Bristol Swifts Early 2024 Blog

My first swift arrived back on 23rd April 2024 and this blog was started on 1st February 2024. It has has been split into two separate pages, as it was getting rather long! This page has entries from 1st February up to 31st May 2024. More recent entries for 2024 can be found here. To find out what happened in 2023 click on this link.

Friday 31st May

May seems to have shot past despite the mixed bag of weather for most of the month. All of last years breeders that are going to make it back are now here. From now on any shortfalls in my colony will have to be made up from the newcomers. The good news is there’s a quite a few buzzing around the house this morning. I’ll try and film some of the action for the blog.

Thursday 30th May

On the swift front further afield, Trektellen has reported several thousand swifts seen massing along the coasts of northern France and Holland. These are part of the second wave which will pop across the English channel has soon as the weather improves. My guess they’ll be here over the weekend.

Yesterday one of the newcomers roosted overnight in nb2 west. That’s the first of the newcomers to do so. I think there are about 7 or 8 who have just arrived so maybe a few more might decide to stay as well.

There was a second egg in nb2 south and a third egg in nb5 west. Not so welcome was the first crataerina of the season seen in nb3 west. This blood sucking parasite is common in swift colonies and easily picked up if birds visit other nest sites. Without doubt one of the birds from nb3 west has either roosted in an infested nest or has been visiting other nests before it came here. I take my boxes down out each year to protect the cameras and clean out the crataerina, so this is a tell-tail sign.

Number of pairs – 11 in my camera boxes and 1 in my non-camera box plus 4 singletons. Last year I had 16 pairs by the end of May, so I’m a little off that total at the moment. However if these singletons entice some of these newcomers to join them then the totals could be about the same.

Total number of eggs 17, plus another 7 that have been ejected.

Wednesday 29th May

Yesterday was damp and drizzly which put the kibosh on any meaningful swift activity. However this morning is the complete opposite, bright and sunny. The better conditions has brought out the swifts in some numbers. There’s much more swift activity with up to 8 screaming around the house and banging the boxes. From Friday onwards it is meant to get even warmer so I’m hopeful we’ll see a lot more action over the weekend.

Tuesday 28th May

Yesterday at 8.30pm both eggs in nb3 north were thrown out. I was watching on the camera as both birds came back in for the evening and one of them (female?) picked up one egg at a time and threw them out of the box. Now the interesting question is will she re-lay again and if so, what box will she lay her eggs in this time – nb3 north or nb4 north?

The first egg was laid in nb2 south, nothing exceptional about this except the pair have been back together for 19 days. I normally expect to see the first egg after about 10 days, so this pair is very late indeed. I also managed to get a look into the nest of nb4 south and found there are 3 eggs and not 2 as previously thought. The egg total remains the same on 15 but the number of eggs rejected has gone up to 7.

On Sunday Trektellen counted a couple of thousand of swifts in De Fonteintjes not far from Bruges on the Belgium coast. My guess is they are part of the second wave of swifts. These tend to arrive a few weeks after the established breeders. They are the ones that are looking for a nest site and may even breed if they can find one quickly. They also respond very well to the attraction calls. Next weekend weather is looking very promising so we just might see them in action.

Sunday 26th May

A much quieter day after all the noise and commotion of the night before. Unfortunately the outcome of the activity was 2 smashed eggs on the ground under nb7 north. That’s my non-camera box. It was targeted by the prospectors and I suspect one entered that box and threw the eggs out. It’s always upsetting to see smashed eggs on the ground but there’s still plenty of time for the pair to re-lay so still hope on that front. Better news is the pair in nb4 south didn’t knock out any more eggs and have now started sitting. As for the nb3 & 4 north, well she hasn’t laid anymore eggs in nb4 and the 2 eggs are still in the nest in nb3. However shes not started sitting yet, so not sure what’s going to happen there.

Last year I lost at least 4 adults in different boxes to a sparrowhawk. This year none of those boxes are occupied so that would account for my missing pairs. I was hoping their partners might have returned, but it looks like they’ve gone as well.

Further afield Portland Bird Bird Observatory are still reporting decent arrivals of swallows and house martins so that bodes well for Sea Mills Station. There are still only 2 or 3 of martins back so far, so desperately hoping for a few more to arrive to bolster their numbers.

