Bristol Swifts 2019 Blog

This blog is a daily record of swift activity seen around our house in Bristol in 2019.

To find out about what happened last year, click on my Swift Blog 2018. We have 25 nesting boxes fitted under the eaves, for their exact location see Swift nest box location on our houseDetails of our Swift Open Garden day in June can be found at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday 21st May

7am. Two more swifts arrived yesterday. The colony total now stands at 24 – 10 pairs and 4 singles.

There are 5 whizzing around the house now which is quite early for them. Maybe some more newcomers have just arrived? I’ll have to wait until all the birds have gone out to check if there are any more eggs.

Much to my surprise there’s still another great tit chick in the box. I saw 6 fledge yesterday morning and assumed that was all of them. However I’ve just gone outside and I can hear another one in the box. Don’t worry, super mum is still feeding it along with the others.

Monday 20th May

8am. Difficult to tell if any new birds arrived yesterday. The pairs return to their boxes every night but it’s much more difficult to work out what singles are here. Sometimes they stay out overnight and sometimes they swap boxes. A good example is the bird in nb3 west. It arrived on April 30th. Disappeared on May 8th, returned May 13th, disappeared for a second time May 18th. The same day (18th) a single bird started roosting in nb2 west. Is it the same bird or a newcomer?

The current situation as of last night is 22 birds back in residence – 9 pairs and 4 singles. The pairs are in nb1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 north; nb1, 2 & 4 south and nb1 west. The singles are in nb6 north, nb5 south and nb 2 & 12 west. Egg total 2.

11am. The great tit chicks raised by the single mum have just fledged. I definitely saw 5 emerge, possibly more over the last hour. I managed to capture the moment on this short video. You can hear and see mum encouraging the last youngster out. I saved some juicy wax worms for the mother to feed them once they were all out. Well done super-mum!

5pm. A second egg in nb4 south. They only lay every other day so the first egg must have been laid on the 18th and not the 19th as I first thought. Egg count now up to 3

Sunday 19th May

7am. At least 1 bird from the big group I saw yesterday morning was mine, possibly more. Confirmed in my camera boxes last night were 22 birds – 9 pairs and 4 singles. I’m not sure about my non camera boxes as I didn’t see any enter, however as it got dark a lone swift kept flying up to them before disappearing into the night’s sky. By its behaviour it looked like a new bird, very nervous and unsure of itself.

1pm. The first eggs in nb1 north and nb4 south. Both were laid exactly 8 days after their mates arrived back.

Saturday 18th May

7am.  It looks like a big influx of swifts have just arrived. Over 30 screaming and circling high above the house. Not sure if they’re mine or just moving through. Time will tell.

8am. Predictable as ever the male in nb3 north has thrown out the second egg. If she lays a third tomorrow I expect he’ll throw that out as well. After that they should settle down and relay in about 6 -10 days time.

I love watching my colony build back up. You’re never really sure what’s going to happening as it’s full of little twists and turns. It won’t be until the end of May that I know for sure who’s back. I have 25 boxes, 17 with cameras and 8 without. I can just about work out what’s happening inside the camera boxes. Last year 15 pairs bred in them. In the boxes without cameras all I can tell is whether the box is occupied or not. Last year I had birds in all 8, however when I inspected the boxes in August none had actually bred in them. Last night I saw a bird enter nb6 west for the first time. Looking at my notes from last year this box was occupied by a non-breeding pair from mid June onwards. There’s a very good chance if its mate returns they’ll breed in it for the first time.

Potentially all 30 breeding adults from last year could return. However that’s very unlikely as the mortality rate is reckoned to be about 1 in 6. So realistically only around 25 will make it back. Most will pair back up with their old mates. The singletons will either pair up with one another or find new mates from elsewhere. As the old pairs are reforming new pairs will also be arriving to join the colony. So by the end of the month I’m hopeful that I’ll have breeding pairs in all 15 boxes again and if I’m really lucky a few newcomers in other boxes as well.

A single bird has reappeared in nb6 north. I think it’s the intruder from nb3 north who was kicked out on Thursday. Looking at my notes he first arrived on April 30th and moved into nb3 on May 4th. He’s now back in the correct box. Hopefully he’ll wait now for his mate to return.

2 new birds arrived yesterday, the one in nb6 south and another in nb12 west. That took the colony total up to 20 – 8 pairs and 4 singles.

The single bird in nb3 west stayed out last night. I expect it will reappear in a day or two.

Friday 17th May

9am. A damp start to the day meant all the birds are still in so it was easy for me to check who’s here. There are 20 birds now back in residence, 8 pairs and 4 singles. I think the 2 single birds in nb1 and nb3 south have paired up together. Last night both were in nb1 and nb3 was empty. Hopefully that will be the end of the fights in nb2. Having said that if the old mate in nb1 returns then it will kick off again. Such is life.

The missing bird in nb1 west also returned. Why some birds disappear for a few days is a mystery to me, but it seems to happen quite often. Perhaps they stay out over their feeding grounds. It’s only the single birds that do this. Once their mate has returned they seldom stay out again.

I’m expecting to see another smashed egg under nb3 north this morning. Nothing at the moment, but I’m sure it will happen.

Yesterday was another good day for swifts arriving over Portland bill.

Thursday 16th May

8am.  I don’t like going away just as my swifts are returning but the weather was too good not to take advantage of. We’ve just come back from a couple of days down in Devon. There was quite a brisk south-easterly blowing which took the edge of the temperature, but it was still nice to get away. Disappointedly we hardly saw any swifts at all, just a couple over Otterton. However there were lots of house martins and swallows which made up for it.

