The blog is a record of my observations of swift activity seen around our house in Bristol. My Early 2018 Blog can now be found by clicking on Early 2018 Blog. For details of all 25 boxes and their exact location see Swift nest box location on our house.
Wednesday 29th Aug
10am. Well that’s all folks for another year. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as we have. Once again it’s been a year full of surprises, not least little Jack. Even though I didn’t manage to video his release properly I shall always remember that moment yesterday. After he wriggled free of my hand I really thought he would stay for a few minutes to take in the situation. However Jack had other ideas, he was off. He did two complete circuits of the Green, rising all the time before disappearing over my head. It was all over in less than 30 seconds. He looked so strong and powerful in flight I know he was going to be alright on his long journey south. I did however spend the rest of the day just looking at the sky hoping I might catch a last glimpse of him. Alas it wasn’t to be. He was gone, but never to be forgotten.
Today is my last blog for 2018 so I thought I’d do a brief summary of the season here at Swift House.
In early April and in readiness of the swifts impending arrival I increased the number of boxes from 17 to 25. I wanted to have plenty of spare boxes available as 14 out of the 17 were occupied in 2017.
On April 20th my first bird arrived back, beating the old record by 5 days. By the end of the first week in May another 6 had joined it. Then nothing. Bad weather on their migration route had held the rest up. It took another 2 weeks before any more arrived. By that time some of the early birds had paired up with one-another. Trouble erupted when the old mates eventually arrived and saw what had happened. Two whole clutches of eggs were thrown out, along with the interlopers. A couple of days of pandemonium followed before calm finally returned to the colony. By the end of the month all the 14 boxes were occupied again.
The fine weather in May continued into June and it got warmer and warmer. Due to the fine weather more and more swifts arrived. By the middle of the month the number of breeding pairs had increased to 15 – up by 4 on 2017. Joining them were another 2 non-breeding pairs and half a dozen single birds. At one point all 25 boxes were occupied.
July was even hotter than June and the swifts took full advantage of it. Their activity around the house was spectacular with screaming parties of up to 20 whizzing around. Unfortunately a male sparrowhawk also noticed this activity. A record number of eggs were laid 35, out of which 31 hatched. Food was so abundant that we only lost 2 small chicks all season. The sparrowhawk returned from time to time and managed to catch a couple of adult swifts, one unfortunately from a breeding pair. Luckily I managed to foster one of its chicks into another box, leaving the single adult to raise the remaining chick. Both chicks fledged successfully. As July came to an end more and more chicks started to fledge and with them went some of the adults. Tragically this included a first time breeding pair who upped and left their two-week-old chicks behind. One died before I had chance to intervene, the other I tried to foster but in the end ended up having to hand-rear it. We named him Jack.
The last 2 adults left on August 16th and Jack fledged yesterday on the 28th. Their stay here had been a tad over 4 months, although now it seems like only 5 minutes.
Overall (click) 2018 has been a super season, no doubt helped by the exceptional summer weather. We’ve had spectacular activity around the house virtually everyday from mid-May to the end of July. The colony has increased in size once again with record (click) results. The number of breeding pairs has risen from 11 in 2017 to 15 this year. Between them they have produced a record number of fledglings 29, that’s 9 up on last years total. However there’s still plenty of room at Swift House to fill, so roll on 2019 – I can’t wait!
The 2019 blog will be up and running sometime next April, so until then it’s goodbye from Jane and myself.
Tuesday 28th Aug
8am. He’s 47 days old and has just refused his first meal. I weighed him and he’s 43g. He’s wandering around the box just looking up at the sky, every now and then he appears to begin to jump then stops just as he’s about to do it. I’m no expert but I’m sure he’s telling me he’s ready to go.
I heard him doing his first rapid wing flapping yesterday. When I looked in he was jammed up in the corner of the box, head facing up the crease with both wings going like the clappers. He heard my approach and looked at me momentarily before carrying on.
Once a day, usually in the afternoon I take Jack outside. We sit together on the bench just by the back door. I place him on my stomach. My left hand almost covering him except for his head which is poking out between my index finger and thumb. One of the things he most enjoys is when I rub underneath his beak. He holds his head vertical and very soon his eyes close and he drifts into a dream-like state. He loves the activity outside. He watches the trees swaying back and forth, the clouds racing across the sky, but most of all he’s transfixed by other birds. Seagulls and crows instinctively scare him and whenever he sees one he withdraws back under the safety of my palm. However smaller birds like finches and robins absolutely fascinate him, he watches them intensely trilling softly in my hands. I’m sure he wants to join them. I think he might later on today.
10.40am. We took Jack to the Green just down the road next to the River Trym. Unfortunately it didn’t go exactly to plan. Even though there was four of us with cameras and videos at the ready, Jack had other ideas. As soon as I took him out of the box he wriggled free from my hand and was off. Nobody was prepared. We have lots of video of grass, feet and sky but very little of Jack. However I did manage to film a whole 10 seconds before he disappeared out of sight see this clip. Enjoy.
Monday 27th Aug
8am. He’s 46 days old and now weighs 44g. His wing feathers are about 16cm long and they extend past his tail feathers by 3cm. He has little appetite now, only taking 2 or 3 crickets every now and then. In all intents and purposes he’s ready. The only thing missing now is his desire to leave. He’s not shown that restless, uncontrollable urge to go yet. He still looks pretty comfortable with his lot, just sat there in his nest cup not doing much other than watching the world go by. When I see him trying to get out of his box I’ll know he’s ready to go, perhaps later today or maybe tomorrow?
Sunday 26th Aug
8am. He’s 45 days old and his weight has dropped to 46g. I’ve just measured his wing flight feathers and they are just over 15cm, they extend past his tail feathers by almost 3cm. The text books say they should ideally be around 16cm and 3.5cm at fledging. His weights about right and his flight feathers are within a centimetre or so. He looks sleek and chiseled, gone is the plump, fluffy look of a week ago. He’s almost there, just a bit more exercising and he’ll be ready to go.
Yesterday evening we had a lovely surprise. Answering a knock at the door revealed an old friend of mine who’s just as passionate about swifts as I am. He’d brought his daughter along this time. He’s been over several times during the season and they just wanted to have a look at Jack before he fledged. Neither of them had seen a swift close up, let alone hold one. Jack duly obliged. He’s so used to being handled he doesn’t mind about being picked up. He just sits there quite calm and relaxed in the cup of your hand. A few photographs later satisfied everyone and soon Jack was back on his nest-cup, looking at us and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Saturday 25th Aug
8am. Some good news to begin with, Jack has started doing press-ups. I heard a lot of scratching noises coming from inside the box yesterday afternoon. When I peeped in Jack was up on the tips of his wings. Momentarily we both looked at one another in total silent before he turned his head and carried on – it’s a very good start.
He’s 44 days old and his weight is still 47g. He only ate 4 crickets for his first meal before turning his head away. He’s got very little appetite now and doesn’t beg for food like he used to. I wonder if he’ll do any rapid wing flapping today.
Friday 24th Aug
8am. This is the day I thought Jack would fledge when he first hatched. However having looked at him this morning I think he’s still a few days away from going. He’s 43 days old and I’ve just weighed him and he’s down to 47g, which is heading in the right direction – 45g is ideal. Unfortunately he’s still not exercising that much. He really needs to do that to strengthen his wing muscles, so hopefully that’ll happen in the next day or two. I also have one eye on the weather forecast for his release. Saturday’s good but I don’t think he’ll be ready by then, it’s too soon. Sunday looks terrible so that’s not an option. So I’m probably looking at Monday or Tuesday at the earliest, which at the moment looks promising.
Thursday 23rd Aug.
8am. Jack is 42 days old and weighs 49g. He’s just had his first meal, 2 house flies, 1 cricket and 1 waxworm. He turned his head away when offered more.
Yesterday an old friend of ours, Ed put a ring on Jack. It was a bit on the fiddly side as Jacks legs are so small, however Ed’s very skilful at ringing and in no time at all it was done. I’m not sure who was more stressed me or Jack, still I’m glad it’s on. Perhaps sometime in the future I just might get a glimpse of it again if he returns to one of my boxes. That really would be wonderful now wouldn’t it.
Wednesday 22nd Aug
8am. Jack is 41 days old and I’ve just weighed him before his first feed, he’s back up to 50g. I was surprised he’s gained weight as he hardly ate anything yesterday. However he’s not doing much exercising either, so perhaps that explains why.
We have someone coming today to put a ring on Jack. Apparently and I didn’t know this, they don’t often ring hand-reared chicks as their survival rate tends to be on the poor side. However as Jack is in such good condition this objection has been waived this time.
I took him out in the garden yesterday afternoon to look at the surroundings and to get a feel for the outside. He was mesmerised every-time a bird flew overhead, watching them intensely until they disappeared out of sight. I would love to know what he was thinking. It was almost like he knew instinctively that’s what he’s meant to do?
Tuesday 21st Aug
8am. Jack is 40 days old and I’ve just weighed him before his first feed, he’s now down to 49g. He only ate 2 large crickets and 3 waxworms. In the last couple of days he’s gone from about 8 feeds a day to about 5. Also the quantity has reduced considerably. Before he would eat 6 crickets and 6-8 waxworms each feed, now that number is about half.
Another good indicator of pending fledging is the length of the wings.The flight feathers should be at least 16cm long and extend at least 3.5cm beyond the tail feathers. Jacks are about 14cm and 2cm. So they’ve got a bit more growing to do before he’s ready to go.
Monday 20th Aug
8am. Jack is 39 days old and I’ve just weighed him before his first feed of the day, he’s now 50g. His first meal consisted of 6 small crickets and 3 waxworms. He refused a fourth which surprised me as they are normally his favourites. In the past I’ve seen him eat 9 in a row.
As there’s no wind I’m going to take down my last box. I haven’t seen the last 2 adults since last Friday so I think it’s safe to do. The house looks so bare when they are all down.
As I put together this years statistics there are some interesting trends coming to light. One of them is the size of this years clutches. In previous years they have been split pretty evenly between 2 or 3 eggs per nest, occasionally 1 but that’s rare. This year out of 15 nests containing eggs – 12 had 2, only 2 had 3 and 1 had 1. Thinking about possible reasons why, over three-quarters of my colony (20 birds) got held up somewhere on the journey home. They arrived a good 2 weeks later than normal. I’m sure this delay had an adverse affect on their body condition which directly resulted in the predominance of 2 egg clutches this year.
Sunday 19th Aug
11am. Here’s a few photos of Jack taken this morning. He’s just started to refuse some of his feeds which is a sign that he’s getting ready to go. I reckon he’s about 38 days old.
Saturday 18th Aug
8am. The last two adults from north 1 have gone. I think they went early yesterday morning as their box was empty at 7am when I first checked it. I’ll leave it up for a couple more days just to be on the safe side before taking it down for the winter. It’s been a super season, thanks largely to the weather with activity virtually everyday from mid-May until the end of July. I’ve got pages of notes that I now need to go through before I can make my end-of-season summary. I’ll try and put something together in the next few days.