Saturday 25th May

The pair in nb4 south knocked another egg out yesterday which I popped back in once they had gone out. That’s the second day running they’ve done this. I do hope this doesn’t become a daily habit. The first egg in nb5 west and a 3rd egg in nb3 south were laid. That takes the number of eggs up to 13, plus another 3 that have been rejected.

Number of pairs in camera boxes are 11 (plus one singleton). Number of pairs in non-camera box is 1. Total number of pairs 12. Last year by the end of May I had 16 pairs, so still missing a few at the moment.

Last night saw the arrival of the second wave. At least 7 or 8 prospectors were banging the boxes for a good half an hour. Although none actual entered any of my boxes it bodes well for the next few days. Hopefully a few more pairs in the making. If you haven’t already started playing their attraction calls nows a good time to begin.

Friday 24th May

Yesterday revolved around eggs in three different boxes. The easiest was nb1 south. This is the box where the returning female laid an egg after only being back for 1 day. On Wednesday I saw it on the floor and placed it back in the nest. Well it didn’t remain there long. When I checked the box yesterday it was gone. I presume the male was having none of it and threw it out.

The second box to cause me some concern was nb4 south. Yesterday morning during egg laying they knocked the first egg out. Once they had gone out I placed that one back in the nest. Hopefully they’ll be more careful in the future.

The third box or should I say boxes are the ones that are the most intriguing. It’s the pair who are sharing two boxes. The female lays her eggs in nb4 north then rejoins her mate in nb3 north. All very odd. Yesterday when they had both gone out I removed this second egg from nb4 north and placed it in nb3 north along with the first egg. The LH photo is nb4 north with the newly laid 2nd egg. The middle photo is nb3 north now with both eggs in. The RH is the pair last night in nb3 north. What happens next is anyones guess.

Thursday 23rd May

The saga with the pair who can’t make up their minds on which box to use continues. On Tuesday night the female went back into nb4 north and yesterday morning when she departed there was another egg. That evening she roosted back in nb3 north abandoning the egg she had just laid. I’m 100% convinced she bred in nb4 north last year but has paired up with the male from nb3 north. However the urge to lay in nb4 north must be so strong that she temporarily leaves him to lay in her old box. When they’ve both gone out today I will move this second egg to join the other egg in nb3 north. I do fear for both these eggs because if either of their old mates return they will be immediately ejected. Also I’m not sure what happens when she completes her clutch. If she lays a 3rd egg in nb4 north will she start to incubate it straight away abandoning her mate and eggs in the adjacent box? Who knows I certainly don’t.

Another strange thing happened in nb1 south. The mate of that box has only just returned and when they both went out yesterday morning there was an egg on the floor of the box. I’ve never had a pair lay an egg so quick after reuniting. Normally it takes around 10 days. So to lay an egg after one day is quite remarkable. I’ve now popped it back into the nest.

A second egg in nb6 west takes the total up to 11 ( another 2 ejected).

Yesterday at Portland Bill Bird Observatory saw a strong passage of swallows and house martins arriving. Hopefully a few of these martins will be heading for the new nest cups on Sea Mills station.

Wednesday 22nd May

Yesterday the mates of nb1 south and nb1 west returned. That takes the total back to 25 in my camera boxes and another 1 in my non-camera box. 11pairs 3 singles.

The egg I moved into nb3 north is still there but the female decided last night to roost back in nb4 north. The male is now sat on the egg.  Last year both boxes had pairs in and I wonder if they aren’t a proper pair after all and they belong in the boxes they’re in now. Other than that I have no idea what’s going on with them.

The first egg was laid in nb4 south and a second egg in nb3 south. The number of eggs 8 (another 2 ejected).

Further down in southern France Trektellen reported over 3000 swifts arriving in Falaise de Leucate. Hopefully some more of our missing breeders or perhaps the beginning of the second wave? They should be with us by the weekend.

We had a lovely day visiting our friend Sandy in Litton. She has 4 pairs of swifts, 1 pair of swallows and at least 6 pairs of house martins back already. It was a real joy watching the martins busying themselves around last years nest cups whilst we sat outside having lunch. Quite a few of them turned up whilst we were there, so hopefully that bodes well for the colony at Sea Mills Station.

