Bristol Swifts Blog 2018

The blog is a record of my observations of swift activity seen around our house in Bristol. My Early 2018 Blog can now be found by clicking on Early 2018 Blog. For details of all 25 boxes and their exact location see Swift nest box location on our house

Wednesday 18th July

7am. What a different a day makes. Yesterday was much cooler with a fresh westerly wind and as a result there was no banging activity all at. The small group of yearlings that have been accompanying the resident birds in were missing all day. All I saw was the adults returning silently every now and then to feed their chicks, it was quite quite tame when compared to Mondays action.

I spent some time watching south 6 but I never actually saw both birds together, all I saw was the less competent bird returning a couple of times. Admittedly I wasn’t watching all day so hopefully I’ve missed the other one, but I’m starting to feel something terrible may have happened to it. As I can’t see inside I don’t really know what’s going on and to look inside means taking down 3 boxes which is impossible to do with birds in all of them. So if one of the adults has been predated the remaining adult is going to have to bring up the chicks on its own without any help from me.

10am. A local chap, Peter has just bought me a young swift who has fallen out of its nest. It was in pretty good condition, although a little underweight. I gave it a some food and water and placed it in south 4. A few moments later it appeared at the entrance hole and launched itself into the air. I watched it disappear over the horizon. Hopefully now it’s airborne it will be OK and on its way to Africa.

Tuesday 17th July

7am. My neighbours are adamant that the sparrowhawk caught a swift. The only box on the south side I can’t see inside is south 6. It’s the one with the slightly awkward entrance. I watched the less competent bird try to enter last night. It was quite breezy and it took about 10 attempts to get in. I haven’t managed to see it’s mate yet. There is the possibility that the hawk might have caught it. I’ll try and watch that box a bit more closely today to see if I can work out who’s still about, hopefully both.

There’s around 5 birds that disappear up into the sky each night around 10pm. Before that they do all the right things. They follow in the all resident birds and fly within a couple of feet of the unoccupied boxes. But will they land and enter, no way. It’s so frustrating and I know how others must feel when they see their birds doing same thing. There’s obviously something holding them back and I think it must be an age thing. They must be yearlings. On a positive note these birds will be back without a doubt. Next year it will be these birds that pair up and occupy a box for the first time and so the cycle continues.

Monday 16th July

9.30am. I can’t believe how quickly plants grow. I’ve been up the allotment since 7am and have picked enough produce to feed an army.

The good news is all the adults birds are OK. I don’t know what the neighbours saw but it wasn’t one of the resident adults that was taken by the hawk. Perhaps it was a prospector hanging on the outside an looking in?

The first chick has fledged. The single chick in north 2 has gone. Not sure when, but if it left yesterday it would have been 40 days old. Normally my chicks fledge around the 43-45 day mark, but this year the weather has been so good that I expect them to fledge a little earlier than that.

Up to 15 whizzing about outside. I think a mixture of non-breeders and resident birds. It’s good to be back home.

Sunday 15th July

10pm. Just got back after a glorious week down in Devon. I need to check all my cameras to find out what’s been going on since I’ve been away. I can see the last 2 eggs in west 3 have hatched, probably a couple of days ago judging by the size of the chicks. That brings the final total to 30 chicks. As far as I can tell there are no more eggs left to hatch. Unfortunately my neighbours think the sparrowhawk may have caught another swift as it went to enter one of the boxes on the south side. I’ll try and work out where later.

I always find it difficult to leave my birds (my wife Jane will back me up on this). Their stay with us is so short that I try to cherish every last moment they’re here. However the weather has been so exceptional this summer that when the chance came to spend a few days away it was too good an opportunity to miss. Nevertheless I still managed to get my swift kick in down in Devon. I found a couple of new nest sites, one in Lyme Regis and the other in Sidmouth. The latter in the roof of a 4 star hotel – The Victoria. I bet they didn’t know they had those guests staying there! We went to see our new swift friends in Beer, Margaret and Ian. They’ve only recently installed 8 boxes around their house and are passionate about swifts. They very kindly invited us over for a seafood lunch. The great news is swifts are already showing an interest in their boxes. We saw 3 or 4 having a real good look, and as for the lunch it was absolutely delicious. We popped over to see Stephen Fitt, the RSPB’S local swift expert. He’s a lovely gentleman and we spent an enjoyable morning just talking swifts and sharing ideas. Whilst in Devon I also arranged to see one of my old Bicton College mates, Simon Thurgood. He’s a keen naturalist and wildlife photographer. His challenge this year is to photograph all 56 or 57 UK butterflies (there’s some debate over the actual number) He’s on 45 at the moment. And lastly we went to Kentisbeare to see if there was any action around the new boxes fitted in the church tower. Although we didn’t manage to hook up with Stuart who’s the brains behind this project, we did spend a very pleasant hour watching a dozen or so swifts whizzing around the church. All in all we had a wonderful week away.

Sunday 8th July

Noon. The daily pattern has changed over the weekend with more screaming fly-bys and less banging going on. More often than not these screaming parties have over 15 birds in them which is lovely to see, not to say quite noisy as well. All 28 chicks are doing really well, over half now are fully feathered and looking more like young swifts every day, the rest are still a bit downy. The 2 eggs in west 3 are due to hatch around 13th July.

Saturday 7th July

7am. Watching over the last few nights there seems to be two groups of newcomers. The ones which roost in the boxes and the ones that don’t. Although I’ve seen birds enter 10 of the 11 unoccupied boxes, as far as I can tell it’s only 3 or possibly 4 boxes that are used for roosting. There’s a pair with chicks in south 6, another pair in west 6 and a single (possibly a pair) in west 7 and sometimes a single bird in west 9.

Between 9 and 10pm the swifts (40 plus) gather above the house and begin to return to enter their boxes, leaving somewhere in the region of 6-10 birds outside. These outsiders continue to fly very close to the boxes, only a few feet away. Then almost at the same time every night, just a few minutes after 10pm they all disappear up into the night sky. They’ll be back around 5am the next morning and the whole process starts again. What determines whether they roost or not. Their age, the weather conditions, maybe a bit of both or something completely different. It’s been suggested that it’s the 1 year old birds that don’t roost, but nobody really knows for sure. It’s another mystery to solve.

