This blog is a daily record of swift activity seen around our house in Bristol from 1st June 2019. This is a link to my Early 2019 Blog. To find out about what happened last year, click on my Swift Blog 2018.
We have 25 nesting boxes many fitted with cameras – for their exact box location see Swift nest box location on our house.
Saturday 31st August
It’s the last day of summer. All of my swifts have gone and their nesting boxes stored away for winter. It seems the right time to end our blog this year. It’s been another season full of incident. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as we have.
The 2020 blog will be up and running next April, so until then it’s goodbye from Jane and myself.
Friday 30th August
It looks like we may be on BBC One Inside Out programme next Monday 2nd September at 7.30pm. Don’t expect too much as it is only for a few minutes of us talking about our swifts. However we think Rob, our tame Robin may feature more than us as he stole the limelight!
Thursday 29th August
8am. Here’s a summary of what happened at Swift House in 2019.
On a warm sunny day in early April I put all my boxes back up. I have 25 boxes in total, 17 with cameras. A quick clean inside each and a lick of paint to the outside was all the maintenance they needed. One final check of the cameras and a handful of soft feathers in each was the finishing touch. I was ready for another swift season to begin.
I was eagerly awaiting their arrival this year more than I normally do. 2018 had been such a wonderful year. 15 breeding pairs had produced 29 fledglings, a new colony record. My hopes for another super year were high.
My first bird arrived back on April 30th. It was ten days later than 2018 and five days later than my 10-year average. By May 9th another 10 had joined it. A third of my colony was now back. Then something happened, no more arrivals. Poor weather had intervened once again. But unlike 2018 this time it was much more serious. Reports started to filter in of mass swift fatalities found in Spain and Italy.
Some of my early birds began pairing up with different mates, only for trouble to erupt when finally a few of their old mates made it home. Three whole clutches of eggs were thrown out before order was eventually restored. By the end of May I was still missing a third of the colony, over 10 hadn’t made it back. It had been a poor May at Swift House. But even more bad news was starting to come in. All over the UK there were reports of missing birds, whole colonies had been wiped out.
A disappointing May then tuned into a disastrous June. If anything the weather got even worse. One low pressure after another went on to batter the UK. I was down 3 breeding pairs on 2018. Another whole clutch was thrown out as birds went missing. I assumed they disappeared back across the channel where the weather was warmer. The first eggs hatched on June 9th in the middle of a particularly wet and windy week. One adult flew into a telephone cable nearby and was killed and the remaining adult deserted the nest. I managed to foster one chick, but the other sadly died. We held two Garden/Swift open days, one wet and the other baking hot. Both were well attended and we raised over £1500 for charity. We were pestered by honey bees once again. Three times a swarm came close to the house and caused considerable angst. Luckily none invaded my boxes and disaster was averted. By the end of the month only 11 pairs had bred and they had produced 20 chicks between them.
July’s weather was much better than Junes. It became warmer and drier and by the middle of the month the UK had recorded its hottest ever day. The chicks responded well to the warmth and all grew very quickly. The pair that threw out its eggs in June bred again and a single egg hatched on July 20th. That was the day after the first chick had fledged from the colony. I’ve never known another year like this where there was such a large time difference between fledging and hatching. Almost 6 weeks is quite remarkable and another indication of what a strange year it has been. By the end of July another 14 chicks had fledged leaving only 6 to go. I did manage to attract a few more new birds to my boxes but I never fully recovered from the poor start and finished up 4 breeding pairs down on 2018.
The first adults started to migrate towards the end of the July and by the beginning of August almost a third of the adults, 7 out of 30 had gone.
At the beginning of August I still had 4 boxes containing 6 chicks. This was the direct consequence of the poor weather in May, which delayed some of the adults returning on time. The weather was unsettled for most of August with below average temperatures. However despite of the poor conditions there were enough dry periods for all the adults to go out hunting on most days. 5 youngsters fledged over the weekend of 10/11th leaving only 1 chick remaining. The weather improved over the August bank holiday weekend with record-breaking temperatures recorded all over the UK. I thought everything was going to be fine when suddenly on Sunday 25th both adults left. The chick had been abandoned! It was 37 days old. Luckily it was close enough to fledging for me not to intervene. At 8.50 pm on Tuesday 27th it fledged in almost totally darkness. My swifts had been with me for almost 4 months.
Overall 2019 wasn’t a good swift year for me. The good news however was I did manage to attract a few new birds, which was great. The bad news was the number of breeding pairs was down on 2018 by 3. That was a decline in the breeding population of 20%. It was also the first time the number of breeding pairs had fallen since I began taking records 10 years ago. With less breeding pairs the number of fledglings was down on 2018. Only 21 fledged this year compared to 29 in 2018. It’s difficult to know exactly why so many breeders failed to return this year, but there’s enough evidence to suggest it was caused by a series of extreme weather events. Are we witnessing the first signs of climate change taking its toll on our swifts? I hope not. Let’s hope 2019 was just a one-off and 2020 will be back to normal.
Wednesday 28th August
10am. Our last chick has fledged! It spent most of yesterday looking out of the entrance hole. I managed to film this short clip of it a few hours earlier just before it went. It looks in really good condition despite not being fed since Sunday. I can see its wings have clearly grown a few more centimetres in the last couple of days. They are now crossing at the tips which is a good sign, its tail is beautifully forked. It was ready to go. The last time I saw it was at 8.50pm. It was almost dark and it was peering out the entrance hole, its little white throat clearly visible from the ground. I went back inside thinking it was too late for it to leave, but something was nagging me to have one final look. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes but by the time I looked again it had gone. That was the 21st and last chick to fledge. Its departure brings to an end another swift season for me. They’ve been here almost 4 months, although it seems like only 5 minutes. Tomorrow I will add a summary of what happened at Swift House in 2019.
Tuesday 27th August
8am. My chick is still here. It’s 38 days old. Yesterday it spent most of the day waiting by the entrance hole and last night it returned to roost on the nest. It looks fit and well despite not being fed. It has just moved off the nest again to peer out of the entrance hole.
It seems its parents weren’t the only adults to leave on Sunday (25th). The Swift Local Network forum reported many others leaving on the same day. There are a lot of chicks across the country without parents now. Fortunately most are near fledging so they should be OK.
In David Lacks book ‘Swifts in a Tower’ published back in the 50’s he wrote about swifts leaving in waves of departures. There were normally 2 or 3 waves with each wave lasting two or three days. He also stated that one adult often left before the brood had gone, but never both. Well I can testify that’s not true! He also mentions that further research should be done into studying these migration waves. That was back in the 1950’s. As far as I know no further research has been done. It looks like the 25th was one of those migration waves.
Monday 26th August
9am. My worst fears have been realised, both parents failed to return last night. I’ve re-read all my swift books and desertion is a common occurrence with broods this late in the season. Although it’s rare that both parents should leave at the same time I suspect the lure of migration was just too great for them to resist. Perhaps it was triggered by the high pressure? The good news is the chick is looking fine this morning. It’s 37 days old and is preening itself in-between bouts of vigorous wing flapping and press-ups. I was hoping that at least one parent would have stayed until it was about 40 days old. But unfortunately that’s not the case. I’ve decided to do nothing at the moment and just observe. It’s not a ideal situation but I think I’ll cause more harm if I intervene too quickly. Hopefully it’s close enough to fledging not to be a problem. It’s probably several grams overweight which is a good thing. It can still carry on growing by losing that weight. I’m optimistic in a couple of days time it will be ready to go, although I am a little anxious.
Sunday 25th August
8am. Our remaining chick is now 36 days old. I took this short video of it preening yesterday. It gets very excited about half way through the clip. Someone slammed a car door outside and for a second it thought one of its parents had returned. You will also notice a white dot in the middle of its back tucked under the feathers. That’s the parasitic louse-fly Crataerina, taking a feed. In about a week the chick should be on its way. However its wings still need to grow a bit longer. As you can see in the LH photo below they’re only just about touching at the tips. They need to cross over one another by at least 2 or 3 cm. A fully grown wing is 16cm long. I reckon our little birds wings are only about 12 or 13 cm. It will also need to lose a bit of weight. It’s probably around 50g at the moment and will need to shed about 5 or 6g in the next week. The ideal fledging weight is between 40-45g.
Except for the pair with the chick all the other adults have gone. The last 4 left on Thursday. I started to take down some of my boxes as the weather was good. You don’t really need to do this, but I think it helps prolong the life of my cameras. I’ll give them a quick clean before storing them away. It also gives me an opportunity to check the 8 boxes without cameras in them. The good news is 6 were occupied including a breeding pair in nb6 west. Unfortunately I found 2 tiny chicks dead in that box. They looked about a week old. However judging by the state of the box inside at least 1 chick must have survived to fledging. There was an adult going in and out all summer. My guess is one adult went missing sometime in June. The remaining adult carried on valiantly and although it couldn’t save two of its chicks it did manage to rear one up on it’s own.
Saturday 24th August
10am. A question I get asked a lot is how long does it take swifts to reach Africa and where do they go?
In 2011 a tiny geolocator was fitted on the back of a swift from Cambridge. When it returned a year later the information retrieved from it was quite remarkable. Before geolocators all we knew was that our swifts migrated to somewhere in Central Africa. However this data changed everything, not only did it provide us with an accurate route but it also provided us with timescale as well. The map below is the route taken by the swift which left Cambridge on July 28th 2011. One of my chicks from nb6 north fledged on July 31st this year which is very close to the date the Cambridge swift left back in 2011.
By August 7th a week after fledging the chick from nb6 north should have made its way down to Southern Spain, somewhere near Gibraltar.
A week later having crossed the Straits of Gibraltar it would have continued it’s journey down the west coast of Africa and be in the Ivory Coast around August 14th.
Towards the end of August it will arrive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. To get there it would have flown 7000km. To think it only fledged 4 weeks ago! It will stay in the Congo until Christmas when it will depart eastwards across Africa.
By early January it will have reach its wintering grounds in Mozambique and Malawi. It will remain there until early March when it turns around and starts the long journey home. If all goes well it should arrive back to me by early May.
With luck as I write this blog our little chick from nb6 north is somewhere over the tropical rainforests in the Congo. I find that absolutely amazing!
Friday 23rd August
7am. The 6 adults without any chicks have all gone. The first went on Tuesday, the second on Wednesday and the remaining four yesterday evening. I actually saw them go. They flew over the house at around 6.30pm, but instead of circling above like they normally do they carried on flying. I watched all 4 of them for about 10 minutes. They were heading in a south-westerly direction and disappeared over the hills just east of Portishead. I think they can sense changes in the weather and somehow knew high pressure was building from the south and decided to take advantage of it. All I’m left with now is the pair in nb5 north and their 34 day old single chick.
Tuesday 20th August
9am. Just received some fantastic news which I wanted to share with you. Peak Boxes who started making swift boxes based on my designs less than a year ago had their first stand at BirdFair last weekend. They have just contacted us to say that they won the Best Commercial Stand award on Saturday and then Best in Show on Sunday. Well done to Lester, Lynden and their family. Here is a link to our Swift Boxes to Buy page with more details.
Our remaining chick in nb5 north is doing well. It’s 31 days old now and looking more like it’s parents everyday. There are still 3 other pairs roosting overnight. One pair each in nb1 & 5 south and the third in nb5 west.
Sunday 18th August
8am. It’s been nearly a week since my last update. Our last remaining chick is now 29 days old and is looking really fit and healthy. It’s spending more and more time each day exercising those remarkable wings. Below are a few photos of it going through its daily routine. Since my last blog we’ve had a couple of very wet and windy days which hasn’t helped much, but the good news is even on those days it received several feeds. Both parents are excellent providers.
The 3 pairs whose chicks fledged last weekend are still here as well. I don’t see them at all during the day. They tend to go out about 9ish in the morning and return together just before it gets dark to roost. The weathers looking much more settled in the coming week so it wouldn’t surprise me if they started to leave then.
On a lighter note I had a unexpected visit from a so-called street trader. He said he was an entrepreneur and had something Cushti I’d might be interested in buying. Lovely-jubbly!
Actually it was my mate Dave who popped by with his latest idea to raise money for charity. Made me laugh anyway!