Returning home things have really moved on. There’s another fight in nb2 south. Not sure what’s going on or who the intruder is this time. I can’t believe it’s the bird from nb3 again. Surely it learnt its lesson last time?

There is a broken egg under nb3 north. I’m not surprised it’s happened at all, see my blog on Sunday 5th May. I think the old mate has just returned and kicked out the intruder and the egg. He’ll throw the rest of her clutch out as she lays them over the next couple of days. This will be the fifth year in a row he’s done this. Why she won’t wait for him is beyond me. However the good news is once he’s got rid of this clutch they’ll settle down and lay again.

A quick check of the cameras has revealed 19 birds are now back home. 7 pairs and 5 singles. The pairs are in nb2 & 4 south and nb1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 north. The singles are in nb 1 & 3 south, nb3 & 5 west and nb3 north.

The single bird in nb1 west has gone missing.

On Tuesday the birding blog from France reported over 30000 crossing the Pointe de Grave, Gironde just up from Bordeaux on the west coast. Nearer home yesterday over 120 an hour were arriving over Portland Bill.

Tuesday 14th May

7am. Half way through the month and half the colony is back. Number 15 returned yesterday to nb5 north. I first saw it on May 3rd but it disappeared soon after and has only just returned. Where it has been for the last couple of weeks is anyones guess.

It was quite breezy here yesterday and my 5 pairs took full advantage of it, bringing back small feathers caught up in the wind. Nest building has begun in earnest. The bird with the feather is normally escorted back by its mate. Whilst it’s inside the box its mate circles above the house. The nesting material is anything caught on the wing, but generally it’s small feathers or dried grass. The odd bus ticket has been used and once a cabbage white butterfly!  They never land to pick anything up. Once back in the box it is glued into place with sticky salvia to form a beautiful and quite sturdy nest cup. They will carry on nest building right up until the first egg hatches in about a months time.  After about five minutes it leaves the box and the pair go off again in search of another feather. With that number of pairs nest building it meant sometimes this was happening every few minutes, which was just as well because there wasn’t much other activity going on at all.

Monday 13th May

7am. After a slow start yesterday things really picked up during the afternoon. The fight in nb2 south continued for most of it. If you’ve seen the video don’t worry, it looked worse than it actually was. The swift hanging out the box is fine the only thing hurt was it’s pride. Whilst the fight was going on there were regular screaming parties whizzing around the house. The first proper displays of the year and they were a joy to be seen and heard.

I think I worked out who the intruder in nb2 south was. I thought it was last years old mate returning home, but in fact it was the bird from the adjacent box nb3 south. That swift arrived on April 30th but disappeared soon after when the weather turned chilly. I hadn’t seen it for well over a week until yesterday when it went into nb2 by mistake. Unfortunately the owners were home and you know the rest. However it learnt a valuable lesson and won’t do that again.

When I checked the cameras late last night I found 3 more birds had returned. The mate in nb2 north, the first bird in nb1 west and the returnee in nb3 south. That takes the colony total up to 14. I now have 5 pairs and 4 singles  back in residence. The pairs are in nb2 & 4 south and nb1, 2 & 3 north. The singles are in nb3 south, nb1 & 3 west and nb4 north.

The birding blog from Portland bill recorded the highest count of swifts this season, over 150 passing through. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more arrived today.

Sunday 12th May

7am. I popped out to Chew yesterday on the strength of Fridays Avon birding blog that the place was “crawling with swifts”. I’m disappointed to say that I only saw about 50. The swift forums I belong to are full of people worried about the lack of swifts seen this year. True their numbers are low at the moment. However if one casts ones memory back to last year the vast majority of birds didn’t turn up until May 18th-19th. By the end of the month numbers were back to normal, if not slightly above and overall 2018 turned out to be a super breeding season right across the UK. So be patient if your birds aren’t back yet or if you’ve only seen one or two. They’re on their way. They’ve just been held up a while on their journey home, that’s all.

Quite a bit of activity late yesterday afternoon. Screaming parties of 3 and 5 whizzing around the house. Another 2 birds returned late last night. The mates of nb1 north and nb4 south. That took the total up to 11. I now have 4 pairs and 3 singles back in residence. The pairs are in nb2 & 4 south and 1 & 3 north and the singles are in nb5 south and nb2 & 4 north.

The pair in nb2 south spent most of yesterday nest building. Returning every 20 minutes or so with small feathers caught on the wing. Strangely all the feathers seem to be white.

The single Great Tit mum is doing a superb job bringing up her brood. The live food I’m providing is definitely helping. So much so that the pair of wrens have cottoned on to the free food and are helping themselves as well. However there is a strict pecking order and the single mum is top bird. Here’s a short video of her bossing the wren yesterday.

11am. A fight between 3 swifts has been going on for over 2 hours in nb2 south. I’m not sure who the intruder is. Maybe last years old mate who’s just arrived, possibly a newcomer, or perhaps a bird from an adjacent box who’s gone into the wrong box by mistake. I think it’s last years old mate. Back on May 5th a swift entered nb1 south. A day later it moved into nb2 south. I assumed at the time it had just gone into the wrong box by mistake. However looking at this fight maybe it really did belong in nb1. They’ll sort it out in a while. If a bird re-appears in nb1 tonight I’ll know where it came from.

4pm. The fight lasted over 3 hours. He’s a short clip of the ending. The swift hanging out the box was in that position for 45 minutes, just as well there weren’t any predators about or it would have been a goner!