Tuesday 21st May

The old mate of nb5 north returned yesterday and didn’t like what he found. In his absence his partner had paired up with bird from the box below. I heard a lot of screaming around mid-morning. A fight was going on inside nb5 north. When I checked the camera both eggs had been thrown out along with the interloper. Thankfully by the evening things had settled down. The interloper was back in nb6 north where it belongs. In nb5 north the old pair were preening one-another like nothing had ever happened. Order had been restored. This is the sequence of events. On 28th April a swift returned to nb5 north. A week later on 7th May another swift arrived in the box below, nb6 north. On 12th May the swift from nb6 north moved into nb5 north. Eggs were laid on 16th and18th May. Yesterday the old mate in nb5 north returned and threw out both eggs along with the interloper.

Yesterday I decided to move the abandoned egg in nb4 north into nb3 north. It’s still there this morning but I’m not confident for how long.

The number of swifts back is up to 22 – 10 pairs and 2 singles ( 2023 – 38 swifts) Yesterday the first eggs were laid in both nb1 and nb6 west. At the moment there are 6 eggs, but this could go up or down depending on what happens today!

Monday 20th May

Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far with the thermometer reaching 24C in the afternoon. The heat brought forth a flurry of damselflies around the pond. Mostly Common Blue and Large Red but also a couple of very special ones as well. I saw a Banded Demoiselle and Beautiful Demoiselle. The Banded Demoiselle disappeared over the hedge before I could photograph it but I managed to get a few snaps of the Beautiful Demoiselle – see the RH photo. I do hope they return today so I can get a better look at them.

Our good friend Stuart McFadzean popped in to see us yesterday on his way back to Devon. Stuart has done amazing things to help swifts around his home in Kentisbeare. I’ve lost count of the number of churches in east Devon that have swift boxes in which are all down to him. He’s a real swift champion for his local area and a thoroughly nice man too.

The middle two photos show buff-tailed bumble bees. They are nesting in an old flowerpot turned on its side which I am really chuffed about. We saw the Queen diligently feeding on the flowers of my perennial wallflower.

On the swift front two more eggs were laid. One in nb3 south and the other in nb4 north. This last egg that has been causing me some concern. Let me explain why. Back on 23rd April a swift returned to nb3 north. A couple of weeks later on 5th May another arrived and went into the adjacent box, nb4 north. For the next week they remained apart in their separate boxes. Then on 12th May the swift from nb4 north moved in with the swift in nb3 north. They then stayed together as a pair until 17th May when it started to roost in nb4 north again. Yesterday she laid an egg in nb4 north but the strange thing is she then roosted back in nb3 north that night abandoning the egg. I have no idea why she did this but my dilemma is do I leave the egg where it is on the chance she might return again or place it into nb3 north when they’ve both gone out?

Some great news from Sea Mills Station. Our first pair of house martins arrived yesterday and one immediately took up residence in one of the nest cups we put up in March (see my blog on 14th March). The good news is Portland Bill Bird Observatory reported a steady trickle of swifts all day yesterday, so let’s hope a few more arrive in the coming days.

Sunday 19th May

Three more swifts arrived yesterday taking the total up to 22. Singletons in both nb1 south and nb7 north and the mate of nb1 north. I think the mate of nb1 north was the swift I noticed in Fridays blog who was buzzing the box and veering away at the last moment. It looks like its taken a couple of days for it to work out how to land. As for nb7 north, that’s a non-camera box and I was lucky enough to see a swift enter last night. A pair bred in that box for the first time last year. There might possibly be two in there already but until I see both enter I can’t say for sure.

Three more eggs yesterday. The second in nb5 north. That means the first egg was laid on Thursday 16th and not the 17th as I first thought. Also I managed to get a look into the nest of nb2 north. A swift has been sitting on that nest for several days now. I suspected there might be eggs and sure enough when it went out to feed around 5pm yesterday revealed 2 eggs in the nest.

Saturday 18th May

My swift colony numbers actually went down 1 to 19 as one of the singletons decided to stay out last night. However I’m not too worried as this is quite normal behaviour for single birds. Yesterday in nb5 north the first egg this year was laid. In that box the first bird arrived back on 29th April and its mate on 9th May. I always reckon the first egg is laid about 10 days after the pair has re-united, so this one after 8 days is a couple of days earlier than normal.

Friday 17th May

Still only 20 back in the boxes but last night around 8pm I watched a swift trying to land. Its focus was nb1 north where the resident bird had just returned for the night. I think it wanted to follow it in but was unsure about landing. It buzzed the box over a dozen times veering away at the last moment. Almost as if it was working out the best angle to approach. If I’m correct with a little bit of encouragement from the resident bird it should work it out in the next day or two.