Tuesday 13th August
7am. I’m not sure why I’m up early as all my chicks are gone bar one. The only chick left now is the youngster in nb5 north. It’s 24 days old now. The fledging period for the last 5 chicks was around 44 days. Based on this figure I have re-calculated the fledging date for my final chick. I reckon it will now be on Tuesday 3rd September. Even though their chicks have gone all 6 adults are continuing to roost in their boxes. I expect they will carry on doing this for a while longer in order to build up their strength before the long flight south.
The youngster in nb5 north is doing really well. Its parents are excellent providers and it’s extremely well fed. In fact it’s got so much energy it scares me sometimes. I took this short video to emphasise that point. You can see it sitting calmly on the nest. As soon as it hears one of the adults return it hurtles towards it. Somewhere in that feeding frenzy the hapless adult manages to pass over the bolus. It’s difficult to see exactly when but I expect almost immediately. Even after its been fed the chick remains in an heightened state of excitement, nervously flapping its wings and pecking at the now quite battered provider. I feel so sorry for the poor parent, it seems to be on the receiving end of a mugging! But rest assured what you are watching is normal swift behaviour and nothing to worry about even though in our eyes it looks so rough.
Monday 12th August
8am. Yesterday turned out to be a bit of a fledging fest with 3 chicks leaving. The single chick in nb5 south (Podge) went sometime in the morning, it was 44 days old. The first chick in nb5 west went late afternoon, aged 45 days and lastly at 9.15pm the second chick in nb1 south fledged, also aged 45 days. I watched the chick from nb1 south leave on camera. Both adults had just returned a few minutes earlier and it had received two feeds. After the feeding frenzy things quietened down the adults settled on the nest to roost. To begin with the chick was in the middle of the group but you could see it was restless. Constantly pecking the heads of the adults and fidgeting around. Both adults were ignoring it and after a couple of minutes it got up, turned around and left. It’s parents didn’t even look around as it went! With their departure the fledging total moved onto 19. Now we only have 2 left and I expect another 1 will go today.
1pm. Thought you may like to see this short video of the chick in nb5 west doing press-ups and stretches. I think it may be gone in the next hour or two.
9pm. The second chick in nb5 has just gone. It was 45 days old. I thought it might have left a bit earlier than this. However I expect its waited until now because it feels safer to leave in the dark. I wish I could say it was a text-book fledging but it wasn’t. It nearly hit next doors roof, almost flew into the house across the road and missed the trees at the bottom of the road by inches. However the good news is despite the near-misses it got away. I watched it fly over the trees and disappear into the nights sky heading south-west towards Portishead. That’s number 20 to fledge. I only have 1 chick left now in nb5 north.
Sunday 11th August
8am. We were battered by gale force winds and heavy rain for most of yesterday. None of the adults ventured out until well after lunchtime. I didn’t see any of them return until late afternoon when the wind started to die down. As a consequence none of the chicks got much to eat. Around 6pm the worst of the weather had passed and the wind eased up. At 8pm one of the chicks in nb1 south decided it was time to go. It poked its head out and must have thought it was OK because out it went into the evening sky. No need to treble check this time, it was gone. It was 43 days old. Chick number 16 had fledged.
This morning the garden looks like a battlefield with broken branches, upturned pots and debris all over the place. The good news is the weather looks fine with only light winds and broken cloud. At the moment all 8 adults are cuddled up on their nests with their chicks. Once it warms up a little I think we’ll see some more go today.
At the moment there are 2 chicks in nb5 west, 1 chick each in nb1 & 5 south and the 3 week old chick in nb5 north.
1pm. The single chick (Podge) in nb5 has finally gone. It fledged sometime between 10am and noon. It was 45 days old. That’s fledgling number 17, only 4 chicks left to go.
8am. To my utter surprise and embarrassment when I checked the camera in nb1 last night, low and behold there’s still a chick there! I thought both chicks had fledged yesterday morning. The nest was empty and I assumed both had gone. Normally when one chick goes the other either sits back on the nest or continues to peer out. This one must have hidden itself in the box in a place where I can’t see with the camera and never moved for the rest of the day. Sorry for the conflicting reports. Note to myself – treble check everything in future!
So the correct number of chicks still here is 5 (again!). There are 2 in nb5 west, 1 each in nb1 & 5 south and 1 in nb5 north.
Another theory of mine that a single chick will fledge more quickly doesn’t seem to correct either. It’s not been a good 24 hours for me! The single chick in nb5 south (Podge) is 44 days old and still here. If my theory was right it should have fledged several days ago. In fact thinking about it being single might even have the opposite effect. As it receives all the food from both parents there’s a strong possibility that it’s considerably overweight and so must shed the excess before it can fledge. This could explain the reason why it’s still here.
The single chick in nb5 north is doing really well. Both parents are doing a brilliant job and it’s growing bigger by the day. It’s now 21 days old. I took this short video of it exercising its wings yesterday. On its right wing a large crataerina can be seen scuttling about – see this link.
10.30am. Unbelievable the second chick in nb1 south has just re-appeared back into view!!! Nothing has fledged in the last couple of days despite my updates. In a way I’m quite relieved that no chicks have gone, the weather is truly horrible outside. The only thing that has been dented is my pride and I can live with that. Now the chick total is 6!!
Friday 9th August
7.30am. Despite the 3 oldest chicks peering out all day in the end none of the them fledged. In a way I’m quite relieved. A deep low pressure with gale force winds is winding itself up to batter us from today. Best now if they stay put until Sunday. However it wouldn’t surprise me if they left right in the middle of it! One thing that is puzzling me is why are they still here. The average fledging period for the first 15 chicks was 41 days. But the 5 that are due to go are way over this, 3 are on 43 days and 2 on 42 days. Why are they staying longer? I don’t really know. The weather was OK so that wouldn’t have made any difference. It could be they weren’t fed as often as the first 15, but I don’t think that’s the reason. A more likely explanation is the food they were receiving was slightly less nutritious, perhaps enough to add an extra couple of days on them all. I have read some research into the swifts diet. It found that as the season progressed the make-up of their bolus (food-balls) they feed they chicks changes. In May and June it’s made up of mainly aphids and money-spiders but by July and August percentage wise it contained more flies and small beetles. Flies and beetles contain more of the harder external shell than aphids and money-spiders. So when they compared boluses, the ones in July and August are slightly less nutritious than the those in May and June.
As I write this 1 chick in nb1 south is peering out again. Is it just about to go?
Noon. Both chicks in nb1 south have gone. I think they went sometime between 9 & 10am that’s when I popped out to the shops thinking it will be OK. Typical! Their departure takes the number of fledglings up to 17. Only 4 chicks remaining now.
Thursday 8th August
9am. Even though 3 chicks spent most of yesterday peering out of the entrance holes in the end none decided to go. I hope they change their minds this morning as the forecast for Friday and Saturday is truly awful.
My friend Bob from South Shields has just sent me these photos. He only has one pair of swifts nesting in his boxes and last Sunday he got his mates from the BTO to put rings on them. They’ve rung 6 chicks for him since 2016.
The chicks in the photos are about a week from fledging and weigh in at 55.3g and 52.4g. Both will need to lose some weight before their maiden flights. Their wing measurements were 15cm for the heavier of the two and 14.8 cm for the lighter bird, so about 1 cm of growth still needed. Hopefully they’ll go sometime over the coming weekend.
10am. One of the chicks has just fledged. I was out in the garden with Jane hoping to film one fledging. I said to Jane that I thought Podge, the single chick in nb5 south would be the first to go and low and behold he just upped and went. I didn’t even manage to turn the camera on it was that quick. That’s chick number 16 to fledge. I think the oldest chicks in nb5 west and nb1 south might also go today. Back out in the garden to try my luck again at filming. I wish they would tell me when they were thinking of going!
11.30am. False alarm. It wasn’t Podge that fledged it was only one of its parents leaving. A little white face has just re-appeared at the entrance hole. Back up to 6 chicks to fledge.
Wednesday 7th August
8am. If I’m right todays the day that 3 out of 5 chicks will fledge. 3 are 41 days old and the other 2 are 40 days. This year the average fledging period is 41 days. The other good news is all 8 adults are still here, so everything is looking good on that front as well.
The most wonderful thing about having our website is receiving emails from people telling us about the what they’ve done. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths some folk will go to. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Osmo Lehtonen who lives in Finland. He wanted to tell about his swift colony. He lives in a remote wooden farmhouse not far from the city of Rauma, which is located on the Western side of Finland. He sent me this map.
His nearest neighbour is 1.5 km away. He’s cut holes in the wooden cladding on his farmhouse to create 35 internal nest sites. Over half are occupied. He also has numerous external boxes as well. I think these were built for starlings but swifts use them as well once the starlings have left. In Finland swifts are known as tar swallows or tar sands. He sent me this article about him that was published in a local Finnish magazine. It’s really lovely, see this link (use Google translate button) https://ls24.fi/raumalainen/pesakoloja-sirppisiipisille-viiropukareille It’s good to know there are people like Osmo about in this world. I thought you’d might like to read it as well.
4.30pm. Quick update. All 5 chicks are still here, however 3 are looking very twitchy indeed. They might go tonight, if they do it will be sometime after 8pm when it starts to get dark.
Tuesday 6th August
9am. The good news is all 8 adults are still here. However their chicks are showing absolutely no inclination to leave. In fact the complete opposite! All 5 of them are still cuddled up on their nests. I do hope they go in the next day or two as the weather forecast for Friday and Saturday looks terrible.
Our friend Steve from Somerset sent us some lovely photos of his birds. We popped in to see him a few weeks ago, see my blog on Wednesday 17th July. He’s got chicks about the same age as mine. His are just about to leave as well and are spending a lot of time just looking out. In fact the one in the middle photo looks like it’s already on the move. Although I’m pretty sure that one is an adult not a chick. It’s got a slightly darker face than the others.
Monday 5th August
8am. The last 2 remaining single adults left yesterday. All that are left now are the 4 pairs with chicks. 3 pairs have 5 chicks roughly the same age. In nb1 south and nb5 west there is 1 chick on 39 days and the other on 38 days. In nb5 south the single chick (Podge) is 39 days. In nb5 north the little chick is only 15 days old. The average fledging period this year is around 41 days although I reckon Podge might go before then. Based on this they should start fledging on Wednesday and be all gone by Friday.
Yesterday was the first day that I really noticed their absence. Although the adults come back every now and then to feed their chicks they do it very quietly and I rarely see them any more. No more screaming parties, no more fly-bys just the daily routine of feeding. If I didn’t have my cameras I wouldn’t have known they were still about.
Sunday 4th August
8am. The single chick in nb5 north is doing really well. It’s almost doubled in size since last week (see Tuesday 30th blog). It’s 14 days old and has just opened it eyes for the first time. It’s not naked anymore but covered in soft downy feathers. Its wing and tail feathers are just beginning to grow. For those of you with very sharp eyes on the back of it about 1 inch from the tail you can see the white outline of the crab-like parasite crataerina pallida. Luckily there’s only one in the nest but irritating to the chick nevertheless.
Very, very quiet yesterday. Most of the remaining adults departed during the morning. Just before they left a small group buzzed the house for one last time, then they were off. Apart from the 8 adults in the 4 boxes with chicks in there are now only 2 other adults remaining. 1 in nb3 south and the other in nb1 west, both non-breeders.
Saturday 3rd August.
9am. I think the start of the big exodus has begun. I’ve been reading reports from across the country saying their birds have gone in the last couple of days. The good news here is in the 4 boxes that still have chicks all 8 adults are still about, thank goodness. However I did notice a distinct drop in numbers around the house last night. Until yesterday evening 15 or more swifts would buzz the house prior to roosting. Last night it was only about 10. About 2/3rds of my colony has gone. This morning only 3 birds are out and about instead of the normal 8 or 9. I know I’m lucky still to have some birds. Everyday they’re here is a real bonus. One to be savoured and enjoyed. It’s a long wait until next April.
Friday 2nd August
9am. Yesterday brought an unexpected bonus for the 6 remaining chicks. It was another flying ant day. By late afternoon it got very hot and humid with the temperature peaking near 26C. That was enough to send thousands, if not millions of flying ants into the air. The swifts and the seagulls had a field day. I watched them high above me, slowly circling around feeding on the rich pickings. After a short while all the adults returned to their boxes, their cheek pouches stuffed full with ants. I had a quick look at the young chick in nb5 north. It was fed twice in a matter of minutes. It was so full that the second bolus remained in its throat as it couldn’t swallow it properly. Unable to move it just slumped on the side of the nest and went to sleep.
