one has hatched now then I must have mis-calculated the days they were laid. More investigation required to confirm what’s going on.
Last night in Countryfile there was a bit about swifts in Belfast which was very interesting. They even showed a clip from inside one of our boxes which was filmed a couple of years ago for Springwatch. What a lovely surprise to see it again on TV, we both nearly fell off the settee when it came on!
9am. Definitely 1 chick in nb5 west, possibly 2. Checking my records they must have been laid when I was down in Devon at the end of last month. I recorded one as being laid on the day I first saw it, which was 26th. In hindsight it must have been laid a couple of days before that either the 23rd or 24th. Can’t get it right all the time! Total 6 chicks & 14 eggs in 9 nests.
10am. Confirmed 2nd chick in nb5 west. The good news is that these two chicks have hatched just as the weather’s meant to improve so they won’t get cold or go hungry like the first two broods did back in early June. Total 7 chicks in 3 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.
Sunday 11th June
10am. The gang of 6 is back again and whizzing around the house. I’ve not seen them enter any boxes yet but they’ve been up to the occupied boxes and peeped in. Our newcomer didn’t roost in nb2 west last night but I still think it’s interested. I think I might play the attraction calls which is right nest to 3 unoccupied boxes on the west side just to see if I can draw one in.
Saturday 10th June
7am. A gang of 3 whizzing around the house and our newcomer has just re-entered nb2 west.
Friday 9th June
9.30am. A slightly better start to the morning weather-wise and this improvement has brought the gang of 5 back. They’re whizzing around the house at the moment, however I’ve not seen them enter any boxes yet. Our newcomer who roosted in nb2 west didn’t return last night, but a single bird did try to get into nb3 south. It spent around 10 minutes just as it got dark trying to get in before eventually giving up and flying off into the night sky. Was this the same bird from nb2 west or another member of the gang?
5pm. Went out for a walk around the Bittern trail at Chew Valley lake, didn’t hear any Bitterns but heard my first cuckoo of the year which made up for it. Whilst I was there I saw hundreds of swifts feeding over the reed beds. They were silently hawking for flies just above head height and in slow motion. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a swift out in the open. I reckon I could have almost touched them if I tried.
Thursday 8th June
7.30am. Our newcomer stayed the whole night in nb2 west, although it didn’t roost in the nest cup. It chose to sleep on the floor next to the entrance, still it’s a start. Now we wait to see if it tries to attract a mate back in, a bit of decent weather would help in that process. Just had a quick look at next weeks weather and it’s looking pretty good from next Wednesday onwards. A ridge of high pressure is forecast, together with light winds and temperatures in the low to mid twenties. More importantly, it’s predicted to be with us for quite a few days as well. Anyone with empty boxes get ready for the first big wave of non-breeders (bangers) to arrive. Play the attraction calls as loud as you can get away with as soon as you see any activity.
2.30pm. A lot of people on the swift forums are worried about their swifts, asking the question “where have they gone”. If you’ve noticed this as well, don’t panic. Swift activity is directly linked to the weather. The windier,wetter and colder it gets the less activity you’ll see, until sometimes if the weathers really bad you won’t see any at all. This is quite normal. The breeders are still about but you just don’t notice them. They come and go without and noise or fanfare. They won’t waste their energy on displaying not when the weathers poor, all their efforts are concentrated on either feeding themselves or bringing back food for their chicks. The non-breeders (bangers), the ones that make most of the noise, aren’t interested either. They disappear completely, sometimes flying hundreds of miles away to where the weathers better. There has been sightings in the past of these birds flying over to France and Holland for a week or more before returning. The good news is they’ll be back as soon as it warms up.
Wednesday 7th June
10am. A better morning weather wise and most of the birds are out except the ones incubating. It’s taken until now to confirm the third egg has hatched in nb2 north. That’s all the eggs hatched in nb2 north and nb4 south. So that makes a total of 5 chicks in those two nests and 15 eggs in the other 7.
9.30pm. Out of the grey a single swift has just turned up. It first landed on the entrance to nb6 north and then nb1 west. Each time it was greeted by the customary warning calls from the resident pairs inside. It paused for a few moments before flying off. I think it was just working out which boxes were occupied. It then did a quick circuit around the house and flew straight into nb2 west. I’m sure it’s one of the gang which turned up a few days ago. Maybe it’ll try and entice one of the other gang members to join it tomorrow. A very pleasant surprise at the end of a rather disappointing day.
Tuesday 6th June
10am. Blowing a gale outside and the birds are only just venturing outside. However I have managed to confirm the second egg has hatched in nb2 north, possibly the third one as well but it’s difficult to tell. I’m now checking nb4 south as I suspect the second egg has also hatched in there. The pair in nb5 north are still on the nest and I expect to see a second egg there later. So as it stands the total is as follows; 3 chicks with 15 eggs in 9 nests.
The blood-sucking parasite, Crataerina, has just made an unwelcome appearance in nb4 south. Not sure how it got there as the box was clean so I expect it was bought in by a prospector. These are quite large in comparison to their hosts, if it was on a human it would be the size of a shore crab. The take a feed of blood every 2-3 days, starting off on the adults before moving onto the chicks. Most nests contain 1 or 2 and they don’t seem to be that detrimental to their hosts, however I have seen up to 20 in one nest and that can’t be good for either the adults or the chicks.
10.30am. Confirmed the second egg in nb5 north and only two chicks in nb2 north. I just saw one of the adults bring in food and when the sitting bird moved I could see quite clearly 2 chicks and 1 egg. Revised total; 3 chicks and 16 eggs in 9 nests.
12.30pm. Confirmed the second egg in nb4 south has hatched, that’s all the eggs in that clutch. Revised total; 4 chicks & 15 eggs in 9 nests.
