Bristol Swifts Blog 2017

Bristol Swifts blog of activity and observations of the swift colony around our house in Bristol in 2017. For details of the location of each occupied box see Swift nest box location on our house. See 2016 Blog and 2015 Blog for previous years activity.

Sunday 30th April

I think my first swift returned late last night and tried to enter one of my boxes. My wife caught a glimpse of something flying up to a box at 9pm. Unfortunately I think it failed to enter because of the very low light levels but I’m up early this morning in case it comes back for another go.

A lot of noise and commotion at the bottom of the garden, magpies and robins going berserk. When I’ve investigated the magpies have found the robins nest and eaten all the chicks. That’s the first clutches of both the blackbirds and robins they’ve predated. I know that’s what happens in nature but it does upset me the amount of nests the magpies destroy. Hopefully they’ll both be more successful with their second broods and the magpies less fortunate.

Just before my birds return heres a brief summary of my set-up and fingers crossed, what I’m hoping will happen in the next few weeks. I have 17 nest boxes (NB) in total. 6 each on the north and west sides of my house and 5 on the south. 9 NB’s were occupied last year, so hopefully all 9 will be re-used again this year. The boxes in question are as follows; South NB1, 2 & 4; West NB3 & 5; North NB1, 2, 3 & 5.

Saturday 29th April

Nothing yet but it’s getting close, today maybe tomorrow who knows, but my adrenalin is starting to rise.

Apart from the few hundred already at Chew I think the majority are still down in North Africa or Spain. This may seem like a long way away but it’s nothing for a swift to fly over 500 miles in a day, so if they are still there it’ll only take them 2 or 3 days to return. Yesterday the wind went round to the south so if they were waiting for that to happen before departing on the final leg of their journey they should be with us either tomorrow or Monday.

Friday 28th April

Checked the cameras late last night and again this morning, nothing yet. However I did see another 3 swallows yesterday afternoon. They were flying low over the garden just above the tree line, heading north. Just for a split second I thought is was my swifts returning, but alas not this time.

The goldfinches have just started nest building this morning. They’re picking up hair and feathers from my nest material cage and disappearing over the hedge into next doors garden. I think they’ve chosen a huge clump of flowering montana clematis to build their nest in. The robins eggs must have hatched. They’re both started taking mealworms away in the direction of their nest at the bottom of the garden.

Thursday 27th April

With the arrival of several hundred swifts over Chew I checked my cameras late last night and again this morning just in case one had sneaked back it, alas nothing yet. I still think it will be over the weekend before one actually returns although I will continue to check the cameras on a daily basis from now on.

We are delighted and overwhelmed by the number of swift boxes that have been built across the UK and Ireland using our designs. We’d like to say a big thank-you to all the people who have sent us their photos. In fact we are so impressed that we have added a new page to our website see Photos of your swift boxes. We hope you like the photos as much as we do and if it encourages you to build your own, please send us a photo so we can add it to our collection. More importantly we hope your local swifts like their new homes so much they move in immediately. We love to hear how successful they are so please let us know how you get on.

Wednesday 26th April

Despite this cold northerly wind and much to my surprise over 200 swifts arrived yesterday over Chew Valley lake in Somerset. Local birder Derek John Angell reported over 200 mixed in with a large flock of hirundines. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to see such numbers not until the wind direction changed, however it’s a welcome surprise never-the less.

Whilst waiting for my first swift to appear I’ve managed to get up to date with the other nesting birds in the garden. I’m convinced that the blue tits who have just moved into a box by the pond are the same ones who first built a nest back in March under the conifer tree. The great tits are on eggs in the box in the large apple tree and complain loudly when I’m in that part of the garden. The Robins are on eggs and take turns visiting me for a handful of meal-worms. The hedge sparrows have just finished nest building and the blackbirds have started a second clutch in a neighbours garden. And finally the bullfinches are on eggs. For the last 3 weeks they would visit the bird-table together but in the last couple of days they come individually to feed. I think they are taking it in turns to incubate their eggs, whilst one feeds the other is sitting.

Tuesday 25th April

Trying to anticipate exactly when the swifts will arrive is always a bit hit and miss. One thing is for sure you won’t see many when the wind is blowing from the north. Unfortunately that’s what we’ve got for the next 2 days, before it turns more to a west,north-west direction on Thursday, again not ideal for migration. However on Saturday it’s forecast to turn towards the south and that’s just perfect. I’m confident the first big wave will arrive this weekend. Even if mine don’t appear I’m sure someone else’s will, my money is on Sunday.