Thursday 1st August
8am. Although I didn’t manage to film the actual fledging moment last night it was really good to see the chick go from nb6 north – see this video. I was surprised how little it dropped once it had left the box. It flew off in a straight line, strong and powerful heading towards the north-west. If I didn’t know it was a fledgling I would have said judging by its flight it was an adult. That’s all 15 chicks I thought would go in July have now gone. The next 5 chicks are due to leave around the 8th/9th August. There are 2 in both nb5 west & nb1 south and a single chick (Podge) in nb5 south. They all look pretty good, although last night only 1 adult returned to nb1 south. I’ll keep a close eye on this box, hopefully it’ll return tonight. Even if it has gone it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The 2 chicks in that nest are due to leave on the 8th so they’re only about a week away. 3 or 4 days before they go they will start to refuse to eat. This is so they can slim down to the correct fledging weight, somewhere between 40-45g. One adult should be more than able to cope on its own from now on.
Just after the final chick fledged from nb6 north both adults returned, one with a huge bolus. I always think they look slightly bewildered when they first return to find an empty nest. It’s got all this food and no chick to give it to. It spent a while looking around the box before swallowing the food ball itself. See the RH photo below of both adults. Note the extended cheeks containing the bolus of the adult on top. The LH picture is of the chicks in NB5 west. They are both 33 days old.
Wednesday 31st July
8am. Not a very good swift day yesterday, far too wet and windy. My theory of removing the infertile egg to allow both birds to forage didn’t quite go to plan. One adult remained in for virtually the whole day trying to keep the youngster warm. Hopefully as the weather improves today so will the activity and the foraging.
Another chick from nb6 north fledged yesterday. I managed to take this short (wobbly) clip of the two remaining chicks looking out just after 8am. I think it fledged shortly after I shot the video. Note to myself – possible Christmas present, camera tripod. Along with the chick that fledged so did another 2 adults. So far 14 chicks have fledged. There are only 7 chicks remaining and 1 will go either today or tomorrow. At least 7 out of 30 adults from my camera boxes have also gone.
9.10pm. I’ve just seen the third and final chick leave nb6 north. It had been sticking its head out of the entrance hole for about half an hour before it went. A large screaming party of at least 15 adults were trying to entice it out. I managed to film some of the action but right at the crunch time a neighbour came over to see what was happening and as I turned to talk to her it slipped out. So close to filming it but alas it just wasn’t meant to be. It flew off to join the others, chick number 15 had just fledged.
Tuesday 30th July
8am. I’ve been watching nb5 north with some interest over the last few days. The nest contained 2 eggs. The first egg hatched 9 days ago but the second egg unfortunately was infertile. After much deliberation I decided to remove the infertile egg as soon as the opportunity arose. There are a couple of reasons why I think my intervention was necessary. Firstly the nest was becoming over-crowded. Both the sitting adult and the chick were struggling to keep the egg in place. Secondly and more importantly, whilst the egg remained in the nest it was stopping one of the adults from going out to forage. One adult in particular (possibly the female?) was still religiously incubating it. That meant the chick was only getting half the amount of food available each day. Bearing in mind it’s already extremely late in the season I felt the chick needed all the help it could get. So when I saw the sitting adult pop for a quick feed I put my plan into action. See the photos below. It was all over in a few seconds. By removing the egg I’ve now freed up both adults to forage. With both adults feeding it from now on the chick will gain weight much more rapidly. If all goes well it will fledge slightly earlier now. Those few extra days might make all the difference between a successful fledging or not.
Monday 29th July
9am. Another very quiet day yesterday. Not much activity until late in the evening when there were a few screaming fly-bys. One thing that did surprise me was the time the remaining chick in nb2 south decided to leave. It was well past 10pm and it was almost pitch black outside except for a small yellow line on the horizon. I’m not sure what made me look up but I saw it leave. At first I thought it was a bat but it’s dark shape was well silhouetted against the narrow band of light and it was definitely a swift. A quick check of the camera in that box confirmed it had gone. That takes the number of fledglings up to 13 with another 8 to go. I expect the remaining 2 chicks in nb6 north will leave soon, either today or tomorrow. Then there will be a pause until the middle of August when another 5 are due to leave and if all goes well the last chick in nb5 north will go around the end of August.
Sunday 28th July
8am. A change in behaviour yesterday. Gone was the intense activity of the previous two days and in it’s place was much gentler action. There was also a noticeable drop in the number of birds arounds. I only counted around 8-10 swifts in these subdued screaming parties, whereas on Thursday and Friday there was over 20. I think they are beginning to migrate. Their body clock is telling them it’s time to go despite the fact there are still a few nests with chicks in. The adults with chicks will remain but most of the others will start to disappear over the next week or so. The colony is beginning to disperse.
I checked my cameras late last night and to my surprise I saw a chick in nb2 south again. I had reported it had fledged on Friday but it’s still here. It is difficult sometimes to confirm when they’ve actually gone as they tend to stay out of camera view. They move away from the nest and stay close to the entrance holes, sometimes staying there all night despite the fact that their parents are on the nest. This is what happened in nb2 south. However 1 chick did fledge from nb6 north. It was looking out of the box for a long time. I’m not sure precisely when it left but it was sometime during the morning. Look how white its little face is, the adults are much, much darker. Unfortunately I didn’t see it go but I managed to film it peering out. See this clip. Apologies it’s a bit wobbly but it was difficult to hold the camera steady at the top of a step-ladder!
Despite the reappearance of the chick in nb2 south the number of fledglings still stands at 12 thanks to the chick going in nb6 north. There are 9 chicks left to go. I expect the ones in nb2 south and nb6 north will leave in the next couple of days. There were also 5 adults missing from their boxes last night.
Saturday 27th July
8am. Strangely quiet this morning, I’ve not heard a thing so far. Yesterday morning however was superb. Virtually from day break right up to lunchtime we were treated to some excellent activity. It was almost non-stop. There must have been 15 bangers in the group. They were targeting all the boxes, but nb1 & nb5 south received the most attention. There are chicks in these boxes about 4 weeks old, far too young to fledge but interesting enough for the bangers to continually pester them. In this short video you can see the bangers queuing up to look into both boxes.
9.30am. All my attention is now focused on nb6 north. That’s the box I fostered a chick from nb1 west into back in June (see my blog for 23rd June). There’s 3 chicks in that box due to leave in the next day or two. There was definitely 3 in there last night but I can only see 1 now. It’s looking out of the entrance hole. If I’m really lucky I might be able to video its departure.
9.45am. The other 2 chicks have just moved back into camera view so all 3 are still there. Two of them are 40 days old and the other is 39 days. The other chicks in the colony have fledged around the 41/42 day mark so I think I’ve got a little longer to wait yet. The foster chick is 40 days old so should be one of the first to go.
Friday 26th July
8am. What a scorcher yesterday. Far too hot to do anything other than sit in the garden and watch the swifts. Hard life I know but I managed to struggle through it!
At first the heat didn’t seem to bother the swifts at all. In fact it was one of the most action packed mornings of the season. From the word go there were at least 20 swifts buzzing the house. Most of the time they were targeting the boxes with chicks in that were just about to fledge. However on several occasions they also investigated my empty boxes. I managed to take a couple of videos of the action. This one is of the bangers and this one is of the large screaming party.
By the afternoon the soaring temperature had even become too much for them and their activity died away. It did however pick up again around 8pm and continued until it got dark. The result of all this activity was 4 chicks fledging. Sometime during the morning the remaining chicks in nb3 & 4 north both went, as did both chicks in nb2 south. I never saw any of them go or if I did I mistook them for adults. I would have loved to film them leaving. Their departure takes the number of fledglings up to 12 with only another 9 to go.
A check of the cameras late last night revealed 2 of the adults have also gone. One each from nb3 & 4 north. Perhaps on seeing their chicks fledge yesterday they thought it was a good day to migrate as well.
Thursday 25th July
6am. Up early as it’s too hot to sleep. Another chick, the first from nb3 north fledged yesterday. The first screaming party of the morning has just whizzed passed the house. A dozen or so of very loud birds. Everyone in the road has their bedroom windows wide open. I only hope the swifts don’t upset them too much with their antics!
There are another 7 chicks that are ready or almost ready to go. The remaining 2 in nb3 & 4 north. 3 in nb6 north and 2 in nb2 south. This extremely hot weather might encourage them out a bit earlier than normal. So far 8 have fledged and I expect that number to rise again today.
Wednesday 24th July
7am. Remember the children from Olveston Primary school (see my blog 27th June & 6th July). They have swifts nesting at their school and their teacher, Mr Carter (Tom to us) asked his pupils to write some poems about swifts. Back in June we were invited to listen to them. As we sat in the playground the swifts swooped over our heads. It was a truly magical visit. One little girl had even built her own swift box at home.
Well things have really moved on since then. They’ve already built and installed another 5 new boxes and there are plans to build even more over the summer holidays. The enthusiasm of the children has been quite remarkable and infectious. It appears that the whole community has been bitten by the swift bug. Practical hands-on conservation involving the young, now that’s what I call proper schooling. What a wonderful example for other schools to follow. Here’s a few photos of them at work.
8am. The first chick in nb4 north fledged yesterday. Either today or tomorrow the remaining chick in nb4 north will go, as will the two chicks in the adjacent box nb3 north. They’re due to go anytime although I found they’ll probably go either before 8am or after 9pm. That seems to be the preferred times for fledging. As I write this a dozen of very excited and noisy adults are buzzing those two boxes. I suspect they’re trying to encourage the youngsters out. I wouldn’t be surprised to find one gone when I check later. So far 7 out of 21 chicks have fledged.
Tuesday 23rd July
8am. We had a very busy day yesterday as the BBC were filming our swifts for a TV programme to be shown in September. When I know a date I’ll add it to the blog. It was good fun meeting the BBC team – Jemma Woodman, Nick Baker and cameraman Simon Vacher. I take my hat off to their professionalism. I tend to get nervous and tongue-tied when the camera starts to roll but they made us feel at ease. I’ve asked them to edit out all my bloopers!
The good news is despite it being overcast the swifts put on a pretty good show. However not to be outdone my tame robin, Rob got in on the act as well. So much so he’s going to have his own bit in the programme. They filmed him on Nick’s hand. What a star!
Nick loves swifts as much as I do. He’s very knowledgeable and has been involved in several projects. We gave him one of Lester’s corner boxes which he is going to put up on his North Devon home.
12.30pm. It’s flying ant day here – see our video. Thousands upon thousand have just started emerging in the garden and rising up into the sky. I don’t think the swifts have cottoned on to this bonanza at the moment as the sky is strangely empty. That won’t last long though. All the chicks are in for a feast today.
8pm. There’s still an egg in nb5 north.The other egg in that nest hatched 3 days ago. Normally they hatch within a day of one another so I reckon it must be infertile. The total number of chicks this year is 21. The first 6 have already fledged and judging by all the activity outside I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more have just left to join them.
Monday 22nd July
7am. Three more chicks have gone. The second chicks in nb1 & 2 north and nb4 south fledged yesterday. Their departure completes the clutches in those three boxes. All the adults are still here. I always wonder what they must think when they return to find the nest empty, it must be odd.
There’s still 1 egg in nb5 north. I thought it would hatch yesterday but it’s still there, maybe today?
Activity has been very poor for the last few days because of the weather. I’m hoping it’ll pick up when this hot and humid weather arrives. It would be great to have a few more days of activity before they go.
Quick update; 6 chicks have fledged from 3 boxes. In the remaining 8 boxes there are 15 chicks and 1 egg. I’m hoping the last egg hatched overnight but I can’t tell at the moment.
8.30pm. There’s still an egg in nb5 north which is beginning to worry me. It should have hatched by now. I’m beginning to think it might be in infertile.
Since lunchtime the temperature and humidity had steadily increased. This has triggered a marked increase in swift activity. Chicks have been fledging all over the place. Large excited groups of adult swifts have gathered overhead to meet these new arrivals. It looks like some sort of welcoming ritual to me. It’s truly wonderful to watch.
