Welcome to our 2023 blog page with all the very latest wildlife news from around Swift House. Swifts need our help more than ever. In December 2021 the species was Red-listed in the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern report. However it needn’t be like this. Whilst swift numbers have been steadily falling across the UK here at Swift House numbers have been rising from 1 pair in 2005 to 16 in 2022. We have 25 swift boxes dotted around under the eaves – see this link. 23 boxes have internal cameras fitted. My 2022 daily swift blog can be read here.
Wednesday 30th August
Stanley fledged from Gillian Westrays house in Worcestershire today. He was 52 days old and weighed 35g. We’d like to thank her for looking after him until he was ready to go. His departure brings to an end the 2023 swift season here at Swift House. Overall it was a season of extremes. June was the hottest on record whilst July and August were complete washouts. Below is a brief summary of what happened during the summer.
The first swift arrived back at Swift House on 28th April.
May was a mostly dry and warm month, although the mornings were a tad nippy. The colony slowly re-established itself as last years breeders arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the month.
June turned out to be an exceptional month – the hottest June since records began. It was sunny and warm for almost the whole month. More and more swifts arrived a back and by the end of the month we had 19 breeding pairs, which was a record number at Swift House. 18 were in my camera boxes and the other was in one of my non-camera boxes. The camera boxes produced 40 chicks between them.
July on the other hand was a truly awful month. A shift in the position of the jet stream to the south of the UK brought in a succession of deep low pressures. Week after week of rain and wind followed. The prolonged poor weather eventually took its toll on the colony with 7 chicks dying from starvation. On top of the poor weather we also had the unwanted attention of the local Sparrowhawk who caught at least four adults, leaving another 9 chicks without any parents. Luckily, I managed to foster 7 into my other boxes. The remaining 2 had to be hand-reared. We named them Stanley and Oliver.
Augusts weather started in the same vein as Julys. Thankfully though by the beginning of the month I only had 7 chicks left in my boxes. The last chick in my boxes fledged on 24th August. The following day the last adult departed. The chicks we were hand feeding fledged as followed – Oliver on 20th August and Stanley on 30th August.
Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of infertile/reject eggs 6. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 7. Total number of chicks fledged 33.
I’ve also attached this link to my 2023 Swift breeding chart and a link to my 2015-23 colony results. I’ve tried to make them as simple as I possible can, but due to the number of foster chicks they are a little complicated to follow. Hopefully you’ll work it out!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog as much as we have writing them. Our daily blog will be up and running again next Spring. So until then it’s goodbye from Jane and myself for another swift season.
Sunday 27th August
I’d like to think I’m pretty good at hand rearing swift chicks but I know my limitations. I was getting increasing anxious about Stanley as each day passed. He was steadily losing weight and showing no signs of wanting to leave either. So this morning we took him to Gillian Westray. She is without doubt the best swift rehabber in the country and if anyone can help she can. Thankfully after a thorough once over she found Stanley to be in reasonably good shape, although slightly on the small size. Gillian has a way with swift chicks which is difficult to describe unless you actually see her in action. They seem to relax in her hands and definitely look less stressed. As soon as I get anymore information I’ll update the blog.
Saturday 26th August
Last Sunday morning the oldest hand-reared chick named Oliver fledged. He was 45 days old. Here’s a short video of the moment he went. His departure took us a bit by surprise because just after we released him he doubled back and flew towards us. However we didn’t need to panic. We watched him do a couple of circuits to gain height before he disappeared over the tree tops and out of view. Unfortunately the direction he was heading was north rather than south, but I expect he’ll work that out for himself.
The last chick in my boxes (nb1 south) fledged on Wednesday night. The following morning the one remaining parent that had stayed with it also left for its long migration south. All we have left now is Stanley the second hand reared chick. Once he’s fledged I’ll write a final blog to bring the 2023 swift season to an end.
Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 7. Number of chicks fledged 32 out of 33. Number of chicks left 1.
Saturday 19th August
Last Wednesday the only chick in nb5 west and the last remaining chick in nb3 south fledged. Only 4 chicks left to fledge. Two in nb1 south and two being hand reared.
In nb1 south the two chicks now look almost identical in size despite the huge age difference. The foster chick is 60 days old whilst the other chick is only 39 days old. I’ve never fostered a chick with such a big age gap before so this is all new territory for me. Thankfully it seems to be working out so far and I’m hopeful they’ll both fledge in the next week or so. In the LH photo both are side by side on the nest. The chick on the left in that photo is the 60 day old foster chick. The RH photo is the foster chick on its own.
The two chicks I’m hand feeding are both doing really well. In the photo below in my left hand is 46 day old Oliver. In my right hand is 44 day old Stanley. I’ve been looking after them since 11th August. In the last couple of days Oliver has been refusing some of his feeds as he gets ready to fledge. His weight has come down to 47g and he’s exercising more each day. I think he’ll be ready to go in the next couple of days. To help I’ve been placing their box in the conservatory during the day so they can watch other birds in the sky. The conservatory is directly underneath nb1 south. I’m hoping they will see the adult swifts above returning every now and then to feed their chicks. Stanley on the other hand has been more of a challenge. He’s always been a bit on the skinny side so I’ve been concentrating more on him over the last week. I’m pleased to say over the week I’ve seen an improvement in his overall condition. His weight is finally on the up after a few days at the beginning when it remained stubbornly around the 31g mark. He now weighs almost 35g. I still need to get him up a few more grams but he’s now going in the right direction.
Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 7. Number of chicks fledged 29 out of 33. Number of chicks being hand fed 2 out of 33. Number of chicks left to fledge 2.
Saturday 12th August
Here is a brief summary of what has happened since my last blog on Tuesday. Another two chicks have fledged. I also had to re-foster the chick from nb4 north again! Plus I’m now looking after two hand reared chicks for a while. Below is what happened in more detail.
The chick I replaced in nb4 north on Sunday was doing remarkable well until last Tuesday (8th). Then something unexpected happened on that day. During the afternoon one adult left and the other didn’t return until 9pm with no food. So on Wednesday morning I removed the chick and placed it into nb1 south. In that box there’s only a single chick. Admittedly there’s quite an age difference between the two ( just over 3 weeks) however they look remarkably similar in size. Anyway it seems to be working out OK and both seem to be getting their fair share of meals.
Yesterday Tom brought the two chicks he’s been hand rearing back for me to look after whilst he’s away on holiday. Tom has done a really great job in raising them so far. He’s named the largest chick Oliver after the Dickens character Oliver Twist who asks for a bit more food as he always seems to be hungry! However he’s not named the other chick, so we’ve named it Stanley (Laurel) after the skinny sidekick to comedian Oliver Hardy. The 34 day old chick now weighs 32g whilst it’s 36 day old sibling 49g. When I rescued them on 24th July the youngster was close to death and weighed only 14g, whilst its older sibling was a respectable 32g. I still need to get the weight of the smaller chick up a bit as it needs to be over 40g to fledge successfully. LH photo shows the 34 day old chick. Middle photo is the 36 day old chick. RH photo close up of the 34 day old chick.
Last night the 2nd chick from nb3 south fledged. It was 46 days old.
There are now only 4 chicks left in these boxes:
Nb1 south – both adults plus one 32 day old chick and one 54 day old foster chick.
Nb3 south – both adults plus one 45 day old foster chick.
Nb5 west – both adults plus one 44 day old chick.
Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 7. Number of chicks fledged 27 out of 33. Number of chicks being hand fed 2 out of 33. Number of chicks in my boxes left to fledge.
My next blog will be next weekend unless something happens in-between.
Tuesday 8th August
A little bit of good news following on from Sundays blog. The last chick in nb4 north fledged around 10am on Sunday morning when both it’s parents were out. With its departure a window of opportunity suddenly appeared before me. What if I popped the chick I had been hand feeding back into that box before the adults returned. Would it stay in the box if I did and would the adults feed it when they returned? It was a risk, but a risk worth taking. I had to act fast though as the adults could return at anytime. So at 11am on Sunday I placed it back inside nb4 north and watched anxiously on the camera to see what happened next. I didn’t have to wait long. At noon one of the adults returned and without any hesitation fed it. I watched it receive at least another 4 feeds that day. The same thing happened yesterday and it received at least another 6 feeds. It still needs to grow a bit more as its wing feathers aren’t quite long enough but the most important thing it’s being fed by its foster parents. I managed to film this short video of it being fed yesterday.
Sunday 6th August
10am update. The last chick in nb4 north has just gone.
Another weekend and another battering by the weather. This time it was storm Antoni who pummelled our shores. That’s the fourth weekend in a row we’ve had low pressure in charge. Thankfully I’ve not had to rescue any more chicks that have tried to fledge early. I still have 5 chicks in my boxes and they’re all being well fed by their parents. Their ages range from 26 days to 47 days. I expect 4 will go this week. Below is a full list.
Nb1 south – Both adults and one 26 day old chick.
Nb3 south – Both adults and two foster chicks – 1 x 39 days and the other 41 days.
Nb4 north – Both adults and one 47 day old chick – fledged today.
Nb5 north – Both adults and one 41 day old chick.
Nb5 west – Both adults and one 38 day old chick.
The chick I’m hand feeding is now 47 days old and slowly starting to put on weight again. It’s now up to 24g and looking a lot more perky than when I first found it on Wednesday afternoon. I’ve also found it’s much easier to feed it little and often, as I believe its less stressful to all concerned. The two orphaned chicks Tom is looking after continue to put on weight as well. They are much easier to feed and readily take food from Toms hand, whereas my chick is reluctant to eat and requires a more delicate hands-on approach.
My next blog will be next weekend unless something happens with the status quo in-between.
Thursday 3rd August
An update on the two chicks that are being hand fed. I removed them last Wednesday after the sparrowhawk had caught one, possibly both parents. When I first took them out the smaller of the two siblings was really struggling. It was 17 days old and weighed only 14g. Its 19 day old sibling was much healthier and stronger, weighing in at 33g. I fed them for a couple of days before handing then over to our good friend Tom Carter to carry on looking after them. Yesterday he brought them over and the transformation was staggering. The small chick has almost doubled its weight and now weighs 22g. Its larger sibling was 45g. Both looked really fit and healthy and full of life, unlike the sorry state I found them in a week ago.
As I was looking out the window at 3pm yesterday afternoon one of the chicks in nb4 north tumbled out the box in front of my eyes. Luckily it handed on some soft leaves in the front garden and was uninjured. It’s 43 days old and I think it tried to fledge. It might have been old enough but it was certainly wasn’t ready to go. There’s no point in me putting it back in the box as I fear it will only jump out again. Thats another one to hand feed for a few days. As there’s no end in sight to this awful weather it may not be the last one that needs looking after either. I’ve still got another 6 left in my boxes to go!
Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 7. Number of chicks fledged 24 out of 33. Number of chicks being hand fed 3 out of 34. Number of chicks left to fledge 6.
Tuesday 1st August
Two chicks fledged yesterday. The single chick in nb11 west (40-days-old) and the first chick in nb3 south (43-days-old).
Sadly and completely unexpectedly the foster chick in nb1 west has died (40-days old). I’m not sure why it died as I’ve watched it being fed on numerous occasions. Perhaps there was something else wrong with it?
There are now only 7 chicks remaining in five boxes. Four of the seven remain are foster chicks that have been moved into other boxes.
In nb1 south there is one chick 20-days-old. In nb3 south there two foster chicks, one from nb5 west 33-days-old and the other from nb5 north 35-days-old.
In nb4 north there are two chicks, one 41-days-old and a foster chick from nb3 south 42-days-old. In nb5 north one foster chick from nb3 south 41-days-old.
In nb5 west there is one chick 32-days-old.
Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 7. Number of chicks fledged 24 out of 33. Number of chicks being hand fed 2 out of 34. Number of chicks left to fledge 7.
Now that I only have a few chicks left my next blog will be next Sunday unless something really interesting happens before then.
Monday 31st July
Sadly the youngest chick in nb1 south died yesterday. It looked fine the night before, but when I checked the camera yesterday morning it was dead. It was only 18 days old. This awful July weather has taken a terrible toll on the chicks and that’s the sixth one I’ve lost due to starvation this month. Total number of chicks 40. Number of chick fatalities 6. Number of chicks fledged 22 out of 34. Number of chicks being hand fed 2 out of 34. Number of chicks still to fledge 10.
I’ve completed the oval entrance hole modifications on three of my Zeist boxes. It was a bit fiddly trying to adapt a D-shaped hole into an oval shape, but with the help of plenty of filler I managed to do it. I must admit I am quite pleased with the outcome. What I’m doing I would never normally recommend to anyone, but I have a unique situation here that needs urgent attention. The problem is a combination of the D-shaped entrance hole and the proximity of next doors roof which slightly impedes the entry of a returning swift. It only slows them down by a fraction of a second but that’s enough time for a sparrowhawk to strike. By making the hole larger I hope to give the returning swift a slight advantage. However a 45mm oval entrance hole will also allow all sorts of other birds in, the most problematic being sparrows and starlings who can be a real nuisance towards swifts. That’s why I would never recommend to anyone what I am doing. However as I haven’t seen a sparrow or starling nesting here for years it’s not a problem at Swift House. The larger hole should make it easier for my swifts to enter, saving them a few vital seconds. It is those seconds which might mean the difference between life and death. Below are some before and after photos.
The missing partner of nb5 west returned last night after an absence of over a week. I assumed it had been predated by the sparrowhawk and fostered one of its chicks into another box only a couple of days ago, which is a bit annoying to say the least. Finally some good news. I thought all the prospectors had gone but I have a new bird roosting in nb2 west. It’s been there for the last couple of nights, so I’m hopeful it will be back next year to breed in that box.