Monday 24th April

Still only a few isolated sightings of swifts across the UK whereas my fellow enthusiasts in France, Belgium and Holland report their numbers steadily increasing on a daily basis. One short hop across the channel and they’ll be here. Although it seems odd to me that just as the swifts are about to arrive I’m having to cover up all my tender plants to protect them from the weather, how bizarre.

Sunday 23rd April

Two swallows flew over our house late yesterday afternoon heading north. Clear blue skies, warm and sunny a perfect swift day, unfortunately the only thing missing was the swifts! Hardly any have been spotted over Chew which is a good indication it’s still a bit early for them. My money is on the end of next week after this much talked-about cold snap has gone through, however 1 has been seen over Eastfield park in Bristol which means some are already here, just not mine.

Saturday 22nd April

Still waiting for my first bird to return. A quick summary of what I’m hoping will happen in the next few weeks. Last year I had 9 pairs in boxes and I pair under the roof tiles, that makes 20 birds in total. The normal mortality rate is somewhere around 1 in 6, so 16 or 17 should make it back ok. However working out who’s made it back is very hard indeed, but a reasonable assumption can be made if the old boxes are re-used. In a swifts life possession of a nesting site is the most important thing and will always be re-used even if one of the pair has died. The only time a site is totally abandoned is when both birds fail to return which unfortunately sometimes happens. As the partners of missing birds soon find new mates, working out who’s new or not is almost impossible. Sometimes you can tell as one bird seems unusually nervous, whereas with established pairs they seem more at ease with one another but it’s very difficult. The only thing I know for sure is the first bird to re-enter each of last years 9 occupied boxes is definitely an “old” bird who has returned home. The only way to tell for sure would be to ring all the birds and re-catch them as the enter which I am not prepared to do. It’s been proven that some birds will desert after being handled and it’s a risk I won’t take.

Friday 21st April

Back in 2014 this is the day my first swift arrived back although I don’t think it will be equalled today. Here are the arrival dates for the last 12 years; 2005 -May 2nd;  2006 – May 1st;  2007 – April 29th;  2008 – April 26th;  2009 – May 6th;  2010 – April 23rd;  2011 – April 29th;  2012 – April 25th;  2013 – May 1st;  2014 -April 21st;  2015 – May 2nd; 2016 – April 26th.

Thursday 20th April

I was half expecting to see my first swift yesterday afternoon as the weather was just right, alas I didn’t see any but I did see my first house martin. Strangely though, it was flying north to south but at least it was heading in the right direction of the local colony on Sea Mills Station. Blue tits have started building a nest in the box by the pond, what I can’t work out is whether it’s the same pair who have a nest in the box on the conifer or a new pair. I’ve counted more than 2 blue tits in the garden so perhaps it’s a second pair, more investigation needed.

Wednesday 19th April

As the sun moves onto the patio at the back the red mason bees are prompted into frantic action. There’s a group of 3 or 4 males who are jostling one another around the bee hotel. They are anxiously waiting for the females to emerge and at the same time fighting off rival suitors so they’ll be first in line. The pair of hedge-sparrows are continuing nest building this morning. Only the female builds the nest whilst the male chaperones her back and forth keeping a watchful eye over her.

Tuesday 18th April

A sunny but cold start to the day with a hard frost forecast tonight, I hope my swifts don’t turn up or they’ll be in for a nasty surprise- not springlike at all. However it hasn’t put of a pair of hedge-sparrows (dunnocks) who have been busily nest building all morning. The nest will be built mostly of moss and dried grass and lined with soft feathers. They’ve chosen a site in the beech hedge which has a dog rose growing up through it, nice and prickly to deter those pesky magpies.

Monday 17th April

The first Swift was spotted over Chew Valley lake yesterday along with 500 plus Swallows by local birder Dave Nevitt.

Yesterday I helped my son fit 2 of my corner boxes to his new house in Easton-in-Gordano. There’s a big swift colony in the local area so we’re hoping they might be occupied fairly quickly. The corner boxes are designed to fit snuggly under standard 8″ (200mm) eaves and they look really good, lets hope the swifts think so also.

Sunday 16th April

The first Swift arrived yesterday over Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. It’s the Irish equivalent of Chew Valley Lake and it’s the place where they head for first, congregating in their thousands. It gives them a chance to feed and pair up before dispersing back to their traditional nesting sites in a few weeks time. If they’ve been seen over Lough Neagh then our Chew ones won’t be far behind.