Sunday 21st July
9am. Without doubt this is a strange swift season. Yesterday whilst an egg hatched in one nest, 3 chicks fledged in others. I’ve never known a such a wide range in timings between eggs hatching and chicks fledging. This year it is an unprecedented 6 weeks, normally it’s 3, sometimes 4. The huge difference is entirely down to the vagaries of the weather. Something happened to them either in Africa or on their journey home. Birds were lost or turned up extremely late. The colony took well over a month to build back up again. Some of the very late arrivals found their old partners had paired up with new mates. This resulted in 4 clutches being thrown out and the reason why I’ve still got a pair on eggs.
The chicks that fledged were in nb4 south and nb1 & 2 north. I don’t know when they left. I only noticed they were missing when I checked the cameras late last night. I’m a little surprised 3 went. I was working on 44 days to fledge but these have all gone around the 40-41 day mark. I’ll have to revise down the fledging period for the rest of the remaining chicks, otherwise I’m going to miss a lot of the action.
One thing I have noticed recently is the adults tend to go out and return together in small groups. These groups consist of anything between 3 and 8 adults. How they synchronise the timings is a mystery to me, but perhaps they feel safer foraging together in small groups.
Saturday 20th July
8am. It absolutely tipped down with rain for most of yesterday, some of the bursts were like mini monsoons. It was welcome news for the garden, but it meant my birds stayed in much longer than normal. I was convinced the eggs in nb5 north would hatch. The sitting bird was constantly fidgeting about and looking at them. Apparently they can hear the chicks piping inside the eggs just before they hatch. I’m sure that’s what I was watching. But to my surprise they were both there late last night. However if you look very closely at the egg in the LH photo below you can see a white mark towards the top of the egg. That’s the chick inside trying to break out. Second photo shows the two eggs. Unfortunately the camera is not very good in that box.
The mate of nb1 west ended up again in nb3 west. This morning it will move back into nb1 again, but for some reason it seems to struggle at night to find the right box. Very odd.
Some very good news the single bird in nb3 south has found a new mate at last. That was the only single bird from last year that hadn’t found a new mate until yesterday. It’s far too late to breed but it augers well for next year.
It was far too wet for the chicks in nb4 south to attempt fledging yesterday. They might go today but I reckon it’s more likely to be early next week.
Even though the rain put a dampener on swift action it was perfect conditions for some other wildlife. The garden was full of little frogs and toads. Hundreds emerged from the pond. I’ll have to take extra care when cutting the lawn next time as I don’t want to injure any of them.
Noon. The telltale signs of a broken egg shell in nb5 north indicates at least one egg has hatched this morning. That’s chick number 21 with only 1 more egg to go.
Friday 19th July
9am. I’m watching two boxes with great interest. In nb5 north both eggs are due to hatch today and in nb4 south the chicks could fledge anytime. At the moment all the birds are in and sitting tight so nothing much for me to see. There’s no activity outside either because it’s raining. However looking at the weather forecast for next week it looks really good. It’s meant to get very hot and humid from Monday onwards reaching at peak around midweek. Perfect swift weather. I expect to see lots of activity from Monday onwards.
Reports are coming in of the effect the heatwave in Europe has had on swifts nesting under pan tiles. Record breaking temperatures of over 45C were recorded in several countries, including France and Spain. During the heatwave animal rescue centres were inundated with swifts. The heat was so intense that many swift chicks perished in their nests. The ‘lucky’ ones managed to clamber out in a desperate attempt to get away from the stifling conditions and were rescued. In a few days in early July one rescue centre in Mallorca had 253 casualties, of which 215 were swifts. The heatwave only lasted for a short time but it was long enough to wipe out lots of swifts in those two countries. If this becomes the norm in years to come then the outlook is grim.
Thursday 18th July
7am. The good news is there was no major disaster whilst we were away. I was worried about the honey bees. Just before we went away I saw another swarm, the third of the season fly near the house. But they’ve kept away and so has the sparrow hawk. A check of the cameras last night revealed all the adults and chicks are still here, although it looks like the new mate in nb1 west is roosting in nb3 west. I expect they’ll sort that out in the coming days.
Next week is going to be full of action as fledging begins. The first chicks are due to leave on Monday and by the following weekend around 15 will have gone. I reckon it takes about 44 days for a chick to fledge. Some years it’s a day or two earlier than that, other years a day or two later. After the July chicks have gone another 5 will go around August 10th -12th. Then finally, if all goes well the last 2 chicks will fledge around September 4th. There is always a risk with very late broods. If the weather turns bad in August the adults could leave before their chicks have fledged. Hopefully that won’t happen and they will stay to look after them until they’re ready to go. Once the chicks have gone their parents will begin to depart. Sometimes they leave on the same day but generally they tend to hang around for a while, maybe up to a week or two longer. I think they use this time to build up their strength before they finally go.
Yesterday mornings action was truly spectacular. Over 15 birds continuously screaming around the house. I think this heightened activity was down to the fact that half a dozen white faced youngsters were looking out. The adults get very excited when they see this. It seems to me they are trying to entice the youngsters to join them.
I mentioned in last Fridays blog that I wouldn’t be surprised if the flying ants emerged over the weekend. Well I didn’t quite get the timing right. I was a few days out. We saw our first swarm on Tuesday in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. I noticed on the TV news last night that the Met Office’s radar picked up a huge cloud over the south coast on Wednesday. It was an enormous swarm of flying ants, so dense it could be seen in satellite images from space and covered an area from Dorset to West Sussex. I don’t think they’ve swarmed yet in Bristol, so my birds have got to wait a bit longer for their feast.
Wednesday 17th July
8am. Just got back home from a few days down in Devon. I’ll update my blog once I’ve had a chance to check out what’s happened to my colony. Nothing too drastic I hope!
Whilst we were away enjoying the sun we also managed to squeeze in a few ‘swift’ visits as well.
We revisited our friends in Beer – Margaret & Ian. They have 10 boxes. This year they’ve added a double corner box and the good news is that the swifts buzz around their boxes on a daily basis. Although they’ve not seen one enter yet, I think it’s only a matter time.
Next we went to see Steve and Isabelle. They live in a beautiful barn conversion just outside of Axmouth. They’ve only been there a few months but have already installed a dozen internal swift boxes in one of their outbuildings. They haven’t seen much activity yet, but they are planning to install a better sound system for next year. I think that will make all the difference.
Finally we popped over to Wadeford, near Chard to see (another) Steve and his partner Sally. They have a well established swift colony in the roof of an old workshop. He has made 18 internal boxes and over half are occupied. Each box has it’s own camera rigged up to a TV in his living room, so he can view all 18 at once. I was so jealous!
It was really wonderful to meet everyone. They made us feel so welcome. To have the opportunity to see what they have done and have a closer look was absolutely brilliant. Something we will never forget.
My swifts are putting on a super display outside. Perhaps they know I’ve just come home and want to show me of what I’ve been missing!
Friday 12th July
7am. My Blog will be on hold until Wednesday 17th July whilst we take a swift break. Apologies for the pun! My daughter and neighbours have been asked to keep an eye out for my birds and keep me updated. Not sure that they are as keen as me though!
Any day now will be flying ant day. When it occurs it’s a real bonus for our birds, especially the chicks. For a couple of days they will gorge themselves on what is a birds equivalent of a super-food. Big fat juicy queen ants packed full of goodness. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens this weekend.
With the recent arrival of the newcomers, some of which have paired up with my singles birds the colony numbers have recovered to somewhere near last years levels, although I’m still down 4 breeding pairs on 2018. At the moment I have 10 boxes with chicks, 1 with eggs, 2 with non-breeding pairs and 2 with singles. I’m sure I have another breeding pair in one of my non-camera boxes as well. I reckon I’ve got somewhere around the 30 bird mark, last year it was closer to 35. There’s still time to grab another pair or two. All in all a very good recovery considering the poor return in May and terrible weather in June.
Thursday 11th July
8am. Mornings seem to be the most active time for the newcomers to prospect. They arrive about 6.30am and slowly increase the activity and noise levels reaching a crescendo around 10ish. It tails off after that and by early afternoon it goes quiet. At around 8pm it starts to pick up again with a final flourish just before it gets dark. However there doesn’t seem to any banging of the boxes in the evening, only lots of low level screaming. All this noise and commotion has drawn the attention of an unwelcome visitor. A quite magnificent looking female sparrow hawk. She chased an adult back into its box yesterday morning. Missed it by a mile as the adult was far too quick and agile but nevertheless must have given it a fright. I made a rather pathetic shooing noise from the garden, waving my arms like a mad fool to scare it away. She didn’t seemed bothered by me at all. She just cocked her head to look at me in a rather quizzical way, probably wondering what all the noise was about. After a couple of minutes she went on her way, swooping low over the rooftops and disappearing into the trees at the bottom of the road. I expect she’ll be back today to try again.
Some good news the single bird in nb1 west has found another mate. That’s the box where its old partner accidentally killed itself by flying into telephone wires (see my blog June 23rd). There was two small chicks in the nest at the time, one I managed to foster and the other unfortunately was too weak and died a few days later. The remaining adult remained faithful to that box, roosting there every night on its own until last night. That’s when I heard a familiar low piping call coming from it’s box, a sign of birds bonding. Sure enough when I checked the camera there were two birds in there. Both sat on the nest preening one another. It must have hooked up with one of the noisy newcomers. It’s too late for them to breed this year but it’s looking good for next year. The only single bird I have left in my camera boxes is the bird in nb3 south. Let’s hope it finds a new mate as well.
Wednesday 10th July
8am. I woke about 4.30am this morning and was surprised to hear the morning chorus outside. A couple of blackbirds, one song thrush and some wrens and robins were singing quite loudly. In a couple of weeks it will go silent as we move into high summer. My little tame robin, Rob is looking decidedly scruffy. He’s just started his summer moult and has lost his tail feathers. There are several young speckled baby robins that wander into the garden for time to time and he gives them very short strife. As soon as he see ones he chases it out immediately. He can be quite aggressive at times.
The recent spell of fine weather has brought out the summer butterflies in some numbers. Fluttering through the garden has been lots of meadow browns, gatekeepers, speckled wood, commas and the odd peacock, not to mention dozens of whites, both large and small that seem to make a bee-line straight to my cabbages. Where do they come from? Along with the butterflies the first dragonflies have emerged from the pond. Yesterday I saw my first southern hawker, a broad-bodied chaser and common darter. They make a welcome distraction to swift watching which is how I spend most of my time.
I’ve been paying particular attention to any new bird that enters my camera boxes. As soon as one does I whizz upstairs to check. I’m hoping it might have a ring on it’s leg. If it did it just might be little Jack come home, alas nothing yet. Still it keeps me fit running up and down the house like a mad-man!
The noisy newcomers arrived again at 6.30am. This seems to be the time they turn up in the morning. Another hard day of swift watching lies ahead!
Tuesday 9th July
7am. I removed the addled egg from nb5 south yesterday. It was getting in the way of the rather large single chick in there. I don’t name the chicks in my boxes but I’ve made an exception in this case. I’ve called it Podge! I’ve never known a chick with such an appetite. It’s only 12 days old but that doesn’t stop it eating. Yesterday both parents came back in together with two massive boluses. He devoured one after the other. I thought it was going to explode. I think if I left the egg in there it would have eaten that in time.
The third wave of swifts is on its way. Over 21,000 were seen over Dordtse Biesbosch, Holland yesterday. These birds I believe are predominately yearlings. They make a lot of noise and whizz around continuously, but they’re not really interested in claiming a nest site. Still they swell the numbers around existing colonies and are fun to watch. A lot of people mistake these youngsters for newly fledged chicks because of their behaviour. They should be with us in the next day or two.
The majority of chicks will fledge in a couple of weeks time, but a few really early ones are just beginning to go. One fledged near me last night. I watched a large excited screaming party high up in the sky. There must have been 25 to 30 birds in the group, all chasing one-another in ever decreasing circles. A sure sign that a fledgling was somewhere in the middle.
The noisy newcomers have just arrived outside and their morning antics have just got underway. No peace now for any of the resident birds still inside their boxes.
Monday 8th July
8am. The screaming activity started around 6.30am. A quick count revealed around 9 or 10. It’s difficult to know exactly how many are newcomers though. I suspect a few of these screamers are my resident birds just joining in. A more realistic estimate is taken last thing at night. When all my resident birds have returned for the night there’s still about 3 or 4 out flying. I think these are yearlings, 1 year olds and they’ll sleep on the wing. As for 2 year old birds I know I have at least 1 pair and a couple of singles have started roosting in my empty boxes.