Not so good news to report from the house martin boxes we installed at Sea Mills Station (see 14th March blog). I was hoping they would have returned by now, but we’ve not seen a single one so far. I’m beginning to think they’re not coming back this year.

Thursday 16th May

Another two swifts back yesterday taking the total up to 20. I now have 9 pairs and 2 singles. The 9 pairs are in – nb2, 3 & 4 south. nb2, 3 & 5 north. nb1, 5 & 6 west. The 2 singles are in – nb3 west & nb1 north.

In the garden the blue tits and great tits are busy feeding their respective young. Both sets of chicks are very noisy and you can hear them some distance away. They can’t be far off fledging. We still have several hedgehogs visiting the garden every night. The males are really rough in their courtship display and head-butt the females with some force. However in the hedgehog world I suspect this behaviour is viewed as rather romantic! Everyday more large red and blue damselflies are emerging from the pond. A second very late pair of toads spawned a couple of weeks ago and the eggs have already hatched in the warm water. Female red mason bees are busy laying their eggs in the bee hotel.

Wednesday 15th May

The mate of nb5 west arrived yesterday taking the total back to 18. I now have 8 pairs and 2 singles back. The 8 pairs are in – nb2, 3 & 4 south, nb2, 3 & 5 north, nb5 & 6 west. The 2 singles are in – nb1 & 3 west. There was some rather depressing news from Portland Bill Bill Observatory. They’re saying the numbers of hirundines and swifts arriving this year are pitifully low when compared to previous years. However when I compare my numbers back to 15th May 2023 I had 19 swifts back, so this year it is roughly the same. Perhaps Portland are being just a little bit too pessimistic.

We have a bit of a disaster in the garden. Back in 2018 we grow some dainty ladybird poppies in our borders which Charlie Dimmock said looked magnificent. Hoping to repeat the scene for this years open day I bought another packet back in the Autumn. I planted them out in November just before it got cold. The packet said they were Ladybird poppies, but what grew definitely wasn’t. They were more like Triffids! Over 3 foot tall and smothering everything else in the border. Drastic action was required and so they had to go yesterday. Luckily I have plenty of other plants I can use to fill in the gaps. The LH photo were the ladybird poppies and Cosmos in 2018. The middle photo is Jane, Charlie and me in June 2018. The RH photo are the Triffids before they were removed!

Tuesday 14th May

One more swift made it home yesterday taking the total up to 18. There are now 7 pairs and 4 singles back. Again there was a bit of box swapping. If you look at Mondays blog there was one bird in both nb1 and nb2 south. Yesterday the bird from nb2 south moved into nb1 south to form a pair.

The 7 pairs are in – nb1, 3 & 4 south.  nb2, 3 & 5 north. nb6 west.

The 4 singles are in  – nb5 south. nb1, 3 & 5 west.

Monday 13th May

We got back late yesterday afternoon after three glorious days in Devon. The weather was fantastic and to top off our mini break we visited Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset on the way home. We’ve never been there before and can thoroughly recommend it. The gardens are absolutely magnificent and the views breath-taking.

When we were in Devon we visited our friends, Margaret and Ian in Beer. Last summer they managed to attract their first pair of swifts to one of their swift boxes after many years of trying without success. They were worried as they had not seen any swifts this year. The gods must have been smiling on us because whilst we were in the garden we heard a swift call and lo and behold a few moments later one dropped out of a box. A few minutes later it returned with its mate and both entered the box. To say they were delighted would be an understatement.

I’ve just checked my cameras this morning and there are now 17 swifts back – 6 pairs and 5 singles. However I’ve learnt over the years not to take these box positions as gospel.There’s probably quite a bit of box swapping going on until they settle down in the correct boxes.

However if your interested in the box locations they are as follows;

The 6 pairs are in – Nb3 & 4 south.  Nb2, 3 & 5 north. Nb6 west.

The 5 singles are in  – Nb1 & 2 south. Nb1, Nb3 & 5 west.

That’s roughly just under half the colony back so far, although only a third of the pairs. Last year we had 19 pairs, so still some way to go on that front.