6pm. In the last few minutes thousands of flying ants just have started to appear – the swifts are going to have a feast tonight!

Friday 6th July

6.30am. I spent all day yesterday counting to see how many times an adult returned hidden in amongst a screaming party. It was almost 100% of the time. Sometimes the adult would be at the front of the screaming party, others times at the back. As the party screamed past the boxes an adult slipped in unnoticed almost every time. I watched our less able bird in south 6, the one that took 27 attempts to get in. Now I’ve made modifications to the gripper rungs in normally gets in after 2 or 3 goes. Yesterday it failed on it’s first attempt. It had followed in a screaming party but missed the hole (again). I was expecting to see it try again immediately, but it disappeared for 5 minutes and only returned when another screaming party whizzed by. This time it was successful. Without doubt it was using the protection of the screaming party as cover to enter.

Noon. Whilst filming the bangers a few days ago I inadvertently caught the sparrow hawk attack. It’s towards the end of this clip (30 seconds in) it flies in, misses all the swifts and ends up on top of one of the boxes before almost hitting me on the way out. Damn cheek!

Thursday 5th July

7am. The fostered chick in south 2 looks fine, as does the single chick left in north 5. I think that was the right decision to foster it late yesterday.

Still getting quite a bit of banging activity most mornings. Here’s a short clip of what happened a few days ago. This was taken on June 29th and gives you a flavour of the banging activity.

9.30am. The second egg has hatched in north 1. New total 28 chicks with only 2 eggs left in west 3.

11am. The male sparrow hawk is back again. It’s strategy is to try an ambush any swift as it goes to enters its box, luckily it missed this time. I think this is one of the downsides of having such a large colony, it draws in unwanted attention just like this. I used to think the behaviour of the youngsters who regularly chase the returning adults back in was done for fun and pure devilment. However having watched what happened with the sparrow hawk I’m convinced it’s more likely an elaborate distraction ploy. It’s main purpose is to give the returning adult an opportunity to enter unseen by drawing the gaze of any predator lurking nearby. It’s a very clever bit of behaviour indeed. Swifts are at their most vulnerable just as they slow down to enter and this just might give them the few extra seconds they need to scramble inside undetected.

Wednesday 4th July

8am. Pretty sure the missing adult in north 5 has been killed. No sign of it again last night so perhaps the sparrow hawk did catch it afterall. The remaining bird should be able to bring in 10 feeds a day, 5 for each chick which is enough to get them to fledging. They both look healthy at the moment.

A slight change in the behaviour of the colony. For the last 3 evenings around 9 pm they all gather just above the house, 30 birds or more it’s difficult to count, and put on a wonderful display. Reasonably high up in the sky they scream and chase one-another in one massive group. This carries on for about an hour before they all descend back to their boxes around 10pm. I’m not sure what they meaning of this is but to me it looks like they’re just happy to be alive and enjoying life. A real spectacle to watch.

9.30am. The first egg has hatched in north 1. That brings the total to 27 chicks with 3 eggs left to hatch.

4.30pm. I’ve been watching the single adult in north 5 and it’s not coming back as often as I expected. I may have to think about fostering one of the chicks into another box. South 2  is the logical choice, there’s only 1 chick in there and it’s exactly the same age and size as the chicks in north 5.

7pm. The 2 chicks in north 2 just weren’t being fed enough times during the day so I’ve moved one of them into south 2. It only weighed 22g which is considerably underweight for its age, it should be somewhere between 30 – 50 g. However it can put on 10g in one day so hopefully it’ll regain that weight in no time at all. It was immediately accepted by the single chick in south 2 (see the RH photo) and has been fed twice in the last hour. The remaining chick in north 5 has also been feed a couple of times.

Tuesday 3rd July

7am. No sign of the second adult in north 5 last night. Hopefully it’s just very scared and will return soon. The worst case scenario is that it’s either been killed or deserted for good. If that turns out to be the case the remaining adult should be able to raise the 2 chicks on its own, especially if the weather remains good. The chicks are nearly 4 weeks old and quite well feathered. There’s only another 2 and a bit weeks before they fledge, so fingers crossed they’ll be OK.

The eggs in north 1 are due to hatch today.

7pm. The sitting bird has just left north 1 revealing both eggs are still there. I think they’ll probably hatch tomorrow now. Off to watch the football, fingers crossed England will prevail even though it won’t be pretty.

9.50pm. I said it wouldn’t be pretty but who cares we won!

Monday 2nd July

6am. A bit of late drama last night. Around 9.20pm a male sparrow hawk chased one of the adults in north 5. Thankfully it missed the adult but it very was close, hanging by its talons to the landing strip below the entrance. It then decided to perch on the ridge tiles a few feet away. It stayed there until just before 10pm. All the time the majority of my birds (20 plus) screamed and wheeled about just above it in a very distressed state. They gave out a peculiar call which I’ve never heard before. It was obviously a warning call telling others there’s a predator about. About 5 minutes after the hawk had gone, sometime after 10pm half the swifts in the group whizzed back in. It was really quite dark by now and I waited to see if the others would return. In the end 9 remained out all night including both adults from north 5. Hopefully they’re OK and will return sometime this morning. I’ll keep a special watch out on that box today. I hope this was just a random visit by the hawk and not something he’s going to do on a regular basis. It was a major disruption to their night time routine plus extremely worrying for me watching below.

9am. Good news one of the adults from north 5 has just returned.

2pm. Just watched one of the birds trying to get back into south 7. I’m pretty sure it was the less able bird who took 27 goes the other day, this time it managed it in 3. My tweak isn’t a 100% fix, but it’s much better than it was before.

10pm. As far as I can tell only one adult in north 5. I wonder if the incident with the sparrow hawk has scared it away.

Sunday 1st July

6am. The small piece of wood I fixed under the entrance hole to south 6 seems to have worked. I watched one bird enter the box on it’s first attempt. Admittedly it was probably the more competent bird who tends to get inside relatively easy anyway but never on its first go. However the proof in the pudding will be the other bird, the one that took 27 attempts yesterday to get in. If it cuts down some of those attempts then I’ll deem it a success.