Sunday 30th July
On Friday night one of the chicks from nb5 north fell from the box and died. It was 34-day-old chick and severely underweight at only 20g (it should have been nearer to 48g). There are 2 adults in that box so I would have expected both chicks to have been well fed. There are two possible reasons why it was so underweight. Firstly there may have been something else wrong with it, or secondly its parent were just very poor providers. However on finding the dead chick made me more concerned about the 2 chicks in nb5 west who only have one parent to feed them. Not wanting to lose another chick to starvation I decided to weigh them both to see how heavy they were. That’s a good way of telling if they’re getting enough food. The largest chick (33-day-old) weighed 39g which is under what you would expect for a chick that age (45-48g). However the smaller chick (31-day-old) weighed only 32g, which is considerably lower than desired 45-48g. Based on these weights and not wanting to risk another fatality I decided to remove the larger chick. I’ve fostered it into nb3 south. That box contains one 42-day-old chick and a foster 33-day-old chick. The 42-day-old chick should fledge anytime now. My hope is it will go soon leaving both the foster chicks behind. The smaller chick I left in nb5 west. It will be well looked after by the single parent and should start to put on its missing weight over the next few days.
Yesterday the foster chick in nb3 north fledged. I moved it into that box from nb4 north five days ago. During its brief stay in its new home it was well looked after by its foster parents. It was 39 days old when it left.
Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 5. Total number of chicks fledged 22 out of 35. Total number of chicks being hand fed 2 out of 35.
Saturday 29th July
Yesterday was another good day weather-wise being reasonably warm and dry. However not much swift activity other than the adults returning every now and then to feed their young. I don’t believe I’ll see anymore prospecting activity this year as the weather shows no sign of improving. The Portland Bird Observatory post on 26th July reported lots of swifts and hirundines migrating out across the sea. Some will undoubtably be young fledglings but others will be adult birds departing too.
I think I’ll start taking down some of my unoccupied Zeist boxes and begin the entrance hole modifications. I contacted a couple of swift experts yesterday about the hole dimension and 45mm seems to be about the right size. One of the downsides of having such a large colony is that it attracts the attention of the local birds of prey. And it’s not only me who has been affected by this over the last couple of years. In the belfry of St Marys Church in St Neots before the pandemic there were 48 pairs of swifts. This year all they found was lots of abandoned eggs and only 6 boxes with chicks. They don’t know which bird was the culprit. I was also told that Kestrels have decimated the colony in All Saints Church, Worlington. From a high of 30 pairs of swifts a couple of years ago to only 10 pairs this year.
The two hand fed chicks are doing well. The larger chick has put on 4g and now weighs 33g. The little one who was really struggling is now beginning to put on weight again. It is still not as active as its sibling but it’s getting there. In my boxes I’ve got 13 chicks left to go. Six should fledge in the next week, another 5 around 10th August and all being well the remaining 2 around 22nd August.
Friday 28th July
A much quieter day on the swift front with no dramas although the sparrowhawk did return again to chance its luck last night. It seems to be targeting the row of Zeist boxes I have on the west side. That’s where most of the adults have gone missing. I’ve been watching these boxes and I think I’ve found the reason why. The swifts using these boxes enter them slightly slower than the swifts using my bottom entrance boxes. It’s only a few seconds slower but long enough for the hawk to grab them. I think the fault is down to the size and shape of the entrance hole. In the autumn when the swifts have gone I’m going to change them all and make the entrance hole bigger. I’m going to try round holes to help speed up their entry.
Both the chicks I’m hand feeding have perked up and seem to be doing well after they ordeal.
Yesterday afternoon our good friend Tom Carter filmed this beautiful video of a hummingbird hawk-moth feeding off some verbena sissinghurst on our patio.
Thursday 27th July
Yesterday the last chick in nb6 north fledged. A few hours earlier I had removed the foster chick from that box. It was very hungry so I kept it and fed it until late afternoon before placing it back in nb4 north. Later that evening it got its first feed when both adults returned.
I found a grim discovery on the garage roof. A ring of plucked swift feathers. It looks like the sparrowhawk had taken at least one of the adults from nb10. I think it may have taken 4 adults this year. We had a problem with it last year where it also took several adults late in the season. I looked up to see how long they live and the average age is 2.7 years, so hopefully it might not be around next year. With no adults seen in nb10 for 2 days I removed both chicks – 1 x 17 days (14g and barely alive) and the other 19 days (29g). Unfortunately I have no suitable box to foster them into so both will have to be hand fed until they are ready to leave. Whilst I was on the garage roof I also found a dead chick. I think it might be the chick from nb5 south. When we came back from Devon on 20th July it was missing along with the remaining parent. That surprised me somewhat as it was only 37 days old. Most chicks this year are fledging around the 42-43 day mark. I think it may have fallen out and starved to death. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 4.Total number of chicks fledged 21 out of 36. Total number of chicks currently being hand fed 2 out of 36.
Last night I did a count of all the adults and chicks remaining in my boxes. There are 22 adults and 13 chicks left, down from 36 adults and 40 chicks at its peak. Only eight boxes now have chicks in them. Out of these boxes four have two adults and two chicks. One box has two adults and one chick. Two boxes have one adult and one chick and one box (nb5 west) has one adult and two chicks. As long as I don’t lose any more adults the only box causing some concern is nb5 west. However the single adult in that box seems to be providing enough food for both chicks, so no need for me to intervene.
Wednesday 26th July
Both adults now missing in nb10 west (2 chicks 1 x 17 days,1 x 19 days). Not sure what’s going on in that box. However better news in nb5 west, one adult returned last night after both were missing the night before. I’ll keep watching both boxes to see if the others return today. Their absence might be down to a male sparrowhawk who keeps hanging about the house at dusk. I wonder if its presence is putting some of the adults off from entering their boxes.
Not such good news on the foster chick I placed in nb6 north as the remaining adult didn’t return last night either. However there is something I can do to help it. The missing adult from nb4 north (its parent) returned last night after a 2 day absence, so later on today or tomorrow I’ll move it back into its original box (nb4 north) after I’ve given it a few good feeds. I’ll leave the 45 day old chick where it is in nb6 north because it should fledge on its own without any help from its parent or me.
Some more good news. The second chick in nb3 north has fledged leaving behind the foster chick from nb4 north to be cared for by its adopted parents. That seems to be working fine. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 3. Total number of chicks fledged 21 out of 37.
The weather was really nice for once yesterday and the warm sunshine brought out lots of insects. I counted at least 7 different species of butterflies and the garden was buzzing with the sound of bees and hover-flies. Hopefully it also meant lots of insects for the swifts as well.
Tuesday 25th July
Apologies for the late blog but it’s been an extremely busy 24 hours.
The weather is really starting to have an attritional effect on all the remaining chicks at Swift House. In an average summer it normally only impacts the larger broods of three, but this year is extreme and it’s starting to adversely effect my broods of two. Even some adults are starting to leave early. It’s not only me who is seeing this either. There are reports of grounded swift chicks all across the UK.
Sadly it looks like one adult in nb4 north was trying to look after 3 chicks. So to help and buoyed by the success of fostering a chick into nb1 west on Sunday I decided to do the same again with 2 of the chicks from nb4 north. The largest chick (34-day old, 38g) I fostered into nb3 north. There is a 46-day-old chick in that box due to fledge today. The smallest chick (34-day old, 28g) I fostered into box nb6 north. There is a 44 day-old chick in that box also due to fledge anytime now. The middle chick (34-day old, 34g) I left in nb4 for single adult to look after. Hopefully both the larger chicks will fledge in the next day or two leaving the foster chicks behind to be raised by their new parents.
I also moved a couple of other chicks due to their size difference. In both nb3 south and nb5 north there was one huge chick compared to its sibling. So to even out the pecking order in both boxes I moved the largest chick from nb5 north and fostered it into nb3 south. At the same time I moved the smaller chick in nb3 south and placed it in nb5 north. The 2 chicks in nb3 south now are the same size (40g plus) but 8 days apart in age (1 x 28 days – 1 x 36 days). The 2 chicks in nb5 north are now roughly the same size (25-30g), but 7 days apart in age (1 x 28 days – 1 x 35 days). Hopefully by levelling up the sizes there’s no dominant chick now in each box grabbing the lions share of the feeds.
Last night no adults returned to nb5 west (2 four week old chicks in that box) and only one adult returned in nb10 west (2 two week old chicks in that box). I can’t believe their absence is all down to the local sparrowhawk who has been seen around the last couple of days. More likely it’s down due to the poor weather. I read recently that an adult returned 2 weeks after going missing. Whilst that gives me some hope, 2 weeks is a long time for the chicks to survive on their own. Let’s hope they all return in the next day or two. I hope so as I’m running out of suitable foster boxes to place them in. I’ve still got another 17 chicks to fledge.
Monday 24th July
A bit of good and bad news to report this morning. First the good news. A window of opportunity presented itself late yesterday afternoon. The last chick in nb1 west was just about to fledge so whilst both its parents were out I placed the little chick I’d been feeding into the same box (see LH photo). It had recovered reasonably well in the couple of days I’d had it and was looking much better. It also had put on about 8g and was back up to 30g. A couple of hours later the original chick fledged leaving just my foster chick. Both adults returned later that evening and as far as I could tell fed the little foster chick (see RH photo). Hopefully they’ll look after it now until it fledges in about a weeks time.
Now the bad news. A sparrowhawk was hanging about last night and one of the adults in nb4 north is missing. That box has 3 chicks in it, including a foster chick about 34 days old. They still have about 9 or 10 days to go. so if one adult is missing there’s no way a single adult can feed 3 chicks for that long. I’ll monitor that box today to see what happens, but if the missing adult fails to return I’ll have to remove 2 chicks to give all 3 a chance of survival.
The third chick in nb12 west has also fledged. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 3. Total number of chicks fledged 20 out of 37.
Sunday 23rd July
Despite the awful weather yesterday another 4 chicks fledged. I think they might have left in the morning just before it started to rain. I hope so. Two went from nb12 west, one from nb3 north and another from nb6 north. The first two years of a fledglings life are the most dangerous. According to Lack over 70% or 7 out of every 10 don’t make it. This high mortality rate is due to their age and inexperience, however if they can survive the first two years then their life expectancy improves considerably. After two years they have a much lower mortality rate of around 16% or 1 in 6 and can live for another 15 or 20 years, much longer than songbirds of a similar size.
The 32 day old chick I’m looking after is slowly gaining strength and starting to look a bit better. It was almost dead when I rescued it on Friday night and weighed only 22g. Yesterday it had over 10 feeds and has put a little bit of weight back on and it now weighs 25g. I’m hoping to try and foster it in the coming days, but I really need to get it up to over 40g before I do.
Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 3. Total number of chicks fledged 18 out of 37. That’s just under half the chicks this year now fledged.
Saturday 22nd July
I spent yesterday catching up on what’s be going on in all my boxes. Sadly one of the chicks in nb10 west has died. That’s the box where I placed the abandoned newly hatched chick on 7th July. I’m not sure if it’s the same chick or when it died, but looking at it’s size it probably died sometime whilst we were away. Lat night I also had to remove one of the chicks from nb11 west that was really struggling. That’s the box I was closely monitoring as there is only one adult in there. I was hoping the single parent might be able to raise both chicks, but alas it just wasn’t capable of feeding them both. The chick I removed was very weak and severely underweight weighing only 22g when it should have been over 45g. Unfortunately I don’t have a suitable foster box at the moment, so I will have to hand rear it for the time being. On a happier note the chick I hand fed for a while before fostering into nb4 north is doing really well. It’s the LH chick in the photo below. It’s slightly smaller than its foster siblings but nevertheless looks really fit and healthy. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 3. Total number of chicks fledged 14 out of 37.
Friday 21st July
When I first checked my cameras yesterday I thought the remaining chick in nb1 west had gone, but when I checked them again late last night it was itting back on the nest. However quite a few others have definitely gone. In total 9 chicks fledged whilst we were away. All 3 chicks in nb4 south, both chicks in nb2 and nb6 west, 1 chick in nb 6 north and the single chick in nb5 south. I’m not 100% sure if the chick from nb5 south was really big enough to go, but the box is empty so fingers crossed it made it. Another 8 are due to leave anytime now, let’s hope they go this morning before the rotten weather arrives on Saturday. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 2. Total number of chicks fledged 14 out of 38.
Thursday 20th July
Just got back from Devon and lots of screaming activity around the house as the adults try to entice some youngsters out. I think the remaining chick in nb1 west has gone (the last one of three), however I can’t be 100% sure as the entrance hole is just out of camera view. There are also chicks missing in another 6 boxes as well. Will have to check later tonight to see who has actually gone or is just out of camera view.
Monday 17th July (We’re taking a swift break for a few days with our youngest grandson, so no more blogs until late Thursday or Friday)
A break in the weather yesterday allowed 4 chicks to fledge. All 3 went in nb3 south plus the 2nd chick in nb1 west. They all slipped out quietly and I didn’t realise they were gone until I checked my cameras late last night. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of live chicks 38. Total number of chick fatalities 2. Total number of fledglings 5 out of 38.
A couple of days ago I had an email from Roy Wainde from Sapcote in Leicestershire. He told me that during lockdown in 2020 he decided to build himself a swift box. His wife was happy with this just as long as it matched the brickwork. So he set about making a bespoke apex box with a brick front to match the rest of the house. These he cut with an angle grinder to match the bricks on his house and give grip for the swifts. It’s been up for a couple of years without any luck however that was all about to change. On 19th May this year he finally got his first pair. And to make it more special it was on his birthday, as well as mine! Now that’s a birthday present for him to remember. I was so impressed by his workmanship I asked him if I could feature it on my blog which he kindly said yes to. Doesn’t it look absolutely fantastic. I bet you’re just as impressed as I am.
