Bristol Swifts 2020 Blog

I had intended to start my swift blog when the first swifts returned, but because of the current situation I’ve decided to start it now. I hope it will bring a little bit of cheer to people in these difficult times. It will be a daily record of the wildlife activity seen around our house in Bristol. Whilst we eagerly await the swifts return here’s what happened last year, see this link Early 2019 Blog.

We have 25 nesting boxes many fitted with cameras – for their exact box location see Swift nest box location on our house. In 2019 we had 15 breeding pairs of swifts.

I’m sorry to say but following guidance from the National Garden Scheme (NGS) our planned Swift/Open Garden day on June 21st has been cancelled. The NGS along with all other charities are really struggling and desperate for our donations, so if you can please donate via this link

Saturday 4th April

Since last summer I’ve been thinking about making the pond completely wildlife friendly. The only thing stopping me was getting rid of the goldfish. I’ve had them for many years and have grown quite fond of them. However I have been noticing less and less tadpoles each spring. Goldfish and tadpoles don’t mix well!

So back in February with a heavy heart I started to give away the fish. I thought there was only 20 in the pond, but when I reached 70 I stopped counting. And there is still another one in there!!

However since I removed the majority of them I’ve already seen a difference. There seem to be more tadpoles than ever. The frogs first appeared back in February and by early March over 20 clumps of spawn were clearly visible in the pond. The toads arrived a bit later, turning up in mid-March. Most have finished spawning now, however I did photograph this pair a couple of days ago. Toads lay their spawn in strings not clumps like frogs, weaving their long strands of eggs through the reeds.

The newts have also returned. I’ve seen both the smooth and palmate in the last couple of days, but I’m still waiting to see my first great crested newt. I’m pretty sure they’re in there, but the pond is green with algae at the moment so it’s difficult to see down to the bottom. Hoping it clears in the next few weeks. Pictures of smooth, palmate and great crested newts.

Friday 3rd April

During the lovely weather last week I got all my boxes out of winter storage. In the autumn I take them down and store them in the cellar under the house. I do this mainly to protect the life of the cameras, although I have no hard evidence to say whether it actually makes any difference or not! Anyway it’s a routine I’ve got into and despite it being a bit of a chore it gives me the chance to clean out each box.

Swifts are fastidious birds so most boxes are pretty clean, but as is the way of life some birds are a lot cleaner than others! I give the interiors a quick hoover to remove any droppings, but what I’m really looking for is the eggs of the parasitic louse-fly crataerina pallida. Their eggs look like shiny black vitamin pills and some nests can contain several dozen.

Crataerina is a particularly gruesome looking parasite that feeds on the blood of swifts. Like most parasites they have evolved not to kill their hosts but watching these crab-like blood-suckers scuttling over both adults and young is particularly upsetting. So to lessen the burden on each nest I try to remove all the eggs I can find. However despite my best efforts some crataerina re-appear again in May, but at least their numbers are relativity low. Crataerina Pallida has a very interesting life cycle which I will talk about in more detail in a later blog.

One of the downfalls of storing my boxes over winter is the feather mites present in all nests. The temperature of our cellar is a constant 10C and this enables the mites to carry on feeding on the nest material. By the time I take the boxes out of storage most nests are looking in a particularly sorry state, so I add a handful of fresh feathers to each box as a starter nest to help the returning birds. It’s the least I could do in the circumstances!

Here’s a photo of me adding feathers to some of my boxes and another one of our garden yesterday when the sun came out for a short time.

Thursday 2nd April

I thought it would make sense to give you an idea of the overall size and layout of our garden. A few photos can be seen here on NGS website  https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/34424/

Our garden faces due south and is approximately 35m long by 15m wide. It’s surrounded on 3 sides by a large well-established hedge. The hedge is 2m high by 1m wide and is made up of a mixture of beech, holly and hawthorn. The garden is split roughly in half to create two separate areas. The bottom half is dedicated to the production of fruit and veg for the table. The top half is much more formal, containing several large herbaceous borders, half a dozen ornamental trees and a wildlife pond. Separating both halves are two large conifers and in the middle of the fruit and veg patch is a very old and gnarled apple tree which holds pride of place.

Our pond is home to 5 different species of amphibians, plus a handful of dragonflies and damselflies. During the year we see over 35 different bird species. I’ve counted at least 13 different butterflies and 7 bees species, but I’m sure there’s many, many more I’ve missed. Popping in from time to time are a few mammals and during the summer months far too many insects to name. The majority of plants are grown to provide food and shelter for the wildlife (and hopefully food for us!) throughout the year. During the summer special emphasis is on flowers that are nectar rich and in the autumn on berries. Dotted around the garden are numerous small bird boxes of all different shapes and sizes. 12 species of bird have nested in the garden over the years, one of my favourites being the long-tailed tit. So for an urban garden just a few miles from Bristol city centre we have quite a good variety of wildlife.

Below are some photos of our garden taken last year to show you the layout. Also here is a link to our wildlife garden website https://bristolgarden.weebly.com/

Wednesday 1st April

Welcome back to another year at Swift House.

We hope all of you are well and managing to cope in these difficult and worrying times. Whilst we all try and adapt to the harsh realities imposed on us by coronavirus, nature goes on outside as normal. With this in mind I have decided to start my blog early with the help of my wife Jane, acting as editor and providing photos and occasional videos.

My name is Mark and you can follow my daily blog to find out what is happening at Swift House here in Bristol. Our first swifts should arrive back sometime in late April. I always look forward to their return and will impatiently count down the days to their arrival. This year their return will be even more appreciated than normal, if that’s possible!

However whilst we eagerly await their return there is plenty of other wildlife action going on in the garden. I’ve no idea what surprises will unfold over the coming months, but I’m sure there will be some unexpected events once again. For those of you who followed last years blog you’ll be pleased to know that Rob, my tame Robin is alive and well and so are Wrenkin and Waggy. They’re our tame wren and pied wagtail, who along with Rob have been our companions for the last 3 years. Rob’s found a new mate and has already started nesting, but I’ll tell you more about him and our other two friends on another day.

I really love this time of year. It’s so full of new life and promise. Not just because it’s when my beloved swifts return, but for all the other wildlife that abounds in spring. You’ll see the first primrose, the first butterflies begin to emerge from hibernation and hear the first chiffchaff singing. It seems that every day something new happens.

The French have an eloquent phase to describe spring, they call it is the season full of “ La joie de vivre”, which roughly translates as full of “the joys of living”. In these troubled times I’d go along with that!

Copyright © 2020 Mark Glanville. All Rights Reserved.