The bangers arrived early this morning, the first ones arrived just before 5 am. The wind has also dropped which should help matters. The last 2 days we’ve had quite a strong north-easterly blowing which has tempered their actively around the boxes.

9am. What an hours entertain, the bangers are going nuts. I’ve tried to video some of the action as it’s quite intense. I reckon there’s between 10 and 12 in the group.

Saturday 30th June

5.30am. I saw birds enter 2 new boxes for the first time yesterday, west 4 and west 7. All 26 chicks are doing fine despite the extreme heat, even the ones on the south side. They don’t look like they’re under any stress at all and are all being well fed. If my garden is anything to go there’s going to be a plague of aphids ( followed sometime in August by a plague of ladybirds). I never seen so many insects in my garden for years, it’s absolutely teeming with them. However even though my chicks are doing OK this heat will be having a devastating effect on others. Chicks under pan tiles which are exposed to the midday sun will be suffering. Reports are coming in from rescue centres of baby birds being bought in. It’s perverse that while this weather is ideal for the adult birds, providing an abundance food source from dawn to dusk, it’s so cruel to their chicks. Unable to leave the confines of their nests and subjected to soaring temperatures they struggle to keep cool and inevitably some move to the entrance holes to gain some relief with tragic consequences.

A quick update on the colony. As I’ve just mentioned all 26 chicks are doing fine. There are still 2 nests with eggs in north 1 and west 3. North 1 eggs are due to hatch on the 3rd and west 3 around the 17th. In the non camera boxes there is a new pair with chicks in south 6. A pair in west 6 and single birds in west 2,4 7, 9 & 11 as far as I can tell.

The media seems to be picking up on the current heatwave and comparisons are being made to 1976. As I said in my blog on June 25th if this weather continues it will be interesting to see if any of these new birds breed a year early.

3pm. I’ve been watching the new pair in south 6 try and enter their box. It’s the one I fitted into the top part of the corner box (south 4) and I’ve made the entrance a tad too narrow. However one of the pair has mastered the entry and can usually get in after 1 or 2 attempts. The other bird is absolutely terrible and has just taken 27 goes to get in, yes a staggering 27 attempts! I must try and do something to help. I’m going to fit a temporary ledge just underneath the hole to give them a bit more grip. In the autumn I’ll sort it out properly.

Friday 29th June

6am. Back in April I was contacted by Kate from Rippingale in South Lincolnshire. She and her husband Jez had set about building and installing 5 single and 5 double boxes throughout their village and asked if I could send her a copy of the attraction calls. A couple of days ago I received another email and some photos from a very happy Kate. They have managed to attract one pair of swifts into a single box and a pair and a single swift into the double box. They are absolutely delighted. It just goes to show that swifts will readily use boxes if they are provided for them. It’s a wonderful example of how it only needs a few people to make a really big difference. Thank you Kate and Jez for sending these photos and allowing me to share your inspirational story on this blog.

Thursday 28th June

8am. I’ve got around 10 non-breeders which visit regularly so last night I watched to see how they all behaved. Around 8pm all 10 were present and started by whizzing around the house. Whenever an adult returned several of them would break off from the main group and follow it up to its nest box. As it got darker 5 of this little group disappeared back into to their respective boxes, 1 in west 2, a pair in west 6, 1 in west 7 and lastly 1 in west 11. That left 5. These remained outside and chased the remaining adults in until every resident bird was back in. Then at around 10pm they turned westwards and disappeared up into the sky. Could these (5) be 1 year old birds and the ones in the boxes (5) a mixture of 2 or 3 year olds? It does tie in nicely with the data suggesting that about half of all non-breeders are 1 years. The other half being either 2 and 3 year olds. My split was about 50-50 which is a bit of a co-incidence. I know it wasn’t a very scientific test but having watched my non-breeders there definitely seems to be a difference in behaviour between some of them. Whether this difference it’s an age thing I don’t really know, but it has left me intrigued. So many unanswered questions, perhaps that’s why we love them so much.

Wednesday 27th June

5.30am. I couldn’t sleep last night as it was too hot so I got up early to watch the bangers outside. There was a lot of activity yesterday around the house with all the boxes being regular inspected by the bangers. It’s very difficult to tell what’s going on in the boxes with no cameras. I’d forgotten how much I’ve come to rely on. I know we have a new pair with chicks in south 6. I know single birds are definitely roosting in west 6 and 11, but it could be pairs. In fact I’ve seen swifts enter 7 out of the 8 of the non camera boxes. The only one I’ve never seen a bird enter is north 7. Last night a new bird roosted in west 2, which is one of the last 2 remaining unoccupied camera boxes, the other being west 4.

Some behaviour since the weekend has been intriguing me. One of the prospectors, usually the lead bird gives out a repeated pipping call as it flies past the boxes. This is a different call to the usual scream we normally hear. It seems to encourage the following group, anything up to 4 or 5 birds to give chase. In swift groups this behaviour is often referred to as the follow-the-leader call. Nobody really knows for certain what it actually means but it definitely seems to excite the chasing pack. Could it be a young bird courting others and showing them a suitable nest location? Whatever it is it has been going on since the weekend and it’s fun to watch.

9.30am. Just seen two swifts go into west 6 one after another. Lots of prospecting going on outside so better see what’s happening to the other boxes.

2.30pm. For anyone who has prospectors going around their boxes and getting really frustrated by the fact they just won’t go in. I’ve just read some findings that might help answer that conundrum. The numbers of non-breeders that make up the overall swift population is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 40%. To break this down a bit more – around 17% are likely to be 1 year olds; 14% 2 year olds and 12% 3 year olds. The 1 year olds are not really interested in finding or acquiring a box. They’re more interested in imprinting their local colonies to memory. Whereas the 2 and 3 year olds definitely want to find a vacant nest site. And if the conditions and timing is right, might even breed. So take my colony for example, I reckon I’ve got about 10 non-breeders who regularly visit. According to this data 4 will be 1 year olds, 3 will be 2 year olds and 3 will be 3 year olds. The 1 year olds have no intention of nest building and are quite happy just to whizz around and chase the adults back in. Whereas the 2 and 3 year olds are the ones which will cling onto the box and maybe even start to roost inside a vacant one. So when you see that prospecting party around your own house nearly half will be 1 years with no intention of going anywhere near your boxes. I hope this hasn’t deterred anyone from trying but it might help explain why some birds don’t do what they’re supposed to do and go straight into one of your unoccuppied boxes.