Saturday 11th May

7am. A beautiful clear sunny morning. The wind is light and the temperature is set to reach 16c today, 17c tomorrow. It’s all quiet at the moment as all 9 birds are still inside. I’ve just checked yesterdays Avon birding blog from Chew Valley lake and they reported that the place was “crawling with swifts”. Now I’ve no idea how many “crawling” is, but I expect it’s in the hundreds possibly thousands. I may have to pay another visit!

8.30am. I think I spoke too soon. A thick blanket of grey cloud has covered the sky and the wind has picked up. It’s chilly!

Friday 10th May

7am. Can’t wait for the weekend to arrive. After such a chilly start to May high pressure is finally building in with lots of warm weather forecast. Winds will be light coming from the northwest on Saturday turning to northeast on Sunday. Perfect conditions for our swifts to finish off the final leg of their migration. I’m confident we’ll see a huge fall of them sometime over the weekend.

On Gerard Troost facebook page there is a lovely little video of swifts flying over Breskens  in the pouring rain on Wednesday morning. They are moving in a steady but determined northwesterly direction that will eventually bring them to us. Look how low they are, just a few feet off the ground, feeding all the while as they continue on their way.

Another bird sneaked back late yesterday evening. A new arrival in nb1 north. That brings the total up to 9, almost a third are back now.

9am. A group of 5 have been whizzing around the house for the last half hour. Not sure if they’re new arrivals or the resident birds, difficult to tell until they enter a box.

Thursday 9th May

8am. The thousands of swifts sighted in France a couple of days ago have now moved up into Holland. Over 29000 were seen yesterday over Breskens which is near the border with Belgium. Just a short hop across the channel and they’ll be here!

One more bird returned yesterday. A new arrival in nb4 south. That makes it 8 back, two pairs and four singles.

Quick update on the other nesting birds in the garden. The blue tits, great tits and wrens all have chicks and are constantly on the look out for food for them. Unfortunately the male great tit in the box on the house has gone missing, probably predated. However the single female is doing a really good job feeding them on her own. To help her out a bit I’ve bought some juicy live insects which seem to be much appreciated. The first brood of speckled young robins are out of the nest and hoping about on the lawn.

Wednesday 8th May

8am. We went to Chew Valley lake yesterday hoping to see how many swifts were there. Recent reports said there were several hundred. If they were there must have been hiding, as we didn’t see a single one! Unbelievable for this time of year. They must be held up on the Continent somewhere. On a very sad note the goldfinch nest I saw last time had been destroyed. Looking at the destruction I would say either by a Magpie or a Jay. A real shame. On a more positive note we did see our first whitethroats of the year which was lovely.

Back home 2 more swifts arrived late yesterday afternoon. Single birds in nb4 south and nb4 north. That makes 7 confirmed back in residence. Boxes occupied include pairs in nb2 south and nb3 north and the singles in nb2 & 4 north and nb4 south.

The wind has gone round to a southerly direction, so I’m expecting more any time now.

Tuesday 7th May

8am. The “new”bird I saw enter nb1 south yesterday was in-fact the mate of the bird in nb2 south, it just got the boxes wrong. Eventually it worked it out and found nb2 and spent several hours cuddled up with its mate. Surprisingly though both failed to return to roost, so only 5 confirmed roosting overnight again. Looking at the forecast it looks better from the weekend. Once we finally get rid of this chilly weather I think there will be a huge influx of swifts. If they all arrive together it should be quite a sight to behold. The signs are looking very good in France as well. Yesterday on the east coast between Etang de Canet and Falaise de Leucate 50000 were sighted. On the west coast at Pointe de Grave, Gironde over 9000. Fingers crossed this weekend.

Monday 6th May

8am. Still only the 5 swifts roosting overnight. 1 in bn3 west, 1 in nb 3 south, 1 in nb2 north and the pair in nb3 north. Yesterday morning 1 new bird arrived and entered nb1 south along with a returnee to nb2 south who popped back in again. Both failed return to roost last night. I reckon this unseasonably chilly weather is having an effect on them and they are preferring to stay out all night, probably over their feeding grounds. Some may have even disappeared back over the channel where the weather is slightly warmer. There has been a increase in sightings in Southern France over the last couple of days. Over 10000 swifts have been seen over Falaise de Leucate, Perpignan and Pointe de Grave, Gironde. I’m not sure if they are new birds just arriving from Africa or our UK birds escaping the cold. On a more positive note my potatoes are OK despite the frosts!

Sunday 5th May

7am. A very chilly day yesterday with a light frost this morning ( I hope my potatoes are OK!) I got a bit excited yesterday when a second bird turned up in nb3 north. But experience has taught me never to be over confident until I’ve checked my cameras last thing at night. Just as well I didn’t get too excited because 3 swifts failed to return to roost. One in nb2 south and the others in nb5 & 6 north. So back down to 5 including the “new” pair in nb3 north. However the plot thickens further. Checking my notes from last year a pattern seems to be emerging. In 2018 the single bird from nb6 north rather than waiting for it’s mate to return paired up with the single bird in nb3 north. It looks like this may have occurred again. So it looks like we’re in for a repeat of what happened in 2018. That ended in quite dramatic fashion when several of the old mates returned a few weeks later. They found interlopes in their boxes and kicked them out along with their eggs. I think there’s going to be trouble again! Why some birds pair up almost immediately with new mates while others wait patiently for weeks for their old mates to return is a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of ensuring that at least some pairs will breed if loses on the migration route are high?

10am. A new bird in nb1 south?

The photo below is of the “new” pair in nb3 north taken yesterday morning.