Only our little chap left to go. Jane has named him Jack (Jack-in-the-box). When we first tried to foster him he was in and out of different boxes almost everyday. His first cardboard box had Jack written on it too. I had to feed him every afternoon as he wasn’t getting enough food. However now he’s doing really well and stays in a bigger box and this morning weighed 51g, which is probably the maximum he’ll get. He’s also got an appetite far larger than you would think and can easily devour half a dozen waxworms and crickets in one go – and still want more a few minutes later!
Friday 17th Aug
9am. Here’s a lovely little video of Luke and Mina releasing their chick on Monday. https://youtu.be/JD5K1tSKJT
Our little chap weighs 47g and has about a week to go. The nearer he gets to fledging the more exercising he should start to do. That will be vigorous bouts of rapid wing flapping and press-ups. At the moment I’ve not seen him doing any of these. I’ve only seen him wing stretching (and eating!) In the final couple of days just before he goes he should start to refuse some of his feeds. He will be aiming to achieve the ideal fledging weight, which is somewhere between 40-45g.
Thursday 16th Aug
8am. Returned home late last night after three lovely days in Devon. Whilst there I didn’t see a single swift in any of the usual places, just like mine they seem to be all gone. However the skies were full of swallows and house martins which always lifts ones spirits.
I’ve just checked the camera in north 1 and to my surprise both adults are still here. Their last chick fledged on Monday morning just before we left. I was convinced they would leave immediately, but they’re still here. Perhaps bringing up such a late brood had taken its toll and they need to build up their strength again before they go. Whatever the reason it’s good to see them. Maybe they’ll treat me to one last fly-by?
We left our little chap with Luke and Mina (they were featured in my blog on August 7th). They had a chick a week older than ours, so it made sense to leave ours with them. However on Monday theirs fledged. Luke and Mina managed to video its release which must have been a very special moment for them. They’ve done such a magnificent job in raising up their chick. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do and they’ve done brilliantly. I’m very impressed with both of them.
5pm. Here are a couple of photos of our little chap (LH) with the other orphaned chick (RH) taken whilst we were away. They were kept together and Luke and Mina said they preened and cuddled each other. Our little chap has a few more white feathers and a slightly broader head.
Monday 13th Aug
7am. The remaining chick in north 1 has just fledged this morning. Surprising both parents returned last night to north 1, so it had a really good last supper. I expect both the adults will also leave today. That makes it 28 chicks that have successfully fledged, my best season ever. Only our little chap left now. He’ll won’t be ready to go until the 24th at the earliest.
Below are some photos to show the progress he’s made over the last couple of weeks. The LH picture was taken on July 31st when he was first abandoned. He weighed just 21g. The middle photo was taken on August 7th and shows him with the other two chicks in north 1. He’s the chick at the top looking down, by then his weight had increased to around 41-42g. The RH photo was taken yesterday. He’s now back with me as he just wasn’t getting enough food, he now weighs 47g. He’ll stay with me until he fledges in a couple of weeks time. I know I shouldn’t get too attached to him but I can’t help it, I’m really quite fond of him.
Sunday 12th Aug
7.30am. I was right about the adults reducing the number of feeds. They didn’t return until 9pm last night, so just as well I took our little chap out when I did.
I’ve learnt a lot over the past couple of weeks. Firstly I think you can only foster chicks which are roughly the same age and size (which I’ve done successfully many times in the past). Secondly, I think I was wrong to assume the foster adults would adopt a smaller chick once their own had fledged (they just want to leave as well). And finally it was just too late in the season to try this (not enough other birds around in the colony). Having said that it was definitely worth trying as fostering is always the best option. Swifts need to be with their own kind. They spend a lot of time just preening and cuddling one another and form very close bonds. Social interaction is very important to them. So even though I didn’t manage to foster our little chap he still had the opportunity to bond with his foster siblings and parents for almost a week.
Both adults in north 1 have behaved exactly like the single adult in south 1. That is just before their chicks are due to go they have reduced their feeds dramatically. I think this is done for two reasons. To allow the chicks to slim down to the perfect fledging weight and then to ‘encourage’ them to leave by hunger. At the moment they are being fed only once a day, the last thing at night. That one feed is barely just enough to keep them going. They are left alone all day and spend all their time constantly preening and exercising. They must be feeling hungry by now and perhaps they might even think their parents have gone for good. Their desire to go must be growing stronger and stronger each day. Instinct will soon take over and they’ll be gone.
2pm. One of the chicks in north 1 has fledged. I think it went sometime this morning as I haven’t seen it since 9am. Also a rather wet and bedraggled looking adult has just retuned and fed the remaining chick. That’s the first time I’ve seen one back during the day for sometime now. Today’s fledging brings the total to 27 with only 2 more to go. The remaining chick in north 1 and our little chap. It’ll be interesting to see if both adults return tonight.
Saturday 11th Aug.
7am. I took our little chap out at 3pm yesterday, He weighed 40g. When I popped him back in at 5pm his weight was back up to 44g. I’m pretty sure he got another feed at 9pm from one of the adults. Both the big chicks with him look ready to go. Every day they’re doing more and more press-ups and stretching. I have a degree of doubt over their exact age. In this particular box it was very difficult to tell when they hatched, but I reckon they’re somewhere between 38-40 days old. I hope it’s nearer to 40 and they’ll be off soon, maybe today. The sooner our little chap has full access to the adults the better.
5pm. It’s been tipping down for the last 3 hours and neither adult has returned which has surprised me. They normally return at the first spot of rain. I took our little chap out at 2 pm to feed him and have now decided not to put him back in. I have a feeling the adults have deliberately reduced the numbers of feeds. Basically this is to encourage their chicks to leave, unfortunately this no good for our little chap. I think plan B has failed, time for Plan C to begin. Hand-rearing has resumed again in earnest!
Friday 10th Aug
9am. Some great news to report. Late last night around 9.10pm both adults returned together. In the feeding frenzy that followed our little chap managed to push one of the larger chicks out of the way and grab a meal. What a little fighter – that’s my boy!
It’s raining this morning and the weather looks decidedly dodgy over the weekend, not exactly ideal. Sunday is looking particularly grim. If the adults remain in it will make it impossible for me to remove our little chap for his afternoon meal. I think the next few days are going to be crucial. Fingers crossed the weather won’t be as bad as its forecast.
Just started to modify the entrances to both top corner boxes. When completed I’ll add some photos to the blog.
5pm. Here are a few photos of my latest box adaptations. I’ve made the hole more D-shaped with a maximum head-height of 33mm in the middle – 65mm x 33mm. I’ve also added a small piece of feathered edge board to give it more of an angle outside. And lastly just inside the entrance hole I’ve roughened the surface so there’s a better grip once the birds are inside. Now the long wait until next year to see if it actually works!
Thursday 9th Aug
8am. When the adults return it’s such a mad melee inside the box it’s difficult to tell if our little chap gets a feed. So yesterday afternoon immediately after both adults had just left I took him out for an hour. In that time I gave him 3 good feeds and popped him back in just before they returned. That way I know he’s had something to eat. I think I might make this a daily routine, or at least until I can see him being fed by one of the adults.
As there’s no wind this morning I think I’ll begin the process of taking down my boxes for the winter. It gives me the chance to give them a good clean, especially around the cameras which get very grubby indeed. It also gives me the opportunity to carry out any minor repairs and to give them a lick of paint if they require it. It’s a bit of a boring job but I think it helps preserve the life of the boxes and more importantly the cameras inside.
7pm. When I took our little chap out at 3pm he weighed 41g. He took a few minutes to recognise me, but in no time at all he was his old self again. I fed him constantly until 5pm. I was amazed how many crickets he could eat. When I put him back he was a plump 46g. I know most of that weight gain will be lost overnight but at least he’s maintaining a body weight of just over 40g, which is excellent.
I managed to take down 23 of my 25 boxes. To my surprise I found a dead adult swift in west 6. I can only assume it got into a fatal fight with another non-breeder. I was also expecting to find some dead chicks in south 6. That’s the box with the awkward entrance. My neighbours told me they saw the sparrowhawk take one of the pair back in July. When I opened the box it was empty and very clean. No sign of any dead chicks or even a discarded eggshell. I’m really baffled as I was sure there was chicks in that box.
Wednesday 8th Aug
10am. Not much to report. Our little chap has settled in well in north 1. After I placed him in there yesterday afternoon I know the adults came in at least 4 times. However I am not sure if he managed to get a feed, but at least they’re coming in regularly. He’s quite strong and I’m hoping he might be able to muscle in occasionally and grab a meal. The other 2 chicks in there are due to fledge in about 5 or 6 days time. If he can just hang on there until then he just might stand a chance that one or both of the adults will remain with him. In the meantime I’ll monitor the box and if necessary remove him again, but that’s a last resort.
The single adult in south 1 didn’t return last night, so I think it must have migrated yesterday morning. Even though our little chap was in the box the day before with it, I think its drive to go was too strong. Still it was worth a go putting him in that box.
Tuesday 7th Aug
7am. What a day yesterday, but it worked out alright in the end. I’ve just watched the adult leave now the anxious wait. Will it return again today? Everything crossed!
With the third chick fledging in south 1 that brought the total to 26 with only 3 left to go. The two in north 1 (both adults still there which is fantastic) and our little chap now in south 1.
11am. It’s not worked. The adult bird hasn’t returned, whereas the other 2 adults in north 1 have been back at least twice already this morning. Until a few days ago they used to all return together. However yesterday the single adult in south 1 didn’t return at all during the day. Admittedly when it did at 9.15pm it gave the chick a feed, but I think now that was a one-off. Still it was worth a try. Plan B is to feed our little chap during the day and place it in north 1 later this afternoon. The chicks in there are about a week older and slightly bigger, but I think our little chap is strong enough to compete with them.
4pm. Having fed our little chap well for the last 5 hours I’ve now placed him in north 1. Fingers crossed he’ll have better luck in here.
We had a visit from a lovely local couple Luke and Mina this afternoon who have been hand rearing a swift they found at the roadside a few weeks ago. They have done a brilliant job and it looked in good condition. We took it down the road to see if it was ready to fly. It wasn’t but it was not far from it. Hopefully it will be ready in a few days time.
Monday 6th Aug
8am. At 7.30pm last night I put our little chap back in south 1. He is now up to 50g which is about right for his age, 24 days. However the last remaining big chick in there refuses to leave. A quick check this morning shows it’s still there. I’ll leave it to 10am and if it is still there I’ll remove our little chap again. On a more positive note I spent all day yesterday watching the box in the hope the big chick would fledge. During that time I counted the number of times it was fed. The adult bird returned at least 8 times which is fantastic. If I can get the timing right there’s every chance our little chap should be OK.
7pm. The big chick has just left! However before you get too excited I’ve not seen the adult bird all day. My dilemma now is what do I do next. Do I put him in the box and take a chance the adult will return tonight or just give up and put him in north 1. Leaning towards putting him back into the box.
9.15pm. Brilliant news. The adult has just returned with a food bolus and fed our little chap. It’s the first feed he’s had for over a week from another swift. The next challenge is will the adult carry on. So happy!