Tuesday 26th June

7am. It was over 27c yesterday and today it is meant to be even hotter. The swifts just love this weather. It’s already 17c outside and there’s been activity outside since 5am. I was going to get up then, but I was just too tired. Anyway I’m up now and a little gang of newcomers, 4 or 5 are causing havoc. It only takes the resident birds in one box to respond to their antics to set off all the adjacent boxes. Now the whole colony is screaming back in a defiant chorus as these teenage troublemakers fly past. If I wanted to stay in bed there’s no chance now not with all that racket going on outside.

I managed to confirm there’s now chicks in both west 1 and west 12, the 4 eggs must have hatched sometime over the weekend. I haven’t managed to see if the third egg has hatched in south 1 yet but hopefully I will get a chance today. The up-to-date total is 26 chicks with only 5 eggs left to hatch.

These pesky troublemakers have now just pulled the camera lead out of west 2 by landing on it. Not only are they annoying the resident birds they’re starting to annoy me now. Off up the ladder to try and fix it.

7.30am. There’s a chick missing from south 2. No sign of it in the box so I presumed it must have died a few days ago and was removed by the adults. The revised total is now 25 chicks with 5 eggs to go.

4pm.  Nudging 30c and all the adults are out so it was really easy to check all the nests. The third egg in south 1 has hatched. Judging by the size of the chick I would say yesterday. I am quite pleased with this particular box as it’s the one where one egg was flicked out by the adults on June 7th. I’m not sure how long it was on the floor of the box, however I managed to pop it back in again and I’m delighted to see that all three have now hatched. New total; 26 chicks and only 4 eggs left, 2 in west 3 and 2 in north 1.

Monday 25th June

10am. Here’s a brief summary of yesterdays NGS/Swift Day:

Over 200 people came which was amazing. We spoke to loads of people who are already doing their bit to help swifts. We found out about many who had put up their own swift boxes locally that we didn’t even know about. We think that between 20-30 new swift boxes are going to be made which is fantastic.

One new Swift Group (in Glos) is going to be formed and possibly more elsewhere. Someone from Environment Agency wants swift boxes on their head office and some of their other buildings in Gloucestershire and so a plan was made to offer help and advice.

Many were motivated to do something themselves to help swifts which made the day so rewarding for us.

A huge thank you again to everyone who came yesterday. I tried to speak to as many people as I could, but there just wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone. Please accept my apologies if I didn’t get a chance to speak to you in person. If you have any questions please email me. We raised over £1500 for charities (including swift rehabilitation) and everyone that came knows more about swifts than they did. Here are a couple of photos of those that came and two stunning photos taken by our friend Julien of Viper’s Bugloss with a bee and our Delphiniums. Jane said she must have said Bugloss incorrectly at least 30 times when she was asked!

My birds are going nuts outside, so I’m going out for a bit of R & R in the sunshine. I might be gone some time!

4pm. A few famous visitors popped in this afternoon. Have you guessed who from the photos? It was the presenters of the BBC’s Garden Rescue programme, Charlie Dimmock and the Rich brothers, Dave and Harry. They were really nice people and it was great to show them my garden.

5pm. The laptop has been in the garage since last Thursday and my access to see inside all my nest boxes has been severely restricted. I’ve just taken it back inside and had a quick look at some of the nests. By sheer good fortune I happened to look at west 3 first. That’s our new pair and I was uncertain that they would breed this year. To my surprise the female was in the process of actually laying an egg. I didn’t see much except a bird looking rather agitated and fidgeting about a lot, however after about 10 minutes of straining an egg eventually popped out. When she finally left the nest a few minutes later she revealed there were actually 2 eggs in the nest not 1. That makes it 15 breeding pairs in my camera boxes this year. New total now is 22 chicks with another 9 eggs to go. What a cracking afternoon!

8.30pm. I’ve been thinking a lot about west 3 since this afternoon and it’s been intriguing me. Something very strange is going on this year. I’ve never had any birds lay as late as this, or this level of screaming activity around the house. Most days there’s up to 10 or more prospectors whizzing around outside. I’ve just re-read Derek Bromhall’s book Devil Birds – The Life of the Swift and I wonder if we might be experiencing the same type of weather conditions as in 76. He proposed that the hot summer in 76 resulted in some juvenile birds reaching sexual maturity a year earlier than normal. We’ve just had a super May and the fine weather has continued well into June, resulting in an abundance of aphids and other insects. If I’m right we could get some pairs breeding right into early July.

Sunday 24th June

6am. Another beautiful sunny morning and the bangers are back again. I’m pretty sure one or two of the eggs have hatched in south 1. I managed to check it late last night and the sitting bird was vey twitchy, constantly looking underneath itself. A sure sign of something happening.

We met Dave and Penny from Cambridgeshire (I wrote about them in last Tuesday’s blog). A really lovely couple and so passionate about swifts. We invited them back in the evening to share a glass of wine and watch our birds return. It was a perfect end to the day, sitting in the garden just talking about swifts and sharing a drink together.

10am. Confirmed at least 1 chick in south 1. That takes the total to 21 chicks with another 8 eggs left to hatch.

10pm. Just about finished tidying up from the open day and had time for a quick look at the cameras. The second egg has hatched in south 1. Not sure about the other 3 nests with eggs in as there’s a bird sitting tight in each. Tomorrow I’ll get back to normal and be able to give a better update then. Still manic outside with screamers whizzing around. I’m going back outside to watch for a while. New total 22 chicks with only 7 eggs left to hatch.

The open day was a huge success with 200 people attending. Even though it was meant to be an open garden day the swifts actually stole the show. They were absolutely marvellous. Everyone was captivated by their antics and they kept us entertained all afternoon.

Saturday 23rd June

6am. This is it. The Big Day has finally arrived.