Saturday 4th May

8.00am. Two more swifts returned yesterday. One in nb2 south and another in nb5 north. That brings the total back to 7 out of 30. Strangely all 7 are single bird. I’m still waiting for my first pair to be reunited. One question I’m often asked is who returns first, the males or the females. Very little research has been done on this subject because it’s so difficult to tell the sexes apart. However Erich Kaiser may have found the answer. He’s been studying swifts in Germany since 1965 and he says it’s a mixture of both males and females that return first. He has over 90 swifts nesting in his house in Kronberg. Over the years he’s managed to identify the sexes apart and has placed rings on them to further his research. Here’s a short video of him taken a few years ago. Apologies it’s all in German but you should get the gist of what he’s up to.

Friday 3rd May

8am. I’ve just read yesterday’s Avon bird blog and they’ve reported seeing thousands of swifts over Chew Valley Lake. I was there on Wednesday and there was no where near that number, somewhere between 60-100. I might try to pop out over the weekend to have a look myself. It really is something to be seen them in such large numbers.

I have hardly seen my 5 swifts since they have been back. They all leave together around this time and don’t return until about 7pm. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go to Chew. It’s only about 10 miles from me. As the lake water warms up millions of flies are hatching out, just the place for a hungry swift to go for breakfast.

9.30am. I think we may have another bird back. I’ve been watching 2 whizz around the house and one’s just gone in nb2 south.

Thursday May 2nd

8am. Still only the 5 back so far.

I went to Chew Valley Lake yesterday with my good friend John to see how many swifts were back. We saw about a dozen and from speaking to local birders they reckon well over 60 were back. These numbers are pretty low for Chew but it’s still early days. When they’re back in force I would expect to see thousands. I’ll pop back out next week to have another look. Apart from seeing the swifts we had a really good bird-watching day. The weather was good not like last week when it poured down with rain. If I don’t count the ducks we saw about 20 other species. The reed-beds were a wall of sound, with dozens of reed warblers and reed buntings competing to out sing one-another. They’re very difficult to see, preferring to sing from deep inside the beds but occasionally one will fly up to grab a fly before disappearing back into the reeds again. However for me the highlight of the day was finding a goldfinch nest. It was built in the outermost branches of a Scots Pine right above the main footpath. It was no more than 10 feet off the ground and brilliantly camouflaged. I couldn’t help but admire the pair that built it. Dozens of walkers will stroll underneath it in the coming days completely unaware that this little wonder of nature is just above their heads. We also bumped into Clive, a fellow swift enthusiast from Radstock who just happened to be there. It was lovely to stop and talk swifts with him for a while. A really good day all round.

Wednesday May 1st

7.30am. Still getting over all the excitement from yesterday – what a day!

I’ve just checked yesterdays report from Portland Bill. They recorded the largest influx of swifts so far this season – only 28 but it’s a good sign.

8.30am. All 5 have just gone out and are whizzing around the house, lovely sight.

One of the swifts that returned yesterday is from the pair that abandoned their chicks last year. You might remember I looked after a orphan chick that had been deserted by it’s parents in nb3 west. He was abandoned when he was only a couple of weeks old. I cared for him for about a month before releasing him in Late August. We named him Jack. Normally I try to foster any abandoned chicks into my other nest boxes, but in this particular case it wasn’t possible. It was far too late in the season and there wasn’t any suitable foster parents left. I often think about what might have happened to him. Did he make it to Africa and if so how’s he doing now? We were lucky enough to put a ring on him just before he fledged. If he ever entered one of my camera boxes I should be able to identify him. Now wouldn’t that be something if Jack actually returned home someday. Let’s hope his parents do a better job at raising chicks this year.

Tuesday 30th April

6am Up early this morning. It’s a clear crisp morning here in Bristol with blue skies and light winds. Visibility is very good so it should be easy to spot anything in the distance. Yesterday a handful of swifts were recorded at Portland Bill and a few have made it as far as Chew and Blagdon lakes. However their numbers are still very low so the majority of them are somewhere down in France. Over 60000 were recorded in France yesterday heading north. 40000 on the East coast near Barcelona and nearly 20000 on the West coast by Bordeaux.

7.45am. First one back! Straight into nest box 3 south no messing about.

5.30pm. First screaming party of the year. 5 have just whizzed past the house. Whether they’re all mine I don’t know yet. I’ll have to wait until they come into roost later. Can’t wait to check the cameras!

8pm. Just checked my cameras and we’ve got 5 back. 1 in each of the following boxes. Nest box 3 south, nb3 west , nb2, 3 & 6 north. That’s 5 out of 30 back so far. What a day!

Monday 29th April

Over the weekend 50000 swifts have been seen over Etang de Canet – Saint Nazaire. It’s a well-known birding hotspot just north of Barcelona. It’s a series of coastal lagoons, meadows and reed-beds where I expect our swifts refuel after their long flight across the Sahara. What I don’t know is how long they actually stay there. My guess is not that long, just long enough to build up their strength before completing the last leg of their journey home. A swift can easily fly 500 miles in a day so it won’t take them that long to get here, perhaps another day or two. I’m hoping it might be today.

8pm. Not sure if it’s the same swifts but over 42000 recorded today over Etang de Canet. On the West coast of France just up from Bordeaux over 18000 seen at Pointe de Grave. I’d be happy just to see one!