Sunday 5th Aug
7am. Chicks normally fledge either just before it gets dark or before 10am in the morning. If it’s still there after 10am it’ll probably be there all day. So with this in mind I decided last night to put our little chap back in. I fed him all day so he was in excellent condition and at 9pm I popped him back in. The adult returned a few minutes later, fed the big chick and all three cuddled up together. I’ll leave him there now until 10am. If the big chick is still there after that I’m remove him again and repeat the whole process. This way I can make sure he’s well fed during the day, but more importantly he’s in the nest box when the other chick is most likely to go. What I don’t want to risk is the adult finding the nest empty before I have chance to put him back in.
The other box with anything in is north 1. The 2 chicks in there are both looking good and being well fed by both parents. They’re due to leave around the 14th.
Saturday 4th Aug
7am. Our little chap has settled in well and as been totally accepted by the remaining big chick and single adult. However I’m not sure if it actually got fed. The big chick tends to wait by the entrance hole and I think it grabs all the food as it comes in. What we want is the big chick to fledge today leaving just our little chap on its own and more importantly, access to all the food.
The other good news is the missing adult in north 1 returned last night, so we’re back to full strength in that box. If for some reason it doesn’t work out for our little chap in south 1 I still have the option to move him into north 1. The next couple of days will determine whether he stays or goes.
Quick summary of what’s left. Only 2 boxes with anything in. North 1 has 2 adults and 2 chicks both due to fledge around the 14th. South 1 has 1 adult and 2 chicks. The big chick and our little chap. The big chick is due to fledge anytime and our little chap around the 24th. All other boxes are empty. To date 25 chicks have fledged and only 4 left to go.
10.30am. My gamble of putting our little chap in hasn’t quite worked. Although he has been accepted by both birds he’s just too small to compete for food. As far as I can tell he hasn’t had any feeds since I put him in yesterday. So my plan is to remove him and hand-rear him for a bit longer. Once I know for certain the other chick has gone then I’ll place him back in again.
11am. I’ve just removed him and weighed him and he’s lost 6g overnight. He’s back down to 35g. I think I was right to remove him. Hopefully the other chick will fledge soon and I can put him back in.
Friday 3rd Aug
7am. Another 2 chicks fledge yesterday, the last ones in west 1 & 12. With them also went most of the remaining adults. We now have only 2 boxes left with chicks in, north 1 – 2 and south 1 – 2. All the other boxes are empty.
I was hoping to foster our little chap into north 1. In this box there are couple of chicks about a week older then our little chap. However on checking the camera last night it looks like one of the adults might has gone. The chicks aren’t due to fledge until the 14th. If one parent has left it’s a big ask on the remaining adult to feed both of them to fledging, let only a third mouth if I put our chick in as well. There maybe nothing to worry about at all and the missing adult just stayed out all night, lets hope that’s the case. The only other box with chicks is south 1. The 2 chicks left in there are due to leave either today or tomorrow, but again there’s only 1 parent remaining. However If I can get the timing right and pop our little chap straight into immediately after the last chick has fledged there is a chance the remaining adult will carry on feeding it. It just might be worth a go, if not I’ll have to wait until both chicks have left north 2 and try the same trick. It’s all getting a bit desperate. But don’t panic, if I can’t foster it then I’ll hand-rear it until it fledges so it’ll be OK one way or another.
Despite what’s happening to the colony outside our little chap is looking really fit and strong and now weighs in at 33g. What a difference a few days make. On Tuesday it was tiny, weighed only 21g and was almost dead. I reckon if I had waited a few more hours he would have died.
3.30pm. Four swifts just whizzed close to the house, screaming as they went by. Just as they passed a swift slipped out of south 1 – was it a chick fledging?
4.30pm. Yes It was! Now there’s only one chick left in south 1. Just weighed our little chap and unbelievably he’s now 41g, perfect. It’s now or never to try foster him on, it’s got to be worth a go. Here goes!
7.30pm. Our little chap seems to be settling in well. Here is a video of it in its new nest that Jane has just filmed showing them mutual preening together. The larger chick is due to fledge anytime time now. I just hope the single adult will carry on feeding him once its last chick as fledged. We’ll know the answer of that in the next next couple of days. Whatever the outcome just by looking at this clip I’m convinced we did the right thing. It should be with it’s own kind.
Thursday 2nd Aug
7am. I’ve just weighed our little chap and he continues to put on weight, up to 28g now. I’ve just given him his first feed of the day of 3 juicy crickets.
Yesterday another 4 chicks fledged taking the total to 22. One went from south 1, one each from west 1 and west 12 and the last chick from north 6. Only 7 chicks left along with 8 adults.
The sparrowhawk was back again last night, chasing in the remaining adult in north 6 at 9.30pm. It didn’t stand a chance of catching it as the swift was back inside its box in a flash. The hawk was left looking bewildered on the guttering above. I winged a small pebble in its direction and sent him on its way. I checked the camera inside north 6 to make sure the bird was OK, it was. It also had a full bolus but no chick to give it to. The final one had slipped out a few minutes earlier. Luckily it had fledged just before the hawk appeared.
Wednesday 1st Aug
7am. Up early to feed the chick who’s developed an insatiable appetite now. It’s always hungry and begs for food every time I pass by. Still as long as it’s eating I don’t mind how much.
Another three chicks fledged yesterday. One in south 3, another in south 5 and one in north 6. That makes it 18 that have fledged so far with only another 11 left to go. As far as I can tell only 15 adults left now, however occasionally one adult will return after being absent for a day or two, so it’s really difficult to say how many for sure.
Now the only boxes with youngsters in them are; south 1 – 3; west 1 – 2; west 12 – 2; north 1 – 2; north 6 – 1, plus the abandoned chick from west 5 who is temporarily indoors making it 11 in total.
10am. To my surprise I’ve just read that mealworms shouldn’t be feed to chicks. Apparently they cause some problems to the developing feathers. Thank goodness I haven’t given it too many. I’m just about to order some live crickets and waxworms.
7pm. I’ve ordered several boxes of live crickets and waxworms, which should arrive tomorrow. In the meantime I bought some crickets this morning from a local pet shop to tie me over until they arrive. Our little chap is looking really good on them! He’s just opened his eyes for the first time and weighs 27g.
Tuesday 31st July
10am. I watched in vain the chick in west 3 all day yesterday hoping to see the adults feeding it without any luck. It looked grim and when neither parent returned last night it became obvious they had deserted the nest. First thing this morning I removed the small chick from the box. It’s about 14 days old, it’s eyes have only just opened and it weighed only 21g. It was very cold and hungry and I fed it immediately with a mashed up mixture of flies and spiders which it devoured in an instant. I bought it indoors into the warm and have fed it a couple more times since. Running short of food my wife Jane came up with the brilliant idea of asking Bristol Zoo if they could help. We know some people there from our swift conservation work and when she went there they were only too happy to help – our special thanks to Trevor and Andy. We’ve just returned with a couple of cartons of live crickets. Normally I would foster the chick into another box, but I can’t do this immediately as it’s too weak and underweight. I need to fatten it up for a day or two first. Once I’ve got it’s strength back up I’ll pop it into north 1. There are 2 chicks in there about a week older than this little chap, so I need to make sure it’s fit and strong enough to compete with its foster siblings before I put it in. What a morning!
9.30pm. Our little swift is doing really well. I’ve been feeding it all day and I’ve just weighed it and it’s now 26g. It put on 5g since this morning which is fantastic.
Monday 30th July
8am. Despite yesterday’s wet and windy morning another 3 chicks fledged. One from south 5 and one each from north 4 & 6. Joining them another 3 adults went as well, one each from west 5 & 12 and one from north 6. That takes the number of chicks that have fledged to 15 with another 14 to go. From the 15 occupied camera boxes 14 out of the 29 adults have also left (there was 30 but one in north 5 was taken by the sparrowhawk). Roughly that’s half the chicks and adults from the colony now gone.
I was starting to get worried about the number of feeds the single chick in west 3 was getting. Maybe that was why its sibling died a few days ago? I watched for a good part of yesterday and I didn’t see either parents return once. Just when I was beginning to think I might have to foster it both adults returned. At least it had 2 good feeds at 9.30pm. To make it to fledging it’ll need a minimum 5 or 6 feeds a day so I’ll keep a close watch on it from now on.
Sunday 29th July
9am. It feels like Autumn has arrived over night, tipping down with rain and blowing a gale. All my birds are still tucked up inside and I can’t see them going out for a while, not until the rain goes off. Unbelievably this is only the third or fourth time it’s rained since they’ve been here.
A quick summary of the state of the colony this morning:
All the non-breeders have gone – including both pairs in west 6 & 7 and single birds in west 8, 9 & 10.
12 chicks have fledged from 8 boxes along with 11 adults. Nest box 2 & 4 south and north 2 and 5 are now completely empty. North 4 has 1 adult and 1 chick. West 5 and north 3 both have 1 adult in each.
South 5 a non-camera box had chicks but one of the adults was taken by a sparrowhawk and the chicks subsequently died. The remaining adult left some days ago.
7 boxes still have their full complement of birds. South 1 – 3 chicks; south 3 – 2 chicks; south 5 – 2 chicks; west 1 – 2 chicks; west 3 – 1 chick; west 12 – 2 chicks; north 1 – 2 chicks and finally north 6 – 3 chicks.
17 chicks still to fledge, the last one around August 24th.
Saturday 28th July
9am. Yesterday was a big fledging day with 4 chicks going, the last leaving at 9.30pm. One went from south 3, another in west 5 and one each from north 3 & 4. Just as well they left when they did as the weathers turned much fresher. Any luck they should be well on they way south by now just before the heavy rain comes tomorrow. Including yesterdays leavers, thats 11 chicks successfully fledged so far with another 18 to go.
A friend of ours who has several swift boxes told me yesterday that one egg has just hatched. It’s the first year their boxes have been occupied by swifts. At the beginning the pair kept knocking their eggs out, but they kept on laying. It sounds like they were a very inexperience pair, more than likely it was their first attempt at breeding. Hopefully if the weather remains fine the chick will be OK, however it won’t be ready to fledge until early September. Late chicks are not unheard of but they are extremely rare.
9.30pm. I just witnessed the last chick in west 5 fledge. It was almost dark as it slipped quietly into the night sky to begin its epic journey south. A few minutes later one of its parent return with a huge bolus. The bolus is a mass of insects, sometimes as many as 500, collected by the parent and stored in a soft pouch in the mouth. The pouch when full can become quite extended, the nearest thing I can compare it to is the cheeks of a hamster when full of food. Anyway the poor parent looked really flustered, frantically looking for its lost chick. Finally after about 5 minutes it realised it was gone and began to swallow its bolus. I was really surprised how much effort this took, I felt kind of sorry for it.
I was wrong also about the chick in south 3 fledging this morning. A count tonight has revealed it’s still there. I told you how difficult it was to tell them apart!
Friday 27th July
7.30am. I was sure the chicks in north 3 & 4 would have gone yesterday. They spent all day heads right out of the nest boxes, watching the screaming parties fly by. But as hard as the outside birds tried to entice them out they stayed firmly put. The fledging clocks inside their heads still on stay- maybe they’ll go today as I can see them looking out again.