2.30pm. To my surprise nb1 south has a third egg in it. It was probably laid yesterday but I failed to notice it because this pair stayed in all day because of the weather. Revised total; 4 chicks & 16 eggs in 9 nests.
Monday 5th June
9.30am. Tipping down with rain and all the birds are still in. It’s forecast to rain all day so I can’t see them going out at all which is a real shame. The first eggs are due to hatch anytime now in both nb4 south and nb2 north, if they don’t go out I won’t be able to see anything. Also the weathers meant to be very poor for most of the week. I hope there’ll be some bright intervals during that time to allow the adults can go out hunting, otherwise the chicks are going to be very hungry indeed. No sign either of the gang of 5, far too wet for them. I won’t see them again until the weather improves which is looking like the end of the week at the earliest.
11.45am. The first egg has just hatched in nb4 south. I can see the discarded shell next to the nest. The bird sitting on the nest is very agitated, keeps fidgeting about and peeping underneath itself. New combined total; 1 chick and 17 eggs in 9 nests.
3pm. The first egg has just hatched in nb2 north. Both the eggs that have hatched today were laid on the 15th May which makes their incubation period 21 days. The normal incubation period varies between 19-25 days. Factors that affect its overall length is the clutch size and the weather conditions. They don’t start to incubate properly until the last egg is laid and the warmer it is the quicker they hatch. 21 days for the first egg to hatch is a bit quicker than in previous years (average 22/23 days) and I’ve put this down the the warm weather in late May. Total; 2 chicks and another 16 eggs in 9 nests
Sunday 4th June
8.30am. My worst fears were realised last night when the female in nb1 north rejected both eggs. This is the box where the male was in a threesome with the female in nb5 north. He was spending the nights in nb1 and the days in nb5. On May 27th he finally left nb1 and moved into nb5. The female in nb1 continued incubating the eggs for a while but I think she realised a couple of days ago something was wrong. She started leaving the eggs uncovered and spending most of the days outside. Last night she came in around 8pm and threw both eggs out. In our eyes it seems brutal and uncaring, but in nature it makes perfect sense. She knows she won’t be able to bring up the chicks on her own. It’s a waste of her time and energy even to try. Better for the species to ditch the eggs and start again. Her behaviour in the last couple of days changed from broody female to unattached bird status. My guess is she’s endeavouring to find a new mate. Perhaps one of the gang who have been around for the last few days. If she manages to bag one before the end of June there’s every possibility she lay again. Go for it girl!
Revised egg total, down from 19 in 9 to 17 in 8.
10am. The first egg in nb5 north, we now know what our wife-swapper been up to. Egg count up to 18 in 9 nests.
Saturday 3rd June
6.30am. A bright sunny morning and 3 of our new gang are back. They’re banging up against the occupied boxes so loud it woke me up. Every-time the hit the entrance the resident birds respond with a loud scream. I hope this is not going to be a regular thing as one of the boxes is right outside the bedroom window!
No more eggs yesterday so we’re still on 17, however the good news is nail varnish egg is still in place and being incubated.
Two more of the gang have just turned up, back up to 5 now.
11am. A second egg has been laid in nb1 south to go along with the egg I repaired with nail varnish. I’m very pleased to see this second egg as it’ll act as an insurance policy just incase the repaired egg fails. At least one of them should now hatch. That brings the egg total to 18 in 9 nests. I’m also getting a little concerned over the pair in nb1 north. I think the male has abandoned this nest and moved in with the female in nb5 north. That only leaves the female in nb1 and she’s been leaving the eggs uncovered for long periods whilst she goes out hunting. I think the likelihood of one adult bringing up 2 chicks highly unlikely.
11.30am. A second egg in nb1 west brings the total up to 19.
Friday 2nd June
7am. No new birds/pairs roosted last night despite all the banging activity, however there back again now doing the rounds so maybe today?
6pm. A pretty good morning with lots of activity only to peter out just after lunchtime to almost nothing. I’m still trying to work out what the bangers are up to. There is a gang of about 4 or 5 who harris all the local birds. They seem to love chasing my birds back into their respective boxes. They even follow them right up into the entrance hole and even peep inside themselves. This encroachment is always met with a face to face stand-off and noisy rebuttal. You’d think they’d move off to an unoccupied box, but no, they just carry on chasing in the next resident bird in. Typical teenagers nothing better to do!
Thursday 1st June
9am. Lots of banging activity, at least 6 newcomers, I think the non-breeders might have just arrived! These birds are targeting all the boxes by flinging themselves against the entrances. It so loud I can hear it from inside the house. God knows what the sitting birds must think, it must scare them to half to death.
The good news is the egg I repaired is still in the nest in nb1 south despite all the activity outside. Hopefully she’ll lay a second (undamaged) one tomorrow.
12.30pm The second egg in nb6 north brings the total up to 17 in 9 nests. Still lots of noisy activity, I’m sure it’s the non-breeders who’ve just arrived. Despite it raining all day I think a small group of newcomers may have just arrived and are screaming around the house. Our new single bird has just left nb1 west to join them. I don’t tend to play the attraction calls much, but as it’s such a horrible day weather-wise I thought I’d brighten it up with a few loud bursts. The newcomers seem to appreciate it regardless of the rain!
4pm. Hot off the press! Hundreds of swifts arriving over Berry Head, Devon and Portland Bill, Dorset today, looks like they’ve finally made. Flying at around 25mph they should be all over the UK by tomorrow.
5pm. The second swift just arrived. However I think it should have gone into nb4 south, but instead it entered the new box (nb5 south) directly underneath. I expect it will sort itself out in a day or two and return to the correct box. That 2 out of 20 back now.