Sunday 28th April

Each day more and more swifts are returning to Holland and Belgium. Yesterday over 1200 were sighted in Southern Holland. They were seen over Dordtse Biesbosch. The Biesbosch is a National Park on the banks of Hollands Diep, which is a wide river and forms an estuary of the Rhine and Meuse rivers. About the same time they were seen I received this video from Louis-Philippe, a fellow swift enthusiast from Leuven, a city east of Brussels in Belgium. He lives in a block of flats and has at least 15 boxes tucked under the eaves. He managed to film his first swift returning yesterday morning. It was a little nervous at first and took several attempts to enter. I’m still waiting for my first one to return although there were reports of several swifts spotted over Bristol yesterday evening.

8pm. They’re on their way!

A good mate of mine (thanks Dave) as just contacted me to say over 4000 swifts an hour have counted passing over Saint-Pierre la Mer today. That’s on the eastern coast of France just north of Barcelona. On the western coast of France at Pointe de Grave, that’s just up from Bordeaux almost 8000 have been seen. They should be with us soon, either Monday or Tuesday. keep your eyes peeled.

Saturday 27th April

Swifts make wonderful foster parents and will readily adopt an orphan chick placed in their nest. Amnnon Hahn, our swift man Israel has just sent this video. It’s the same nest I featured in my blog on Wednesday 10th April. Since then the two chicks have grown considerably. Looking at their size I reckon between 3 to 4 weeks old. In this clip he places a third chick of about the same age into the nest. It’s parents had deserted it and if he hadn’t intervened it would have perished. He’s put a small red dot on it’s head so he can tell it apart from the other two. One of it’s foster parents returns to the nest and it gets fed immediately. All three chicks are doing fine.

Friday 26th April

One of our birding friends was at Shapwick Heath on the Somerset levels yesterday afternoon. He saw a large flock of swifts feeding over the lake. I’m not sure exactly how many, but it’s a good sign. I expect more will arrive in the coming days. As far as I’m aware it’s the first confirmed sighting of a large flock of swifts in the UK to date.  A couple of days ago not far away from Shapwick Heath is Ham Green nature reserve. A lone Alpine swift was spotted there. It’s normal habitat is in Central Europe so it’s quite a long way from home, let’s hope it makes it back safely.

Thursday 25th April

We spent yesterday morning at Chew Valley Lake. Not a brilliant day for bird-watching as it started to rain the moment we arrived. In fact I say the highlight of the visit was fish and chips in the picnic cafe!  However we did see quite a few different birds – 1 Egyptian goose, lots of tufted duck, coots, moorhens, mallards and Canada geese. In lesser numbers and skulking about in the underground trying to get out of rain were chiffchaffs, blackcaps, willow warblers, reed buntings and cetti’s warblers. We didn’t see any swifts or for that matter any swallows or martins. I think it was just too wet for them. However I’ve just checked the Avon birding blog and someone spotted a single swift at Chew yesterday. Perhaps it arrived in the afternoon? Still that’s a good sign the first swift back at Chew.

Wednesday 24th April

In the last couple of days the wind over Gibraltar has been blowing from a westerly direction and virtually all migration has ceased. A swift takes between 3 -5 days to make the journey from Southern Spain to the UK.  Based on those figures it’s highly unlikely we’ll see any big influx of swifts in the next few days. If we’re lucky maybe this weekend, more likely around the beginning of May.

Chew Valley Lake is a good place to see swifts. They normally gather there in huge numbers from late April to early May. I think I’ll take a trip out there today just to have a look. If I don’t see any swifts I might be lucky enough to hear a cuckoo.

Tuesday 23rd April

Over the weekend I received a lovely email from Steve about his swift colony in Chard in Somerset. His colony was originally under the eaves of his house but unfortunately when the roof was insulated many years ago their nesting sites were lost. Fortunately they didn’t have far to move and re-located to the garage at the bottom of his garden. Under the pan tiles of the old garage roof they found plenty of suitable nesting sites. When the garage roof was retiled about six years ago rather than risk displacing them again Steve built 18 nest boxes between the wall plate and the rafters. Since then his colony has been increasing in numbers, with more boxes occupied each year. Last year 15 boxes were visited and at least 9 chicks, possibly 12 fledged. I particularly like the photo of the 3 amigos looking out.

Monday 22nd April

Just because the weathers hot doesn’t mean the swifts should be here. I know I shouldn’t be disappointed it’s still very early days for them, but I am a little. I really did think one would be back by now. I should have taken more notice of what’s happening in Gibraltar, that’s where most our birds come from. At the moment there’s still only a handful crossing the Straits each day. That number needs to be in the hundreds or thousands. The swifts we’re seeing in Southern Europe I don’t think are ours. Most of them came via the Eastern migration route which is not the route our birds use. Still I shall be outside again today looking and listening just in case.

I think it’s important to grow flowers that pollinators feed on. The more insects there are the more wildlife you’ll attract. I can’t remember another April where I’ve seen so many insects buzzing around. Unfortunately I’m not very good at identifying what most of them are. It will give me something to do whilst I’m waiting for my birds to return.

Forget-me-nots, Everlasting Wallflowers and Crab Apple flowers in garden yesterday

Sunday 21st April

Nothing yesterday despite the near perfect conditions. It was even hotter in the garden than Friday and reached over 25C by mid-afternoon. Still the wonderful weather brought out a myriad of other wildlife to look at. Butterflies were out in some numbers, including the small tortoiseshell, holly blue, orange tip, speckled wood, red admiral, brimstone, comma and small white. The first blue damsel fly emerged from the pond. A very late pair of toads in amplexus arrived yesterday which surprised me. God knows where they’ve been, the others finished breeding about a month ago!