This recent spell of settled weather has arrived just at the right time. It allows the adults to collect food all day long and as a consequence all the chicks are growing fast. In 8 out of the 10 active nests the chicks have lost that ugly reptilian appearance and look like mini adults. They spend most of the day preening and exercising their little wings. Their feathers are growing quickly and require a lot of attention. In the other 2 nests the chicks are still blind and featherless. Their eyes open around 2-3 weeks after hatching. The chicks in the photos below are nearly 4 weeks old.
Sunday 7th July
8 am. It’s fascinating watching the bangers. I’m trying to work out what they are actually up too. If only I could think like a swift. There does seems to be two distinct groups of bangers. The ones that land and go inside and the others which just seem to like annoying the resident birds. I think this behaviour is age related. The birds that are landing and going inside I believe are 2 year old birds. These are the ones that will breed next year. I’m sure they are identifying potential nest sites. Some have already ‘claimed’ a box and have paired up. They have started roosting together overnight and occasionally bring back the odd piece of nesting material. I have at least 2 of these non-breeding pairs in my boxes. The other group of birds I believe are yearlings (1 year olds). They don’t go inside, although they do land momentarily on the landing strip to peep inside. They spend most of the day chasing the returning adults back in. They also seem fixated on certain boxes, continuously pestering those birds inside. Why these 4 particular boxes and not the others I don’t really know, perhaps they are related to the adults inside? The boxes that receive the most unwanted attention from them are nb 1, 4 & 5 south and nb5 west. The resident birds in these boxes spend a lot of time just looking out of the entrance hole. Every time the yearlings come close they scream wildly at them, it can be quite loud at times especially at 6am in the morning! I’m convinced that a typical group of bangers is made up of a mixture of 1 and 2 year old birds. They don’t only target my boxes. They might buzz my boxes for a few minutes or more but once they’ve lost interest here they disappear over the roof-tops to annoy some other colonies near-by, bless them!
Saturday 6th July
8am. Here are some photos of the children we met on our visit to Olveston Primary School on Wednesday 26th June (see my blog on 27th). We did a swift talk in the playground underneath where the swifts have made their homes. They are nesting just under the soffits, no more than 12 feet off the ground. It was great to watch the birds whizz just above the heads of the children, accompanied lots of oohs and ahhs. Here is the link to their wonderful swift poems that they read out to us.
Since we were there we’ve been informed by their teacher, Mr Carter (Tom to us!) that their first handmade swift box proudly shown painted red below has already been put up. And the great news is that there are more swift boxes being made. He told us the children and parents are really excited about their new swift project and the village want to know about their local swifts too. What a wonderful way to bring a community closer, both young and old working together. I hope this inspires other communities to do something similar.
Friday 5th July
9pm. Just got back from a ‘swift’ mini break in Devon. Sorry about the pun!
The weather was too good to miss. On the way down we popped into Kentisbeare, a small village near Cullompton just to see how the local swift project we were involved with was progressing. A couple of years ago 9 boxes were fitted into the tower of the local church. Last year several swifts were seen prospecting near the boxes for the first time. This year even better. We could see that at least 3 pairs have taken up residence in the louvres underneath the weathercock. Fantastic result.
From Kentisbeare onto Beer to see our dear friends Margaret, Ian, and mum Hazel. They’ve got 8 swift boxes fitted under the eaves of their house. They’ve had swifts buzzing near the boxes for some time, but frustratingly they have not seen one enter yet. Whilst we were there I moved the speaker much closer to the entrance hole of one of their boxes. I think it might make all the difference. My reward for this minor bit of DIY was probably the best seafood platter I’ve ever had, it was absolutely delicious. Lovely people and an amazing location too!
Everything seems to be OK at Swift House in our absence. The swifts are going nuts outside, so I think I’ll go outside and watch them for a while with a glass of wine of course.
Thursday 4th July
7am. Another very good display again last night. It seems to start around 9pm and reaches a crescendo at 10pm. That’s when all the newcomers try to find boxes of their own for the night. It’s very hard to work out exactly how many there are but I think around 6 or 7. About half manage to find an empty box for the night. The others seem more interested in landing on the occupied ones and annoying the residents. The noise is quite deafening.
Even though last nights display was excellent there was hardly any activity during the day. There was a little bit first thing in the morning but by 10am it had gone. The rest of the day remained relatively quiet. The only activity was the parent birds returning every hour to feed their young. It looks like they were all out concentrating on feeding to do much else.
A quick round up of the colony status. There are 11 active nests. In 10 of them there are chicks, 20 in total. 8 nests contain 2 chicks, 1 nest has 3 and the last nest only 1. There is also one very late pair who have only just laid eggs, nb5 north. That nest has 2 eggs and they won’t hatch until around July 20th. As for the other camera boxes there are single non-breeders in nb3, nb12 west and nb3 south. In the non-camera boxes it’s much more difficult to work out, but I’m sure there is a breeding pair in nb6 west. I’ve also seen birds enter, nb7,9,10 & 11 west as well. The colony number is somewhere around the low 30’s mark.
Wednesday 3rd July
6am. The bangers are already up and about and carrying on where they left off last night. They put on a tremendous display, probably the best of the year so far. It didn’t stop until gone 10pm which is late for them.
Yesterday we were invited back to Castle Combe by the owners to have a look at their swifts again. You might remember in last years blog we helped advise them on the best way to carry out roof repairs to their old farmhouse. They have a large colony of swifts nesting under the roof tiles. Their ambition was to try and save as many of the existing nests as possible, but also to try to increase the number of new nest sites. The finished results are absolutely spectacular. Not only did they many to save virtually all the existing nests they also managed to create dozens of new ones. Their roof now has over 80 nest compartments under the tiles. The LH photo below shows some of the newly created entrance holes. The RH photo is the East side of the property and gives you some idea of the size of the building. On that side there are now over 25 nest compartments of which at least 5 were occupied. We watched in awe as 30 or more swifts whizzed around this beautiful farmhouse. The owner thought he had at least 12 breeding pairs. I reckon he had more than that. It was really lovely to catch up with them again. It just goes to show what can be done. A brilliant example to anyone thinking about carrying out roof repairs. For more details see our Local Swift Projects page.
Tuesday 2nd July
7am. An old friend of ours popped in yesterday morning. He’s a wildlife and landscape artist Jonathan Pomroy We’ve known him for many years. In fact it was reading about the first colony he created near Bradford-on Avon that inspired me in the first place. He was bitten by the swift bug way before me. He had seen swifts trying to get into his soffits and without hesitation had cut several holes in them. I thought at the time wow this bloke is really is keen, someone to keep an eye on. His love for swifts runs deep. Since we’ve known him he’s moved several times around the country. At every new home he’s created a brand new colony. An avid user of social media he has kept his band of followers updated on his ‘swift’ work. He’s now lives in Gilling East, North Yorkshire. He was telling us that he has just attracted his first breeding pair this year. I think that’s colony number 3! He’s written and illustrated a lovely book about swifts called ‘On Crescent Wings – a Portrait of the Swift’, which is available on his website.
9pm. There’s still an egg in nb5 south. That’s over 25 days now so it must be addled. I expect one of the adults will remove it in the next day or two. By the way the single chick in that nest is growing by the second. Not having any siblings to worry about it’s getting all the food, it’s absolutely massive!
Monday 1st July
8am. A much quieter day yesterday thank goodness. No dramas just plenty of prospectors whizzing around. Time for me just to relax and stop and stare.
I’m pretty sure the remaining egg in nb5 south is addled. The camera in that box is poor with a lot of interference on the picture. So I don’t tend to spend long looking at it. When I finally noticed the egg was on the floor of the box I didn’t know how long it had been there. If you replace an egg back into the nest within a day they are usually OK, but any longer than that is pushing it. I suspect now it was over a day. It’s now long overdue at 24 days, normally they hatch around the 20-21 day mark. The picture below was taken late last night just as the birds settled down to roost. One adult is to the left whilst the other feeds the single chick. The egg is clearly visible in the middle of the nest. I’ve just had a quick look this morning and nothing changed. If it is addled it will be rejected in the next couple of days.
Sunday 30th June
8am. As Dinah Washington so eloquently sang ‘What a difference a day makes’. Yesterday was the hottest day of the year in Bristol with the mercury reaching over 31C in the garden. Today we will be lucky to get to 21C. But it wasn’t only the weather making headlines yesterday. It was the return of the honey bees.
Just before the Avon Wildlife Trust group were due to arrive I noticed a few bees going in and out of several of my boxes. I’ve seen this behaviour before. It’s scout bees looking for a new home. A swarm was about to happen! Panic overtook me. I was up the ladder in a flash spraying Bee Quick to deter the intruders. In my haste most of the spray went in my eyes. I can tell you that’s not nice. The first members of AWT arrived to find me dangling half naked off the ladder. It looked like a scene out of Faulty Towers! Finally I managed to direct the spray in the right direction and the scout bees went away. Panic over.
The rest of the AWT group arrived and we all gathered in the garden. The swifts were performing magnificently, so there was plenty of action to see. It was extremely hot, too hot really but we coped. Jane was bringing out glasses of iced water to keep everyone going. About half an hour into the visit the sky darkened and a terrible buzzing sound filled the garden. Thousands of honey bees were swarming around the house. My heart sank. Which box would they choose, how many chicks would die, for a few minutes it was horrible. But miraculously they moved away from the house and settled in a huge ball in our neighbours Silver Birch tree. The disaster had been adverted, but only temporarily. They’ll soon be up and on the go again looking for a new home. One of the group suggested phoning the Bristol Bee Association. Brilliant idea. Within a few minutes a local bee-keeper was on site and between us we managed to shake most of the bees into a dummy hive. He told me the rest of the bees that were still flying about outside would eventually join the queen in the box and he would come back and pick them up later. Panic over. No. A couple of hours later the bees were off again, luckily this time heading south. I phoned the bee-keeper and told him the bad news that he wasn’t going to gain a hive. He wasn’t too upset. Somebody else had just phoned him to report a swarm had just appeared in their garden, so he was going there to pick them up. Finally the panic over. I wasn’t a very good host only managing a very short time with the group. Thank goodness Jane was there to take over. Most of my time was spent helping the bee-keeper. I think I lost about a stone in weight wrapped up inside my heavy bee-keeping suit! Our visitors said that they had a great time learning about bees as well as swifts. They told me the unfolding drama very exciting, one of the best field trips they’ve ever been on!
Some really good news. The second egg in nb1 south has hatched. I’m so pleased about this. It was one of the boxes I replaced a dislodged egg in. I’m not so sure about nb5 south. I put an egg back in that nest as well but I am not sure how long it was out of the nest. It may have been too long. The new chick in nb1 takes the number up to 20 chicks with only 2 eggs to go.
Saturday 29th June
6am. It was so hot last night I could hardly sleep. Still I don’t mind getting up early when you can open the curtains and see half a dozen birds outside. I think we might be in for a real treat today. The brisk easterly has subsided and its moved round to a more southerly direction. I think we could be in for a scorcher!
Just as well I’m up early as we have an Open morning planned. We’ve got over 20 members of the Avon Wildlife Trust coming to have a look. I hope my birds put on a good show for them. I expect my tame robin, Rob will. He never misses an opportunity to take centre stage!
One of the eggs in nb5 south hatched yesterday morning. The other box with eggs in that I thought would hatch nb1 south, still has two eggs. I replaced dislodged eggs in both these boxes some weeks ago and I’m anxious to see if they hatch out. I hope they all do.
The little orphan chick although alive isn’t growing as quickly as it should. I wonder if it has a problem. It doesn’t seem to be able to hold its head up for long. So begging for food is really hard for it. Maybe that was the reason its parent abandoned it in the first place. All I can do is carry on feeding it as best I can.
4.30pm. Sad news the little orphan chick has died. It hadn’t looked too good for a few days. Much better news is that the first egg has hatched in nb1 south. Also I’ve finally managed to get a good look into nb5 west and there are 2 new chicks in there. And finally the pair in nb5 north have laid another egg. The first clutch was thrown out on June 10th when the old mate went missing. The remaining bird hooked up with a new partner on June 18th and today they’ve laid their first egg together. New totals are 19 chicks and 3 eggs.