Friday 10th May

The colony continues to grow and is now up to 12. So far just under a third of last years numbers have returned. At the moment I have 3 pairs and 6 singles, however I’m pretty sure one if not two of these pairs are made up of birds that have swapped boxes. This happens quite often at the beginning of the season, this temporary swapping normally rights itself when the remainder of last year breeders return. The next couple of weeks will see them arrive along with the first prospectors of the season. The first eggs normally arrive about 10 days after the pair has reunited.

Yesterday Portland Bill Bird Observatory recorded its highest number of swifts of the season so far. It was only 27 but it would suggest that lots were arriving all along the south coast. I expect they will continue to arrive in some numbers for the next few days or at least until the weather changes.

Wednesday 8th May

Two more swifts arrived yesterday, one in nb1 north and the other in nb2 south. That takes my total up to 8.

I had an interesting email yesterday from Duncan in Cambridge saying that his pair arrived together. That is unusual. I’ve checked my records and that’s only ever happened a couple of times here. Normally the birds arrive individually and then wait for their mates to arrive. It seems once the swifts depart in the Autumn the pairs spend their time apart and only reunite at their nest sites the following year. All my swifts that have returned so far are singletons.

The last couple of days has seen another large influx of swifts in southern France. On Monday Trektellen recorded 21,794 and yesterday over 15,000 in two different locations. These birds should arrive in the UK about 3 or 4 days time. Just in time for the weekend with is meant to be really sunny and warm. Perfect swift weather.

Monday 6th May

My third swift returned on Sunday night around 7.30pm and went straight into nb6 north. It’s probably one that arrived in southern France about 4 days ago as mentioned in last Thursdays blog.

Reading the various swifts blogs there seems to be quite a few posts wondering where our swifts are this year. The problem is we all expect our swifts to arrive bang on the 1st May and if they don’t then worry something terrible must have happened to them on the way back. Well don’t panic, they rarely turn up at the beginning of May. Most tend to arrive around the middle of the month. Last year the majority of my swifts arrived between 8th-15th May. As luck would have it next weekend weather looks particularly good so expect to see lots more arrive then.

9am update. A forth swift has just arrived and gone into nb5 south. This coincides with other sightings from all over the UK. Looks like quite a few have just arrived.

8.30pm update. Two more swifts returned tonight – the first back in nb1 west and nb4 north. That takes the total back to 6.

Saturday 4th May

I found a struggling bumblebee on my path last night. I kept it overnight and gave it some local honey. Early this morning my 3 year old grandson and I watched it warm up in the sun and fly away. He was fascinated and like me always loves being outside.

Friday 3rd May

An update about my post on Tuesday 16th April regarding my very late pair of breeding toads. To recap I removed them from the pond on Friday 12th to stop the female being drowned by over-amorous male frogs. I temporarily placed them in a large bucket and waited until she spawned which she duly did a few days later. Straight after that I put them both back into the pond. I then waited for the spawn to hatch, which it did a couple of weeks later. Since then the tadpoles have doubled in size and are now big enough to be put into the pond. I’ve waited until they were freely swimming to give them a fighting chance of survival once I’ve introduce them. The downside of being a tadpole is the pond is full of creatures who find them irresistible to eat and no doubt I will lose many in the coming weeks. However a few will survive and emerge as little toadlets in early July.

Thursday 2nd May

My swifts arrivals seem to have stalled here at Swift House and I’m still stuck on two. However I’ve just checked Trektellen this morning and nearly 12,000 arrived in southern France yesterday. Give them another 3 or 4 days to reach us and they should be here over the weekend. I hope so.

Wednesday 1st May

Although a few birds arrive in April swifts and the month of May are synonymous with one another. They go together like strawberries and cream. For me it’s the best month the of the year. The next few weeks are both exhilarating and nerve-racking in equal measures as I wait for my birds to return. Last year I had 19 breeding pairs so potentially I have 38 birds due back. Alas I know I will lose some to old age or predators on the way home. It is estimated that about 1 in 6 won’t make it. So I’m going to be missing about half a dozen of last years breeders. The good news is swifts are excellent at finding new mates and any missing partners are normally replaced quickly. Most of the time you won’t know this has happened but occasionally you see a few clues that give this change away. One of the most obvious is watching the pair enter. The resident bird normally enters the box first without any fuss, usually on the first attempt. Whereas the newcomer may take several goes at it to get it right. I watched one newcomer take over a dozen attempts before it finally got in. However they are quick learners and within a week or two they’ve mastered the art of entering and from then on it’s impossible to tell the two apart.