The blue tit and both great tit pairs are sitting on eggs. The wren has built a beautiful domed nest right in the centre of a faggot of pea sticks. I had temporarily stored them under the apple tree ready to use. Luckily I saw it just before I went to pull them out! One unusual visitor to our garden was a zebra finch. It’s quite tame and spent several hours with us. I tried to catch it as I don’t think it will survive long, but it unfortunately it flew away.

Saturday 20th April

Up at 6am this morning just in case one tries to sneak in early!

What a fantastic day yesterday, At one point it reached 24C in our back garden. I spent the whole day outside just looking and listening, didn’t come in till gone 8pm. Despite the near perfect swift weather no sign of any swifts, maybe today?

There were numerous sightings of swifts in the UK yesterday. A handful were seen in Devon near the River Teign, one spotted over Western-Super-Mare in Somerset and three in Caton Lancashire.

I also monitor the Trektellen birding website which shows a huge increase in swift numbers over the last couple of days. Swifts have now been seen in the following countries – France, Spain, Belgium and Holland.

Friday 19th April

As I eagerly await the arrival of my swifts, hopefully sometime this weekend here’s a brief summary of what happened at Swift House last year.

In April 2018 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 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 entered their boxes 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.

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 as they went so did 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 it Jack and he fledged on August 28th.

The last 2 adults left on August 16th. Their stay with me had been a few days shy of 4 months.

Overall 2018 was a super season, no doubt helped by the exceptional summer weather. We had spectacular activity around the house virtually everyday from mid-May to the end of July. The number of breeding pairs increased to 15 and they produced a record number of fledglings 29 – that’s 9 up on 2017’s total.

Thursday 18th April

The chap from Crumlin (see Tuesday 9th blog) emailed to say his first swift arrived home yesterday morning. After receiving his email I spent all yesterday scanning the skies hoping. I even checked my cameras at 10pm just in case one sneaked in. Alas nothing to report except a couple of spiders! However I’m still fairly confident one will arrive this weekend. The weather conditions are going to be perfect with warm air coming all the way up from Spain. One of the birding blogs I’m reading daily is the one from Chew Valley Lake. They’ve not reported any sightings yet, so I think I’ve got a little longer to wait. However Portland Bill recored a few coming in yesterday, so you never know I might get lucky.

Wednesday 17th April

A huge movement of swifts into Eastern Europe yesterday. It looks like they took full advantage of a change in wind direction. Over 5000 arrived at the Dunes de Prunete in Corsica.  Further north and closer to us 125 were spotted at Breskins in Holland. That’s a well known birding hot-spot on the Dutch coast near the border with Belgium. I expect more and more will arrive here in the coming days, whether they make the short hop across the channel remains to be seen. According to the latest Birdguide report only 11 or so sighted in the UK so far. Still only a trickle of swifts crossing the Straits of Gibraltar at the moment.

Tuesday 16th April

It’s rather damp and overcast here in Bristol this morning. However the overnight rain seems to have pepped the birds up. The woods near me are full of songsters. There must have been at least a dozen chiffchaffs and blackcaps singing. Accompanying them were blackbirds, song thrushes, robins and wrens and on the drums a lone greater spotted woodpecker. Absolutely magical. Even better was the fact that pesky cold north-easterly has stopped blowing. Tomorrow the wind is set to move around to a more south-easterly direction heralding warmer weather. There’s  a steady flow of swallows and martins arriving at Portland. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two fly overhead today.

I’ve just been sent this slow motion video clip from China of swifts. To me they sound a little like whales singing.  Personally I prefer their high pitch screams over this slowed down version. Just thought you might be interested to hear it for yourselves.

5pm.  Hooray I’ve seen my first swallows of the year. Two have just flown over the house heading north.

Monday 15th April

Amnonn Hahn the swift man from Israel has just sent this video clip of swifts fighting inside one of his boxes.

Once a box has been chosen by a pair it will be defended vigorously. Any intruder who enters an occupied box risks conflict. Fights can be quite vicious and can often lead to injury or even death in extreme circumstances. They can also go on for some considerable time, over 6 hours is not uncommon. Luckily this fight only lasted 12 minutes and ended when the intruder was unceremoniously kicked out by the resident bird.

Sunday 14th April

I’ve just had a quick look at the long range weather forecast for next week and it’s looking really promising. This cold north-easterly wind we’ve had for some days now is going to shift to a more south-easterly direction. Around mid-week it will be pulling up warm air from central Europe and by the weekend temperatures in the UK should be in the low 20’s. A north-easterly is not a good direction for our swifts. It makes their migration really hard and many choose not to come, preferring to wait until it changes direction. Sometimes this can lead to massive hold up’s just like it did last year. In 2018 the first wave of swifts arrived in late April, but a north-easterly took over and there was a long delay of several weeks before the rest turned up. Looking at next weekends forecast I’m fairly optimistic I might see my first swift back. Can’t wait!

Saturday 13th April

I’ve spent the last few days gardening. It’s been quite sunny here in Bristol although the easterly wind had a keen edge, not the temperature to linger about in. I’ve been digging over the flower beds ready for the NGS open day in June. Even though it seems such a long time away it’s amazing how quickly plants grow this time of year. I grow most of my own plants as it helps keeps the cost down. The back garden looks like a mini garden centre at the moment with hundreds of small pots and seed trays dotted about. Anyway the reason I’m telling you this is it gives me the opportunity to be outside. When I’m gardening one ear is tuned into the general background garden noise, blackbirds, robins and the like. The other ear has a far more important role, it’s listening out for swifts. It’s waiting for that unmistakeable scream. It’s so familiar with the sound it can pick up the faintest scream from miles aways. It’s much more sensitive than ones eyes and more often than not I hear the first swift before I actually see them.