Sunday 16th July
Yesterday was another truly awful day weather-wise. It focused my attention even more on the two boxes with two chicks in each and only one parent to feed them. Following on from yesterdays blog I was minded to leave the chick in nb5 south as it only had a week or so to fledge. My intention was to foster a chick from nb11 west which has another 3 weeks to go. Unfortunately I was unable find a suitable foster box to put it into. The only really suitable foster box was nb3 south, but the adults in there have already rejected one chick so I was reluctant to add a third back in again. Instead I weighed them both just to check how heavy they were and thankfully they were both in pretty good condition – one was 40g and the other 45g. As both chicks were a good weight I decided it was probably best to leave them in nb11 west and just carry on monitoring them for the time being. Not an ideal solution I know, but I can always hand rear one in the future if needs be. The good news is I saw the single parent return with food at least 3 times.
However with regards to the other chick in box nb5 south there was a suitable box to foster it into. In nb12 west there are 2 chicks exactly the same age and size. Taking into account the terrible recent weather and with no real change in sight either, I decided it probably was worth fostering a chick after all, even though it only has another week to go. So that’s what I did in the end. That should take the pressure off the single parent in nb5 south who will be able to look after the remaining chick more easily from now on. As for the adults in nb12 west, they are excellent providers and should be able to cope with an extra mouth for a week or so without any problem. At least that’s one box sorted out. In the photo below the foster chick is the one on top of the other two.
There’s some really good data about the number of feeds per young in David Lack’s book ‘Swifts in a Tower’ (page 191). He recorded the number of feeds in a 10 hour period (8am-6pm) in both fine and poor weather. It really emphasises the drop in feeds per young in poor weather in the larger broods. His data is based on both parents bringing back food, therefore if one adult goes missing the numbers of feed per young is half what’s shown in the chart below. However the parent(s) will still bring in feeds either side of this 10 hour period so the number of feeds per young will be slightly higher, but it gives you a good indication of what’s likely to be going on.
Brood in fine weather, average number of feeds per young
1 = 8.9
2 = 7.4
3 = 6.4
Brood in poor weather, average number of feeds per young
1 = 7.4
2 = 3.5
3 = 2.2
In nb1 south the last chicks to hatch are doing well. That’s the box that knocked an egg out last Monday (see Tuesdays blog). Ironically the poor weather is having less of an impact on these very small chicks as both parents are still dividing up their bolus and sharing it between them. So both chicks are getting several good feeds a day despite the rotten weather.
Saturday 15th July
Our first chick has fledged from nb1 west. It was 40 days old which is a few days earlier than expected. I’m pretty sure it went late on Thursday night but it’s taken me a couple of days to confirm. The only way to really check is very late at night after it’s been dark for an hour or two. By that time any chick that has been looking out the entrance hole will have returned to the nest. Then the next problem is trying to count how many are actually there. When you have 3 chicks and a couple of adults it’s very difficult to tell who’s there when they’re all snuggled up in a tight ball. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of live chicks 38. Total number of chick fatalities 2. Total number of fledglings 1 out of 38.
Yesterday was a terrible day weather wise. It rained non-stop from dawn until just before 6pm. The adults did there best to bring food in but it was very limited. Some taking between 4 and 5 hours to return. No chicks got more than a one or two feeds and several had none at all.
Still only one adult in both nb5 south and nb11 west. Past experience here has shown one adult really struggles to bring up 2 chicks successfully. However I’m thinking of leaving the 2 chicks in nb5 south as they’re so close to fledging. They’ve only got another week to go and should just about cope. With regard to nb11 west I’m minded to foster one chick into another box as it’s only just over 3 weeks old and potentially has another 3 weeks to go.
Friday 14th July
A seasonably deep low pressure is forecast to hit the UK today. It will bring heavy rain followed by gale force winds and last at least until Saturday night. It couldn’t happen at a worse time for all the chicks in my boxes, especially the ones that have just hatched recently. They’re unlikely to get anything much to eat for the next couple of days. An anxious two days now lies ahead. Nothing much to report from yesterday except it did brighten up considerably after a wet morning and the afternoon turned out sunny and warm. Excellent conditions for the adults to find insects, so at least all the chicks were well fed before the storm arrives today.
Thursday 13th July
Yesterday the final egg in nb1 west hatched. That’s the last egg in the colony this year. The laying dates this year has been quite spread out. A total of 46 eggs were laid over a 6 week period, with the first being laid on 13th May and the last on 26th June. Historically the fledging date for my nestlings is 43 days. The earliest recorded fledgling was 37 days old and the latest 55 days old. Based on that historic data my first nestlings should fledge over this coming weekend and the last being sometime towards the end of August.
Only one adult last night in both nb5 south & nb11 west. There are 2 chicks in each box. In nb5 south they are about 31days old and in nb11 west they are about 21days old. I’m not sure if the missing adults are still here or have gone for good. Sometimes towards the end of the season some will stay out at night. I’ll will have to keep a close eye on both boxes from now on.
Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of eggs hatched 40. Total number of chick fatalities 2. Total number of live chicks 38.
Wednesday 12th July
Yesterday the first egg in nb1 west has hatched. Not sure if it was the one I replaced the day before, but so glad I did. Now all eyes on the last egg to see what happens. Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 39. Remaining eggs 1. Total number of chick fatalities 2 of the 39.
The chick I hand fed for almost a week before fostering into nb4 north is doing well. It’s slightly smaller than its two foster siblings despite being exactly the same age. I think that’s because it took a day or two to settle in after I fostered it and missed out on a few feeds at first. However it soon learnt that it needed to fight for each feed and has held its own since then. It’s the right hand chick in the photo below.
I finally got a look into nb10 west. That’s where I placed the newly hatched chick from nb10 west on Friday night. At that time the nest contained another newly hatched chick and a egg. The great news is the egg has hatched and all 3 chicks are doing well. You can just about make out all 3 in the photos below.
And finally, the pair in nb3 west that abandoned their single chick and deserted the box returned last night. They won’t breed again this year but the fact that they’re still using the box bodes well for next year. Hopefully they’ll be more experienced by then and less likely to desert.
Tuesday 11th July
The third and smallest chick in nb5 south died yesterday morning. It was OK the night before although it looked like it was struggling a bit. I thought it was safe to leave it overnight and remove it in the morning. Sadly it must have been struggling more than I realised. It was 4 weeks old. Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 38. Remaining eggs 2. Total number of chick fatalities 2 of the 38.
Yesterday one of the eggs in nb1 south was knocked out of the nest. You can just see it in the top left hand photo. As it was due to hatch imminently I couldn’t leave it where it was. That meant opening the hatch whilst the parent bird was still sitting. I’m normally reluctant to do this but circumstances dictated that a speedy response was needed. I quietly opened the hatch and the sitting bird moved off the nest. It didn’t fly out just moved to the other end of the box. I picked up the egg and had a quick look to see if it was OK and popped it straight back in the nest. The operation took less than 60 seconds. A couple of minutes later the bird returned and resumed incubating. I’m not sure how long the egg was out of the nest but I know they can survive many hours uncovered. I’m hopeful it will be OK.
Following on the theme from yesterdays blog below is an extract taken from ‘Swifts in the Tower’ book by David Lack (page 186). I think it’s quite relevant as I lost another chick yesterday from a clutch of 3.
“Swifts normally lay two or 3 eggs in a clutch, and just as their date of laying seems adapted to feeding conditions after the young have hatched, so the number of eggs laid corresponds with the number of young that the parents can raise. In most years some of the nestlings have died through failure of the parents to bring them enough food, and the proportion dying has been larger in larger broods. A few broods (due to hatching failures) have consisted of a single nestling, and of these 94% have been raised, while in broods of two 82%, in broods of three 72% and in one brood of four 50%, of the young have been raised. A few nestlings have fallen accidentally from the nest, but nearly all other deaths have been due to inability of the two parents to bring in enough food.”
This was written over 70 years ago when insect numbers were supposedly much higher than they are today and yet Lack still reported chick fatalities due to lack of food. These were mainly in the larger clutches where one chick died in every other clutch of 3. Just for the record my own figures taken over many years on chick fatalities are very similar to Lacks, albeit based on a much smaller sample.
Hannah Bourne-Taylor’s petition to “make swift brick mandatory in new builds” was debated in parliament yesterday. It received cross-party support with many eloquent and heart-warming speeches from MP’s for mandating these bricks into new builds. Sadly the Conservative minister in charge and to a lesser extent the Labour shadow minster were less supportive. The government minister at the end of the debate refusing to agree to mandate swift brick installation. Her only concession was to agree to meet the MPs and campaigners later to discuss the matter further. It was a no-brainer of a debate and I just can’t understand the minister’s negative stance. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement! The debate can be watched again with this link.
Monday 10th July
Yesterday the second egg in nb10 west hatched. That’s the box I put the newly hatched egg into a couple of days ago. Unfortunately because of the poor camera angle I’m still trying to get a good look inside. However I’ve definitely seen two little heads bobbing up and down so I’m hopeful it survived. Only one pair now on eggs, that’s nb1 south and they’re due to hatch today. I’m slightly concerned about the weather forecast for the coming week. It says low pressure will dominate with below average temperatures and frequent heavy, thundery showers. That’s not a great forecast especially for the broods of 3 of which I have 7. I’ve got 2 broods of 3 due to fledge by 15th July and another 2 by 24th July. The other three don’t leave until early August. The smaller chicks in all these broods may well struggle to be fed if the weather remains poor. What’s worrying me is that some may try and fledge early which would be disastrous. I’ll have to keep a close eye on all these boxes from now on. I think all the swift rehabbers across the country are going to be very busy for the next few weeks. Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 38. Remaining eggs 2. Total number of chick fatalities 1 of the 38.
Sunday 9th July
Hannah Bourne-Taylors petition to make swift bricks mandatory in new builds is up for debate in parliament tomorrow. The good news is that quite a few conservative MPs have come out in support. See this article in The Guardian newspaper a couple of days ago.
Thankfully a much quieter day yesterday after all the drama of Friday night. Unfortunately I can’t quite see into the nest of nb10 west to see what’s going on with the newly hatched chick I put in there. I know there are chicks as I can see them being fed. However I don’t know how many as there is always an adult shielding my view to get a real look. I’ll keeping watching though. There are only 2 chicks in nb11 west now not 3. It’s another difficult nest to monitor as the camera angle is poor. I know there were 3 chicks to begin with, but I assume the third chick died some time ago and was removed by its parents. Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 37. Remaining eggs 3. Total number of chick fatalities 1 of the 37.
Saturday 8th July
Yesterday the first egg hatched in nb10 west and to my surprise there was also a second egg in nb1 south. They are both due to hatch on Monday. Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 37. Remaining eggs 3.
The little chick in nb5 north that was causing me concern in Fridays blog seems to be OK. Early yesterday morning I was thinking of removing it when one parent returned and fed it. Low and behold 20 minutes later the second parent returned and it got another feed. I watched it for the rest of the day and it got numerous feeds. It was almost as if they parents suddenly realised they had another chick and began feeding it in earnest. Remarkable in just one day its doubled in size. It is the left hand chick in this photo. Compare that to yesterdays photo below.
Something quite remarkable happened last night, something I’ve never seen before. The abandoned egg in nb3 west that was lying on the floor of the box hatched. Its parents having previously tossed the egg out twice. The first time they threw it out I put it back in the nest but when they threw it out for a second time I just left it on the floor. I assumed it was addled. Then by sheer chance as I was checking my cameras at 9.45pm last night I noticed something moving. It was a newly hatched chick. I immediately removed it, warmed it up and gave it a small fly dipped in water. I placed it back in the nest hoping its parents would return. Alas by 10.30pm it was obvious they had deserted the box. It’s only chance for survival now was to place it in nb10 west but that meant disturbing the adults in that box. Weighing up the options I decided to risk it. It was dark and both adults were in the box. As soon as I opened the inspection hatch they both flew out. I placed the little chick in the nest next to the newly hatched chick and another egg. A sleepless night followed worrying if I had done the right thing. The good news and to my immense relief is that both adults are back on the nest and have fed both chicks. Fingers crossed the little chick will be OK now. Hopefully I’ll get a good look at it today.
Friday 7th July
My optimism yesterday with nb3 west was misplaced. The partner had just returned after a weeks absence and they had both resumed incubating their single egg. Sadly a few hours later it was thrown out of the nest. I can only assume it was infertile and both birds knew there was something wrong with it. Perhaps it gives off a bad odour which tells them to discard it. Too late in the season for them to lay again, so they will have to wait until next year to have another go. The chick I fostered into nb4 north seems to have settled in well. I’ve been keeping a close watch on that box since I put it in. I saw it get at least a couple of feeds so I expect it probably got a lot more than that during the day. There is however another chick causing me some concern now. In nb5 north there are only 2 chicks. Both hatched on 26th June, however one is massive compared to the other. Being the same age I would have expected them to be almost identical in size, but the bigger one seems to be getting the loins share of the feeds. I may have to temporarily remove the smaller one for a few days just to give it a fighting chance.
Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 7. Total number of chicks 35. Remaining eggs 3.
Thursday 6th July
Good news the screamers are back this morning after a weeks absence.
Yesterday at noon I fostered the little chick I’ve been looking after into nb4 north. The adults in that box are really good parents and bring back several more feeds per day than the chicks parents in nb3 south. Plus the chicks in that box are exactly the same age (15 days) and weight (30g) whereas in nb3 south they’re a couple of days older and slightly larger. So weighing all these factors up I decided nb4 north was a safer option. As sheer luck would have it both adults in nb4 north returned at the same time at 11.30am and both chicks got fed. I gave my chick the last food I had and popped it straight in once the adults had left. I looked after it for 5 days. When I first started to feed it it weighed only 14g, yesterday it weighed 30g and looked really fit and healthy. It was a little subdued to start with and missed out on a few feeds, but eventually on the adults fifth return it got it’s first feed. The LH photo shows its weight prior to fostering. The middle photo shows it on top of the other two chicks. The RH photo is just after it received its first feed.
Some other good news yesterday. I was convinced the single adult in nb3 west had deserted the box. The single egg had been left uncovered for most of the day. Eventfully it came back in and settled down on the nest and to my surprise its partner returned just before it got dark. That’s the first time I’ve seen them together for over a week. The egg is due to hatch anytime now, so fingers crossed it is still viable after all that has gone on.