The Avon Wildlife Trust swift event was extremely eventful, in fact it was bordering on stressful! Nothing to to with the members who were absolutely lovely. It was what happening around the boxes that got me all worked up. Too hot and tired to write any more now. I’ll update you in tomorrows blog.
Friday 28th June
6am. Up early to feed the little chick. Although it’s still very small I think it’s getting stronger, it certainly wriggles around more than when I first brought it in. It weighs about 8g which is underweight for it’s age, it should be double that.
After a cool start yesterday the sun finally came out and by the afternoon it was quite warm. The increase in warmth brought a marked increase in swift activity. The bangers were back and in some numbers. The returning resident adults were routinely chased back into their boxes by these noisy newcomers. Most of the chicks are about a couple of weeks old now and their parents are coming back every hour or so to feed them.
We had a photographer visit yesterday to take pictures of our garden for Garden News magazine. No need to rush out and buy it, apparently it won’t be featured until this time next year. The sun was out and the garden looked so much better than it did for our Open Day on Sunday. I do feel a little guilty that people paid and it was raining and the flowers were closed. Even my tame robin, Rob got in on the act, following the photographer around until he finally relented and took his picture. He made sure he wasn’t going to be left out. Such a show-off!
Last night was probably the best so far for screaming activity. I stayed out until 10pm just watching the wonderful displays. I’m not sure what’s going on in nb12 west. There was a pair in there the previous night but last night only one bird returned. However the box right next to it, nb11 had 2 birds in it for the first time. Was one of them the partner from nb12 who went into the wrong box by mistake? I’ll have to stay out again tonight to try and work out what’s really going on.
The eggs in nb1 and 5 south are both due to hatch today. I’m hoping one of those boxes will soon be home for our little orphan chick.
10am. The first egg in nb5 south has just hatched. That’s chick number 17, with 5 eggs left to go.
Thursday 27th June
7am. Just fed the little chick. It’s still very weak but I managed to feed it several times yesterday and it seems to be improving.
Where is the heatwave they’ve been going on about it all week? It is quite fresh outside with a brisk easterly blowing. Not the weather I was promised!
Our visit yesterday to Olveston Primary school was wonderful. I must admit I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but I needn’t of worried. We were blown away by the children’s knowledge and enthusiasm. Full credit must go to Tom Carter their teacher. I wish I’d had a teacher like him when I was at school. It was hands on practical teaching of the highest standard. Something the school children could actually see, feel and write about. Their poems were brilliant, it inspired me and I was only there for a short while. One little school girl had even built a swift box and painted it with beautiful silhouettes of swifts all over it. What more can I say.
We spent a very enjoyable hour outside in the playground listening to the children’s poems and answering their questions. I must say their questions were some of the best I’ve ever been asked. Kids have a knack of asking just the right thing. The reason we were outside in the playground was because the swifts are nesting just under the eaves of the school which was the Old Library. It was built in 1836 and has open soffits. The swift nests couldn’t have been anymore than 12 feet off the ground and there must have been 7 or 8, possibly more. As the children read out their poems the swifts came swooping in right over their heads. No more than a few feet of the ground, you could have almost touched them. Every time a swift came in a huge oooh greeted it’s arrival. It was absolutely magical.
After I featured some of the children’s poems on my Blog a couple of weeks ago a primary school in France has contacted me. They’ve done something similar and would like to set up communication with Olveston and share messages. Marvellous thing this internet.
We’re asked if we can show some photos of our visit and we’re just waiting to hear back from the school if we can.
Wednesday 26th June
6am. Things took a turn for the worse for our little chick in nb1 west yesterday. For some reason the adult stopped feeding it. It would return to the box with no food and sit by the entrance hole completely ignoring the little chick who had started begging for food as soon as it heard it enter. It would just sit by the entrance hole preening itself. After about 10 minutes it would leave. It did this several times during the evening. Finally I decided at 11pm that enough was enough. The chick was in the nest still uncovered and in some distress. If I left it in there it would certainly die overnight, so out came the ladder again. I opened the inspection hatch and gently removed the little chick. It was very cold and hardly moving. The adult bird shuffled away into the corner quite unperturbed by what was going on. Once back in the house I warmed the little chick up by holding it in my hand for 20 minutes or so. Once it was warm it started to beg for food. I never thought I would be so happy to see flies in the house but there were one or two in the conservatory. I quickly caught these and gave the hungry chick a good feed, probably it’s first of the day. I popped it in the airing cupboard overnight as that was probably the warmest place in the house.
This morning it seems to have recovered and started to beg for food as soon as I opened the airing cupboard door. That was a good sign. I managed to find several juicy spiders outside which I’ve just given it. I’ll order some wax worms and crickets as I’m going to run out of live insects soon in the garden.
The chick is about 8 days old although looking at it’s size it looks no more than half that age. My plan is to nurture it back to strength over the next few days. I still have three nests with eggs in that are due to hatch any time now. I hope to be able to foster this chick in one of these nests in a week or two.
I didn’t really have time to monitor what was happening with the noisy newcomers outside, but a quick check of the cameras revealed a new pair in nb12 west.
This morning we’re off to Olveston Primary school to listen to the children read us the poems they’ve written about swifts. It sounds delightful, we’re both really looking forward to it.
Tuesday 25th June
8am. Without doubt the second wave of swifts have arrived. It’s difficult to tell exactly how many but somewhere in the region of 7-12. At least 2 or possibly 3 have started to roost in my non-camera boxes, maybe more. I’ve seen them go in nb7, 9,10,11 & 12 west. Although there is a chance it’s the same bird box hopping as they are so close together! I hope I’m wrong.
The little chick in nb1 west is doing well. It’s being fed and kept warm by the single adult. It’s moving about a lot more in the nest and I think it looks bigger. I’m really hopeful it’ll be OK.
Annoyingly the camera in nb6 north broke almost immediately just after I fostered the other chick into it. So yesterday morning at 7am I had a decision to make. Do I replace the broken camera or leave it be? Two things swung it in favour of replacement. Firstly I really did need to know if the foster chick was OK or not, and secondly in that particular box the camera is really easy to change. All I had to do was take the box down and swap over cameras. So out came the ladder. The neighbours must think I’m mad! A quick tap on the box and the sitting bird flew out. As quick as a flash I took the box down, installed the new camera and put it back up again, all in less than 5 minutes. 10 minutes later the bird I had shooed out returned, none the wiser to all the manic activity that had just gone on. Video service had been restored. I can now see inside the box again and can happily report the foster chick is looking good. Time to relax and enjoy a well-earned cup of tea.
Monday 24th June
6am. Yesterdays Swift Awareness/NGS Garden event was a huge success. Over 250 people attended despite the light rain which arrived early! It was really lovely to see some old ‘swift’ friends again. We were amazed just how far some people had come. We raised £900 for NGS charities, sold a few swift boxes and many plants and swift booklets raising another £250 for Swift conservation. However the success was down in no small part to the army of dedicated helpers who helped us. Without them I don’t think we could have coped. So a huge thank you must go to Tom and Becky (our son and fiancée), Simon, John, Julien, Sylvia and last but not least John and his grandson Noah (who looked after Rob).
The swifts played their part magnificently putting on regular screaming fly-bys every 20 minutes or so. But rivalling them for star billing was my tame robin, Rob. Not to be outdone by all this activity in the garden he made sure he was right in the thick of it all. Regularly appearing out of nowhere to fly across the heads of our visitors to land on my or Noah’s hand for a feed. He could barely fly by the end of the day as he was so full!
The good news is the little chick I left in nb1 west is still hanging in there. I was worried after I removed it’s bigger sibling yesterday that it would survive the day. He didn’t look good at all. However the single parent has done a sterling job keeping him going. The larger chick I fostered in nb6 north was fed almost immediately just after I put him in there which was fantastic. Frustratingly the camera in that box went on the blink in the afternoon so I haven’t been able to keep a watch on things as much as I would have liked. Hopefully he’ll be alright, fingers crossed.
The noisy newcomers put on a wonderful show last night, probably one of the best displays of the season. To cap off a very good day indeed I also saw a new bird enter nb9 west.
Photos taken yesterday by our ‘swift’ friend Julien.
Sunday 23rd June
6am. Up early today to carry out the finishing touches to the garden. The weather still looking OK although there’s now a slight chance it might rain before 5pm. Bah humbug!
There’s now a couple of extra jobs that I could have done without. A neighbour came last night to tell me a swift had been killed by accidentally flying into the telephone wires by her house. I checked my cameras late last night and unfortunately it’s one of the birds from nb1 west. There are two 7 day old chicks in that box. One swift can bring up a single chick quite easily but two is a bit of a struggle. Luckily the box right next to it, nb6 north has two chicks in their exactly the same age. If I do nothing one of the chicks in nb1 west will probably die, so I’m going to foster it next door box. Two adults can easily bring up three chicks.
The other little problem is in nb5 south. The bangers have been targeting this box and in all the commotion one of the eggs has been flicked out of the nest. I’ll try pop that back in this morning as soon as I can. It’s due to hatch next weekend.
There’s quite a few newcomers out and about already. Hopefully they’ll stay around all day. It would be superb if there were whizzing about the house this afternoon.
8am. I’ve popped the egg back into nb5 south. I haven’t been keeping a close eye on this box so I don’t how long it’s been on the floor. If it’s less than a day it will be OK, but any longer and it might not be viable. Still at least it’s got a chance now.
I moved the larger of the two chicks in nb1 west into nb6 north. It was virtually the same size as the other two chicks so should settle in easily. About 10 minutes later one of the adults returned and it got fed. Good result. The smaller of the two chicks I left in nb1 west. That also got fed. The single parent should be able to cope much better now. Having seen them both I’ve got no doubt that if I hadn’t removed the bigger chick the smaller one would have died. I’ll keep a very close eye on that box for the next few days just to make sure.
Saturday 22nd June
8am. Dare I say it but the weather’s looking OK for our Swift/NGS open day tomorrow. The thundery rain which the weathermen have been going on about all week is not meant to arrive now until the evening. It was very nice of them to hold it back for a few hours for us! Our Open Day tomorrow is part of the Swift Awareness Week which starts today. Over 100 events had been planned all over the country to raise awareness. See this link for events near you.
I haven’t said this about any June morning this summer but it’s hot and sunny outside. Strangely there’s not much swift activity at the moment, perhaps it’s taken the swifts by surprise as well. Perhaps they’re getting ready for tomorrow as well! I’m going to spend the day gardening, lots still to do to get everything ready. The bonus is I’ll be outside so plenty of time to stop and stare.
5pm. It’s been a very busy day in the garden. Considering the rubbish weather we’ve had for most of June I’m pleased there’s still quite a bit of colour on show. I had to stop working on numerous occasions to feed Rob. He busy allofeeding (feeding his mate), so after he’s had his fill of mealworms he takes a beak-full back to her. I hope Rob and my swifts put on a good show tomorrow!
Friday 21st June
7am. The summer solstice is here. Well actually it arrives at 4.54pm, but that’s only me nit-picking. The sun will reach an altitude of 62 degrees at midday, its highest point in the sky. It’s the longest day of the year and it’s started pretty well. Clear blue skies and hardly any wind outside, perfect swift conditions.
There’s already a few swifts gathering above me, they’re high up at the moment feeding. I expect they’ll come down lower as it warms up.
A new bird arrived yesterday. It roosted overnight in nb12 west. I expect it’s one of the newcomers that’s been with me for the last few days. I think it’s a male bird. I’m certain that the single bird in nb3 south is male. He was thrown out of nb1 south on May 24th by the resident male on its arrival home. He’s been roosting in nb3 south ever since. If this new bird was female I would have expected her to have paired up with him. The fact that its roosted in another box suggests it’s a male.
A large number of swifts were sighted over Dordtse Biesbosch in Holland yesterday. Over 4000 were counted. Dordtse Biesbosch is just south of Rotterdam and not far from Breskens, a well known swift migration location. I suspect these swifts are part of the second wave. They’ve probably taken advantage of the high pressure that’s been building over Europe. Any luck they’ll follow it onto us.
Thursday 20th June
7am. Finally a high pressure is building up over us, albeit only for a few days. That’s the first one this June, how ridiculous!
I’ve been praying to the weather gods all week for good weather this weekend. It’s our Swift/NGS Open day on Sunday. I think they’ve be teasing me a bit. First it was forecast to be sunny all day, then pouring down with rain, then overcast, then showery. Finally they seem to have settled on overcast, but more importantly dry … and warm. I’ll definitely take that!