Some good news in west 3 where the smallest chick died yesterday, both parents are OK. I thought for a while that the sparrowhawk had taken one. However I counted the number of times they returned during the day and it wasn’t many, under 6. That’s barely enough to feed 1 chick let alone two. That’s probably the reason why the smallest chick died. This is their first time at breeding so they are a little inexperienced, perhaps this explains the lack of feeds they bring back. My more experienced pairs return twice as many times as that during the day.
Thursday 26th July
7am. Yesterday morning one chick fledged from north 3. Again there’s a lot of screaming activity outside so I think another maybe be on it’s way. It’s really difficult to tell if they’ve gone during the day now. The majority of the older chicks spend most of the time now looking out of the entrance hole which is just out of camera view. I can only really see them all properly at night when they return to the nest. But as I’ve said before the chicks look just like their parents now and if a parent decides to stay out all night it’s almost impossible to work out who’s who. So far 7 have fledged, with another 23 chicks still to go. As I’ve not seen the foster chick in west 12 since last Saturday I think it must have gone. I just hope it had enough strength to go.
I can see 2 little white faces peering out of north 4 as a group of 10 birds whizz within a few feet of them. They’re trying to entice them out to join them. They’ll be gone soon probably in the next hour.
10am. Just noticed in west 3 that one of the chicks has died. It’s only hatched about 10 days ago so was still pretty small. Not sure why it died as both parents seem to be bringing in plenty of food. The number of chicks still in the boxes now stands at 22.
Wednesday 25th July
7am. I think some more chicks are gong to fledge today. There’s been screaming activity outside since 5am. A group of about 8 -10 birds are constantly whizzing around the house, and in particular north 3 & 4 which are due to go.
Yesterday afternoon some old friends, Tony and Sandra, turned up out of the blue on they way to Somerset. They’ve just put up their first swifts boxes and are in the process of trying to attract their first pair. We spent a very enjoyable few hours talking about birds in general and swifts in particular. At that the moment he’s only got 2 zeist boxes, however I have a feeling after our talk some more are on the way. I think he’s been bitten by the swift bug!
Tuesday 24th July
9am. The small group of bangers (non-breeders) that have been here for most of the summer have gone. I haven’t seen them for a couple of days now and with their absence there’s a definite last of the season feel around the house. The remaining adults, apart from the two pairs with very young chicks in west 1 & 3 have reduced the number of feeds per day. Gone is the daily routine of the bangers chasing the adults back in, it’s all very civilised now. It feels like it’s winding down even though the weather is absolutely brilliant. The majority of chicks are looking good, gone is their puppy fat appearance of a few weeks ago. They are all healthy looking youngsters, slim and fit and eager to go. Looking at them all this morning I think the next ones to go will be in north 3 & 4.
Monday 23rd July.
9am. Two more chicks fledged yesterday. The singleton in north 5, that’s the box where the chick spent the night alone on Saturday and the other in south 2. Several weeks ago one of its adults in North 5 was taken by a sparrowhawk. So I decided to help the remaining adult out by fostering the second chick into south 2 as there was only one chick in that box. Perhaps it was the foster chick that fledged from south 2. So far 5 chicks have fledged with another 25 almost ready to go.
Some sad news to report. The chicks in south 6 have died. The same sparrowhawk that caught one of the adults in north 5 also took one from south 6. The remaining adult has been struggling to bring in enough food and yesterday the box fell silent. It didn’t return all day until 10pm. I suppose it was just too much of a task to bring up the chicks on its own. However as its still roosting in the box it should return next year and fingers crossed have much better luck next time.
10pm. The remaining chick in south 2 has fledged. That’s makes it 6 that have fledged with another 24 to go.
Sunday 22nd July
7am. Sometime yesterday the remaining chick (the second) in south 4 fledged. I think it was in the afternoon as I saw two birds leave the box in quick succession. I wish I ‘d had gone and had a look at the camera now. Quite often a chick will immediately follow the adult out after it’s been fed. Only two adults stayed out last night, one in west 5 and surprisingly the other in north 5. This is the box where the sparrowhawk caught the other adult and I moved one of the chicks into south 2 ( it’s doing really well). The remaining chick was left all alone last night which is a bit unusual, however as it’s due to fledge anytime perhaps its parent was trying to tell it something.
Lots of noise and activity outside since 5.30am this morning. I wouldn’t be at-all surprised if another chick has gone. Will check all the cameras in a minute.
Saturday 21st July
9am. It’s getting very difficult to work out who’s gone. Most of the chicks are the same size as their parents now. However there are some small differences which set them apart from their parents. They have a bit more white on their faces and also a faint white edge to their wing feathers. Apart from that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. After much deliberation I came to the conclusion that 5 adults stayed out last night, probably because there’s not much room in the boxes anymore. Also some of the chicks have begun sleeping in different parts of the boxes, so one minute you can see them then they’re gone again. However I do know for sure that one chick in south 4 fledged sometime yesterday. It fledged after 41 days so perhaps this is the new normal for this year. I can’t see the chick we fostered in west 12 on Thursday. I’ve looked outside and there’s no sign of it on the ground, hopefully it’s still in the box just out of camera view.
Friday 20th July
10am. I think I might have to revise my fledging dates. In the last 7 years my chicks normally leave when they are between 43-45 days old. However I think 2 of my chicks might have fledged early, if so it’s that puts them in the region of 37-39 days old. I may be jumping the gun a bit. Just because I couldn’t see them in their boxes last night doesn’t mean they’ve fledged early. They might just have been out of camera view when I looked. I’ll double-check today to make sure for certain. I can hear lots of wing flapping from inside half a dozen boxes this morning, so several are getting ready to go.
7pm. I’ve re-read all my old swift books regarding fledging dates. The average date seems to be around 6 weeks (42 days). In exceptionally warm summers this has been recorded as low as 5 weeks (35 days) and conversely in very wet summers, 8 weeks (56 days). My first chick to fledge was missing when we returned home from holiday on the 15th July. If it fledged on that day it would have been 40 days old, however as we were away for a week it could have left several days earlier. My gut feeling is most are going to fledge slightly earlier than normal.
Thursday 19th July
10am. Our little foster chick in west 12 is doing fine. It’s cuddled up with the other two chicks just as if nothing bad has ever happened to it.
Last night around 9pm I heard the same soft pipping call of my swifts just as I did a few days ago when the sparrowhawk was about. Sure enough there he was. Perched as bold as brass just above my boxes. He ruined the evenings display. All the swifts stayed high up until it was almost dark and then descended in a mad frenzy. It was all over in a flash. I hope he doesn’t come at that time again because it spoilt the evenings entertainment.
Wednesday 18th July
7am. What a different a day makes. Yesterday was much cooler with a fresh westerly wind and as a result there was no banging activity at all. The small group of yearlings that have been accompanying the resident birds in were missing all day. All I saw were the adults returning silently every now and then to feed their chicks. It was quite quite tame when compared to Mondays action.
I spent some time watching south 6 but I never actually saw both birds together, all I saw was the less competent bird returning a couple of times. Admittedly I wasn’t watching all day so hopefully I’ve missed the other one, but I’m starting to feel something terrible may have happened to it. As I can’t see inside I don’t really know what’s going on and to look inside means taking down 3 boxes which is impossible to do with birds in all of them. So if one of the adults has been predated the remaining adult is going to have to bring up the chicks on its own without any help from me.
10am. A local chap, Peter has just bought me a young swift who has fallen out of its nest. It was in pretty good condition, although a little underweight. I gave it a some food and water and placed it in south 4. A few moments later it appeared at the entrance hole and launched itself into the air. I watched it disappear over the horizon. Hopefully now it’s airborne it will be OK and on its way to Africa.
7pm. What a day! A second chick to foster. Someone in Shirehampton found a 4 week old chick and took it to the local vets. By sheer luck they found me on the internet and tonight they brought it to me. I’ve managed to find a suitable box to foster it in. West 12 has 2 chicks roughly the same age and size. It’s the chick facing the opposite way in the RH photo below and it was accepted immediately by the other two. In the last few minutes one parent has returned and its got its first feed in 24 hours.
Tuesday 17th July
7am. My neighbours are adamant that the sparrowhawk caught a swift. The only box on the south side I can’t see inside is south 6. It’s the one with the slightly awkward entrance. I watched the less competent bird try to enter last night. It was quite breezy and it took about 10 attempts to get in. I haven’t managed to see it’s mate yet. There is the possibility that the hawk might have caught it. I’ll try and watch that box a bit more closely today to see if I can work out who’s still about, hopefully both.
There’s around 5 birds that disappear up into the sky each night around 10pm. Before that they do all the right things. They follow in the all resident birds and fly within a couple of feet of the unoccupied boxes. But will they land and enter, no way. It’s so frustrating and I know how others must feel when they see their birds doing same thing. There’s obviously something holding them back and I think it must be an age thing. They must be yearlings. On a positive note these birds will be back without a doubt. Next year it will be these birds that pair up and occupy a box for the first time and so the cycle continues.
Monday 16th July
9.30am. I can’t believe how quickly plants grow. I’ve been up the allotment since 7am and have picked enough produce to feed an army.
The good news is all the adults birds are OK. I don’t know what the neighbours saw but it wasn’t one of the resident adults that was taken by the hawk. Perhaps it was a prospector hanging on the outside an looking in?
The first chick has fledged. The single chick in north 2 has gone. Not sure when, but if it left yesterday it would have been 40 days old. Normally my chicks fledge around the 43-45 day mark, but this year the weather has been so good that I expect them to fledge a little earlier than that.
Up to 15 whizzing about outside. I think a mixture of non-breeders and resident birds. It’s good to be back home.
Sunday 15th July
10pm. Just got back after a glorious week down in Devon. I need to check all my cameras to find out what’s been going on since I’ve been away. I can see the last 2 eggs in west 3 have hatched, probably a couple of days ago judging by the size of the chicks. That brings the final total to 30 chicks. As far as I can tell there are no more eggs left to hatch. Unfortunately my neighbours think the sparrowhawk may have caught another swift as it went to enter one of the boxes on the south side. I’ll try and work out where later.
I always find it difficult to leave my birds (my wife Jane will back me up on this). Their stay with us is so short that I try to cherish every last moment they’re here. However the weather has been so exceptional this summer that when the chance came to spend a few days away it was too good an opportunity to miss. Nevertheless I still managed to get my swift kick in down in Devon. I found a couple of new nest sites, one in Lyme Regis and the other in Sidmouth. The latter in the roof of a 4 star hotel – The Victoria. I bet they didn’t know they had those guests staying there! We went to see our new swift friends in Beer, Margaret and Ian. They’ve only recently installed 8 boxes around their house and are passionate about swifts. They very kindly invited us over for a seafood lunch. The great news is swifts are already showing an interest in their boxes. We saw 3 or 4 having a real good look, and as for the lunch it was absolutely delicious. We popped over to see Stephen Fitt, the RSPB’S local swift expert. He’s a lovely gentleman and we spent an enjoyable morning just talking swifts and sharing ideas. Whilst in Devon I also arranged to see one of my old Bicton College mates, Simon Thurgood. He’s a keen naturalist and wildlife photographer. His challenge this year is to photograph all 56 or 57 UK butterflies (there’s some debate over the actual number) He’s on 45 at the moment. And lastly we went to Kentisbeare to see if there was any action around the new boxes fitted in the church tower. Although we didn’t manage to hook up with Stuart who’s the brains behind this project, we did spend a very pleasant hour watching a dozen or so swifts whizzing around the church. https://youtu.be/e3scVaQfYI8. All in all we had a wonderful week away.