Wednesday 5th July
Another really terrible day yesterday, rained non-stop the whole time. The only consolation was it wasn’t windy. Slightly better forecast for the next 3 days peaking on Friday. Hopefully it will give all the chicks time to recover. Definitely only one bird incubating in nb3 west. Being on its only it’s having to leave its egg for long periods during the day to feed. It is due to hatch today, but I’m not so sure it will having been left so long uncovered. Even if it does I’ve never heard of a single adult raising one chick from the moment it hatches. One glimmer of hope is I’ve seen a lone bird repeatedly banging on the entrance of nb3 west over the last couple of days. Is this the absent partner just keeping in touch? One can only hope. Decision day for the little chick. Which box to put it in, either nb3 south or nb4 north.
Tuesday 4th July
A really awful day yesterday weather-wise. Strong, buffeting winds and heavy showers kept it unseasonably cool for the time of year. Most adults stayed in for longer than normal and when they did venture out found the conditions very difficult to get back in. I saw one bird making 10 attempts to get in before it finally succeeded. This weather couldn’t have come at a worse time for the chicks as they need all the food they can get. I don’t think many had a good feed yesterday. More of a concern however is the new pair in nb3 west. They have only one egg which is due to hatch either today or tomorrow. However one of the pair went missing yesterday. The sitting bird desperate for food was forced to leave the egg uncovered from 6pm until 10pm last night, that’s not ideal at all. Not only was the egg left uncovered for several hours but in the photo below you can just make out 2 crataerina cradling it for warmth. I’m not sure if the missing bird was just a temporary thing or something more sinister has happened. I hope it was just down to the bad weather and it will return today otherwise I fear the worst for that egg.
One important correction to make about yesterday’s blog. I was adding a tiny amount of vitamin and mineral supplement to each feed. I’ve been told that’s far too much and that I only need to add it to one feed at day. Despite my inexperience in these matters the chick continues to put on weight and now weighs 27g. My plan is to re-introduce it back into a box tomorrow as the weather looks much better. I am torn between putting it back into it’s original box nb3 south with its two siblings who are slightly older and bigger and take the chance it won’t be rejected by it’s parents again or put it into nb4 north. In that box there are 2 chicks exactly the same age and size where it should stand a better chance of being fed more often. One to ponder over today.
Monday 3rd July
I always feel a bit cheated when we get a low pressure in charge of our weather in July. We’ve only got another 4 weeks before the majority of swifts leave and low pressure kills off the prospecting activity completely. Everyday is so precious that I don’t want to lose any. Looking at the forecast there’s a brief glimmer of something warmer on Friday and Saturday before low pressure back in charge again. Bah humbug!
The little chick I’m temporarily feeding put on slightly less weight yesterday despite seemingly eating more. It only put on 1g and now weighs 22g. Perhaps it’s consolidating the gains it made over the last couple of days. It does however look really healthy and alert. I’m also adding a vitamin and mineral supplement to each feed as I don’t want to make the same mistake as I did with Cyrus last year. If you remember Cyrus grow well and put on weight but his body was weak and he was unable to fly when he needed to. I was struggling to know what to do and had to take him to Gillian Westray to look after. She coaxed Cyrus back to health and he fledged a couple of weeks later. I found out from Gillian that his poor condition was down to an inferior diet that was lacking in vitamins and minerals. She gave me a list of supplements to buy which I’m now using for every feed.
Sunday 2nd July
The second egg in nb5 west has hatched, however I reckon it hatched late on Friday judging by the size of the chick. Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 35. Remaining eggs 4.
The little chick I’m temporarily hand feeding is doing really well. It’s up to 21g and looking much more alert. I’ll keep looking after it for a few more days before re-introducing it back into its box. That will probably be on Wednesday as Tuesday’s weather looks really poor. No point putting it back in if the parents aren’t out and about bringing back food.
Saturday 1st July
It’s been a remarkable quiet season so far regarding the health of all the chicks thank goodness. However yesterday I had to remove the third and smallest chick from nb3 south. I’ve been watching this box closely for the last couple of days and it became obvious that this little chick just wasn’t getting fed. It’s 10 days old and weighed only 14g, half the size of its two slightly older siblings (11 & 12 days old – 30g apiece). I shall feed it for a few days before re-introducing back into the same box once I’ve got it’s weight and strength back up again. Ironically this is the same box where last year I had to remove another chick from for the same reason. We named that chick Cyrus. The LH photo shows the 2 larger siblings side by side facing right with the little chick tucked in behind them. The middle photo just after I removed the little chick. The RH photo it’s first feed in 2 days, needless-to-say it was starving.
Friday 30th June
A couple of years ago I had a phone call from the author Mark Cocker. He was writing a book about swifts and wondered if I had any unusual stories he could use. I told him about a swift colony we visited on the top of Dartmoor. About a dozen pairs of swifts were nesting under the thatch and in a variety of swift boxes along a row of old cottages in Drewsteignton. We had donated some of my old swift boxes to RSPB and were told one was used on a cottage there. What struck me about this was the location. If you had asked me before I visited whether swifts would nest in these cottages I would have said no. Everything was wrong about it. I could almost touch the nest boxes. The cottages were tucked in behind a wall with lots of criss crossing wires above. However the swifts didn’t seem bothered by this at all and we watched them expertly manoeuvre through the hazards. It opened my eyes to the fact that swifts are quite resourceful birds and will adapt to a myriad of different locations. It also taught me a valuable lesson about keeping an open mind and be prepared for the unexpected. Marks book on swifts entitled ‘One Midsummer’s Day’ was published a few weeks ago. I haven’t a chance to fully read it yet, but our visit to Drewsteignton is on page 143.
Below are a few photos outside the cottages. My donated box is in the right hand photo.
Thursday 29th June
A sunnier and less windy start to this morning has brought some of the prospectors back. A small group of 3 arrived around 6am and began investigating the boxes.
I was given a shortened version of the mp3 swift attraction calls this summer by my friend Lester Hartmann. In May I sent it to a dozen or so swift enthusiasts to trial. These were to people who were having difficulties attracting swifts, some have been trying for many years. I had a few emails back saying they’ve got swifts in their boxes for the very first time. One box almost immediately after 15 years of trying! Encouraged by this a few weeks ago I offered the calls on our Bristol Swifts facebook group. Again the responses back have been positive with now about six people saying they’ve attracted swifts for the first time. I know it sounds almost too good to be true but it definitely seems to work in some places. If you would like a copy please email me via our Bristol Swifts contact page. The calls are only a few seconds long, so you’ll have to play them via the repeat function on your mp3 system. All is ask is to let me know how you get on.
Yesterday the first egg in nb5 west hatched. Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 34. Remaining eggs 5.
Wednesday 28th June
Hardly any prospecting activity yesterday due to the cooler conditions. All very quiet just the adults coming back with food. I don’t expect to see any real prospecting activity until the weather warms up again. The weekend weather looks promising though.
Starting on Saturday 1st and going on until Sunday 9th July is 2023 Swift Awareness Week. Over 70 swift events are taking place across the country. They include talks, open gardens, stalls and walks. If your interested click on this link to see what’s taking place near you. We held a Swift Awareness/Open Garden weekend a couple of weeks ago as the swift activity was so good. Our garden wasn’t looking too bad then either!
Tuesday 27th June
The change in weather conditions yesterday brought a change in prospecting activity. It was much cooler with quite a fresh breeze and there was virtually no prospecting at all, not even in the evening. I don’t think it was to do with the lower temperature either, more likely it was down to the strength of the wind.
Our new pair in nb1 north didn’t return to roost last night, preferring instead to make regular visits to their box during the day. Maybe this is a sign that they’re not ready to breed. But by regularly visiting during the day this maybe to deter other non-breeders from claiming their box.
I finally managed to see the pair in my non-camera box. I was cutting the hedge out the front and saw both entering with large boluses. A sure sign there’s chicks in that box.
Both eggs have hatched in nb5 north. Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 33. Remaining eggs 6.
The breakdown of clutch sizes. 8 pairs laid 3 eggs. 8 pairs laid 2 eggs and 2 pairs laid only 1 egg. However the pairs with only 1 egg may well have more as they began incubating also immediately so I’ve not had a proper look inside their nests. That’s just under 50% of pairs with clutches of 3. Last year 75% of my pairs had clutches of 3.
Colony status. 19 pairs. 18 pairs in camera boxes – 13 pairs with chicks, 4 pairs still on eggs and one pair of non-breeders. 1 pair in non camera box with chicks.
Monday 26th June
The newcomer in nb1 north might not be roosting in that box overnight but I shouldn’t have worried. Yesterday it brought a new partner back in to have a look around. I don’t think they’ll have a go at breeding but it bodes well for next year. That takes the number of pairs up to 19 – a new record at Swift House. 18 pairs are in my camera boxes and 1 pair in a non-camera box. 17 pairs in my camera boxes have either chicks or eggs and I’m pretty sure there are chicks in the non-camera box as well. Despite the attention of the prospectors no singletons in any of my empty boxes yet. I only have 6 spare so availability getting less by the day. All 7 boxes on the north side and 5 out of the 6 boxes on the south side are occupied. On the west side 7 out of 12 are full. This is where most of my empty boxes are situated. The access into these boxes is slightly more awkward due to the closeness of the neighbouring house and this probably explains why most of the empty boxes are on this side.
Sunday 25th June
Wow wasn’t it hot yesterday. 30 years ago on another blistering hot summers day we had our sprinkler on in the garden. Our kids just loved it. Excitedly running through the jets of water and having a whale of a time. Yesterday our youngest grandson spent the afternoon doing exactly the same. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most rewarding. Also it watered the vegetables which really needed it.
Early yesterday morning saw quite a bit of prospecting before 8am. After that it slowed down and by the afternoon it’s non existent. I reckon there’s between 8 and 12 youngsters who regularly visit our colony. They also seem to come in waves, spending 10 minutes or so banging all the boxes before disappearing over to a neighbouring colony. I suspect they might visit every colony in the local area. Before 8am they’re here roughly every half hour, after that about once an hour. By the afternoon it’s all quiet. They return around 8pm and resume prospecting until dusk. The evening activity is just as intense as the early morning reaching its peak just as it gets dark. Here is a short video filmed yesterday morning of them prospecting.
The third egg has hatched in nb11 west. However I suspect it hatched on Saturday judging by its size. Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 31. Remaining eggs 8.
The singleton in nb1 north didn’t roost there last night, so not sure how serious it is about staying.
Saturday 24th June
One of the new prospectors that’s been here for the last week or so has moved into nb1 north. The others seem content just on banging the occupied boxes only. It’s probably getting a bit too late to expect any more breeders, but still plenty of time for non-breeders to take up residence.
With the rain we had earlier in the week the froglets made a mass exodus from the pond. They’re so tiny when they first leave we’ve got to be so careful not to step onto them. Luckily the grass doesn’t need cutting so time for them to disappear into the borders. Have you noticed how many aphids there are this year? They seem to be everywhere, whilst that’s not good for the gardeners it’s excellent news for the swifts. Aphids make up a substantial part of their diet along with money-spiders. So the more the better. Last Sunday this insect was spotted on a pink flower near to the pond and identified as a swollen-thighed beetle. Some names seem so apt.
I saw some interesting behaviour last night in one of my boxes. At around 8pm the adult swift from nb6 west went into the adjacent box nb7 west by mistake. It was returning with a large bolus to feed its chicks. I fully expected it to realise it mistake and pop back out and return to its rightful home. However it didn’t. It spent several minutes desperately looking for its missing chicks. It looked quite perturbed to me. After about 10 minutes of searching it finally settled down on the nest and swallowed the bolus. A few minutes later it left. When I checked the camera in nb6 west an hour later both adults where back in. Hopefully it won’t make the same mistake again, as one of the chicks went without a feed last night.
Thursday 22nd June
Yesterday we spent a lovely morning in East Harptree, a beautiful little village nestled on the edge of the Mendip hills about a mile from Chew Valley Lake. East Harptree is a swift hot-spot with dozens of pairs nesting around the village. However we were going to visit a very special house owned by Anthony and Allison. They have at least 15 pairs nesting behind their fascia boards. But what was most unusual about their house was not the size of their colony which is large for a single property, but the fact their house was less than 15 years old! Swifts must have moved in almost as soon as it was built. See this short video.
The developers whether unintentionally or by design, had left a tiny gap between the stonework and fascia boards and this was all the swifts needed to get in. It was so refreshing to see so many swifts nesting in a new house as most new builds are completely sealed nowadays. We spent a lovely couple of hours sitting in their garden chatting to Ant and Allison whilst watching their swifts going about their daily business. The photos below is of the east facing gable end where at least 7 pairs are nesting.
Back home at Swift House the first 2 eggs in nb11 west hatched.
Also I saw the first crataerina of the year in nb3 west, probably brought in by the band of prospectors that have been here for the last week.
Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 30. Remaining eggs 9.
Wednesday 21st June
Yesterday the new pair in nb1 south laid their first egg. That’s 17 breeding pairs in my camera boxes. I also think there is another breeding pair in one of my non camera boxes. So definitely 17, possibly 18 breeding pairs this year. That beats the old record of 16 set last year making it a new record at Swift House for breeding pairs.
Quite often I find there’s an extra chick in nests when I finally get a really good look inside. Yesterday was good example of that unexpected bonus. On checking nb3 south I found 3 chicks in there (I’d thought there was only 2 eggs in there). However judging by the size of the chicks I reckon one hatched on Sunday, the second on Monday and the third yesterday. In nb4 north I thought there was one egg in that box, but yesterday I found 2 chicks in there. Both hatched yesterday.
I noticed yesterday that the chicks in nb3 north are now very similar in size. This is the box where the eggs were laid 5 days apart and when they hatched there was quite a size difference between them. You can see that difference no longer exists which is good news. Here are photos.
Total number of eggs laid 45. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 29. Remaining eggs 10.