Looking out the window it’s a beautiful sunny calm morning. Our birds are already up and whizzing around, and even though I say it myself the garden looks pretty good as well. Even Mr Fox has been nice and for once hasn’t dug anything up for me to replant. They say time always runs at the same speed but these next 4 hours will absolutely whizz by. It will be 10am in no time at all. Must get my order of priorities right. Blog, paper-shop, breakfast, live interview Radio Bristol, (cup of tea), water plants, move plants for sale, set up garage (cup of tea), final tidy up of garden, gates open. No pressure then!

Not sure what’s happening in the 4 nests still with eggs in. I’ve been so busy over the last couple of days I haven’t had time to check properly. I expect one or two of them have hatched. I don’t think I’ll get back to normal until Monday, so the updates will be a little behind until then. Right that’s the blog done off to the paper-shop now.

4pm. A huge thank-you to all of you who attended our UKSAW event this morning. What a turn out, we were amazed by the numbers who came – over 130 (and that’s not including children). We wish we had a chance to talk to more of you, but the time just shot by. A special thank you to Julie and Stephen, John and Julien and our son Tom as without their help we couldn’t have coped. We raised over £500 for swift rehabilitation and hopefully imparted our passion for swifts and swift conservation. The swifts played their part too and gave a few displays, as did our tame Robin who is well fed again.

Friday 22nd June.

5am. The small group of bangers is back again. I think there’s about three of them and they’ve started early this morning. Today is the last day before our open days on Saturday and Sunday. So It’s going to be one mad panic of moving pots, tidying up and generally doing all the other things we’ve so far forgotten about. Still the weather is going to be absolutely fantastic, so I’m confident our birds (and garden) will put on a good show.

Yesterdays school visit was a real success. The students were brilliant, well behaved and polite and more importantly really into wildlife. A credit to their teachers and school. Two students made us a delicious swift cake and swift cookies which was lovely. The garden looked good, there were lots of bees and damsel flies buzzing around and the swifts put on a really good display. However the real star of the show was our tame robin who the students thought was really cool! He was the centre of attention and could barely fly by the time they had all fed him. A great day all round and we’d like to thank them all, especially Simon for coming and making it such a special day for us.

2pm.  A wonderful display outside. There must be 6 or 7 bangers visiting the boxes every few minutes, they’ve been here since 6am. I’ve been trying to tidy up the garden, but I’ve seem to have spent more time looking skywards than actually doing any work. I just hope the birds don’t tire themselves out today as I need them to put on a good display tomorrow morning.

Someone must be hay-making nearby as the 4 pairs still with eggs have been bringing back beak fulls of hay all afternoon..

Thursday 21st June

6am.  This morning we have the pleasure of a group of eco-students from Heathfield school in Taunton coming to have a look at our swift colony. Our good friend Simon Bament organised the visit some time ago and we’ve been praying the weather would behave itself on the day. Lucky it seems our prayers have been answered. Now all we want is the swifts to put on a good show – no pressure then!

Simon is what I affectionately call a swift nut. He’s been doing fantastic work in and around Taunton. He’s put up over 15 swift boxes at Heathfield school. A joint initiative involving his students and local businesses who kindly helped towards the cost. He’s now started up a Taunton Swift group to help protect swifts in that part of Somerset. Looks like the swifts in that area are in very good hands indeed.

It is the longest day of the year with over 16 hours of daylight. Swifts time their eggs to hatch at precisely this time so they can take full advantage of the extra light to forage. In good weather a pair can easily bring back 1 feed each per hour. That’s over 20 feeds in a day, which works at 10 per chick in a two chick nest and 7 each in a 3 chick nest. The food is so nutritious that chicks rapidly put on weight, exceeding their fledging weight of 45g around 3 weeks after hatching. After that as their feathers begin to grow they lose a little weight, eventually reaching an ideal weight of somewhere between 40-45g at the moment of fledging in 6 weeks time.

Wednesday 20th June.

8.30pm. Quite a bit of screaming activity outside. Perhaps the birds can sense the change in the weather conditions as high pressure builds. Fingers crossed possibly up to 24c by Sunday and even hotter next week, just perfect.

After a couple of very busy days over two thirds of the eggs have now hatched. Only 4 pairs left with eggs now, south 1 (3 eggs); west 1 (2 eggs); west 12 (2 eggs) and finally north 1 (2 eggs). I beginning to think our new pair in west 3 won’t lay this year. If no eggs there by the weekend then I reckon that’s it for them this year.

8.30pm. I’m sure we have a new pair in south 6. It’s the new smaller top compartment I fitted into one of my original corner boxes. (see photo). I saw the first swift enter it on may 21st. I reckon there’s chicks inside now as I see them returning every hour or so. However watching them both trying to enter I think I’ve made the entrance hole far too narrow. It takes them several attempts to gain a firm foothold to squeeze back inside. It’s the standard 70mm by 30mm letterbox opening but I think it would have been much better if it was more of a D-shape. Once the swifts have gone I’ll change the shape of the entrance hole. I’ll keep it roughly the same length as it is but make it a little wider in the middle say around 35mm. Also even though I put a series of grip rungs below the hole I think that could be improved as well. I’m going to fit a 15 degree angled ramp in it’s place. This will give the returning birds more leverage when trying to enter.  Once I’ve improved the design I’ll update the blog with new photos. A good first effort but it could have been so much better. I recommend no-one copies this design until I’ve had chance to change it.

Tuesday 19th June

9am. A warm damp morning with light winds. All the birds are still in but I have a feeling activity could increase if it stays calm. I expect the last two eggs in south 3 and north 6 to hatch today. If the egg in north 6 does indeed hatch the chick will be considerably smaller than its other two siblings who hatched two days ago. I just hope it’s strong enough to compete for its share of food.

I was contacted by a lovely couple from Cambridgeshire telling me about their swift story and how they got started. They started box building in 2014 and got their first pair in 2015. In 2017 after reading my blog they decided to build some of my designs and managed to attract another 2 new pairs. This year all 3 pairs returned, although one pair has subsequently disappeared. Hopefully it will return sometime soon. They also sent me the photos below of their boxes. The occupied ones are the corner box and the Zeist box by the drainpipe. What a wonderful story. I was so chuffed to hear they made one of my boxes and that it’s actually being used. Just goes to show what can be done, it has made my day.