Sunday 8th July
Noon. The daily pattern has changed over the weekend with more screaming fly-bys and less banging going on. More often than not these screaming parties have over 15 birds in them which is lovely to see, not to say quite noisy as well. All 28 chicks are doing really well, over half now are fully feathered and looking more like young swifts every day, the rest are still a bit downy. The 2 eggs in west 3 are due to hatch around 13th July.
Saturday 7th July
7am. Watching over the last few nights there seems to be two groups of newcomers. The ones which roost in the boxes and the ones that don’t. Although I’ve seen birds enter 10 of the 11 unoccupied boxes, as far as I can tell it’s only 3 or possibly 4 boxes that are used for roosting. There’s a pair with chicks in south 6, another pair in west 6 and a single (possibly a pair) in west 7 and sometimes a single bird in west 9.
Between 9 and 10pm the swifts (40 plus) gather above the house and begin to return to enter their boxes, leaving somewhere in the region of 6-10 birds outside. These outsiders continue to fly very close to the boxes, only a few feet away. Then almost at the same time every night, just a few minutes after 10pm they all disappear up into the night sky. They’ll be back around 5am the next morning and the whole process starts again. What determines whether they roost or not. Their age, the weather conditions, maybe a bit of both or something completely different. It’s been suggested that it’s the 1 year old birds that don’t roost, but nobody really knows for sure. It’s another mystery to solve.
6pm. In the last few minutes thousands of flying ants just have started to appear – the swifts are going to have a feast tonight!
Friday 6th July
6.30am. I spent all day yesterday counting to see how many times an adult returned hidden in amongst a screaming party. It was almost 100% of the time. Sometimes the adult would be at the front of the screaming party, others times at the back. As the party screamed past the boxes an adult slipped in unnoticed almost every time. I watched our less able bird in south 6, the one that took 27 attempts to get in. Now I’ve made modifications to the gripper rungs in normally gets in after 2 or 3 goes. Yesterday it failed on it’s first attempt. It had followed in a screaming party but missed the hole (again). I was expecting to see it try again immediately, but it disappeared for 5 minutes and only returned when another screaming party whizzed by. This time it was successful. Without doubt it was using the protection of the screaming party as cover to enter.
Noon. Whilst filming the bangers a few days ago I inadvertently caught the sparrow hawk attack. It’s towards the end of this clip (30 seconds in) it flies in, misses all the swifts and ends up on top of one of the boxes before almost hitting me on the way out. Damn cheek!
Thursday 5th July
7am. The fostered chick in south 2 looks fine, as does the single chick left in north 5. I think that was the right decision to foster it late yesterday.
Still getting quite a bit of banging activity most mornings. Here’s a short clip of what happened a few days ago. This was taken on June 29th and gives you a flavour of the banging activity.
9.30am. The second egg has hatched in north 1. New total 28 chicks with only 2 eggs left in west 3.
11am. The male sparrow hawk is back again. It’s strategy is to try an ambush any swift as it goes to enters its box, luckily it missed this time. I think this is one of the downsides of having such a large colony, it draws in unwanted attention just like this. I used to think the behaviour of the youngsters who regularly chase the returning adults back in was done for fun and pure devilment. However having watched what happened with the sparrow hawk I’m convinced it’s more likely an elaborate distraction ploy. It’s main purpose is to give the returning adult an opportunity to enter unseen by drawing the gaze of any predator lurking nearby. It’s a very clever bit of behaviour indeed. Swifts are at their most vulnerable just as they slow down to enter and this just might give them the few extra seconds they need to scramble inside undetected.
Wednesday 4th July
8am. Pretty sure the missing adult in north 5 has been killed. No sign of it again last night so perhaps the sparrow hawk did catch it afterall. The remaining bird should be able to bring in 10 feeds a day, 5 for each chick which is enough to get them to fledging. They both look healthy at the moment.
A slight change in the behaviour of the colony. For the last 3 evenings around 9 pm they all gather just above the house, 30 birds or more it’s difficult to count, and put on a wonderful display. Reasonably high up in the sky they scream and chase one-another in one massive group. This carries on for about an hour before they all descend back to their boxes around 10pm. I’m not sure what they meaning of this is but to me it looks like they’re just happy to be alive and enjoying life. A real spectacle to watch.
9.30am. The first egg has hatched in north 1. That brings the total to 27 chicks with 3 eggs left to hatch.
4.30pm. I’ve been watching the single adult in north 5 and it’s not coming back as often as I expected. I may have to think about fostering one of the chicks into another box. South 2 is the logical choice, there’s only 1 chick in there and it’s exactly the same age and size as the chicks in north 5.
7pm. The 2 chicks in north 2 just weren’t being fed enough times during the day so I’ve moved one of them into south 2. It only weighed 22g which is considerably underweight for its age, it should be somewhere between 30 – 50 g. However it can put on 10g in one day so hopefully it’ll regain that weight in no time at all. It was immediately accepted by the single chick in south 2 (see the RH photo) and has been fed twice in the last hour. The remaining chick in north 5 has also been feed a couple of times.
Tuesday 3rd July
7am. No sign of the second adult in north 5 last night. Hopefully it’s just very scared and will return soon. The worst case scenario is that it’s either been killed or deserted for good. If that turns out to be the case the remaining adult should be able to raise the 2 chicks on its own, especially if the weather remains good. The chicks are nearly 4 weeks old and quite well feathered. There’s only another 2 and a bit weeks before they fledge, so fingers crossed they’ll be OK.
The eggs in north 1 are due to hatch today.
7pm. The sitting bird has just left north 1 revealing both eggs are still there. I think they’ll probably hatch tomorrow now. Off to watch the football, fingers crossed England will prevail even though it won’t be pretty.
9.50pm. I said it wouldn’t be pretty but who cares we won!
Monday 2nd July
6am. A bit of late drama last night. Around 9.20pm a male sparrow hawk chased one of the adults in north 5. Thankfully it missed the adult but it very was close, hanging by its talons to the landing strip below the entrance. It then decided to perch on the ridge tiles a few feet away. It stayed there until just before 10pm. All the time the majority of my birds (20 plus) screamed and wheeled about just above it in a very distressed state. They gave out a peculiar call which I’ve never heard before. It was obviously a warning call telling others there’s a predator about. About 5 minutes after the hawk had gone, sometime after 10pm half the swifts in the group whizzed back in. It was really quite dark by now and I waited to see if the others would return. In the end 9 remained out all night including both adults from north 5. Hopefully they’re OK and will return sometime this morning. I’ll keep a special watch out on that box today. I hope this was just a random visit by the hawk and not something he’s going to do on a regular basis. It was a major disruption to their night time routine plus extremely worrying for me watching below.
9am. Good news one of the adults from north 5 has just returned.
2pm. Just watched one of the birds trying to get back into south 7. I’m pretty sure it was the less able bird who took 27 goes the other day, this time it managed it in 3. My tweak isn’t a 100% fix, but it’s much better than it was before.
10pm. As far as I can tell only one adult in north 5. I wonder if the incident with the sparrow hawk has scared it away.
Sunday 1st July
6am. The small piece of wood I fixed under the entrance hole to south 6 seems to have worked. I watched one bird enter the box on it’s first attempt. Admittedly it was probably the more competent bird who tends to get inside relatively easy anyway but never on its first go. However the proof in the pudding will be the other bird, the one that took 27 attempts yesterday to get in. If it cuts down some of those attempts then I’ll deem it a success.
The bangers arrived early this morning, the first ones arrived just before 5 am. The wind has also dropped which should help matters. The last 2 days we’ve had quite a strong north-easterly blowing which has tempered their actively around the boxes.
9am. What an hours entertain, the bangers are going nuts. I’ve tried to video some of the action as it’s quite intense. I reckon there’s between 10 and 12 in the group.
Saturday 30th June
5.30am. I saw birds enter 2 new boxes for the first time yesterday, west 4 and west 7. All 26 chicks are doing fine despite the extreme heat, even the ones on the south side. They don’t look like they’re under any stress at all and are all being well fed. If my garden is anything to go there’s going to be a plague of aphids ( followed sometime in August by a plague of ladybirds). I never seen so many insects in my garden for years, it’s absolutely teeming with them. However even though my chicks are doing OK this heat will be having a devastating effect on others. Chicks under pan tiles which are exposed to the midday sun will be suffering. Reports are coming in from rescue centres of baby birds being bought in. It’s perverse that while this weather is ideal for the adult birds, providing an abundance food source from dawn to dusk, it’s so cruel to their chicks. Unable to leave the confines of their nests and subjected to soaring temperatures they struggle to keep cool and inevitably some move to the entrance holes to gain some relief with tragic consequences.
A quick update on the colony. As I’ve just mentioned all 26 chicks are doing fine. There are still 2 nests with eggs in north 1 and west 3. North 1 eggs are due to hatch on the 3rd and west 3 around the 17th. In the non camera boxes there is a new pair with chicks in south 6. A pair in west 6 and single birds in west 2,4 7, 9 & 11 as far as I can tell.
The media seems to be picking up on the current heatwave and comparisons are being made to 1976. As I said in my blog on June 25th if this weather continues it will be interesting to see if any of these new birds breed a year early.
3pm. I’ve been watching the new pair in south 6 try and enter their box. It’s the one I fitted into the top part of the corner box (south 4) and I’ve made the entrance a tad too narrow. However one of the pair has mastered the entry and can usually get in after 1 or 2 attempts. The other bird is absolutely terrible and has just taken 27 goes to get in, yes a staggering 27 attempts! I must try and do something to help. I’m going to fit a temporary ledge just underneath the hole to give them a bit more grip. In the autumn I’ll sort it out properly.
Friday 29th June
6am. Back in April I was contacted by Kate from Rippingale in South Lincolnshire. She and her husband Jez had set about building and installing 5 single and 5 double boxes throughout their village and asked if I could send her a copy of the attraction calls. A couple of days ago I received another email and some photos from a very happy Kate. They have managed to attract one pair of swifts into a single box and a pair and a single swift into the double box. They are absolutely delighted. It just goes to show that swifts will readily use boxes if they are provided for them. It’s a wonderful example of how it only needs a few people to make a really big difference. Thank you Kate and Jez for sending these photos and allowing me to share your inspirational story on this blog.