Tuesday 20th June
Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. We were planning on going out for a pub lunch to celebrate, however a broken boiler and no hot water since Saturday put a stop to that. However fate was rather kind to us in another way. Whilst we were waiting for the boiler man to complete his repairs a very large parcel was delivered. We thought at first it maybe flowers from the family. On opening the parcel and to our complete surprise, it was a beautiful 6 foot metal sculpture of 3 flying swifts. It was a gift from ‘Richard and all at Taunton Deane Swifts’. To say we were gob-smacked would be an under-statement. We were absolutely bowled over. Speechless to begin with and delighted. Once we had got over the shock of receiving something so beautiful we immediately looked for a place in the garden. To us by the pond seemed the most appropriate. See Janes photos below. shiny appearance will change over time to a rust brown and become more natural looking. So now we will have swifts with us all year round. Thank you Richard and all at Taunton Deane Swifts for (unknowingly!) making our anniversary so special.
Yesterday I had a bit more time to check my cameras properly after the exploits of the weekend. On Sunday I was convinced there was a second egg in nb3 west but in fact there’s only one. My tired eyes had played a trick on me. I think I was fooled by a tiny egg-like white feather! I also saw for the first time a third egg had been laid in nb6 west. However as that nest has two 10 day old chicks I soon realised it must be infertile. In nb10 west a second egg.
Total number of eggs laid 42. Total number of eggs ejected/infertile 6. Total number of chicks 23. Remaining eggs 13.
Monday 19th June
Again we were very lucky with the weather yesterday for our second open day. The thunderstorms that were forecast never materialised and it stayed dry until everyone left. It was almost a repeat performance of Saturday with a steady trickle of people arriving albeit after a slow start. I think a 10am start might be a tad too early as we were panicking as no-one came until 10.30am. One to rethink for next year. We’d like to thank our super helpers on the day Geoffrey and Jacquie Poole and Tom Carter. Without them the day wouldn’t have happened. We’d also like to thank the 100 or so visitors and apologise if we didn’t get a chance to speak to you. A very special thanks also to John Rossetti who very kindly gave us a signed copy of his book Birds of Chew Valley Lake. Something we will enjoy reading over the summer.
In the end we raised just over £800. Most of the money will go to the NGS health charities. A small amount from our plant sales will be donated to specialist swift rehabbers who are self funded and do a fantastic job in helping abandoned and injured swifts.
A quick check of the cameras last night revealed a second egg in nb3 west. Total number of eggs laid 41. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 23. Remaining eggs 12.
Colony status – 18 pairs. 10 pairs with chicks. 7 pairs on eggs. 1 pair yet to lay.
Sunday 18th June
Our second open day begins at 10am this morning. Fingers crossed the weather will be just as kind as yesterday which after a wet start turned out just fine in the end. The garden looked really good after the early rain and the swifts put on a half decent display throughout the day.
A steady trickle of visitors throughout the day yesterday meant we weren’t rushed off our feet. We had plenty of time to talk to most people which was really nice. We’d like to thank everyone that turned up on the day, some travelling long distances to get here. We really enjoyed meeting you all.
Finally a big thank-you to John and Julien Crowther (Stroud Swifts), local swift enthusiast Tim Cockerill and our son Tom. Without their help and enthusiasm we just couldn’t have done it. Thank you also Julien for taking lovely photos of our garden.
On the swift front the first egg in nb10 west. That’s a new pair this year which have only been here a couple of weeks. Total number of eggs laid 40. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 23. Remaining eggs 12.
Colony status. 18 pairs – 10 with chicks, 7 with eggs & 1 yet to lay. During the open day I saw a couple of prospectors enter some of my empty boxes on the west side. They didn’t stay long inside, but that’s the first time I’ve seen them go in. Hopefully they will be back.
Saturday 17th June
Up early today for a final once-over before we open our garden at 11am. Looking out the window at 6am I can see it’s raining. Typical, no rain for a month until today. That reminds me of an old Devon farmer that I used to help with hay-making many years ago. He was always looking on the bright side and had a saying if it rained whilst we were bringing the bales in “Don’t worry young’un it’ll keep the dust down”. Hopefully the rain won’t last long.
First egg in nb3 west. Total number of eggs laid 39. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 23. Remaining eggs 11.
Colony status. 18 pairs – 10 with chicks, 6 with eggs & 2 yet to lay. Despite almost a dozen newcomers prospecting around the boxes, none have taken up residence yet.
Friday 16th June
Just back from a 3-day break so not really had chance to fully catch up on what’s happened. I’ve had a quick look at all the boxes and the good news is all the chicks are doing well despite the really hot conditions. Whilst we were away the 2nd and 3rd eggs in nb5 south have both hatched. Judging by the size of both chicks I suspect one hatched on Tuesday and the other on Wednesday. There also seems to be lots of newcomers whizzing around the house, but as far as I can tell no new birds have taken up residence. Total number of eggs laid 38. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 23. Remaining eggs 10.
Busy today getting the garden ready for this weekends open days. Just hoping the rain keeps away over the weekend.
Tuesday 13th June
Yesterday the first egg in nb5 south and both eggs in nb12 west hatched. However judging by the size of one chick in nb11 west I would say it hatched on Sunday. Total number of eggs laid 38. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 21. Remaining eggs 12.
Colony status. 10 pairs have chicks, 5 pairs on eggs, 3 pairs yet to breed. Half a dozen newcomers undecided.
No blog for a few days as we’re going to take a ‘swift’ break. Back on Friday to get the garden ready for our open days at the weekend.
Monday 12th June
Now that the singleton in nb1 south has finally attracted a mate there is one question I’d love to know the answer to. That is, is it always the males that occupy a box first? My guess is that it probably is. Maybe by finding a suitable nest site it shows a prospective female that you are fit and strong and therefore worth mating with. And another thought, perhaps the males arrive slightly before the females so they are ready and waiting for them. That might explain why it took the singleton in nb1 south so long to attract a mate. Trying to fathom out their behaviour has always fascinated me. My theory is that the established breeders arrive first in late April/early May, followed by young males in late May/early June. A week or so later the young females arrive. These young birds make up the bulk of the second wave and might even breed if they find a suitable nest site. And finally in July the third wave of yearlings arrive to suss out suitable colonies to join. I know that sounds far too simplistic to be 100% accurate but one thing we do know is they arrive in waves. It’s just trying to make sense of why things happen at a particular time.
Two more eggs hatched yesterday. The third eggs in nb4 south and nb6 north. Total number of eggs laid 38. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 18. Remaining eggs 15.
Sunday 11th June
A much quieter day yesterday at Swift House. Very hot and sunny in the morning lead to dark, ominous looking clouds in the afternoon. It threatened thunder and lightening but nothing happened. It was our hottest day of the year so far with the temperature reaching almost 27C in the garden. The swifts seemed to like it though and quite a bit of prospecting carried on throughout the day. The single bird in nb1 south finally managed to attract a mate. It’s been trying for almost 2 weeks so I was pleased it finally managed to entice a new partner back in. See photo below. We now have 18 pairs – 15 with either eggs or chicks and 3 have yet to breed. One of these pairs is in nb3 west. They bred last year so I fully expect they’ll have another go this year. The other two pairs are in nb10 west and nb1 south. These are brand new pairs so there’s only a 50/50 chance they’ll have a go. If they do breed it will be a new record at Swift House for the number of breeding pairs.
Only one egg hatched yesterday, the second one in nb4 south. Total number of eggs laid 38. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 16. Remaining eggs 17.
Swifts are continuing to arrive in small numbers at Portland Bill. Just across the north sea in Holland and Belgium their numbers are also on the rise according to Trektellen. Several thousands reported gathering along the coastlines of both countries. I expect these birds are the start of the second wave that’s just about to arrive here. Bodes well for the coming week if the weather remains good.
Saturday 10th June
Extremely busy on the swift front yesterday. My plan was to replace the dislodged egg in nb5 west first thing in the morning – see the first photo below. However the pair were extremely reluctant to go out despite the glorious weather outside. One stubbornly stayed in the box until almost 3pm. When I did manage to look inside the box to my complete surprise I found another egg in the nest. I replaced the dislodged egg next to the new egg and fingers crossed they won’t get knocked out again.
What a day – 8 eggs hatched!
Eggs are normally laid every other day and normally hatch with a gap between them. But not yesterday though. In 3 boxes – nb2 & nb6 north and nb6 west the first two eggs in each box hatched. In nb4 south the first egg hatched and lastly in nb3 north the second egg hatched. This is an intriguing box for me. Here’s a quick summary of what happened. The old mate returned on 18th May and found its partner sat on two eggs. Both were thrown out of the nest along with the interloper. I found one smashed on the ground below the box and assumed the same fate for the other. The following day however an egg reappeared in the nest, followed by a second 5 days later. I’ve never known a gap of 5 days between egg laying so I suspected the first egg must have been from the first clutch and replaced by the female. That’s very unusual in itself as eggs are seldom replaced after they’ve been knocked out. The second egg I believe is from the second clutch. Well the first egg hatched 3 days ago (7th June) and the second yesterday. Admittedly there is quite a size difference between the two chicks, but I’m hopeful it will catch up with its larger sibling size-wise in the coming days. If you look back at my blogs on 19th, 20th and 25th May you can read what happened in nb3 north in more detail.
A second egg was laid in nb5 north. Total number of eggs laid 38. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 15. Remaining eggs 18. Phew!
Friday 9th June
Yesterday saw a second egg laid in nb5 north and the first chick in nb3 north. In nb5 west a third egg was laid and unfortunately it has been flicked out of the nest again. I’m not sure it this was accidental or deliberate but the male has form in this box. He’s already thrown out 2 eggs when he first arrived back. I was hoping he would have settled down by now. I will pop it back in the nest once they’ve gone out and see what happens. Hopefully it was an accident. Total number of eggs laid 37. Total number of eggs ejected 5. Total number of chicks 7. Remaining eggs 25.
Thursday 8th June
Yesterday after being absent for the last couple of days the partner of nb11 returned. However it didn’t roost overnight in the box so I’m still not 100% sure what’s going on. But as it stands the eggs are being incubated and both birds are still here.
The newbie in nb10 west finally managed to attract a mate yesterday. That’s the first new pair of the season. The two other newbies in nb1 south and nb7 west are still trying. Last night I saw prospectors enter most of the empty boxes on the west side. They didn’t stay long but at least they went inside. This bodes well for the coming days.
There’s a few swifts on the move in Holland according to Trektellen. Perhaps it’s some of the missing birds from the east of the UK. Let’s hope so.
Wednesday 7th June
Yesterday saw the first egg in nb3 north. The third and last egg in nb2 south hatched. I think the pair in nb11 west are going to desert their 3 eggs. The male has not been back for several days now. He’s been an infrequent visitor from the word go but now he seems to have left completely. Because he’s not around the female is having to leave the eggs uncovered for long periods during the day to feed herself. It’s impossible for a single adult to incubate eggs so she’s really left with no choice. I think in the next few days she will abandon her clutch and go and look for a new partner.
Now that the eggs are starting to hatch I’ve changed the way of recording their status. Number of eggs laid 35. Number of eggs ejected 5. Number of chicks 6. Remaining eggs 24.
Tuesday 6th June
Another 3 eggs hatched yesterday. The remaining two in nb1 west and the second one in nb2 south. Egg total 21 (5 ejected) and 5 chicks.
Slightly cooler weather yesterday meant less prospecting activity around the house. The sun didn’t come out until after lunch and a cool easterly wind pegged the temperature back a little. The three newcomers are still trying to entice mates back, but so far none of them have succeeded.
This year has got to be one of the best for dragonflies and damselflies in our garden. Jane snapped this beauty just after it emerged from our pond. We’re not 100% sure but we think it’s a female southern hawker.
Monday 5th June
They’re difficult to count precisely but I think we have about 8 newcomers. Three of them have claimed ownership of some of my unoccupied boxes. We have singletons in nb7 west, nb10 west and nb1 south. Yesterday I watched all three trying to attract mates back into their respective boxes. The bird who has a found a box leads one or two other birds right up to it. All the time it’s making a soft piping call which seems to encourage other birds to follow. Right at the last moment it veers away closely followed by the following birds. It’s showing them exactly where the entrance hole is located. However every now and then instead of veering away it will enter the box hoping one of the following birds will join it. Occasionally one has momentarily landed and looked in before flying off. This process went on throughout the day and into the evening. Hopefully in the next day or two they will all succeed in attracting in new mates. I have no way of telling, but my hunch is the 3 new birds that have taken up residence are males.
A second egg hatched yesterday, the first in nb2 south. Egg total 24 (5 ejected) and 2 chicks. Colony numbers 16 pairs and 3 singletons.
I’ve just had a quick look at Trektellen and for the last couple of days there’s been a small build-up of swifts along the Belgium coast near Bruges. I wonder if these are some the UK missing birds. Let’s hope so.
Sunday 4th June
The sunny weather continues, albeit it’s a bit chilly in the morning but the afternoons are really warm. It has been almost a month without any rain which is most odd. The lawn has already started to turn brown which is about a month earlier than normal. There’s much more swift activity around the house now the prospectors are back. It’s lovely just to sit back and enjoy their antics in the sunshine.
The first egg hatched yesterday in nb1 west. This took me a little by surprise as it was a couple of days earlier than normal. I’ll have to revise all my hatching dates to keep pace. To my relief the missing mates from nb3 & nb11 west are both back. There’s a new bird in nb10 west but the singleton in nb10 west is missing. Perhaps it’s the same bird that has just moved boxes. The singleton in nb1 south is in the process of attracting a mate. Colony numbers 16 pairs and 2 singletons. Egg total 25 (5 ejected) and 1 chick.