Friday 14th April

The Blackbird is nest-building again which means the young have been predated, probably by Magpies. There is a pair of local Magpies who are very cunning. One will perch high in a near-by tree whilst the other one darts in and out of all the hedges and shrubs in the adjacent gardens. When a sitting bird is flushed out the Magpie who has been watching from afar swoops straight in to the exact spot from where the sitting bird has exited. I expect this is how they found the Blackbirds nest and young.

Thursday 13th April

Some doubt about the reports from Newark yesterday, seems now that they were probably Swallows and not Swifts.

My first Blue Damselfly has just emerged from the pond, a good two weeks early.

Wednesday 12th April

First sightings of swifts in the UK. A small group were seen yesterday flying over Newark in Nottinghamshire. I had a quick check of the latest birding reports from Chew Valley to see if any are there, nothing doing, only a few Sand Martins flying about.

Tuesday 11th April

A swift friend from Toulon in France has just emailed me to report 15 swifts seen over the city last Friday.

Monday 10th April

Just got back from a few days in East Devon, unbelievable weather, we also managed to get in a spot of bird-watching at the same time. No sign of any Swifts yet, however we did see our first House Martins, a handful of Swallows and a pair of Sand Martins.  All the best sights and sounds were to be found in the woods and banks along the River Otter. The top singers, numbering in their dozens were Chiffchaffs closely followed by Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Wrens and Robins. There was also a sprinkling of Blackcaps, Blue, Great and Coal Tits as well. Top of my birding tick list was a solitary Dipper a Reed Bunting and a “singing” Nuthatch. Unfortunately if the Blackbird and Blackcap songs warrant being in the premier league, the Nuthatch was at best, only worthy of Division two. Still it was a very welcome birding tick and regardless of it’s quality, very much appreciated.

Thursday 6th April

It’s been a fantastic year for frogs and toads. Spawn first started to appear in mid-February and is still going, yesterday there was a late pair of toads mating in the pond. To-date I’ve counted over 60 clumps of frog spawn and 30 strings of toad spawn, needless to say the pond is teeming with tadpoles far too many for my back garden. So the good news is I’ve managed to seed several local ponds with the excess tadpoles and still have plenty left in mine. Most have gone into 3 new virgin ponds which were dug about a couple of years ago in Bennet’s Patch & Whites Paddock, a new nature reserve near me. The hope is some of these tadpoles will eventually return as adults and new breeding colonies will be formed in them.

Wednesday 5th April

The first Red Mason Bees have emerged from my bee hotel. They are small solitary bees that nest in holes in buildings. It’s the males who appear first. They’ll hang about near-by waiting for the females to emerge in a few weeks time, ready to mate with them immediately.

Tuesday 4th April

I saw my first Small Tortoiseshell butterfly of the year this afternoon whilst out walking along the banks of the river Avon. It was on it’s own, feeding on a patch of yellow dandelions and flew off just as I approached it. It was a welcome surprise indeed as the main purpose of my walk was to see how many Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were back. Even though the trees are bare they’re still very difficult to see, however I managed to hear 5 Blackcaps and at least a dozen Chiffchaffs singing in an hours walk.

The male Blackbird has been coming into the garden all day and picking up as many meal worms it can carry, sure sign it’s eggs have just hatched. The Bullfinches also put in a brief appearance again which was a nice bonus.

Monday 3rd April

A sight I don’t see that often in the garden a pair of Bullfinches on the bird table.

Sunday 2nd April

A tad early but I had to take advantage of the weather, warm and sunny with virtually no wind, perfect conditions to refit my boxes. It took me most of the day going up and down the ladder by all 17 are now in place and ready to go. Although I’m tired I’m very happy they’re all up and now I’m celebrating with a small glass of red wine to cap off a good days work.

Saturday 1st April

It’s here, it’s the month the Swifts return. I’ve been ticking off each day since they left in August, all through September, October and those long dark days of winter. Then in January the first Snowdrops appear. The light begins to return. February fills the pond with frogs and toads and March brings clumps of yellow Primroses nestled together on sunny banks. Then it’s April turn, fruit trees covered in blossom, coupled with the first really warm days and hints of even better things to come. And at the end of the month the icing on the cake for me, the returning Swifts. I love this time of year with all it’s unrealised potential and promise. It reminds me of the words from “Leisure”  by the Welsh poet W.H Davies. He wrote about how important it just to stand and stare. It’s a really lovely poem. I’ll definitely be finding some time to do just that.