9.15am. The second egg in south 5 has just hatched. Still haven’t confirmed whether the last eggs in south 3 and north 6 have hatched yet. That brings the total up to 18 chicks with 11 eggs to go.

5pm. As sheer luck would have it I just happened to look at the camera in north 6 as the adult birds changed over incubating duties. You can see the two chicks and last remaining egg. If you look very closely at the egg you can see a small dark circle on it. That’s the chick inside breaking the shell with its egg tooth. That’s the first time I’ve ever witnessed such an event. Must be my lucky day!

6pm. The second egg has just hatched in south 3. That brings the total to 19 chicks with another 10 eggs to go.

8pm. Three hours later the egg in the above photo (north 6) has finally hatched. That takes the colony total to 20 chicks with another 9 eggs to go.

Monday 18th June.

8am. Another dreary start to the day has meant no activity outside for a second consecutive morning. Where the Azores high they keep going on about – it’s definitely not here in Bristol!

Nothing happening yet in south 3 & 5, but I expect one egg at least to hatch later today.

If anyone knows some handy hints on how to deter foxes from digging up my lawn and border please contact me as I’m fighting a losing battle here. Pesky thing finds my garden irresistible.

9am. To give you an idea of how difficult it is to tell when the chicks actually hatch out. Below are three nest photos. The LH one is south 3, the middle one south 5 and the RH one north 6. The birds will remain tight on their nests for up to a week after the eggs have hatched. If you’re very lucky and happen to be watching when a bird comes in to change over incubating duties you might catch a glimpse inside the nest. Or as in the middle photo of south 5 a discarded egg shell might just be visible for a short while before it is finally removed from the box. Otherwise all you will see is a bird sitting on its nest.

From left to right; South 3 is due to hatch today. South 5 has just hatched in the last 30 minutes. North 6 two out of the three eggs hatched yesterday.

1pm. The first egg has just hatched in south 3 in the last half hour. That brings to 17 the number of chicks with 12 eggs left to go.

Sunday 17th June

9.30am. A rather drab start with very little happening at the moment. It’s been trying to rain all morning, but it hasn’t really amounted to anything significant and certainly no use to the garden. There is the possibility that 3 more eggs could hatch today, The first ones laid in south 3 & 5 and north 6. Sometimes you can tell if a chick is underneath by the little jerking movements the adults make, but as it’s a bit chilly outside all three birds are sitting really still and tight. Time for another cup of tea and back to the cameras. Looks like I’m in for a long haul today of just staring at the monitor until something stirs.

3.15pm. The first egg has just hatched in north 6, nothing yet in the other two boxes. That brings the total up to 14 chicks, with another 15 eggs left to hatch.

9.45pm. The second of the three eggs in north 6 has just hatched. Nothing happening in south 3 & 5 tonight so I expect they’ll now hatch tomorrow. That brings today’s total to 15 chicks, with another 14 eggs left to hatch.

Saturday 16th June

8am. The first egg in west 3 hatched late last night. Checking my records another 3 or possibly 4 are due to hatch today so it could be rather busy. No eggs yet in west 3. We now have 10 chicks and 19 eggs left to hatch in our 14 active nests.

Our little gang of bangers has shrunk to 3 from the original 7 or 8 that turned up about a week ago. They turn up between 5.30am and 6am every morning and begin their daily onslaught of the boxes. The “missing” birds from the gang aren’t really missing at all, they’ve taken up residence in my non-camera boxes and roost there every night. I know one is in south 6 and another in west 6 but I’ve also seen birds going in to west 7 and 11.

Dare I say it but the weather forecast for next week, and more importantly next weekend is looking very good indeed. If the forecast doesn’t change it should provide near perfect conditions for both our open days. Not only will that be good for the garden, but excellent for the swifts as well. Just the sort of weather they love to perform in. However in the meantime I’ve gotta stop looking at the forecast every five minutes incase I put the jinks on it

10am.  I caught a glimpse of a second chick in south 1 as the birds changed over incubating duties. It must have hatched only a few minutes ago as the discarded egg shell is still in the nest. New total 11 chicks and 18 eggs.

5pm. Two more eggs have hatched this afternoon, the second ones in west 5 and north 4. New total 13 chicks and 16 eggs. I think that’s it for today now. One possibly two, due to hatch tomorrow.

Friday 15th June

7am. Thank goodness storm Hector or should I say storm Havoc has moved on. Just as well it’s not my open days this weekend as the garden was really battered yesterday. I spent all afternoon tying things back up and repairing the damage. As for my swifts they don’t like the high winds either. On more than one occasion I saw returning swifts pushed off course by a sudden gust of wind. Several of them missing their entrance holes completely and bashing into the side of their box with a loud thump, lucky none were badly hurt.

Glad to report it’s much quieter this morning and our small group of bangers are back again. I can see 3 of them flying around outside. The first egg in south 2 hatched yesterday taking the chick total to 6 with another 22 eggs to go. I’m hoping for a second egg in north 1 and maybe even one in west 3 from our newly arrived pair.

11am. A second egg in north 1 but nothing yet in west 3. The new egg total is now 23 together with 6 chicks in 14 nests.

12.15pm. Three more eggs have just hatched. 2 in north 4 and 1 in north 5. The new chick total now stands at 9 with another 20 eggs left to hatch.

Thursday 14th June

7am. Some really good news yesterday. The single swift in north 1 who waited so patiently for its old mate to turn up before moving on has just laid an egg. It only paired up with its new mate on June 8th, so it hasn’t wasted any time at all and got right on with the business of reproducing. That’s all 14 established nests (boxes) from last year with either eggs or chicks in now. The new pair in west 3 still haven’t laid yet but I’m confident they will in the next few days. I also saw a new bird enter west 7 last night for the first time which is encouraging. That means 5 out of the 8 boxes without cameras have been entered at least once. Whether these birds actually go on to find mates is another thing but at least they’re using the boxes.

Another egg has hatched in north 5. That brings the total to 5 chicks with another 23 eggs to hatch.

All quiet at the moment as very windy outside, however it’s meant to improve during the day so hopefully normal activity will resume then.