Friday 12th April

I thought you might like to find out about how Lester Hartmann is getting with his new box building venture. A quick recap. Lester is an experienced carpenter who lives in Derbyshire. He came to see me in November to talk about swift boxes. He wanted to start up his own business making boxes and wondered if he could incorporate my special box features in his designs. After a few tweaks he went into full production just before Christmas. To date he’s sold over 140 boxes. He makes a wide range of different designs including singles, doubles, quadruples and triangular apex boxes. In the 140 boxes he’s sold if you counted all the individual compartments that’s well over 220 nesting places. I’m humbled so many people have faith in these designs, fingers crossed their swifts will like them as well. Not only has he been making boxes to sell he’s also been involved in a large swift conservation project near his home in the Peak District. He’s put up in the region of 150 boxes in the adjacent villages. That’s over 300 potential new homes which is fantastic.

Thursday 11th April

There’s been a steady increase in the numbers of swifts seen over Europe, however not many have made it to us yet. According to Birdguides only 2 have been spotted in the UK. A ridiculously early bird seen over Cape Cornwall on February 28th and the single swift seen over Portland Bill on March 28th. As far as I can tell no other sightings have been recorded. The early bird seen in Cornwall was spotted during that record breaking spell of warm weather we enjoyed at the end of February. I hope it had the sense to nip back over the Channel!

However the great news is the first swifts of the season have now started crossing the Straits of Gibraltar.  Their numbers are as follows, April 5th – 2; April 6th – 3; April 7th – 17; April 8th – 7; and April 9th – 22. I know it’s only a trickle but it’s a good sign. This is the direction our swifts come from.

Wednesday 10th April

Swifts have been back in Israel for some time. They first started to arrive around mid-February. Most are sat either on eggs or very young chicks now. I always find it strange that just as our swifts are arriving theirs are just about leaving. I wonder if they make their way up here for the summer or do they return immediately to Africa. One day with the help of tracking technology we might be able to answer that question.

Amnonn Hahn lives in Givataymin in Israel, a city east of Tel Aviv. He’s passionate about swifts and has several swift boxes around his house. He’s just sent this lovely little clip of a newly hatched chick. You can just about see it under one of the parents.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWtOUxCkQt8 

He is also helping to organise World Swift Day on June 7th. See this link  http://worldswiftday.org/en/home/

Tuesday 9th April

There’s a chap in Northern Ireland who has a huge swift colony at his house. I’ve lost count of how many boxes he has but I think it’s well over 30, all occupied. He’s even put up a swift tower in his garden to attract more, now that’s what I call dedication!  He lives in Crumlin a small town in County Antrim. It’s located at the head of a wooded glen on the Camlin River, near Lough Neagh, about 20 miles west of Belfast city centre. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Lough Neagh it’s the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and an absolute swift magnet. There’s probably more swifts there than anyway else in the UK.

There’s a gentle rivalry between us swift enthusiasts as to who records the first swift home. I’m one of the earliest in England, but he always manages to beat me each year. His first usually arrives on the 16th, and there’s always one back before the 20th. My earliest ever was on the 20th. My average is around the 26th. The slightly annoying thing is they probably fly over me first, no doubt blowing me a raspberry as they go by! However what I do know is that once he’s spotted his first one mine aren’t that far behind.

Monday 8th April

The first swifts of the season have been sighted in Holland.

The first one was spotted in Wageningen on March 31st and the fourth a few days later on April 4th in Amsterdam.

However much greater numbers have been arriving at Etang de Canet, Saint Nazaire in France. That is near to a series of large wildlife lagoons on the East coast, just up from Barcelona. Nearly 500 were counted on Saturday. I made a mistake in my Blog on April 3rd when I said a handful had been seen over Saint Nazaire on the West Coast of France. All the sightings seen so far have been over the other Saint Nazaire near Etang de Canet. Apologies for my mistake. It looks like we’re only seeing swifts coming to Europe via their eastern migration route. They’re probably the same birds that were sighted a few days earlier over Corsica on the 3rd. No reports of any crossing over the Straits of Gibraltar yet.

Sad news, my old friend the tame robin has gone missing. I’ve not seen him since last Thursday and I’m starting to fear the worst for him.

Sunday 7th April

A couple of days ago I received a lovely email from Paul Hopkinson aka “The Devon Artist”.  He’s just finished building some of my Zeist boxes and fitted a camera in one and put up around his house. He’s a wildlife artist based in North Devon who specialises in painting birds. I’ve seen some of his work and it’s really good. He’s written a lovely piece about this and put it on his blog see this link. I thought you might like to read it.

Saturday 6th April

A question I get asked a lot is do I know of any other swift groups across the UK.

The answer is yes. As well as doing our little bit for swifts in the West Country we also belong to the Swift Local Network (SLN).  It’s made up of individuals and small groups of swift enthusiasts from all over the UK and Ireland. It’s a Yahoo discussion group where members share ideas and experiences. Currently there are 79 different swift groups in SLN. If you click on this link you’ll find a map showing their location and how to contact them. If you are working on your swift conservation work and would like to join the SLN then please contact Peta Sams. We are currently helping to organise the next SLN members conference in Bristol.  It’s going to held at Bristol Zoo on Saturday 9th November 2019.

Friday 5th April

A good mate of mine who lives down in Devon sent me this report a couple of days ago. Thanks Simon.