The good news is the missing Robin has returned. However I think they’re nesting somewhere else and for some strange reason half-built a second nest in my box. Still they’re both alive and well which is good. Both continue to follow me around the garden hoping for a few meal worms, they’ve even been joined by a tame Wren who picks up any they leave behind.

The Blackbird has nested a few gardens away. The female pops in every now and then for a quick feed and then promptly disappears again, sure sign she’s sitting on eggs somewhere else.

I didn’t see any Hirundines at Chew on Wednesday although I know they are there. Local bird-watchers saw dozens of Swallows, Sand and House Martins a few days earlier. I think another trip is required.

Wednesday 29th March

I heard my first Chiffchaff on Saturday and now the woods next to the River Trym are bursting with them. There must have been at least 5 singing together with a couple of Blackcaps and a lone Song Thrush, a beautiful dawn chorus.

The Robins started nest building yesterday in an open-fronted box behind a thorny pyracanthas next to the house. I watched them all day bringing in beaks of dried leaves, but then late in the day one disappeared. I’ve not seen them together since and nest building has stopped. There is a male Sparrowhawk who regularly visits the garden and I’m started to fear the worst for our missing Robin.

Off to see an old work mate from Bristol Water later today, meeting up in a pub near Chew Valley Lake. Will take my bins as I’m hoping to see my first hirundine if I’m lucky.

Saturday 25th March

The first couple of House Martins arrived yesterday at Portland Bill.

This morning on the way to the paper shop I heard my first Chiffchaff singing. Its familiar tink-tank call coming out of the scrub next to the river Trym, a favourite place nesting.

More signs of spring back in the back garden, a pair of Blue Tits and Wrens have just started nest building. The Blue Tits have chosen a box on the conifer tree whilst the Wrens have picked a dense woody bush. It seems a bit back to front this year as it’s normally the Blackbirds who are the first to start nesting, followed by the Robins, then the Blue Tits and Wrens.

A large garden queen Bumblebee (Bombus Hortorum) has moved into one of my bee boxes. I saw it enter it for the first time a few days ago and yesterday it was still going in. It’s an old bird box of mine which I have stuffed full of straw and placed on the ground near to the patio.

Monday 20th March

The first Swallows have just arrived at Portland Bill. A group of 4 were seen on the 16th.

More and more summer migrants are coming in each day. Mostly Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and Black Redstarts, whose numbers were all in double figures, but also mixed in with them a sprinkling of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Yellow Wagtails.

Sunday 12th March

An Alpine swift was sighted flying over Cork in Ireland on Friday, which is way too far north. Its normal habitat is the southern countries of Europe, mainly Spain, Italy and Greece and as its name suggests the lower regions of the Alps.

The last few days have been really spring-like and with it has brought a few welcome guests. I saw my first Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies yesterday and at least a dozen queen bumblebees. There’s been a pair of Blackcaps in the garden for about a week with the male singing it’s beautiful song from deep inside a thick pyracantha bush. And our pond is full of mating frogs and toads, much to the Herons delight who is a regular early morning visitor.

News from Portland Bill; the first Wheatears are just arriving together with a handful of Chiffchaffs and Black Redstarts. I normally hear my first Chiffchaff around the 3rd week in March so not long now to wait.

Sunday 26th Feb 

News from Israel, the first swifts are BACK.

Amnonn Hahn who lives in Givatayim a small town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv reports his first pair of swifts returned today. The first one arrived at 8.38am followed by it’s mate later that day at 8.39pm. Follow their progress via a live webcam link here.

Swifts always arrived in Israel first, usually in the last week of February. Unfortunately it’ll be another 8 or 9 weeks before they reach us. Still that’s plenty of time to think about putting up a box or two.

Reminder – if you want a free swift MP3 attraction call just email me via the contact page.

Our Garden Open Days in 2017.

If you like visiting gardens why not come and see our swifts at the same time.

We are opening our garden for charity on two consecutive Sunday afternoons in the summer. Come and wander around our wildlife friendly garden and see Live video from inside our swift nest boxes. There are also lots of plants for sale with proceeds donated to local swift rehabber Gillian Westray.

Sunday 25th JuneNational Gardens Scheme – 2-5pm – Admission £3.00.

Sunday 2nd July  – Stoke Bishop Open Gardens – 1-5pm – Admission £5.00 for 5-6 local gardens.

If you are interested then contact us for details.

Here is an excellent booklet on swifts The Breeding Behaviour of the Swift by David and Elizabeth Lack. Use arrow on pdf to rotate it, in order to read.


Copyright © 2017 Mark Glanville. All Rights Reserved.