The noisy newcomers have just arrived, there’s about 9 or 10 whizzing about outside.
8.30am. Here’s a shot from inside nb1 west, that’s the box I placed the egg back in last week. Both chicks are looking healthy. One’s being fed whilst the other waits its turn. The chicks are blind for the first couple of weeks so the adults gently peck around it’s beak to encourage them to feed.
11am. Sad news. The third chick in nb4 south has died. It was very small and was struggling to be fed. The weather definitely played a major part in its demise. Some days its parents hardly went out at all. Quick update on the colony numbers, 16 chicks and 6 eggs in 11 active nests.
Wednesday 19th June
7am. Yesterday was overcast with showers merging into longer spells of rain, but despite that it was quite warm and humid. That rise in temperature made all the difference. Swifts like it muggy. It turned out to be a pretty good day for activity with frequent fly-bys. It’s hard to tell how many newcomers are about but I reckon somewhere between 5 and 9. The single swift in nb5 north managed to entice one of them – see photo below. I’m hoping my last remaining single bird in nb3 south will be able to do the same.
8 out of the 11 clutches have finished hatching producing 17 chicks between them. Only 3 nests left with eggs in – nb1 & 5 south and nb5 west. All contain two eggs each. There’s a small chance that nb5 north might lay again, but it’s getting very late in the season.
We’re all familiar with the call of the swift. The Siree-siree high pitched two tone scream as they whizz round. In fact the note is a single tone for each sex. The females have a slightly higher pitch than the males. So when we hear that familiar two-tone scream it’s a combination of both males and females serenading one-another. Another call is a high pitched long thin peep. It’s a warning call to alert the rest of the colony when a sparrow hawk is close by.
Then there’s the follow-the-leader call. A rapid peeping call emanating from the lead bird when trying to attract a new partner. Normally heard close to a potential nest site.
And finally, the bonding call. A soft peeping call that both do when preening one-another inside the nesting box.
Tuesday 18th June
7am. Overcast with hardly a breath of wind outside has brought the newcomers out in force. I can count at least half a dozen whizzing around the house, screaming quite loudly as they go. A welcome sight and sound after such a poor start to June.
The lone prospector returned again last night. It was almost dark when it arrived and it continued where it left off on the previous night, that is flying slowly and deliberately around the house. This time though it followed a couple of my resident birds back up to their boxes and peeped inside. Each time it did this it was greeted by a loud warning scream. Not wanting to venture in any further it took off almost immediately. Around 10pm it disappeared into the night sky once again.
I did manage to get one final glimpse into nb5 west and to my surprise there’s still one unhatched egg in there.
9.30am. The second egg in nb5 north has hatched this morning. That’s chick number 16. I’m still trying to confirm if the second egg has hatched in nb5 west. I hope it has. That’s the nest I replaced an egg that was flicked out of last Wednesday.
10.30am. Great news, one of my single swifts has found a new mate. The bird in nb6 north, that’s the one that lost its mate about a week ago has tempted a new partner back in. Both were cuddled up on the nest a few minutes ago. Perhaps it was the lone swift I’ve been watching for the last couple of nights?
I’m sure there are chicks in nb6 west, a non camera box. The adults are returning every hour or so with what looks like a large bolus. When out hunting swifts catch hundreds of small flies and insects. They are stored in an extendable pouch in the throat. This pouch can become quite distended when full. The sticky food ball inside this pouch is called a bolus. When the chicks are small the adults will break off bits of this bolus to feed each one in turn. However as the chicks grow and get bigger they will consume the whole bolus on their own.
11am. Brilliant news there’s a second chick in nb1 west. Last Wednesday it took me an hour to open the inspection hatch. Then I couldn’t get the adult bird to leave. In the end I had to open the box with her inside in order to put the egg back in the nest. However despite all that aggravation it has now hatched. Well worth all that effort I think. That chick number 17.
Monday 17th June
7am. At least one newcomer is here. Last night just as it was getting dark a lone swift arrived. It started to fly around the house in a slow and deliberate fashion. Its flight path was roughly at the same level as my boxes. Occasionally it would twist and turn its body to get a closer look, almost as if it was trying to look inside. Then every now and again it would fly up to investigate. But not to a box but to the small gap in-between them. Banging up against the underneath of the soffit as if it was looking for a way in. It did this for about 15 minutes. I was hoping it would turn its attention to one of my boxes but in the end it flew off and disappeared into the night sky. So close!
There’s about 5 or 6 whizzing around outside this morning. That’s the first time they’ve done that for a while. I wonder if the bird I saw last night is amongst them. I did manage to get another quick glimpse into nb1 wests nest last night, still 2 eggs in there. I’m sure one will hatch today.
8.30am. I haven’t actually seen the chick in nb1 west, but there’s a broken egg shell on the floor of the box.
7pm. The first eggs has hatched in nb5 north and nb5 west. I also think the second egg may have hatched in nb5 west, however to be 100% sure I want to get a good look inside the nest. The two new chicks takes the total to 15 with 8 eggs left to go. I’m hoping we might get some swift activity tonight as the winds dropped and it’s quite muggy outside.
Sunday 16th June
10am. Another disappointing day yesterday re; swift activity, virtually none again. The highlight of the day was confirming the second egg had hatched in nb2 south and finally seeing that they are at least 2 eggs in nb5 west. That’s chick number 12 with another 11 eggs to go.
As there was nothing going on outside I spent most of the day looking at the nest cameras. One unwelcome creature I did see in several boxes was the blood-sucking parasitic louse fly, Crataerina Pallida. It always surprises me how they get there. Crataerina have a very interesting life cycle. They have evolved to feed almost entirely on swifts, although some have been found in the nests of other hirundines. The adults emerge from eggs laid in the swift’s nest the previous season. They hatch around mid May just as the weather starts to warm up. The feed on both the adults and the young, taking small amounts of blood each time they feed. Like all parasites they don’t kill their hosts, but nevertheless they are a serious pest of both adults and young alike. Just before the swifts leave for Africa they start to lay eggs ready for the following year. After the swifts have left all the adult Crataerina die leaving only their eggs behind. They look like shiny black vitamin pills about 2mm in circumference. Each Autumn when I take my boxes down I give them a quick clean inside. I specifically look for these eggs and remove every single one I can find. The only way these adult Crataerina could have returned is via the back of a swift. Some of my birds have visited nests infested with these little parasites before returning home. Perhaps they were looking for somewhere to rest temporarily overnight or maybe they were looking for new mate. I have no idea why and I don’t think we ever will.
11am. Whilst dealing with all the drama in the other nest boxes I forgot to say there’s a third chick in nb4 south. It probably hatched around the 9th or 10th. That’s number 13 with only another 10 eggs left top go.
Noon. My attention has turned to nb1 west for the moment. It’s the box where I replaced a dislodged egg on Wednesday. They’re due to hatch anytime now. As I was watching a second bird came back in with feathers in it’s mouth. Great, I might just get a glimpse of what was in the nest. Alas no, they we so quick on the change over I couldn’t see anything at all. Back to the screen for another couple of hours!
Saturday 15th June
9am. It poured down with rain all yesterday morning and continued to do so well into the afternoon keeping all my birds in. However swifts are quite resilient birds and as soon as it eased off a bit they were out. Not an ideal day for hunting by any means. However I’m very pleased to say all their chicks got fed several times, which was remarkable under the circumstances. One thing I have noticed is that in a ‘normal’ year one adult will brood their young for about a week after they’ve hatched. This year they’re only doing that for about the first 3 or 4 days. I think it’s another indication that the adults aren’t in as good a condition as they should be. The result is their chicks are being left uncovered at a much younger age. But don’t worry, as long as it stays relatively mild outside the chicks will be OK. They can lower their body temperature and go into a kind of torpor to withstand being left like this. Looking into next week it looks like it might be a bit drier and warmer than the one just gone. Let’s hope so.
Friday 14th June
8am. A couple of days ago we had a lovely email from Tom, a primary school teacher. Tom teaches 9 -10 year olds in Olveston, a small village about 10 miles north west of Bristol. He told us that they have swifts nesting under the tiles of the old school library and this gave him the idea to get the school-children involved. One fine morning a few weeks ago he took his class outside to watch the swifts and whilst they watched he asked them to write free-verse poetry about what they were seeing. What a wonderful thing to do. We’ve been invited in a couple of weeks time to a special reading and we’re really looking forward to meeting them and listening to their poems. He’s just sent me a few and we think they’re really, really good. I’ve attached them in this file.
Yesterday the second egg in nb3 north hatched. That takes the number of chicks up to 10. There’s at least another 11 eggs (probably a couple more than that if I ever get to see into nb5 west), left to hatch.
Even though I’ve read reports that the second wave of birds has just arrived I’ve not seen any yet. The colony has been around the 24 mark for some time now. That number is made up of 11 breeding pairs and 2 singles. Last year we had 15 breeding pairs which produced 29 fledglings. If this weather carries on we’ll be lucky if we get 20 fledging this year.
If you watched Springwatch last night there was the sad story on the swallows. Despite nesting inside the barn and sheltered from the weather the adults abandoned their chicks because they couldn’t find enough insects to feed them. I fear this is a story that is likely to be played out all over the UK this summer. Abandoning their young seems so cruel, but in nature eyes it’s the the breeding adults that must survive regardless of the cost.
11am. The first egg in nb2 south has just hatched and great news the chick got a feed almost immediately. That’s number 11 with another 10/12 eggs to hatch.
Noon. Just had an interesting email from my mate Dave. He’s got three swifts in a box! A pair and a single. The odd thing is the pair have been tolerating this intruder by allowing it to stay. I think it’s roosted with them for the last couple of nights. Normally any bird entering an occupied box is immediately confronted and expelled. Why the exception in this case? I can only surmise it must be related to the pair. Maybe it’s one last year brood who’s come home and just needs somewhere to shelter out of this weather? Who knows, it’s just one of life’s little mysteries I think.
Thursday 13th June
8am. I’m not superstitious but I’m glad it’s not Friday 13th today!
I’ve been thinking about why the eggs were displaced yesterday and I think I know the answer. I mentioned on my blog a few days ago that I’ve hardly seen any nest building this year. When I put the eggs back yesterday I couldn’t help noticing how flat both nests were. There was virtually no rim at all around either of them. In a good nest building year the birds are constantly bringing back material and build up a lovely deep nest cup. This has not happened this year. So when the birds are fidgeting around trying to keep warm or changing over incubating duties it’s much easier for them to flick an egg out in the process. I may get another one or two more dislodged before the end of the season.
We went to visit some old friends of ours, Sandy and Tim yesterday. They live in Litton a small village not far from Chew Valley Lake. They’ve been trying to attract swifts for many years and have almost as many boxes as me! The great news is they’ve finally got the first pair. Not in one of their boxes though that would be far too easy, but through a tiny hole in the soffit board. They are nesting in the loft space. The new pair even treated us to a low fly-pass which was very nice of them. Sandy and Tim have got such a lovely house and their garden is absolutely teeming with wildlife. I’ve never seen so many different birds in one garden. They’ve also got a thriving colony of house martins, at least five active nests and a couple of pairs of swallows as well. I could have stayed there all day just watching them it was just delightful.
On our way we passed Chew Valley Lake and I was pleased to see hundreds of swifts feeding over the water. For me it was my first big swift sighting of the year. And more good news. I’ve just read the reports from Portland Bill which say swifts have been pouring in for the last two days. The second wave has finally arrived. All we need now is a few days of fine weather.
Two more eggs hatched yesterday, one in nb3 north and the other in nb4 north. That takes the number of chicks up to 9. I also think the pair in nb5 west has laid again. I can’t be sure exactly how many eggs as there’s always one bird sitting on the nest every time I look.
Wednesday 12th June
9am. It was good to see that swifts were featured on BBC Springwatch last night. I was aware of swifts nesting in trees, but I’ve never seen any film of it. It must be very tight inside. Goodness knows how they manage to exercise their wings before they fledge. I am flattered that my observations and comments were included, although I wish the subject wasn’t about their declining numbers. However if it helps raise swift awareness then that’s got to be a good thing.
Very quiet here this morning. It’s damp and cold and all the birds are still in. However at least they are keeping the chicks warm.