Monday 29th April

Two swifts back safely. There comes a time when regardless of what the weather is doing the majority of swifts just can’t wait any longer to come. Most of our birds are still down in northern Spain or just across the border in southern France biding their time. However a battle is going on inside them. On one hand they’re waiting for better weather before setting off, whilst at the same time the urge to breed grows stronger each day. Something has got to give between rational thought and raging hormones. The urge to breed will eventually win and they will head off for the UK regardless of what the weather is like and my guess it will be sometime this week.

Last night we saw two hedgehogs feeding inside the cage when suddenly a third one appeared outside. Eventually it joined the other two inside and they all ate together, albeit with a lot of head-butting and shoving! One was definitely Smudge, as for the other two we think they might be both males. Just as it got interesting the batteries went on the camera, so we don’t know what happened next. So frustrating!

Sunday 28th April

7.15pm. Second swift arrives home in nb5 north.

8am. Still only one swift back but encouraging reports yesterday of small groups returning all across the UK. To back up these reports Portland Bill Bird Observatory saw a steady trickle of swifts arriving throughout the day, along with hundreds of swallows, house martins and sand martins. I also think as soon as the wind changes direction and goes round to a move southerly direction we’ll see an explosion of birds arriving. Think of it like someone shaking a bottle of champagne and then removing the cork!

One of our hedgehogs has just started nest building. Back in the winter I made a special built cage roughly 2 foot square and placed it under a pile of brash. The entrance to the cage is via a long narrow tunnel to protect it from predators. In the video the entrance is on the left hand side. At first you’ll see the hog wandering around outside. We think it is Smudge the smaller of the two males. As it was tipping down with rain last night you can see him shaking the water off his back several times. As the night progressed he took in some fresh straw before eventually settling down at around 5.30am.

Saturday 27th April

Whilst I wait for the second swift to arrive I’ve been watching the hedgehog footage taken in the back garden. Here’s a short video of them last night. The male is in the cage feeding and then the larger female arrives. She tries to push him out the way but he refuses to move. She eventually gives up and moves on leaving the male to his supper. Although we’ve only seen two together we’re pretty sure we might have four who pop in from time to time. We think we’ve seen at different times two males and two females. Trying to tell them apart isn’t easy though. Telling the males apart is the easier of the two as there’s quite a size difference between them. One’s quite large the other much smaller, plus the smaller one has what looks like a patch of white paint on his back. We’ve named him Smudge. However trying to tell the females apart is much more difficult. They are roughly the same size and shape. The only way we can tell them apart is one has very long legs or at least that what it looks like to us. We affectionately call her Long legs.

Thursday 25th April

No more arrivals here at Swift House, still only got the one back. However yesterday Portland Bill Bird Observatory recorded over 1000 swallows arriving along with good numbers of house martins, sand martins and swifts. Despite the chilly weather maybe we’ll see a few more returning over the coming days.

One of the questions I’m often asked is does the same bird or more precisely a bird from the same box arrive back first each year. I thought the answer was no (apologies to anyone who read my first blog) but I’ve just checked my records now and the answer was in fact yes. In 2018 and 2019 the first bird back was in nb3 north. The same box as this year. Is it the same bird? As swifts are site faithfully and long lived my guess is probably yes, it is the same bird. Here are my records of first arrivals from 2014 – 2024.

2014 – 21st April – nb3 south.  2015 – 2nd May – nb1 south.  2016 – 26th April – nb5 north.  2017 – 1st May – nb1 south. 2018 – 20th April – nb3 north. 2019 – 30th April – nb3 north.  2020 – 23rd April – nb1 north.  2021 – 25th April – nb3 south.  2022 – 2nd May – nb3 north.  2023 – 28th April – nb1 west.  2024 – 23rd April- nb3 north.

Over the last 11 years the first bird back has been in nb3 north four times. In nb1 south twice. In nb3 south twice. In nb1 north, nb1 west and nb5 north only once. When broken down a bit further in the last 7 years the first bird back has been in nb3 north four times. So there are some early birds who regularly come back first and the bird in nb3 north without doubt proves that point.

Tuesday 23rd April

They’re back or more precisely one is back!

At 7.33pm my first swift arrived home. It did a couple of laps around the house to get its bearings I think, then without any further ado disappeared straight back into nest box 3 north. It’s arrival is 5 days earlier than last year which is a bit odd considering the weathers been so poor recently. Despite the inclement conditions I’m so happy to see it back home safely.