5pm. The sun has eventually come out and it’s around 20 degrees, but it’s still very windy. Our birds have been battling with the elements all afternoon trying to get back into their boxes. I watched one swift from west 12 who was carrying a large feather try 5 times to enter. Each time a fierce gust of wind pushed it off course, on the fifth attempt it banged it so hard into the side of the box that it lost it feather. Poor thing, it flew off looking rather dejected after such an ordeal.

Wednesday 13th June

7am. After quite a noisy start yesterday morning the wind picked up and it got a little fresher and by 10am all banging activity had stopped. That left the resident birds in peace and they took full advantage of it, bringing back feathers and changing over incubating duties without having to get past the the noisy newcomers for once. Unlike most other birds all the nests are now looking a lot bigger and smarter than when they first arrived. However this nest building activity will stop when the eggs hatch as all their energies will go into collecting food.

Two more eggs hatched yesterday, the second one in south 4 and the first in north 5. That brings the total to 4 chicks with another 23 eggs to go.

The gang of bangers are about but not doing much just flying around, it must be a bit cool at the moment. Perhaps when it warms up this morning their interest will to.

Without putting the kibosh on the weather I keep reading reports in the papers that we’re in for a really good summer. Perhaps even on par with 76. If so this will have a huge effect on our swifts who love it warm and sunny. Some of the newcomers might even be tempted to breed a year early. In 76 a few pairs laid eggs as late as early July.

8am. Just seen one of the bangers enter west 8 for the first time.

Tuesday 12th June

7.30am. Our noisy gang of bangers turned up again at 5.30am. That seems to be their starting time on fine warm mornings, they’ve been fairly active ever since they arrived. Their routine is to target all the boxes for about 5 minutes then go off for a quick feed for 10 or 15 minutes, before returning to repeat the whole process again. Poor old resident birds must be totally fed up with them.

Monday 11th June

7am. It was such a lovely warm evening last night I stayed out late trying to see who was going where. I’ve got 17 camera boxes which makes checking easy and can be done anytime, however the other 8 haven’t so the only way of telling is by outside observation. Birds were coming and going right up to 10pm and I managed to work out that we have a new pair in west 3, another in west 6, a single in south 6 and maybe another single in west 11. Add that to the 14 established pairs and we have somewhere around 33 or 34 birds in the colony, up 5 or 6 on last year. And there was still one or two bangers that didn’t actually go in any boxes. They eventually gave up and disappeared into the night sky as it became too dark to carrying on checking out the boxes.

The first egg has also just hatched in south 4. That’s the second chick, the other being in north 2. I’m not 100% sure on the egg total now but it’s somewhere around 22 left to hatch. Most pairs have finished laying now, however I do expect to see some eggs in north 1 in the next few days, and if I’m lucky in west 3 as well.

8am. A quick look at all the cameras reveal that the egg total is nearer to 27 than 22. It’s so difficult to tell how many eggs are in the nest once the birds start incubating. 10 pairs have 2 eggs each, 2 pairs have 3 eggs each and 1 pair had 1, now hatched. Out of 27 eggs, 2 have subsequently hatched.

11am. Here is a link to a video I shot this morning of bangers targeting the boxes on the west side.

Sunday 10th June

6am. The bangers are back in action. They seem to be targeting south 1 and 4 the most. I’m not sure why, perhaps some of the bangers are young males and those boxes only have females incubating eggs in them at the moment. Whatever it is they are continuously flying up and peeping inside which elicits a deafening scream from the sitting bird before they fly away.

5.30pm. The single bird in west 3 has found a mate, my guess it’s one of the bangers. As far as I can tell still only 1 bird in south 6.  Activity been pretty good today with at least 6 birds whizzing a round every 20 minutes or so. On a different subject I seen lots of painted lady butterflies today. They are a summer migrants all the way from north Africa, perhaps it’s an omen of a very good summer ahead. Here’s hoping anyway.

Saturday 9th June

11am. The bangers are back!

4 or 5 birds are targeting all the boxes on the south and west sides. Not seen any of them actually land yet, but it’s classical banging behaviour. Flying slowly and silently they are taking it in turns to hit all the entrance holes with their wings. The resident birds aren’t happy at all, screaming back wildly each time the entrance hole is hit. Could be the start of a very busy (and noisy) weekend.

8pm. It’s getting easier to check the nests now as the adults are out more often feeding. To my surprise north 2 has only chick. I was convinced there was 2 eggs in that nest but it turns out I was wrong. So a revised egg total now is slightly lower at 24 from 14  pairs.

Friday 8th June

6.30am. Considering Wednesday evening was so spectacular yesterday turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Although it wasn’t cold the sky was grey and leaden and I think the swifts must have felt the same. Very quiet indeed, in fact the only excitement if you can call it that was me popping an egg back into the nest. 13 out of the 14 pairs now have eggs so their daily routine is sharing incubating duties and perhaps a little nest building if they catch a feather on the way back in. Even the 2 newcomers (south 6 and west 3) don’t seem to be in any hurry to attract a mate and can’t be bothered to chase the returning birds back in either. So the colony has become a very calm and tranquil place with birds just quietly coming and going. If you turned up yesterday you would have never guessed there are 30 birds nesting here. Where are the bangers I saw in Devon?

8.30am. Here’s a few photos of the swift boxes taken on Wednesday in Beer, Devon. The boxes were designed and built by Dick Newell. The eaves are very long and deep. So the challenge was to build something to fit under them. He came up with a twin compartment design which comprises of a zeist type box at the front and a bottom entry shoebox near the wall. They look absolutely brilliant and the owners love them too. It was a very clever use of space to incorporate two boxes in one. The aspect is north facing and swifts have already been seen prospecting around them. The owners have very kindly invited us to visit anytime were down that way which we’ll definitely do. Beer is a picturesque little fishing village located on the Jurassic coast not far from Lyme Regis.

Thursday 7th June

6.30am. Up early this morning as lots to catch up on. Last nights display was truly wonderful, probably the best so far this season. There must have been 15 to 20 birds screaming around the hours for about an hour. Didn’t really clock who was going where as I was just enjoying the spectacle, however I did notice that the single swift in north 1 has indeed attracted one of the newcomers. I watched it follow the resident bird back into the box, but instead of going right inside spent 30 minutes perched by the entrance hole, half in and half out. Every now and then it would inch in a little further. Although this movement attracted a loud response from the resident bird it didn’t attack the newcomer and after a while allowed it to enter. By the time I went to bed they were allopreening one-another on the nest cup. That’s all 14 boxes from last year fully occupied.