Saturday 3rd June
Two of the bangers that have been here for the last few days have finally picked a couple of empty boxes. Last night we had singletons in nb1 south and nb7 west. Now we wait and see if they can entice a partner back into each box. If they can before the middle of June there’s a good chance they’ll have a go at breeding. The mate of nb3 west is still missing. This box has been a bit strange this year. The first bird arrived on 17th May and stayed one night then went missing until 22nd May. A few days later on 25th May its mate arrived. However the next night its partner went missing and has not returned since. I’m beginning to suspect it might have moved on somewhere else. In nb11 west the mate failed to return last night. That box has 2 eggs in it. I’m hoping its absence is only a temporary thing and it will return soon. A count of the resident birds is 15 pairs and 3 singletons.
Friday 2nd June
A second egg in nb11 west and third egg in nb5 south. A second egg in nb5 west was thrown out immediately after it was laid. That’s the second egg thrown out in this box – the first one being on 26th May. I can understand the male throwing out the first egg as it was laid only 4 days after he returned, but not the second one. He’s been back 12 days and this egg must surely be fertilised by him. Not sure what’s going on in that box at all. Egg total 26 (5 ejected).
Here is a video that South Gloucestershire Council filmed on 24th May to promote their Swift Street project. We think that Teddy the 2 year old in the window is the star and it makes us smile!
Thursday 1st June
Yesterday was another quiet day here at Swift House. Hardly any activity apart from the odd bird bringing back nesting material. For some unknown reason the bangers only seem to be active at dusk and not during the day which is a pity.
I know a few swift enthusiasts who are still missing quite a few of their birds. Most of them are located on the east side of the UK. Our good friend Jonathan Pomroy is still missing over 50% of birds. Click on this link to read his latest fascinating thoughts on the subject. I’m not sure why the east should be any different from the west side, where most of last years birds are already back. Perhaps the UK swifts are split into two groups that enter from difference locations. The west side birds coming up from the south, whereas the east birds come across from eastern Europe. Perhaps this nagging easterly wind has held up their arrival? Down at Portland Bill I see that a trickle of swifts have arrived over the last few days.
I was sent this very unusual photo from Len Riley. A couple of days ago in one of his boxes 3 swifts spent the night together. There was no fighting at all, everything was all very calm. In the morning they all departed. The following night only 2 returned. The box was occupied last year, but one of the mates went missing. Len thinks the remaining bird might be a male who managed to entice two females back in with him (lucky boy!) Females are less aggressive than males and this might explain the calm situation.
Wednesday 31st May
Where did that month go! For some reason time seems to fly by when they’re with us. Yesterday was a bit quieter on the nest building front with the birds coming back in less often. Perhaps it was because of the strength of the breeze which was quite strong. Another 3 more eggs yesterday the first eggs in nb3 north and nb11 west. Second egg in nb3 south. Egg total 24 (4 ejected). The mate of nb3 west still not coming in at night. Other than that everything about the same on numbers.
The beautiful sunny weather has meant the garden has suddenly burst into glorious flower. The garden is full of insects including bees, butterflies, hoverflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
Tuesday 30th May
At least half a dozen bangers are back. They’ve been here for almost a week now. Whilst I love watching their antics of banging occupied boxes and momentarily looking inside it comes with a downside. These bangers also target all the local colonies near me. Unfortunately some of these nests are rife with parasitic swift louse fly (crataerina pallida). As the bangers go about their business of visiting each colony in turn crataerina hitch a ride on their backs. When they find a suitable nest to infest they hop off. It’s only a matter of time before I see the first ones here. Below are a few photos of crataerina and their eggs.
Monday 29th May
This warm, settled weather has brought out the damselflies and dragonflies in some numbers. Yesterday I saw three species of dragonfly in the garden. The largest was a southern hawker, plus a couple of broad-bodied chasers and several common darters. The pond is covered by mating common blue and large red damselflies. The males carrying the females around so she can deposit her eggs on the pond weed just under the surface.
The warm breeze has also been good for the swifts. Yesterday they were coming back in with feathers and bits of dried grass all day long. Quite a few of their nests are much bigger and sturdier than when they first arrived. They only have a short window for nest building because as soon as their eggs hatch they stop. So the next couple of weeks are crucial. A bigger and deeper nest-cup without doubt reduces the risks of eggs being dislodged. The weather looks good for the next week or more, so all their nests should be very well made this year.
The colony numbers remain more or less the same with only the mate of nb3 west deciding to stay out overnight. Occasionally when some pairs have re-united one of the birds doesn’t come back into roost every night. I used to get worried when I saw one missing but it seems to be perfectly normal behaviour. As soon as the eggs are laid they tend to come back in.
Sunday 28th May
All the singletons have now paired up, so I have 15 pairs in my camera boxes and 1 pair in a non camera boxes – 16 pairs in total. That’s the same number of breeding pairs as last year. Interestingly 15 of the boxes are the same as last year same despite the loss of 4 adults last summer. The only box not occupied from last year is nb1 north. That’s one of the boxes that lost a bird last year. The other 3 boxes were nb11 & 12 west and nb5 north. These singletons however have all found new mates. Perhaps the singleton from nb1 north is one of the new mates and moved boxes. One new box is now occupied for the first time nb7 north. Hopefully we’ll get a few newcomers to take the total even higher.
First egg in nb3 south. Egg total 22 (4 ejected).
Saturday 27th May
A bit of a stressful day yesterday. Firstly I found a smashed egg on the ground under my front corner boxes. It could be either from nb6 or nb7 north. Then the first egg in nb5 west was flicked out of nest by the adults. I managed to replace it once they had both gone out.
Alas when an adult came back in at 8.30pm it promptly picked it up and threw it straight out of the box. I can only assume it was the male who thinks this egg is not fertilised by him. They have only been back together as a pair for 4 days. Normally I don’t expect to see eggs until the 9th or 10th day. I know it is all part and parcel of a swifts life but I hate seeing eggs smashed on the ground.
There is a third egg in nb4 south, probably laid a few days ago on 23rd May. There’s also a third egg in nb6 north, so smashed egg must be from the non-camera box above nb7 north. Egg total 21 (4 ejected).
Friday 26th May
Yesterday I saw a damselfly I’ve never seen in the garden before. It spent an hour on a gooseberry branch, every now and again darting off to catch a passing aphid before returning to its favourite perch.
I looked it up and think it was a male Beautiful Demoiselle. The males have dark-coloured wings and metallic blue-green bodies unlike the females which have brown wings and green bodies. The Beautiful Demoiselle is very similar to the Banded Demoiselle, but the males of the latter species have distinctive dark patches in the middle of their wings.
Second egg in nb5 south. Egg total 19 (2 ejected). The single bird in nb3 west has returned after being away for over a week along with a new mate. Total number of birds back 30 – 14 pairs and 2 singles.
Thursday 25th May
I saw a second egg in nb3 north yesterday which is 5 days after the first and it got me thinking. I’ve never seen eggs laid 5 days apart, normally they’re 2 and occasionally 3 days apart. My guess is the first egg was part of the first clutch that the returning mate failed to eject. The second egg I think is the start of the new clutch fertilised by the second mate. It will be interesting to see how many eggs are laid in this second clutch. Normal clutch size is about 2 or 3 so we could end up with 4 eggs in that nest! A second egg in nb12 west (probably laid yesterday on the 23rd). Egg total 18 (2 ejected).
A couple more comings and goings in the colony. The mate of nb11 west is back. The singleton in nb2 west has gone missing. Total number of birds back 29 -13 pairs, 3 singles.
Yesterday also saw another heavy passage of swifts in southern France. This time almost 15,000 were seen in Saint-Etienne-de-Serre in the Ardeche just south of Lyon.
Wednesday 24th May
Yesterday we spent a lovely morning in Cadbury Heath with John Morris from South Gloucestershire County Council. We first met him back in February when he asked us to advise on suitable nest box locations near to the new Jubilee Park they are developing into a more wildlife friendly space. This 4 acre park is going to include wildlife ponds, meadows and a community orchard as well as a swift tower and swift boxes in the local streets. We identified over 50 locations as well as a good place to erect a swift tower. The council has offered local residents a swift box fitted free of charge to anyone on the list. Yesterday was the first phase of installation with 13 boxes being fitted by their Handyman contractors. A second phase is planned in a few weeks time. The hope is as more and more residents become aware of this project lots more boxes will be installed over time. The councils ultimate aim is to create a series of Swift Streets surrounding Jubilee Park. Below are a few photos of phase one box installation. The middle photo from left to right is John Morris, Jane, local resident Jade outside her house whilst having her box fitted and me.
Quite a bit of swift activity around Swift House yesterday with the arrival of at least half a dozen bangers. We have a new bird in nb2 west and the first egg in nb5 south. Total number of birds back 29 – 12 pairs, 5 singles. Egg total 16 (2 ejected). If the 5 single birds pair up we will have one more breeding pair than last year, so things now are looking very promising despite the slow build up. More swifts continue to arrive at Portland Bill Observatory.
Tuesday 23rd May
Yesterday saw a heavy passage of swifts over Portland with over 500 passing through. Here at Swift House a few more arrived back. A new bird in nb11 west plus the mate’s of nb4 west & nb3 south returned around lunchtime. Later on that evening the missing mate of nb4 north reappeared after an absence of nearly a week. Total back 27 – 12 pairs, 3 singles
Still not sure what’s going on in nb3 north. Both eggs were thrown out last Thursday by the returning mate. I found one was smashed on the ground under the box. I assumed the other egg was dropped farther afield. The following day a third egg appeared in the nest. Two things about this episode has surprised me. Firstly it was laid 4 days after the second egg. Generally eggs are laid every other day. Secondly it’s still here. In the past the old mate has thrown out the entire clutch on his return. I originally assumed it must be a new egg despite the gap between the second egg, but I’m not so sure now. Maybe it was the second egg after all. Perhaps it wasn’t actually thrown out the box last week. There are rare reports of swifts actually replacing dislodged eggs back into the nest. Why the old mate hasn’t ejected it I don’t know. They’ve started to incubate it now, so I will never know for sure.
Monday 22nd May
The swifts seem to be on the move through France. Yesterday their numbers in the Gironde on the west coast rose to 17,503 (last Thursday it was only 9661) Whilst further down France on the east coast near Perpignan their numbers dropped to 17,271(last Friday it was 34,374). A sprinkling of swifts continue to arrive over Portland Bill.
Our good friend and fellow swift enthusiast, Jonathan Pomroy has a theory on the possible cause of their delayed return this year. Click on this link to read his excellent blog on the subject.
The couple of bangers seem to be targeting three boxes on the south side. Two of those boxes are already occupied but nb1 south is empty and has been for the last couple of years. Last night I watched them repeatedly banging nb2 and 3 south which provoked the resident birds to scream back. Occasionally they landed on nb1 south which remained silent and looked inside. Perhaps they’re just working out which box is safe to enter.
Four more eggs yesterday. The first egg in nb12 west. The second eggs in nb2 & nb6 north and nb4 south. Total 15 (2 ejected). The mates of nb4 north and nb5 north both missing again last night. Total back last night 23 – 9 pairs & 5 singles.
Sunday 21st May
Second egg in nb6 west and 3rd egg in nb2 south. Egg total 11 (2 ejected). Strange the egg in nb3 north is still there. Not sure why it hasn’t been thrown out like the other two eggs. The mates of nb4 north and nb5 north both missing last night, so numbers in the colony dropping back a bit. Whether this is permanent or just a temporary thing only time will tell. Total back last tonight 23 – 9 pairs, 5 singles. However on a more positive note we had our first bangers of the year. Just as it was getting dark around 9.30pm two individuals were targeting all the boxes. Their activities caused quite a bit of commotion amongst the resident birds for disturbing their peace at bedtime.
A few more swifts passed through Portland Bill Observatory yesterday with just under 100 recorded.
Saturday 20th May
On Thursday 18th we had a visit from Mark Mogford from Swifts of Usk in Wales. We spent a pleasant couple of hours in our garden watching and talking about swifts. He’s kindly invited us to visit him sometime during the summer which we’re looking forward to.
Mark originally set out to help Swifts in Usk on his own. But as with all good ideas it grew and grew. He now has a swift team to help him and they have their own facebook group. They are involved with everything from promoting, advertising, manufacturing swift boxes and sound systems.
They have held 5 swift workshops and have given several presentations to schools and colleges and done a couple of swift walks around the town. For more details see this link. Mark is a reserve firefighter so going up ladders is no problem for him. In the last year he has installed over 25 boxes the group made all over Usk. This dynamic team is always thinking ahead and one of their next projects is to survey the prison in Usk. Mark reckons there’s at least 20 pairs nesting under the roof tiles. He’s hoping to get permission from the prison governor to carry out a detailed survey in the near future. If you like to find out more contact Mark via the Swifts of USK facebook group.
One new arrival last night in nb3 south, however the interloper who was kicked out of nb3 north and moved back into nb4 south failed to get back in. It tried several times but seem to be confused over which entrance hole to go on. After about 20 attempts it gave up. Hopefully today it might work out the correct box. Total 25 – 11 pairs, 3 singles.
Four eggs yesterday. The first eggs in nb4 south and nb2 & 6 north. Also a third egg in nb3 north, however I expect the old mate will throw it out later. Egg total 9 (with another 2 ejected).
Friday 19th May
Good news on the migration front. It looks like our missing swifts are finally on their way. A check of Trektellen revealed a heavy passage through France yesterday. Over 32,000 arrived on the south east coast near Perpignan and further up on the west coast in the Gironde almost 10,000 were seen. They should be with us by the weekend.
Yesterday started off reasonably calm at Swift House but then it all kicked off in the afternoon. First thing in the morning the mate of nb5 north returned and settled back in with its old mate. Then after lunch things really hotted up. Three swifts kept flying up to nb3 north. I thought at first it might be the missing mate of nb4 north mistaking the entrance hole. However what transpired was a bit more sinister. In fact it was the old mate of nb3 returning home only to find his partner shacked up with a new mate! What followed was a brief but violent fight which resulted with both the interloper and the eggs being ejected. The interloper it turns out was in fact the mate of the single bird next door in nb4 north. After being ejected he’s now slunk back to where he belongs. This is not the first time this has happened in nb3 north. Six years in a row from 2014 -2019 he ejected her eggs from another mate on his return. Then there was a brief period of calm from 2020 to 2022 when both birds turned up closer together. Now we’ve reverted back to the bad old days where she shacks up almost immediately on her return. She arrived back on 4th May and paired up with the male from nb4 north on 5th May. It’s not the end of the world though. Things will settle down and both pairs will be ok now they’ve sorted out where they should be!