Thursday 28th June
8am. I’ve got around 10 non-breeders which visit regularly so last night I watched to see how they all behaved. Around 8pm all 10 were present and started by whizzing around the house. Whenever an adult returned several of them would break off from the main group and follow it up to its nest box. As it got darker 5 of this little group disappeared back into to their respective boxes, 1 in west 2, a pair in west 6, 1 in west 7 and lastly 1 in west 11. That left 5. These remained outside and chased the remaining adults in until every resident bird was back in. Then at around 10pm they turned westwards and disappeared up into the sky. Could these (5) be 1 year old birds and the ones in the boxes (5) a mixture of 2 or 3 year olds? It does tie in nicely with the data suggesting that about half of all non-breeders are 1 years. The other half being either 2 and 3 year olds. My split was about 50-50 which is a bit of a co-incidence. I know it wasn’t a very scientific test but having watched my non-breeders there definitely seems to be a difference in behaviour between some of them. Whether this difference it’s an age thing I don’t really know, but it has left me intrigued. So many unanswered questions, perhaps that’s why we love them so much.
Wednesday 27th June
5.30am. I couldn’t sleep last night as it was too hot so I got up early to watch the bangers outside. There was a lot of activity yesterday around the house with all the boxes being regular inspected by the bangers. It’s very difficult to tell what’s going on in the boxes with no cameras. I’d forgotten how much I’ve come to rely on. I know we have a new pair with chicks in south 6. I know single birds are definitely roosting in west 6 and 11, but it could be pairs. In fact I’ve seen swifts enter 7 out of the 8 of the non camera boxes. The only one I’ve never seen a bird enter is north 7. Last night a new bird roosted in west 2, which is one of the last 2 remaining unoccupied camera boxes, the other being west 4.
Some behaviour since the weekend has been intriguing me. One of the prospectors, usually the lead bird gives out a repeated pipping call as it flies past the boxes. This is a different call to the usual scream we normally hear. It seems to encourage the following group, anything up to 4 or 5 birds to give chase. In swift groups this behaviour is often referred to as the follow-the-leader call. Nobody really knows for certain what it actually means but it definitely seems to excite the chasing pack. Could it be a young bird courting others and showing them a suitable nest location? Whatever it is it has been going on since the weekend and it’s fun to watch.
9.30am. Just seen two swifts go into west 6 one after another. Lots of prospecting going on outside so better see what’s happening to the other boxes.
2.30pm. For anyone who has prospectors going around their boxes and getting really frustrated by the fact they just won’t go in. I’ve just read some findings that might help answer that conundrum. The numbers of non-breeders that make up the overall swift population is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 40%. To break this down a bit more – around 17% are likely to be 1 year olds; 14% 2 year olds and 12% 3 year olds. The 1 year olds are not really interested in finding or acquiring a box. They’re more interested in imprinting their local colonies to memory. Whereas the 2 and 3 year olds definitely want to find a vacant nest site. And if the conditions and timing is right, might even breed. So take my colony for example, I reckon I’ve got about 10 non-breeders who regularly visit. According to this data 4 will be 1 year olds, 3 will be 2 year olds and 3 will be 3 year olds. The 1 year olds have no intention of nest building and are quite happy just to whizz around and chase the adults back in. Whereas the 2 and 3 year olds are the ones which will cling onto the box and maybe even start to roost inside a vacant one. So when you see that prospecting party around your own house nearly half will be 1 years with no intention of going anywhere near your boxes. I hope this hasn’t deterred anyone from trying but it might help explain why some birds don’t do what they’re supposed to do and go straight into one of your unoccuppied boxes.
Tuesday 26th June
7am. It was over 27c yesterday and today it is meant to be even hotter. The swifts just love this weather. It’s already 17c outside and there’s been activity outside since 5am. I was going to get up then, but I was just too tired. Anyway I’m up now and a little gang of newcomers, 4 or 5 are causing havoc. It only takes the resident birds in one box to respond to their antics to set off all the adjacent boxes. Now the whole colony is screaming back in a defiant chorus as these teenage troublemakers fly past. If I wanted to stay in bed there’s no chance now not with all that racket going on outside.
I managed to confirm there’s now chicks in both west 1 and west 12, the 4 eggs must have hatched sometime over the weekend. I haven’t managed to see if the third egg has hatched in south 1 yet but hopefully I will get a chance today. The up-to-date total is 26 chicks with only 5 eggs left to hatch.
These pesky troublemakers have now just pulled the camera lead out of west 2 by landing on it. Not only are they annoying the resident birds they’re starting to annoy me now. Off up the ladder to try and fix it.
7.30am. There’s a chick missing from south 2. No sign of it in the box so I presumed it must have died a few days ago and was removed by the adults. The revised total is now 25 chicks with 5 eggs to go.
4pm. Nudging 30c and all the adults are out so it was really easy to check all the nests. The third egg in south 1 has hatched. Judging by the size of the chick I would say yesterday. I am quite pleased with this particular box as it’s the one where one egg was flicked out by the adults on June 7th. I’m not sure how long it was on the floor of the box, however I managed to pop it back in again and I’m delighted to see that all three have now hatched. New total; 26 chicks and only 4 eggs left, 2 in west 3 and 2 in north 1.
Monday 25th June
10am. Here’s a brief summary of yesterdays NGS/Swift Day:
Over 200 people came which was amazing. We spoke to loads of people who are already doing their bit to help swifts. We found out about many who had put up their own swift boxes locally that we didn’t even know about. We think that between 20-30 new swift boxes are going to be made which is fantastic.
One new Swift Group (in Glos) is going to be formed and possibly more elsewhere. Someone from Environment Agency wants swift boxes on their head office and some of their other buildings in Gloucestershire and so a plan was made to offer help and advice.
Many were motivated to do something themselves to help swifts which made the day so rewarding for us.
A huge thank you again to everyone who came yesterday. I tried to speak to as many people as I could, but there just wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone. Please accept my apologies if I didn’t get a chance to speak to you in person. If you have any questions please email me. We raised over £1500 for charities (including swift rehabilitation) and everyone that came knows more about swifts than they did. Here are a couple of photos of those that came and two stunning photos taken by our friend Julien of Viper’s Bugloss with a bee and our Delphiniums. Jane said she must have said Bugloss incorrectly at least 30 times when she was asked!
My birds are going nuts outside, so I’m going out for a bit of R & R in the sunshine. I might be gone some time!
4pm. A few famous visitors popped in this afternoon. Have you guessed who from the photos? It was the presenters of the BBC’s Garden Rescue programme, Charlie Dimmock and the Rich brothers, Dave and Harry. They were really nice people and it was great to show them my garden.
5pm. The laptop has been in the garage since last Thursday and my access to see inside all my nest boxes has been severely restricted. I’ve just taken it back inside and had a quick look at some of the nests. By sheer good fortune I happened to look at west 3 first. That’s our new pair and I was uncertain that they would breed this year. To my surprise the female was in the process of actually laying an egg. I didn’t see much except a bird looking rather agitated and fidgeting about a lot, however after about 10 minutes of straining an egg eventually popped out. When she finally left the nest a few minutes later she revealed there were actually 2 eggs in the nest not 1. That makes it 15 breeding pairs in my camera boxes this year. New total now is 22 chicks with another 9 eggs to go. What a cracking afternoon!
8.30pm. I’ve been thinking a lot about west 3 since this afternoon and it’s been intriguing me. Something very strange is going on this year. I’ve never had any birds lay as late as this, or this level of screaming activity around the house. Most days there’s up to 10 or more prospectors whizzing around outside. I’ve just re-read Derek Bromhall’s book Devil Birds – The Life of the Swift and I wonder if we might be experiencing the same type of weather conditions as in 76. He proposed that the hot summer in 76 resulted in some juvenile birds reaching sexual maturity a year earlier than normal. We’ve just had a super May and the fine weather has continued well into June, resulting in an abundance of aphids and other insects. If I’m right we could get some pairs breeding right into early July.
Sunday 24th June
6am. Another beautiful sunny morning and the bangers are back again. I’m pretty sure one or two of the eggs have hatched in south 1. I managed to check it late last night and the sitting bird was vey twitchy, constantly looking underneath itself. A sure sign of something happening.
We met Dave and Penny from Cambridgeshire (I wrote about them in last Tuesday’s blog). A really lovely couple and so passionate about swifts. We invited them back in the evening to share a glass of wine and watch our birds return. It was a perfect end to the day, sitting in the garden just talking about swifts and sharing a drink together.
10am. Confirmed at least 1 chick in south 1. That takes the total to 21 chicks with another 8 eggs left to hatch.
10pm. Just about finished tidying up from the open day and had time for a quick look at the cameras. The second egg has hatched in south 1. Not sure about the other 3 nests with eggs in as there’s a bird sitting tight in each. Tomorrow I’ll get back to normal and be able to give a better update then. Still manic outside with screamers whizzing around. I’m going back outside to watch for a while. New total 22 chicks with only 7 eggs left to hatch.
The open day was a huge success with 200 people attending. Even though it was meant to be an open garden day the swifts actually stole the show. They were absolutely marvellous. Everyone was captivated by their antics and they kept us entertained all afternoon.
Saturday 23rd June
6am. This is it. The Big Day has finally arrived.
Looking out the window it’s a beautiful sunny calm morning. Our birds are already up and whizzing around, and even though I say it myself the garden looks pretty good as well. Even Mr Fox has been nice and for once hasn’t dug anything up for me to replant. They say time always runs at the same speed but these next 4 hours will absolutely whizz by. It will be 10am in no time at all. Must get my order of priorities right. Blog, paper-shop, breakfast, live interview Radio Bristol, (cup of tea), water plants, move plants for sale, set up garage (cup of tea), final tidy up of garden, gates open. No pressure then!
Not sure what’s happening in the 4 nests still with eggs in. I’ve been so busy over the last couple of days I haven’t had time to check properly. I expect one or two of them have hatched. I don’t think I’ll get back to normal until Monday, so the updates will be a little behind until then. Right that’s the blog done off to the paper-shop now.
4pm. A huge thank-you to all of you who attended our UKSAW event this morning. What a turn out, we were amazed by the numbers who came – over 130 (and that’s not including children). We wish we had a chance to talk to more of you, but the time just shot by. A special thank you to Julie and Stephen, John and Julien and our son Tom as without their help we couldn’t have coped. We raised over £500 for swift rehabilitation and hopefully imparted our passion for swifts and swift conservation. The swifts played their part too and gave a few displays, as did our tame Robin who is well fed again.
Friday 22nd June.
5am. The small group of bangers is back again. I think there’s about three of them and they’ve started early this morning. Today is the last day before our open days on Saturday and Sunday. So It’s going to be one mad panic of moving pots, tidying up and generally doing all the other things we’ve so far forgotten about. Still the weather is going to be absolutely fantastic, so I’m confident our birds (and garden) will put on a good show.
Yesterdays school visit was a real success. The students were brilliant, well behaved and polite and more importantly really into wildlife. A credit to their teachers and school. Two students made us a delicious swift cake and swift cookies which was lovely. The garden looked good, there were lots of bees and damsel flies buzzing around and the swifts put on a really good display. However the real star of the show was our tame robin who the students thought was really cool! He was the centre of attention and could barely fly by the time they had all fed him. A great day all round and we’d like to thank them all, especially Simon for coming and making it such a special day for us.
2pm. A wonderful display outside. There must be 6 or 7 bangers visiting the boxes every few minutes, they’ve been here since 6am. I’ve been trying to tidy up the garden, but I’ve seem to have spent more time looking skywards than actually doing any work. I just hope the birds don’t tire themselves out today as I need them to put on a good display tomorrow morning.