I couldn’t bear looking at the 3 abandoned eggs in nb5 north. I went up the ladder yesterday (against Janes advice!) in the middle of the gale to remove them. I got them, but I must admit it was a little scary!
5pm. We’ve just arrived back home to find 2 eggs flicked out of their nests. One in nb1 south and the other in nb1 west. The egg in nb1 south was easy to replace as both adults were out. But nb1 west was a nightmare. Not only was there an adult bird sitting on the nest. One of the screws on the inspection hatch wouldn’t budge. It took me over an hour to free it. Whilst I struggled to free the screw the bird remained on the nest quite unperturbed by all the noise outside. The displaced egg is due to hatch either tomorrow or Friday. I had a very difficult decision to make, do I try to replace the egg with the adult still in there or give up and let the unhatched chick die. As I’ve already had 4 clutches thrown out I decided every egg was worth trying to save. I gently removed the inspection hatch and slowly moved my hand inside. As I did this the bird moved off the nest and crouched in the corner. Perfect. As soon as I saw it move I picked up the dislodged egg and placed it back in the nest. The inspection hatch was replaced within a matter of seconds. A quick check of the camera revealed the adult back on the nest. Mission completed, panic over!
Tuesday 11th June
8am. Sad news, the single swift in nb5 north has thrown the 3 eggs out. I feared this might happen. They’ve been left uncovered for the last few days and it was becoming obvious that something had happened to its mate. Perhaps it had been predated or maybe it just decided to go back to Africa early because of the atrocious weather. I don’t really know, but I do know a single swift cannot incubate eggs on its own. Maybe it will find another mate and attempt to breed again. To do that the weather needs to improve and quickly and that’s not looking likely at the moment.
Outside it’s blowing a gale, it’s cold and it’s raining and all 24 birds are still in. I can’t see any of them venturing out for some time yet. My thoughts at the moment are with the 7 little chicks.
2pm. The wind has finally dropped and it’s only drizzling. Half the birds have gone straight out. Hopefully all the chicks will get a feed later.
Monday 10th June
9am. It was a bit of a shock to see so many chicks yesterday. I had expected there might be one, but to see four was a big surprise.
Quite a bit of activity this morning. There’s a group of 5 that do most of the screaming. The 5 seem to be split into two groups. One group containing 3 birds the other 2. Mostly it’s the group of 3 that whizz close to the boxes and makes all the noise. But every now and then they join up with the other 2 to form the bigger group. Within this group there seems two pairs and a single by the way they stick close to one another.
There’s still only 1 bird roosting overnight in nb5 north. It’s just gone out now and the 3 eggs will be left uncovered for the rest of the day. Not good at all. I’m not sure what’s happened to its partner but last night a second bird tried several times to enter and failed. Perhaps that was the mate trying to get back in? Let’s hope so.
11.30am. Both eggs in nb2 north have just hatched. That takes the number of chicks to 6 with 18 eggs left to go. It’s taken me about 2 hours to confirm they were there. I thought something was up as the sitting bird was constantly looking underneath itself and fidgeting about on the nest. Luckily whilst I was watching its mate came back in, and just for a second I saw two tiny little chicks before they swapped over incubating duties.
7.30pm. Another egg has just hatched despite the cold weather. The first one in nb3 north. That’s number 7.
Sunday 9th June
7am. The wind has finally dropped after blowing a gale for the last two days. The suns out and right on cue the screamers are back. I’m not sure if they’re new birds ( part of the 2nd wave?) or the same screamers I heard and saw a few days ago.
Much to my surprise especially after yesterday’s blog I found a third egg in nb5 north yesterday. The nest was left uncovered for most of the day and there it was, a third egg. That unexpected find takes the egg count up to 24. Slightly more worrying though was only one of the adults returned to incubate them last night. I’m hoping the other stayed out over the feeding grounds to refuel after a couple of very bad weather days. The mate of nb5 west almost stayed out all night.
Another thing that is unusual this year is the lack of nest building. Normally on windy days the birds are returning every 20 minutes or so with nesting material such as small feathers and dried grass/hay. But this year I’ve hardly seen anything at all. Luckily I always put a handful of soft feathers in each box in early April, but it’s not enough to make a proper nest just a starter. I think its another sign of their poor condition. They seem to be focusing all their energies on feeding and nothing else at the moment.
Edward Mayer from Swift Conservation, Nick Brown the 2019 Swift Awareness Week coordinator and myself will be contacting the producers of BBC Springwatch today to highlight the plight of the swift this year. We’re hoping they might mention something on Tuesday night about what’s been happening this year.
9am. First chick hatched in nb1 north.
8pm. The second chick has hatched in nb1 north. However looking at the size of the larger chick I reckon it probably hatched yesterday. The 3 eggs in nb5 north have been left uncovered for most of the day again. That’s the second day in a row. It’s not a good sign.
9.30pm. There are 2 chicks in nb4 south. I think one hatched yesterday and the other today judging by the size of each chick.
Saturday 8th June
9am. Following yesterdays blog more swifts were seen over Breskens and by the end of the day the count was nearly 7000. A trickle also started to pass through Portland Bill and Spurn Point. A very good sign of things to come. All we want is the weather to improve now!
As expected second eggs in both nb1 & 5 south. These latest two take the egg total up to 23. One thing that does stand out is the clutch size. Out of 11 nests with eggs there’s only one clutch of 3, all the others have 2 in them. I would have expected to see a few more clutches of 3. Why the lack of large clutches? I think the most likeliest reason is down to the birds condition. The weather on their migration route has been truly awful this year with Italy and Spain both experiencing their worst May in almost half a century. Our birds were probably exhausted when they arrived back. Is this a sign of climate change? I can’t say but if it is, it doesn’t look good at all.
I’m also getting worrying reports about the lack of swallows and house martins as well. It seems swallows have taken a really big hit. I know my local house martin colony has been badly affected. There’s normally around 30, there but at the moment only 5 have made it back.
Friday 7th June
9am. Some good news over 2300 swifts were spotted yesterday heading our way. They were seen at Breskens a well known birding location in Holland. They’re probably part of the 2nd big wave of swifts. They’re the ones that arrive a few weeks after the main influx of breeders. I call them the noisy newcomers. They will be looking for any single birds already here and more importantly, new nest sites to take over. If they get here reasonably quick there’s a good chance they might breed this year. Unfortunately the weathers meant to be terrible for the next two days so I don’t expect we will see them until Sunday at the earliest. When they do arrive I’m hoping the single swift in nb3 south, that’s the one that was thrown out of nb1 south a week or so ago, will be one of the lucky ones to find a new mate.
Thursday 6th June
9am. A bright and breezy morning has brought the welcome return of the screamers. At least 6 whizzing about outside which is much appreciated after a few days of almost nothing.
Two more eggs were laid yesterday. The first ones in nb1 & 5 south. Plus I finally managed to see into all of the other nests and found another 2 eggs as well, taking the egg total to 21. There are eggs now in 11 out of the 12 active nests in my camera boxes. The eggs are in the following boxes. On the north side all 6 boxes have 2 eggs in each. On the south side, nb1 has 1, nb2 – 2, nb4 – 3 and nb5 – 1. There is only one active nest on the west side at the moment, nb1 which has 2 eggs.
I expect nb1 & 5 south will lay another egg each and nb5 west will eventually relay again, so the final egg count should be around 25 or 26. A bit down on last years record total of 31.
Wednesday 5th June
9am. I’ve just received this information about the Oxford Tower Swift colony (many thanks Andy). It’s the number of active nests recorded each June dating back to 2016. During that time the Tower colony has grown in size from 24 active nests in 2016 to 38 this year. A remarkable increase and most welcome news in this of all years. It shows that some colonies are thriving despite all the bad reports.
6 June 2016 .There are now 24 active nests. After a cool week, the weather turned warm at the weekend. Today there were 18 nests with adults sitting, including one pair. There were 15 eggs visible.
5 June 2017. We now have 23 nests occupied, with at least 18 eggs visible. Many of the birds that are sitting tight will be on eggs, so potentially there should be more than 60 eggs present. Seven of the nest-boxes contain pairs of adults, and the other 16 have a single bird incubating, while its partner is feeding. The cool wet weather limits the amount of insect food available.
4th June 2018. There are a total of 27 active nests, with 16 eggs visible, and 4 pairs and 22 single adults sitting. We had some showers this past week, but the weather continues to be hot and humid.
1st June 2019. Saturday morning 1st June there were 38 active nests with over 40 eggs visible and at least 7 birds sitting tight, probably on eggs too. There are two nests containing 4 eggs although most nests contain the more normal 3 or 2 eggs.
Tuesday 4th June
9am. I had a lovely phone call from John and Lesley yesterday. They’re both farmers who live in North Wales. John was telling me about how he started up his own colony from scratch. Whilst replacing his soffit boards several years ago he deliberately left a small gap next to the wall. The gap was no more than about 1/2-3/4 of an inch wide, just enough to push his fingers in. He also scoured the surface of the wall to create a mini ladder-like effect. Inside were individual nest compartments each containing a nest cup made from a coil of rope lined with feathers. He was amazed that swifts found these tiny little gaps holes which were hardly visible to the naked eye. They entered by landing on the wall and crawling up the little stone ladders he had made. He now has four breeding pairs on his farm. I love listening to other peoples stories it’s so uplifting. I draw inspiration from their efforts. It makes me even more determined to carry on doing my little bit to help these wonderful birds.
Finally some good news from Chew Valley Lake. Yesterday the Avon Bird blog reported the first big gathering of swifts this season ‘400/500 Swifts (lots over lake)’. I’ll have to take another trip out there as it’s always worth a visit when they’re there in such large numbers. On the other side of the UK at Spurn Point another large group of swifts was also sighted yesterday. Perhaps it’s the arrival of the 2nd wave? Let’s hope so.
Monday 3rd June
8am. After a reasonable weekend with regard to swift activity the weather has taken a turn for the worse. Low pressure is set to be with us for about a week. In a year when swift numbers are down that’s not going to help at all. The warmer it is the more active and conspicuous they are. When it turns wet and windy the few that are with us will be even quieter than they already are. This has all the making of a very poor swift year indeed.
Driving around Bristol I can’t help noticing the lack of swifts everywhere. In places where I would normally expect to see half a dozen or more I’m lucky if I see one. I even had a window cleaner tap on the door, never seen the chap before in my life, he wanted to know where all the swifts had gone as he’s not seen any on his rounds. It was difficult to stay up-beat when the evidence is telling you something else. However on a positive note I’ve got my Robin back to keep me company so it’s not all bad news after all.
My colony numbers seems to have settled for the time being. In the camera boxes I have 12 pairs and 1 single. In the other boxes 1 pair and 2 singles. So that’s around 29 birds. Last year I had somewhere in the region of 35/36, possibly even a few more than that. By my reckoning I’m about 25% down. Will their numbers improve, that all depends on the weather and at the moment it’s not looking good.
Sunday 2nd June
8am. Commitments kept me out for most of the day yesterday however the times I was at home the activity was pretty good. I’ve just read yesterdays report from Portland Bill and they reported a trickle of swifts arriving throughout the day. I think some may have made it here as a small group of birds kept whizzing around and chasing my resident birds back up to their boxes. They’re still about this morning, so hopefully I can see exactly what they’re up to.
1pm. Now Rob’s back he doesn’t seem to like the dried food I’m giving him very much. Out of politeness he’ll eat one or two bits but what he’s really after is live meal worms. So I’m off to Portishead in a minute to see if I can buy some.
It’s just started raining so all swift activity has stopped for the time being. Out of the 12 pairs in my camera boxes 9 are sitting on eggs. There’s definitely another pair in nb6 west one of my non-camera boxes. I’m pretty sure they’re on eggs as well as I see them coming and going on a regular basis. I think they are swapping over incubating duties.
On a positive note several people have contacted me over the last couple of days to say they’ve seen their swifts again. Perhaps it was more than a trickle that arrived at Portland yesterday.
Saturday 1st June
7am. A new month and I’m hoping it’s going to be better than the one just gone. May has been disappointing and not a patch on last year. The colony was very slow to rebuild and although their numbers are about normal now, activity around the house has been very poor. I think the cool, breezy weather was the main reason, although there doesn’t seem to be as many swifts locally as previous years.
However this morning looks better. Clear blue skies and sunny. There’s at least 3, possibly 5 bangers whizzing about. Hopefully as it warms up so will the activity.
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