LH photo – Flirty female in nb3 north just after her old mate arrived. Middle photo – smashed eggs. RH photo – Interloper back in nb4 north
The single bird in nb3 west failed to return last night so not sure what’s going on there. Total 24 – 11 pairs 2 singles. First egg in nb6 west. Total 5 (another 2 ejected).
Thursday 18th May
I wouldn’t say it’s an influx but there does seems to be a steady passage of swifts into the UK now. Yesterday Portland Bill Observatory recorded their numbers again into the hundreds, along with lots of swallows and a sprinkling of house martins. Maybe this is what this year’s migration return will be, slow and steady spread over several weeks. Some of my pairs will have finished laying before they’ve all arrived back. Another swift arrived back at Swift House last night, the first bird back in nb3 west. That takes the total up to 23 – 9 pairs, 5 singles. A second egg In nb2 south takes the egg total up to 6.
Wednesday 17th May
Better news on the swift migration front. A couple of days ago the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society recorded a trickle of swifts crossing the Straits of Gibraltar from Africa. Closer to home Portland Bill Observatory saw its highest swift count of the season yesterday of 254. It looks like some of our missing birds are finally on the move. Last night a couple more swifts arrived back at Swift House. The first ones in nb4 west and nb5 north. Maybe it was the same birds seen at Portland earlier in the day. And some more good news. The new mate in nb5 south finally made it in last night after being absent for a couple of days. That takes the total back to 22 – 9 pairs, 4 singles. Egg total 5.
Tuesday 16th May
Three more eggs yesterday. The first in nb2 south and the second ones in nb1 west and nb3 north. That takes the egg total to 5. There’s been no new swift arrivals since Saturday and no sign either of the new partner in nb5 south. I’m still missing 8 pairs, which is about half of my colony. It’s all gone very quiet and it’s not just here at Swift House. I’ve been reading the various swift blogs from around the UK and in Europe and there does seem to be a bit of a hold-up with their return everywhere. Most people including myself, have a few birds back but not in the numbers you would expect for the middle of May. The swifts that arrived in France last week have probably returned by now. So where are the rest of them? I can’t see any sign of them on Trekellen so my guess is they’re still down in Africa, most likely somewhere between Liberia and Morocco on the west coast. That seems like a long way away to us, but for a swift it is only about a weeks flight. If I’m correct then we won’t see them until next weekend at the earliest, perhaps even a bit longer than that. Rest assured though they will be back, but the consequence of this delay means their breeding season will be more spread out this year than normal.
Monday 15th May
Yesterdays weather was the complete opposite to Saturdays. A bright sunny start gave way to thick cloud and a chilly northerly breeze. The cool conditions keep swift activity down to a minimum except in one box, nb5 south. In my 8th May blog I reported the single bird in that box was trying to entice a new partner back in. Well yesterday it finally managed it. Around midday I could hear contented piping coming from that box and a quick look at the camera revealed two birds sat on the nest preening one another. However when I checked the same box last night only one swift was there. I’m not too surprised as sometimes it can take a few days for the new bird to get used to coming in at night. Fingers crossed it will work out all right in the end. So I’m not sure whether to add this newcomer to my total or not. I think I will leave it for a couple of days just to be on the safe side. That leaves the total the same as Saturday 8 pairs, 3 singles -19 in total.
Sunday 14th May
Yesterdays cold and grey start gave way to a warm and sunny afternoon and my expectations rose in anticipation. Alas apart from a few high level screaming parties not much activity around the house. Still it was good to be able to sit outside and watch them. No new arrivals which surprised me though as I thought more would have returned as the weather was so good. Perhaps today they’ll come. Only one small change in my boxes. The singleton in nb1 north has moved in with the unattached swift from the adjacent box, nb2 north. The bird in nb1 north lost its mate last year on 2nd July. The interesting thing is what happens when the partner of nb1 north returns. Will it leave its new mate and return to nb1 north or stay put in nb2 north?
Yesterday also saw the first eggs of the season. The days after the pairs reformed are in brackets. First egg in nb1 west LH photo (10 days) & first egg in nb3 north RH photo (9 days). Total 8 pairs, 3 singles – 19 in total.
Saturday 13th May
Portland Bill Observatory recorded a heavy overhead passage of swallows and house matins yesterday. Mixed in with these hirundines were also a good sprinkling of swifts. No doubt some of these birds were the ones seen over Corsica a few days ago. Northern Ireland reported a big influx of swifts yesterday too. As we seem to follow them a day or two later I wouldn’t be surprised to hear reports of lots of swifts arriving all over the UK this weekend.
Two more swifts returned home yesterday. A single in nb7 north and a second bird in nb12 west. Both came as a bit of a surprise to me. Nb7 north is a non-camera box, however I witnessed a swift enter that box right at the end of last season on 27th July. I only saw it enter once, but it looks like it has returned now and with luck will find a mate and have a go at breeding. In nb12 west one of last years adults went missing on 1st July. At the time there were 3 chicks in that box. Unfortunately one chick died before I had chance to intervene. The second chick I fostered in nb5 west, leaving just one chick for the remaining adult to bring up. Both the foster chick and the remaining chick fledged successfully a few weeks later. It now looks like the swift in that box has found a new partner. I didn’t think there were any unattached adults around at the moment but obviously there are. That bodes well for the single adult in nb1 north who also lost its mate last year. That takes the total up to 19 – 7 pairs, 5 singles.
Friday 12th May
Yesterday saw the highest number of swifts arriving at Portland Bill Observatory in Dorset. Admittedly it wasn’t many, only 22, but it’s a good indication that many others were arriving along our shores unrecorded. The same principal can be applied to the sightings in Corsica. The 34,500 that were seen on Tuesday were only in one area. Thousands more would have been arriving all along the Corsican coastline but wouldn’t have been recorded. The UK swift population is estimated by the BTO to be between 70,000 and 140,000 breeding adults. However there is a huge question mark over the accuracy of these official figures due to the difficultly of actually counting active swift nests. Many amateur swift enthusiasts reckon the true number is a lot higher.
Here at Swift House another two swifts returned yesterday. A single in nb2 north and the mate of nb4 south. That takes the total back so far to 17 – 6 pairs, 5 singles. That’s about half the colony back now.
Thursday 11th May
Following on from yesterdays blog even better news to report on the swift migration front. In Corsica a whooping 34,500 were sighted yesterday. That’s a huge number to arrive in one day. My guess it’s the bulk of the breeders on their way north. All of us who are still missing a few birds should see some arrive in the next few days. Saturdays weather looks promising so that could be the day they return en masse to the UK.
Here at Swift House another 3 swifts arrived home. Yesterday morning the mate of nb6 west returned and later on in the evening the pair in nb6 north turned up. I hardly ever get pairs arrive together, so it was a welcome surprise to see them both back. That takes my total up to 15 – 5 pairs and 5 singles.
Wednesday 10th May
A better day here weather-wise but still not much swift activity. There was a few high level small screaming parties, but nothing to get really excited about. Unlike that is the arrival of over 14500 swifts yesterday in south east France. That’s more like it. The good news is they don’t linger as long there as they did at the beginning of the month. Instead they tend to push on northwards almost immediately. Hopefully they should be with us in a few days time. They are still part of the first wave of breeders to arrive. However instead of arriving in one go they tend to come in pulses over several weeks. The second wave begin to arrive towards the end of the month.
Tuesday 9th May
Yesterday won’t linger long in the memory as it was a complete washout. Hardly surprising then to report there was no swift activity at all and no new arrivals at Swift House. It looks like most of the swifts in the area (including mine) headed towards Chew Valley lake. We’re lucky to have such a place on our doorstep as it’s probably the only place our swifts can find any insects when it’s pouring down with rain all day. Still it gave me time to catch up on all the posts on various swift blogs. One interesting post in particular grabbed my attention. I’ve always worked on the theory that the first egg is laid about 10 days after the pair are reunited. Over the years its been pretty accurate here at Swift House, however a chap in Northern Ireland has a pair that laid an egg after only 5 days. The first bird arriving on 2nd May and its mate the following day. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why except the nest site is very close to Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Northern Ireland. Perhaps there’s something in the water there that we haven’t got in the UK!
Monday 8th May
Apologies for Sunday’s missing blog earlier. I thought I had saved it, but just realised this morning it was missing. It’s back on today, as close as I can remember anyway!
Yesterday was sunny and warm and another swift returned home. The first swift in nb6 west. That takes the total up to 12. So far we have 3 pairs and 6 singles back.
Following on from yesterday’s blog I know at least 4 breeding adults went missing towards the end of last season. Their disappearance was probably down to the activities of the local sparrowhawk. The missing adults were in the following boxes – nb1 north, nb5 south, nb 11 west and nb12 west. So far this year 3 have returned. The singles in nb1 north, nb5 south & nb12 west. As they lost their partners last summer they will all be looking for new mates. Yesterday I saw the single bird in nb5 south trying to entice a new bird back in. The process of finding a new mate has already begun.
Sunday 7th May
Another two more swifts back today. A single in nb1 north and the mate of nb2 south (the third pair). That makes 11 back in total. That’s roughly a third of my colony – 3 pairs and 5 singles. What’s always intrigued me is how long single birds wait for their mates to return. Some will sit patiently for 2 or 3 weeks, whilst others look for a new partner almost immediately. It’s the latter that can lead to conflict if the old mate turns up a few days later than normal.
Saturday 6th May
I was hoping May’s weather would be an improvement on April, but alas it shows no sign of settling down yet. Thankfully it’s a tad warmer though, but not what I would call good swift weather. However it won’t stop the breeders from returning. Their hormones are raging and their urge to breed is at its peak. They’ll be back in the next week or two regardless of what the weather throws at them. It’s a different story with the bangers however. They’re in no hurry to arrive and will quite happily delay their return until the weather finally improves, which might not be until the end of May or even early June.
Two more swifts arrive home last night. A single in nb2 south and the mate of nb3 north (my second pair). That takes the total to 9.
Friday 5th May
Yesterday morning saw the first mini screaming party of the season as four more swifts returned to Swift House. The first swifts in nb12 west, nb4 north and nb5 south and the mate of nb1 west, making it our first pair back together this season. That takes my total home up to seven.
Yesterday also saw a big influx of swifts along the north coast of Holland. Over 10,000 were seen over Breskens a traditional staging post for swifts before they make the relatively short hop across the North Sea to the UK. I expect will we all see a few over the next few days, with Sunday looking like the most promising day of the weekend.
Alistair sent me short video of two hobbies working in tandem to catch a swift over his house in Devon. Sadly he thinks one of them finally caught the swift just out of camera view. Hobbies are extremely fast and agile small falcons. About the size of a kestrel with long pointed wings, they actually look more like giant swifts than anything else. More widely known for their ability to catch dragonflies, they are also one of the few birds of prey able to catch a swift on the wing. The others being the peregrine falcon and the sparrowhawk. Luckily they don’t often bother to chase swifts, as there’s usually something a lot slower and easier to catch.
Thursday 4th May
Third swift back in nb3 north last night at 8pm.
Do you ever have days where things don’t go quite as smoothly as you hoped. Yesterday was one of those days. We had planned to go to Chew Valley lake with our good friend John for a spot of birding. In reality we were really going to see the swifts. There had been reports over the last couple of days of 1000’s feeding over the lakes. Things started to go pear shaped just before we left to go. A quick check of my cameras revealed one camera had ceased working. Worst still it was one of the boxes that is already occupied. The box in question was nb4 south which happens to be one of the most awkward boxes to reach. To replace the camera would mean taking the box down which would take hours. So not wanting to disturb the resident bird I decided to do a temporary fix. Fixing a new camera onto the inspection hatch just might work I thought. So at 8am I was up the ladder removing the hatch. That’s all the time I had before we had to go to Chew, but at least I had a plan. On reaching Chew the sun was high in the sky and it was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Perfect swift weather or so we thought. Two hours later all we had seen was ducks, some more ducks and even more ducks. Not a single swift was to be seen. After John left us we popped over to Litton to see our friends Sandy and Tim. They’re still waiting for their swifts to return but had 8 pairs of house martins and 1 pair of swallows already back. In fact we saw more birds in their garden than we did around the whole of Chew, not counting ducks that is! Home by 3pm to finish off the temporary camera fix. Tested my plan and it worked although the new cameras lights make the picture a bit bright. Not the day I had in mind, but all in all not a bad day either.
Wednesday 3rd May
Despite the warm weather there’s been no new arrivals since Saturday evening. Still it’s given me a chance to potter around in the garden under the pretence of working, but in reality I’m really listening out for that familiar scream high above. As I pretend to work one of the new robins has been following me around. I know it’s the female robin as the male has lost half his feathers on his head fighting. I’ve been throwing her the odd mealworm, hoping she might come closer. Yesterday marked a big turning point in our relationship. Instead of throwing the meal worms towards her I placed them in the palm of my hand. After a few moments hesitation she hopped on for a second. Whilst no new robin can ever replace my old mate Rob the robin it’s still lovely to have a new friend to keep me company. Here’s a very short video of her feeding off my hand on the patio. Off to Chew Valley lake today to see the swifts.