Someone must be hay-making nearby as the 4 pairs still with eggs have been bringing back beak fulls of hay all afternoon..
Thursday 21st June
6am. This morning we have the pleasure of a group of eco-students from Heathfield school in Taunton coming to have a look at our swift colony. Our good friend Simon Bament organised the visit some time ago and we’ve been praying the weather would behave itself on the day. Lucky it seems our prayers have been answered. Now all we want is the swifts to put on a good show – no pressure then!
Simon is what I affectionately call a swift nut. He’s been doing fantastic work in and around Taunton. He’s put up over 15 swift boxes at Heathfield school. A joint initiative involving his students and local businesses who kindly helped towards the cost. He’s now started up a Taunton Swift group to help protect swifts in that part of Somerset. Looks like the swifts in that area are in very good hands indeed.
It is the longest day of the year with over 16 hours of daylight. Swifts time their eggs to hatch at precisely this time so they can take full advantage of the extra light to forage. In good weather a pair can easily bring back 1 feed each per hour. That’s over 20 feeds in a day, which works at 10 per chick in a two chick nest and 7 each in a 3 chick nest. The food is so nutritious that chicks rapidly put on weight, exceeding their fledging weight of 45g around 3 weeks after hatching. After that as their feathers begin to grow they lose a little weight, eventually reaching an ideal weight of somewhere between 40-45g at the moment of fledging in 6 weeks time.
Wednesday 20th June.
8.30pm. Quite a bit of screaming activity outside. Perhaps the birds can sense the change in the weather conditions as high pressure builds. Fingers crossed possibly up to 24c by Sunday and even hotter next week, just perfect.
After a couple of very busy days over two thirds of the eggs have now hatched. Only 4 pairs left with eggs now, south 1 (3 eggs); west 1 (2 eggs); west 12 (2 eggs) and finally north 1 (2 eggs). I beginning to think our new pair in west 3 won’t lay this year. If no eggs there by the weekend then I reckon that’s it for them this year.
8.30pm. I’m sure we have a new pair in south 6. It’s the new smaller top compartment I fitted into one of my original corner boxes. (see photo). I saw the first swift enter it on may 21st. I reckon there’s chicks inside now as I see them returning every hour or so. However watching them both trying to enter I think I’ve made the entrance hole far too narrow. It takes them several attempts to gain a firm foothold to squeeze back inside. It’s the standard 70mm by 30mm letterbox opening but I think it would have been much better if it was more of a D-shape. Once the swifts have gone I’ll change the shape of the entrance hole. I’ll keep it roughly the same length as it is but make it a little wider in the middle say around 35mm. Also even though I put a series of grip rungs below the hole I think that could be improved as well. I’m going to fit a 15 degree angled ramp in it’s place. This will give the returning birds more leverage when trying to enter. Once I’ve improved the design I’ll update the blog with new photos. A good first effort but it could have been so much better. I recommend no-one copies this design until I’ve had chance to change it.
Tuesday 19th June
9am. A warm damp morning with light winds. All the birds are still in but I have a feeling activity could increase if it stays calm. I expect the last two eggs in south 3 and north 6 to hatch today. If the egg in north 6 does indeed hatch the chick will be considerably smaller than its other two siblings who hatched two days ago. I just hope it’s strong enough to compete for its share of food.
I was contacted by a lovely couple from Cambridgeshire telling me about their swift story and how they got started. They started box building in 2014 and got their first pair in 2015. In 2017 after reading my blog they decided to build some of my designs and managed to attract another 2 new pairs. This year all 3 pairs returned, although one pair has subsequently disappeared. Hopefully it will return sometime soon. They also sent me the photos below of their boxes. The occupied ones are the corner box and the Zeist box by the drainpipe. What a wonderful story. I was so chuffed to hear they made one of my boxes and that it’s actually being used. Just goes to show what can be done, it has made my day.
9.15am. The second egg in south 5 has just hatched. Still haven’t confirmed whether the last eggs in south 3 and north 6 have hatched yet. That brings the total up to 18 chicks with 11 eggs to go.
5pm. As sheer luck would have it I just happened to look at the camera in north 6 as the adult birds changed over incubating duties. You can see the two chicks and last remaining egg. If you look very closely at the egg you can see a small dark circle on it. That’s the chick inside breaking the shell with its egg tooth. That’s the first time I’ve ever witnessed such an event. Must be my lucky day!
6pm. The second egg has just hatched in south 3. That brings the total to 19 chicks with another 10 eggs to go.
8pm. Three hours later the egg in the above photo (north 6) has finally hatched. That takes the colony total to 20 chicks with another 9 eggs to go.
Monday 18th June.
8am. Another dreary start to the day has meant no activity outside for a second consecutive morning. Where the Azores high they keep going on about – it’s definitely not here in Bristol!
Nothing happening yet in south 3 & 5, but I expect one egg at least to hatch later today.
If anyone knows some handy hints on how to deter foxes from digging up my lawn and border please contact me as I’m fighting a losing battle here. Pesky thing finds my garden irresistible.
9am. To give you an idea of how difficult it is to tell when the chicks actually hatch out. Below are three nest photos. The LH one is south 3, the middle one south 5 and the RH one north 6. The birds will remain tight on their nests for up to a week after the eggs have hatched. If you’re very lucky and happen to be watching when a bird comes in to change over incubating duties you might catch a glimpse inside the nest. Or as in the middle photo of south 5 a discarded egg shell might just be visible for a short while before it is finally removed from the box. Otherwise all you will see is a bird sitting on its nest.
From left to right; South 3 is due to hatch today. South 5 has just hatched in the last 30 minutes. North 6 two out of the three eggs hatched yesterday.
1pm. The first egg has just hatched in south 3 in the last half hour. That brings to 17 the number of chicks with 12 eggs left to go.
Sunday 17th June
9.30am. A rather drab start with very little happening at the moment. It’s been trying to rain all morning, but it hasn’t really amounted to anything significant and certainly no use to the garden. There is the possibility that 3 more eggs could hatch today, The first ones laid in south 3 & 5 and north 6. Sometimes you can tell if a chick is underneath by the little jerking movements the adults make, but as it’s a bit chilly outside all three birds are sitting really still and tight. Time for another cup of tea and back to the cameras. Looks like I’m in for a long haul today of just staring at the monitor until something stirs.
3.15pm. The first egg has just hatched in north 6, nothing yet in the other two boxes. That brings the total up to 14 chicks, with another 15 eggs left to hatch.
9.45pm. The second of the three eggs in north 6 has just hatched. Nothing happening in south 3 & 5 tonight so I expect they’ll now hatch tomorrow. That brings today’s total to 15 chicks, with another 14 eggs left to hatch.
Saturday 16th June
8am. The first egg in west 3 hatched late last night. Checking my records another 3 or possibly 4 are due to hatch today so it could be rather busy. No eggs yet in west 3. We now have 10 chicks and 19 eggs left to hatch in our 14 active nests.
Our little gang of bangers has shrunk to 3 from the original 7 or 8 that turned up about a week ago. They turn up between 5.30am and 6am every morning and begin their daily onslaught of the boxes. The “missing” birds from the gang aren’t really missing at all, they’ve taken up residence in my non-camera boxes and roost there every night. I know one is in south 6 and another in west 6 but I’ve also seen birds going in to west 7 and 11.
Dare I say it but the weather forecast for next week, and more importantly next weekend is looking very good indeed. If the forecast doesn’t change it should provide near perfect conditions for both our open days. Not only will that be good for the garden, but excellent for the swifts as well. Just the sort of weather they love to perform in. However in the meantime I’ve gotta stop looking at the forecast every five minutes incase I put the jinks on it
10am. I caught a glimpse of a second chick in south 1 as the birds changed over incubating duties. It must have hatched only a few minutes ago as the discarded egg shell is still in the nest. New total 11 chicks and 18 eggs.
5pm. Two more eggs have hatched this afternoon, the second ones in west 5 and north 4. New total 13 chicks and 16 eggs. I think that’s it for today now. One possibly two, due to hatch tomorrow.
Friday 15th June
7am. Thank goodness storm Hector or should I say storm Havoc has moved on. Just as well it’s not my open days this weekend as the garden was really battered yesterday. I spent all afternoon tying things back up and repairing the damage. As for my swifts they don’t like the high winds either. On more than one occasion I saw returning swifts pushed off course by a sudden gust of wind. Several of them missing their entrance holes completely and bashing into the side of their box with a loud thump, lucky none were badly hurt.
Glad to report it’s much quieter this morning and our small group of bangers are back again. I can see 3 of them flying around outside. The first egg in south 2 hatched yesterday taking the chick total to 6 with another 22 eggs to go. I’m hoping for a second egg in north 1 and maybe even one in west 3 from our newly arrived pair.
11am. A second egg in north 1 but nothing yet in west 3. The new egg total is now 23 together with 6 chicks in 14 nests.
12.15pm. Three more eggs have just hatched. 2 in north 4 and 1 in north 5. The new chick total now stands at 9 with another 20 eggs left to hatch.
Thursday 14th June
7am. Some really good news yesterday. The single swift in north 1 who waited so patiently for its old mate to turn up before moving on has just laid an egg. It only paired up with its new mate on June 8th, so it hasn’t wasted any time at all and got right on with the business of reproducing. That’s all 14 established nests (boxes) from last year with either eggs or chicks in now. The new pair in west 3 still haven’t laid yet but I’m confident they will in the next few days. I also saw a new bird enter west 7 last night for the first time which is encouraging. That means 5 out of the 8 boxes without cameras have been entered at least once. Whether these birds actually go on to find mates is another thing but at least they’re using the boxes.
Another egg has hatched in north 5. That brings the total to 5 chicks with another 23 eggs to hatch.
All quiet at the moment as very windy outside, however it’s meant to improve during the day so hopefully normal activity will resume then.
5pm. The sun has eventually come out and it’s around 20 degrees, but it’s still very windy. Our birds have been battling with the elements all afternoon trying to get back into their boxes. I watched one swift from west 12 who was carrying a large feather try 5 times to enter. Each time a fierce gust of wind pushed it off course, on the fifth attempt it banged it so hard into the side of the box that it lost it feather. Poor thing, it flew off looking rather dejected after such an ordeal.
Wednesday 13th June
7am. After quite a noisy start yesterday morning the wind picked up and it got a little fresher and by 10am all banging activity had stopped. That left the resident birds in peace and they took full advantage of it, bringing back feathers and changing over incubating duties without having to get past the the noisy newcomers for once. Unlike most other birds all the nests are now looking a lot bigger and smarter than when they first arrived. However this nest building activity will stop when the eggs hatch as all their energies will go into collecting food.
Two more eggs hatched yesterday, the second one in south 4 and the first in north 5. That brings the total to 4 chicks with another 23 eggs to go.
The gang of bangers are about but not doing much just flying around, it must be a bit cool at the moment. Perhaps when it warms up this morning their interest will to.