A check of the cameras later revealed another egg in north 6 taking the egg total up to 24 from 14 pairs. There’s probably one or two more but I was unable to tell that late at night. One thing that did surprise me is the first egg has hatched in north 2. My records makes that only 16 days since it was laid (normally it’s around 20 days). I think it must have been laid a few days earlier and I’ve just missed it.

All the swifts (bangers) we saw arriving on Tuesday were flying at about 15 miles an hour. They’ll keep that speed up throughout the daylight hours, so by the end of the day (Tuesday) they would have travelled around 200 miles. By the end of yesterday (Wednesday) somewhere close to 400 miles, enough to cover most of the UK. So most of them should by now have reached their final destinations. I’m hoping one or two might have come here if I’m lucky.

And finally, yesterday we visited a lovely couple in Beer who had 4 beautiful double boxes built to fit under their large eaves. Beer has a small resident colony of around 6 – 8 birds. It couldn’t have been planned any better either. Whilst we were there admiring the new boxes, 4 swifts came in and buzzed them. What a treat, a perfect end to our holiday.

8.30pm. A third egg was laid earlier today in south 1 but unfortunately has just been flicked out by the adults. Both now have gone out to feed and I’ve managed to pop it back into the nest unnoticed. Luckily I have small inspection panels on the side of each box and it’s only a 2 minute job to remove it and work inside. New egg total 25 from 14 pairs.

Wednesday 6th June

9pm. Just got back from three fantastic days down in Devon, not had chance to check the boxes yet as the sky is full of screaming swifts – pure bliss.

Yesterday we saw wave after wave of swifts slowly moving along the coast between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. They were travelling in small groups of between 10-20, feeding as the went by but always going in an easterly direction. I sure it was the arrival of the second wave, the “Bangers”.

Monday 4th June

6am.  Another noisy start to the day. Our newcomers are still about and are upsetting the resident birds once again. Im sure there’s 5 of them in their little gang. Their daily routine is to turn up around 6am and bang all the occupied boxes and whizz away. The nearest thing I can compare this to is knock-out-ginger, although there must be some point to this behaviour other than pure devilment.

Great news the pair in west 12 have finally laid their first egg. All 13 pairs now with either one or two eggs in their nests. The new egg total is 23 from 13 pairs. Still only the one bird in north 1 (the only remaining bird from last year) and as far as I can tell one newcomer in west 3 and another south 6. As these 2 newcomers have been roosting in these boxes for some time I shall now add them to the colony. The new colony total is 29 birds ( 27 from last year plus 2 newcomers). I’m almost sure the mate of the single bird in north 1 has perished during it’s time away from us. Although at the moment it’s still waiting patiently for its mate to return, sometime it’ll have to give up and try to attract a new mate. Perhaps one of the noisy newcomers?

Sunday 3rd June

7.30am. Three or four newcomers whizzing around the house. One new bird in west 3, it roosted there last night and is still inside. Hopefully it might attract one of these newcomers to join it today.

1pm. I’m convinced a small group of bangers has just arrived (3 or 4, possibly 5). There’s been lots of activity around the boxes all morning with the resident birds very annoyed by the presence of these newcomers. I can see several little heads sticking out of their respective boxes and screaming wildly ever time the newcomers pass by. I’m sure they’re saying ” this box is taken, go away and pester somebody else”.

Saturday 2nd June

11am. Sorry about the late start but we’ve just finished sanding and re-varnishing all the down-stairs floors and have begun the process of putting the house back to normal. I thought it would take about a week, but with a few gremlins thrown in for bad measure it’s taken nearly 4. All the furniture which has been stored in the garage can now come back in. Sanity will be restored once more.

A quick check of the nests revealed another 2 eggs, one in south 1 and the other in west 1. That takes the egg total to 22 from 12 pairs, only one pair, west 12 still to lay.

4.30pm. Not an awful lot of activity just the odd bird returning with a feather every now and then. I’m hoping for a better display tonight if it stays warm.

Friday 1st June

7.30am. Back to normal after a few hectic days of TV and Radio, time to relax again thank goodness. The colony is very quiet. Most of the pairs now have eggs and are busy incubating, whilst the 3 newcomers are behaving themselves which is strange. No sign yet of the bangers who’ll shatter this peace when they arrive. However looking at the forecast for next week it looks pretty good so things could hot-up then. A nice little piece on Springwatch last night, brief but to the point. They’ve promised to do some more about swifts at the end of the series, including plugging the first ever UK Swift Awareness Week (UKSAW).

Thursday 31st May

9am. What a couple of days!

I’ve just done a couple of Live broadcasts for BBC Radio Bristol which wasn’t quite as nerve-racking as Live TV, but still a bit stressful. Now they’ve gone a quick check of the boxes has revealed another 4 eggs. Second ones in south 3 & 5 and north 3 & 6. That brings the egg total up to 20 from 13 pairs. As far as I can tell still the same number of birds back – 27 out of 28 from last year and 3 newcomers.

3pm. Springwatch has been in contact again. They want to do a comparison of what happened to the swift pair they filmed here in 2015 and now. I’ve sent them all the data and I think they might mention it tonight.

Wednesday 30th May

6am. I’m trying to keep my spirits up but it’s not really going to plan. The BBC were hoping to film a few swifts whizzing around, no chance it’s absolutely tipping down! Unless it stops raining in the next hour all the birds will stay in, all they’ll see is a row of very wet swift boxes (and me). Never mind these things are meant to test us and without doubt we’re being tested.

1.30pm. BBC Breakfast have been here this morning and filmed Live from our garden. Unfortunately it is no longer available on the BBC website to see. However a short film was also shot and is on BBC Breakfast Twitter Due to be on BBC Points West this evening and BBC Radio Bristol tomorrow morning.

Last years blog was rather big and had to be split into two sections. See Early 2017 Blog for observations recorded up to May 31st and here for everything after that. Here are the 2015 Blog or 2016 Blog links.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Glanville. All Rights Reserved.