Tuesday 2nd May
Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far. It got to 19.4C in the back garden. Warm enough for me to enjoy an ice cold beer outside in the sun. However this beautiful spring weather is nothing compared to Spains recent heatwave, which saw its hottest April day on record at 38.7C. Swifts are well adapted to cope with the high temperatures, but even they don’t really like it when it goes over 35C. However there are a couple of things they do to to help alleviate the heat. Birds don’t have the ability to sweat as mammals do, so in order to cool down swifts dangle their legs when flying. A bit like an aeroplane when its coming into land with its under-carriage down. They also fly with their beaks slightly open as well. All this helps to lower their body temperature. As Spain’s swift season is about a month in front of us many of them will already have eggs or young in their nests. Unfortunately those sort of temperatures could have a devastating effect on any nests under roof tiles that are exposed to the midday sun.
Monday 1st May
Although a few swifts do return in late April the beginning of May heralds their mass arrival. Yesterday was a bit of a damp squib of a day, dull and drizzly from dawn to dusk. I’d hoped I might see one or two more arrive but by the close of day there were no new arrivals at Swift House. However I’ve just checked the Avon Birding blog this morning and see over 1000 were seen feeding over Chew Valley lake yesterday. I’ve seen such numbers there on several occasions in the past and is was a real spectacle to see. I must go out and have a look myself before they all move on.
Sunday 30th April
Another swift returned last night. Just before it got dark a second swift buzzed the house once and without hesitation shot straight back into nb4 south. That’s the first 2 back safely. Last year we had 16 breeding pairs, so potentially another 30 still to come if numbers are to be maintained.
Yesterday afternoon turned out really warm reaching 18C in the back garden. This welcome warmth also brought out a few sun-lovers. The red mason bees were really active around the bee hotels. At least half a dozen males jostling with each other to mate with any emerging females. The sun also brought out the first damselfly of the year, a beautiful large red. If it stays warm more should appear in the coming days.
Saturday 29th April
Checking my records over the years I’ve never had the first bird back in the same box on consecutive years. One always turns up in a completely different box each year. The first swift back in 2022 was in nb3 north and arrived on 2nd May.
Last year the first bird back in nb1 west arrived on 9th May and was joint 5th returning. Its mate arrived a few days later on 13th May. Interestingly between 9th and 15th May last year we had 22 swifts return in a 7 day period. I wonder if we’ll see another concentrated return this year.
Friday 28th April
Out of the blue at 8.38pm tonight my first swift returned and went straight back into nb1 west. Here’s a couple of photos moments after it arrived. Now the fun begins!
Wednesday 26th April
I think everyone is getting a little fed up with this cold weather now, I know I am. It seems to have gone on forever. To lift my spirits I’ve been reading heart-warming quotes by well known authors. There’s a lovely one by John Steinbeck that seems rather apt this year “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness”. I think after the spring we’ve had we’re due a really hot summer. Despite the fact that it’s nearly May, winters icy fingers are still reluctant to release their chilly grip. Their hold will linger for at least a couple more days before we finally get something that resembles spring weather. Without doubt the cold has held up the swifts arrival. Only a few hardy birds have made it back so far, the majority are still somewhere down in southern Europe. Yesterday the Avon Bird blog recorded over 40 at Stratford, a birding hotspot around the banks of Chew Valley lake. There are plenty of insects around the lake so they won’t go hungry, but they’re unlikely to head towards their nest sites whilst it remains cold. Perhaps by the weekend if it warms up as forecast we might see a few back at Swift House.
Tuesday 18th April
They’re getting closer! Over 15,000 swifts arrived in south-east France yesterday. The wetlands of Falaise de Leucate near Perpignan is one of their favourite migration stop-over spots. As the swift flies it’s only 2 or 3 days away from us, however don’t get too excited. They tend to linger there for a few days before continuing on their journey home, so don’t expect to see many before the middle of next week.
Whilst pottering around the garden yesterday I disturbed a slowworm that was hiding in the undergrowth. I could tell by its long narrow head it was an adult female. The males by comparison have a much larger and squarer head. Having disturbed her from the relative safety of her resting place I placed her back in one of my large compost heaps. Slowworms love the heat of compost and often give birth to their live young deep inside them. She will be safe there.
It’s been a good year so far for my resident garden birds. I have 2 pairs of great tits in my boxes. One sat on eggs and the other just nest building. Not to be outdone I also have 2 pairs of blue tits in my boxes as well. Both these pairs are sat on eggs.
Our garden is the boundary between two rival pairs of robins. Both pairs regularly visit my feeders and occasionally squabbles break out if they meet one another. One pair has chicks and they love the meal worms I put out. They’re also getting much bolder and aren’t bothered by my presence at all. Maybe in time I can coax one to feed from my hand.
The dunnocks as far as I can tell haven’t started nest building yet, but they are chasing one another around the garden with their distinctive flirty courtship displays. I expect they’ll start nesting soon. They like to nest in the hedge that surrounds the garden. In a good year they’ll have 2 or 3 broods. Their eggs are the most beautiful turquoise-blue I’ve ever seen.
Friday 14th April
Portland Bill Observatory in Dorset recorded their the first swifts of the season yesterday. A couple were seen battling with the blustery conditions as they headed inland. God knows what they must have made of it as it definitely didn’t feel much like spring! Still things are looking better on the weather front in the coming days. Some proper spring weather is finally on its way and we might even reach the low 20c if we’re lucky. More importantly though is this plume of warm air is coming all the way up from Spain. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if quite a few more swifts hitched a ride on the back of it.
Tuesday 11th April
The first common swift of the year was seen over Northern Ireland yesterday. With its arrival I thought I’d have a quick look at the Trektellen website which records sightings of swifts seen across Europe. Sure enough in the last few days they’ve started to arrive over Les Dunes de Prunete in Corsica. This area is one of their traditional stop-over places on their migration back home and one of the first places they arrive back at. Another favourite site is the vast wetlands in Southern France on the coast near Perpignan where a few hundred have already been spotted. Even though they’re beginning to appear in Southern Europe don’t expect to see them back in the UK for at least another 2 or 3 weeks.
Easter Sunday 9th April
A huge thank you to everyone who signed the petition by Hannah Bourne-Taylor to try and make swift bricks compulsory in new builds (see March 9th blog). To get the question raised in parliament 100,000 signatures were needed by April 30th. That magic number was reached late on Saturday night. Now it is in the hands of our politicians. Lets hope they don’t waste this wonderful opportunity to help.
Good Friday 7th April
The first really warm day of the year. Blue skies and light winds have pushed the temperature up to 17C. Spring has well and truly arrived and the garden is full of insects. The LH photo shows a bee-fly basking in the sun in-between two primroses. In the middle photo the pretty light pink flowers of Lady’s Smock or Cuckooflower are just beginning to open. The RH photo are young seedlings of yellow rattle that I planted last year just emerging through the grass.
Below the purple flowers of the common dog violet are appearing everywhere. In the damp ground by the pond are clumps of snake’s-head fritillaries. Around the trunk of a silver birch in one of the driest and hottest spots in the garden is the species tulip – Tulipa bakeri Lilac Wonder, looking wonderful in full bloom.
Monday 3rd April
Yesterday I finally managed to put my boxes up. It wasn’t particularly warm, but at least it wasn’t raining and more importantly the winds were light. With the pressure off I can relax now and wait for the first swifts to return. Checking their arrival dates the mean average is around 25th April, with the earliest on 20th April and the latest on 2nd May. I wonder what date it will be this year.
Friday 31st March
You may have read reports in the newspapers recently of an influx of Alpine swifts to the UK this Spring. My good friend Simon from Devon has just sent me some lovely photos of a pair of Alpine swifts roosting in a church tower in Teignmouth. It would be great if they stayed to breed there, but I expect they’ll depart in the coming days and return to their traditional breeding places in Southern Europe.
As soon as it stops raining I’m planning on putting my boxes up again. I want to do it as soon as possible as my earliest ever swift to arrive turned up on 20th April in 2018.
Thursday 30th March
The pond is rapidly filling with new life. All the frog spawn has hatched and there are hundreds of little tadpoles swimming around. The toad spawn will hatch in a week’s time adding even more tadpoles to the pond. The pond is also teeming with Daphnia (water fleas). These tiny little planktonic crustaceans are filter-feeders. They help keep the pond clear by eating detritus, algae, bacteria, and protozoa that turn the water green. Unfortunately for them everything else in the pond find them delicious! Below are a couple of newts I fished out this morning. The smaller one is an adult male smooth newt. It’s fully grown and measures around 10 cm in length. The larger one is an adult male great-crested newt. It’s much larger than the smooth newt and measures over 15 cm in length. Both have long wavy crests along their back to indicate they are ready to mate. They are now safely back in the pond with the dozens of other newts. So just as well we have a lot of tadpoles!
On October 3rd last year I found a young great-crested newt whilst gardening. It had just left the pond for the very first time. It was only 5cm long which is about a third of the size of an adult newt. Fingers crossed In 2 or 3 years time it will return to my pond to breed and the cycle of life will continue once again.
Tuesday 21st March
There’s been some unusual visitors spotted over our shores this week that has caused a stir amongst bird-watchers. A single red-rumped swallow was seen in Cornwall a couple of days ago. There have also been numerous sightings of alpine swifts seen over the UK and Ireland. Alpine swifts are larger in size than common swifts and have a white belly and throat. Both species are north of their breeding territories which is way down in southern Europe. Still at least it has kept the twitchers happy for a day or two!
Sunday 19th March
I heard my first chiffchaff this morning. It’s one of the first summer migrants to return in Spring. Commonly referred to by twitches as a Little Brown Job (LBJ) because of its nondescript plumage. Looking almost identical to its cousin the willow warbler, this little olive-green bird about the size of a blue tit makes identification much easier by repeatedly singing its own name Chiff-Chaff Chiff-Chaff.
Friday 17th March
Another round of spawning has just begun in my pond. The first lot appeared around the middle of February with over 100 clumps of frog spawn and several dozen strings of toad spawn being deposited. Then the weather turned colder and all the breeding activity stopped. That was until yesterday. As the weather got milder this week so the frogs and toads returned. Not quite as many as in February, but still quite a lot and far too much spawn for my pond. As it’s been such a bumper year I’ve been able to stock five other ponds with the excess. Hopefully some of these tadpoles will mature into adults and return to these new ponds to lay their own eggs in a couple of years time.
Sadly I lost Rob the robin and both the pied wagtails last year after nearly 5 years together. I loved them dearly and will really miss them. However I do still have Wrenkin, our wren who visits us every morning for his breakfast. We also have a new pair of robins who whilst not quite as tame as Rob still come within a couple of feet of me, so maybe there’s hope for the future.
The blackcaps that over-wintered in our garden have left to return to their breeding grounds in central Europe. In a couple of weeks time our blackcaps will start to arrive from Africa along with the chiffchaffs.
I saw my first red admiral butterfly on the weekend basking in the sunshine. Also a pair of blue tits have just started nest building in one of my boxes, and lastly a few swallows have been seen in Somerset.
Thursday 9th March
Hannah Bourne-Taylor’s petition to make swift bricks compulsory in new housing to help red-listed birds sits with the UK Government. To be considered for debate in Parliament it needs 100,000 signatures. At the moment the figure stands at just over 62,000. With the deadline day of 30th April fast approaching it needs a few more signatures to get it over the line. If you haven’t already signed the petition please do, and please share it with as many people as possible. Click on this link to sign.
Sunday 19th February
People seem to be divided into two camps about when Spring arrives in the UK. For some it starts on 1st March. They call it the Meteorological Spring, as it fits in nicely with our Gregorian calendar. Other say it doesn’t really begin until the day length becomes longer than the night time. That’s called the Astronomical Spring and begins on 21st March. For me I reckon it starts when I see the first frog spawn in my pond. That happened yesterday. The pond is absolutely boiling with mating toads and frogs. I counted over 60 this morning, see this short video. The newts are also back in some numbers. I’ve seen a dozen or so palmate and smooth newts, plus a couple of great-crested as well.
Hundreds of crocus, aconites and snowdrops are out in flower in the garden. Below are a few photos.
The garden is also full of delightful, heady scents with the Mahonia Japonica competing with Daphne Bholua for top fragrance. Nestled below them a purple hellebore jostles for a place in the sun. All these flowers are vital food sources for any early pollinators out and about. I’ve already seen several Buff-tailed bumblebees taking full advantage of this early Spring bounty. We’ve even seen a Blackcap drinking nectar from the Mahonia flowers.
Sunday 1st January 2023 – New Years Day
Welcome to our 2023 Blog page. We wish everyone a very Happy New Year and a super 2023 swift season.
My first swifts will be back sometime in late April, that’s just over 100 days time. That’s still quite a long way off, but to help the pass the time away here’s another chance to see our ‘swift’ appearance on BBC Gardeners World. It was shown on TV last September, but in fact was actually recorded on 1st July 2021.
Before 2011 the migration route of a UK swift was a bit of a mystery. It was known that swifts spent the winter in Africa, but that was about it. However thanks to advances in modern technologies that changed. In the summer of 2011 a tiny geolocator was fitted to the back of a swift that flew from Landbeach in Cambridgeshire and was retrieved the following year. The data it recorded was the actual route in real time that it took on its migration to and from Africa. See the map below.
At the moment our swifts are somewhere in South-East Africa, most likely Tanzania or Mozambique. That’s about as far away from us as they go. It would have taken them about 4 months of non-stop flying to get there (see the red line). They’ll spend the next couple of months there. Then sometime during February they’ll start the return journey back to the UK (see the green line). By March they’ll should be back in Central Africa, somewhere over the vast rain forests of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In April having crossed the Gulf of Guinea they will have reached the west coast of Africa. A favourite stop-over country is Liberia. Here they’ll spend a few days feeding up on the swarms of newly hatched termites. Fully sated and rested they continue on their journey north up the west coast, before eventually crossing over the Straits of Gibraltar and back into Europe. The final leg of their journey is up through Spain and France before arriving back in the UK around the beginning of May. By the time they reach us they will have flown over 5000 miles! Swifts are quite long lived and in their lifetime an individual bird might do this journey over twenty times or more. My 2022 swift blog can be found here.