Without putting the kibosh on the weather I keep reading reports in the papers that we’re in for a really good summer. Perhaps even on par with 76. If so this will have a huge effect on our swifts who love it warm and sunny. Some of the newcomers might even be tempted to breed a year early. In 76 a few pairs laid eggs as late as early July.
8am. Just seen one of the bangers enter west 8 for the first time.
Tuesday 12th June
7.30am. Our noisy gang of bangers turned up again at 5.30am. That seems to be their starting time on fine warm mornings, they’ve been fairly active ever since they arrived. Their routine is to target all the boxes for about 5 minutes then go off for a quick feed for 10 or 15 minutes, before returning to repeat the whole process again. Poor old resident birds must be totally fed up with them.
Monday 11th June
7am. It was such a lovely warm evening last night I stayed out late trying to see who was going where. I’ve got 17 camera boxes which makes checking easy and can be done anytime, however the other 8 haven’t so the only way of telling is by outside observation. Birds were coming and going right up to 10pm and I managed to work out that we have a new pair in west 3, another in west 6, a single in south 6 and maybe another single in west 11. Add that to the 14 established pairs and we have somewhere around 33 or 34 birds in the colony, up 5 or 6 on last year. And there was still one or two bangers that didn’t actually go in any boxes. They eventually gave up and disappeared into the night sky as it became too dark to carrying on checking out the boxes.
The first egg has also just hatched in south 4. That’s the second chick, the other being in north 2. I’m not 100% sure on the egg total now but it’s somewhere around 22 left to hatch. Most pairs have finished laying now, however I do expect to see some eggs in north 1 in the next few days, and if I’m lucky in west 3 as well.
8am. A quick look at all the cameras reveal that the egg total is nearer to 27 than 22. It’s so difficult to tell how many eggs are in the nest once the birds start incubating. 10 pairs have 2 eggs each, 2 pairs have 3 eggs each and 1 pair had 1, now hatched. Out of 27 eggs, 2 have subsequently hatched.
11am. Here is a link to a video I shot this morning of bangers targeting the boxes on the west side.
Sunday 10th June
6am. The bangers are back in action. They seem to be targeting south 1 and 4 the most. I’m not sure why, perhaps some of the bangers are young males and those boxes only have females incubating eggs in them at the moment. Whatever it is they are continuously flying up and peeping inside which elicits a deafening scream from the sitting bird before they fly away.
5.30pm. The single bird in west 3 has found a mate, my guess it’s one of the bangers. As far as I can tell still only 1 bird in south 6. Activity been pretty good today with at least 6 birds whizzing a round every 20 minutes or so. On a different subject I seen lots of painted lady butterflies today. They are a summer migrants all the way from north Africa, perhaps it’s an omen of a very good summer ahead. Here’s hoping anyway.
Saturday 9th June
11am. The bangers are back!
4 or 5 birds are targeting all the boxes on the south and west sides. Not seen any of them actually land yet, but it’s classical banging behaviour. Flying slowly and silently they are taking it in turns to hit all the entrance holes with their wings. The resident birds aren’t happy at all, screaming back wildly each time the entrance hole is hit. Could be the start of a very busy (and noisy) weekend.
8pm. It’s getting easier to check the nests now as the adults are out more often feeding. To my surprise north 2 has only chick. I was convinced there was 2 eggs in that nest but it turns out I was wrong. So a revised egg total now is slightly lower at 24 from 14 pairs.
Friday 8th June
6.30am. Considering Wednesday evening was so spectacular yesterday turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Although it wasn’t cold the sky was grey and leaden and I think the swifts must have felt the same. Very quiet indeed, in fact the only excitement if you can call it that was me popping an egg back into the nest. 13 out of the 14 pairs now have eggs so their daily routine is sharing incubating duties and perhaps a little nest building if they catch a feather on the way back in. Even the 2 newcomers (south 6 and west 3) don’t seem to be in any hurry to attract a mate and can’t be bothered to chase the returning birds back in either. So the colony has become a very calm and tranquil place with birds just quietly coming and going. If you turned up yesterday you would have never guessed there are 30 birds nesting here. Where are the bangers I saw in Devon?
8.30am. Here’s a few photos of the swift boxes taken on Wednesday in Beer, Devon. The boxes were designed and built by Dick Newell. The eaves are very long and deep. So the challenge was to build something to fit under them. He came up with a twin compartment design which comprises of a zeist type box at the front and a bottom entry shoebox near the wall. They look absolutely brilliant and the owners love them too. It was a very clever use of space to incorporate two boxes in one. The aspect is north facing and swifts have already been seen prospecting around them. The owners have very kindly invited us to visit anytime were down that way which we’ll definitely do. Beer is a picturesque little fishing village located on the Jurassic coast not far from Lyme Regis.
Thursday 7th June
6.30am. Up early this morning as lots to catch up on. Last nights display was truly wonderful, probably the best so far this season. There must have been 15 to 20 birds screaming around the hours for about an hour. Didn’t really clock who was going where as I was just enjoying the spectacle, however I did notice that the single swift in north 1 has indeed attracted one of the newcomers. I watched it follow the resident bird back into the box, but instead of going right inside spent 30 minutes perched by the entrance hole, half in and half out. Every now and then it would inch in a little further. Although this movement attracted a loud response from the resident bird it didn’t attack the newcomer and after a while allowed it to enter. By the time I went to bed they were allopreening one-another on the nest cup. That’s all 14 boxes from last year fully occupied.
A check of the cameras later revealed another egg in north 6 taking the egg total up to 24 from 14 pairs. There’s probably one or two more but I was unable to tell that late at night. One thing that did surprise me is the first egg has hatched in north 2. My records makes that only 16 days since it was laid (normally it’s around 20 days). I think it must have been laid a few days earlier and I’ve just missed it.
All the swifts (bangers) we saw arriving on Tuesday were flying at about 15 miles an hour. They’ll keep that speed up throughout the daylight hours, so by the end of the day (Tuesday) they would have travelled around 200 miles. By the end of yesterday (Wednesday) somewhere close to 400 miles, enough to cover most of the UK. So most of them should by now have reached their final destinations. I’m hoping one or two might have come here if I’m lucky.
And finally, yesterday we visited a lovely couple in Beer who had 4 beautiful double boxes built to fit under their large eaves. Beer has a small resident colony of around 6 – 8 birds. It couldn’t have been planned any better either. Whilst we were there admiring the new boxes, 4 swifts came in and buzzed them. What a treat, a perfect end to our holiday.
8.30pm. A third egg was laid earlier today in south 1 but unfortunately has just been flicked out by the adults. Both now have gone out to feed and I’ve managed to pop it back into the nest unnoticed. Luckily I have small inspection panels on the side of each box and it’s only a 2 minute job to remove it and work inside. New egg total 25 from 14 pairs.
Wednesday 6th June
9pm. Just got back from three fantastic days down in Devon, not had chance to check the boxes yet as the sky is full of screaming swifts – pure bliss.
Yesterday we saw wave after wave of swifts slowly moving along the coast between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. They were travelling in small groups of between 10-20, feeding as the went by but always going in an easterly direction. I sure it was the arrival of the second wave, the “Bangers”.
Monday 4th June
6am. Another noisy start to the day. Our newcomers are still about and are upsetting the resident birds once again. Im sure there’s 5 of them in their little gang. Their daily routine is to turn up around 6am and bang all the occupied boxes and whizz away. The nearest thing I can compare this to is knock-out-ginger, although there must be some point to this behaviour other than pure devilment.
Great news the pair in west 12 have finally laid their first egg. All 13 pairs now with either one or two eggs in their nests. The new egg total is 23 from 13 pairs. Still only the one bird in north 1 (the only remaining bird from last year) and as far as I can tell one newcomer in west 3 and another south 6. As these 2 newcomers have been roosting in these boxes for some time I shall now add them to the colony. The new colony total is 29 birds ( 27 from last year plus 2 newcomers). I’m almost sure the mate of the single bird in north 1 has perished during it’s time away from us. Although at the moment it’s still waiting patiently for its mate to return, sometime it’ll have to give up and try to attract a new mate. Perhaps one of the noisy newcomers?
Sunday 3rd June
7.30am. Three or four newcomers whizzing around the house. One new bird in west 3, it roosted there last night and is still inside. Hopefully it might attract one of these newcomers to join it today.
1pm. I’m convinced a small group of bangers has just arrived (3 or 4, possibly 5). There’s been lots of activity around the boxes all morning with the resident birds very annoyed by the presence of these newcomers. I can see several little heads sticking out of their respective boxes and screaming wildly ever time the newcomers pass by. I’m sure they’re saying ” this box is taken, go away and pester somebody else”.
Saturday 2nd June
11am. Sorry about the late start but we’ve just finished sanding and re-varnishing all the down-stairs floors and have begun the process of putting the house back to normal. I thought it would take about a week, but with a few gremlins thrown in for bad measure it’s taken nearly 4. All the furniture which has been stored in the garage can now come back in. Sanity will be restored once more.
A quick check of the nests revealed another 2 eggs, one in south 1 and the other in west 1. That takes the egg total to 22 from 12 pairs, only one pair, west 12 still to lay.
4.30pm. Not an awful lot of activity just the odd bird returning with a feather every now and then. I’m hoping for a better display tonight if it stays warm.
Friday 1st June
7.30am. Back to normal after a few hectic days of TV and Radio, time to relax again thank goodness. The colony is very quiet. Most of the pairs now have eggs and are busy incubating, whilst the 3 newcomers are behaving themselves which is strange. No sign yet of the bangers who’ll shatter this peace when they arrive. However looking at the forecast for next week it looks pretty good so things could hot-up then. A nice little piece on Springwatch last night, brief but to the point. They’ve promised to do some more about swifts at the end of the series, including plugging the first ever UK Swift Awareness Week (UKSAW).
Thursday 31st May
9am. What a couple of days!
I’ve just done a couple of Live broadcasts for BBC Radio Bristol which wasn’t quite as nerve-racking as Live TV, but still a bit stressful. Now they’ve gone a quick check of the boxes has revealed another 4 eggs. Second ones in south 3 & 5 and north 3 & 6. That brings the egg total up to 20 from 13 pairs. As far as I can tell still the same number of birds back – 27 out of 28 from last year and 3 newcomers.
3pm. Springwatch has been in contact again. They want to do a comparison of what happened to the swift pair they filmed here in 2015 and now. I’ve sent them all the data and I think they might mention it tonight.
Wednesday 30th May
6am. I’m trying to keep my spirits up but it’s not really going to plan. The BBC were hoping to film a few swifts whizzing around, no chance it’s absolutely tipping down! Unless it stops raining in the next hour all the birds will stay in, all they’ll see is a row of very wet swift boxes (and me). Never mind these things are meant to test us and without doubt we’re being tested.
1.30pm. BBC Breakfast have been here this morning and filmed Live from our garden. Unfortunately it is no longer available on the BBC website to see. However a short film was also shot and is on BBC Breakfast Twitter Due to be on BBC Points West this evening and BBC Radio Bristol tomorrow morning.
Last years blog was rather big and had to be split into two sections. See Early 2017 Blog for observations recorded up to May 31st and here for everything after that. Here are the 2015 Blog or 2016 Blog links.
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