“Big fall of sand martins and swallows today (2nd) with some house martins in Devon, best of all a red-rumped swallow at Dawlish Warren. The fall probably to do with the northerly weather, no swifts seen yet”

I’m still waiting to see my first hirundines. I might have to take another trip out to Chew as there’s reports of hundreds arriving there in the last few days.

The first alpine swifts have returned to Switzerland, here’s a live link to a nest in a church tower. Turn the volume down when the bells ring!

Thursday 4th April

Nature notes from the garden at Swift House. It’s been a remarkably mild winter. I can’t remember another winter when so many flowers remained in bloom. The large garden bumblebee has been active the whole time. Most weeks I’ve seen it out and about feeding. The red mason bees have just started to emerge from the bee hotel. I noticed several whizzing about last week in the warm sunshine. I’ve seen 4 different species of  butterflies so far – the brimstone, comma, peacock and speckled wood. No sign of them now, it’s freezing!

The pond is full of tadpoles, both frog and toad. I lost count of the number of clumps, well over 100 I think. The frogs were first to spawn in mid-February followed by the toads about a month later. Joining them in the pond are the newts. I’m lucky to have all 3 species – the common, palmate and great-crested.

My tame robin is still here. He must be over 3 years old now and is really quite bold and cheeky. Every morning he sits on the windowsill waiting for me to get up and feed him. The pair of wrens and pied wagtail from last year have also returned. The wagtail bringing along a new partner. All 5 wait patiently to be fed each day. A strict pecking order exists between them – robin first, followed by the wagtails and finally the wrens.

We have 2 pairs of great tits nesting in boxes, one in the apple tree and the other by the house. Stuck in the middle is a pair of blue tits in a box by the pond. A fragile truce exists between all three. Although if one bird enters the others territory it’s quickly chased out!

Regular visitors to the bird-table include bullfinches, coal tits, collared doves and goldfinches. Scratching about underneath it are blackbirds, wood pigeons and hedge sparrows. No sign of any of these nesting yet, as it’s still a bit early. Since the new year I’ve counted over 30 difference species, which isn’t bad for a city garden.

Wednesday 3rd April

Swifts return to the UK from Africa via two directions, East or West. Most migrate up the west side of Africa crossing over the Straits of Gibraltar. Once back in Europe they continue heading North, hugging the west coasts of Portugal and France before flying over the English channel. Some however migrate much further to the East. Unfortunately this exact route isn’t fully known, but we do know that many come up through Greece and Italy and head towards Holland and Belgium before crossing the North Sea into the UK.

So about this time of year I begin to check the migration recording stations across southern Europe. A few days ago several thousand swifts were seen near Les Dunes de Prunete in Corsica, that’s on the Eastern migration route. A handful have also been seen over Saint Nazaire in North-West France. Surprisingly none have been seen crossing over at Gibraltar. So don’t get too excited by the numbers seen over Corsica as I expect the majority of these aren’t our birds and are destined to go elsewhere.

Tuesday 2nd April

Taking full advantage of last weeks wonderful spring weather I decided to put up my boxes. Normally I wait until early April to do this but as the weather was so good  it seemed silly not to. No changes to the number of boxes either. I still have 25, with cameras fitted inside 17 of them. I only had to replace 1 camera which isn’t bad considering most of them are well over 6 years old. However you might remember me having to alter the design of my new corner boxes. Earlier in the year I had converted both single corner boxes into doubles by squeezing a smaller top compartment inside both. However it soon became obvious that this design wasn’t quite right. My swifts just didn’t like them. I think both entrance holes were too small, plus there wasn’t enough grip outside for them to hang onto. So last August I added angled landing strips to both, made the entrance holes slightly bigger and more D-shaped and fitted small internal wind baffles inside each box. I’m hoping these tweaks will make a big difference. Only time will tell whether my birds like them or not.

Monday 1st April

Spring is my favourite season. Winters icy fingers are finally loosening their grip and the unmistakable signs of spring are everywhere to be seen. Optimism fills the air once more and everything seems possible again. April for me is the month my swifts return. When will it be this year, perhaps the 20th again or maybe the 23rd or 24th?

Friday 29th March

The first swift was seen a couple of days ago at Portland so I thought I’d take a trip out to Chew Valley Lake . Alas there was no sign of this elusive visitor, nor for that matter any early swallows or martins. However as the weather was so good I thought I’d wander around the nature walks that meander through the reed beds. I did see 3 summer migrants – the chiffchaff, willow warbler & reed bunting and 3 butterflies – the brimstone, comma & peacock.  One thing that was there in vast numbers were millions of black sedge flies. Dense columns of these little insects rose like smoke from the reeds beds – perfect swift food!

Thursday 28th March

Exciting news! The first swift of the season was spotted over Portland Bill yesterday 27th. See this link.

Diary Date – Come and See our Swifts & Wildlife-friendly Garden

Following last years open day which proved very popular, we will be holding another National Garden Scheme/SAW event on Sunday 23rd June 2-5pm (Adults £3.50. Children Free) as part of the Swift Awareness Week (SAW). See swifts flying around our house and watch Live video from inside their nest boxes. You can wander around our wildlife friendly garden and buy plants, cards, booklets and nest boxes. The entrance fee is for National Garden Scheme selected charities. See this link for more details about our garden and location. All plant, card and booklet sales will be donated towards swift conservation. If Bristol is too far, then please try and support a local SAW event near you during the week 22nd-30th June 2019 – see this link for local events.

For more details please email us via the Contact page.

NGS/Swift Open Day 2018

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