Monday 22nd April

A reasonably warm and sunny weekend was just what the doctor ordered. The sun brought out lots of different butterfly species. I saw several small white, speckled wood, orange tip, holly blue and peacock. The first large red damselflies emerged from the pond, see LH photo. The red mason bees were buzzing around the bee hotel. They were mostly males waiting for the virgin females to hatch. Their courtship is a bit rough and tumble, no gentle foreplay here. The females are immediately jumped on the moment they emerge from their mud cocoons. On Sunday night our new trail camera picked up the hedgehog drinking from our pond. You can just see its head peeping out between the reeds in the RH photo.

The light winds and sunny conditions did encourage a few swifts to make the journey up from France. Portland Bill Bird Observatory reported its first swifts of the year. There were also other sightings all across the UK. Not huge numbers but little groups of swifts here and there. Near me they were seen over Bristol, at Pilning marshes (on the edge of the River Severn) and Chew Valley lake. They’re getting closer but I’m still waiting for my first one to arrive home.

Saturday 20th April

If the record of my earliest returnee is going to be equalled then one swift has to arrive today. Way back in 2018 a lone swift returned on 20th April, however checking my records the average date is around 27th April so I’ve probably got another week to wait.

Down in southern France their numbers continue to rise and yesterday a whooping 58,100 swifts were counted by Trektellen. I was down with my mate George on the banks of the river Avon birdwatching yesterday. We were hoping the house martins might have returned to Sea Mills Station, but it was far too cold. However we did see a female mallard with 15 youngsters. Now it took us quite a while to accurately count the baby ducklings as they kept moving. That brings me on to the count by Trektellen. How on earth do they count 58,1000 swifts!

Friday 19th April

Although swifts have been recorded at flying over 70 mph, when migrating they fly at a more leisurely pace at around 20 miles mph and can easily cover over 300 miles in a day. At the moment they are down in southern France which is approximately 800 miles away. Therefore if our birds set off today it will take them another 3 days to reach us.

Swifts travel over 6,000 miles to reach us from their wintering grounds in Africa, however they don’t do that all in one massive non-stop flight. They punctuate their journey at traditional stop off places to feed for a while. Think of it like a racing car driver who has to pull in at a pit stop to refuel every now and then. One of their favourite places is along the coast of Liberia in West Africa and another is where they are now is southern France. However I expect there are many others where they also pause to take a breather on they way back to us.

Thursday 18th April

Wow they’re definitely are on the move!  The number of swifts arriving in southern France shot through the roof yesterday. Trektellen reported almost 30,000 in Falaise de Leucate and over 15,000 in Etang de Canet. With a high pressure building over the UK this weekend we just might see a sizeable influx.

You might have guessed I have a soft spot for birds, however some of them aren’t the brightest in the world. Our resident pair of blackbirds decided to build their nest about 1 foot from my bird feeders. Needless to say the male blackbird went crazy every time a bird came to feed, frantically chasing away all and sundry who dared to approach. Oddly enough the female blackbird seemed quite unfazed by it all and carried on building her nest despite all the commotion going on around her. I’ve had to move both feeders as the male was going to have a heart attack if I didn’t. The change of location initially caused some confusion amongst my regular visitors but they soon cottoned on to the new home. Peace was restored in the back garden once again.

Wednesday 17th April

They’re on their way. Yesterday saw the first major influx of swifts arrive in southern France. Trektellen reported over 10,500 in Falaise de Leucate, a vast wetland on the coast not far from Perpignan. It’s their traditional stop-over place on their migration north. Here they’ll fuel up for a while before continuing on their journey north. We might see the odd one or two in the UK over the coming few days, but the majority won’t arrive for another week or two.

Tuesday 16th April

Yesterday the weather was more like winter than spring – it was chilly, blowing a hoolie with frequent squally showers. However despite the weather being decidedly unspringlike weather that didn’t stop the first swifts from arriving. Two were spotted over Chew Valley Lake and another over Slimbridge.

Yesterday the late pair of toads I removed from the pond on Friday laid their eggs. I temporarily re-housed them in a large bucket to avoid any fatal mishaps from over amorous male frogs drowning them. The problem was I still have a couple of dozen male frogs in the pond waiting for any late females to arrive. I think they will be disappointed as I don’t think anymore female frogs are about. However I couldn’t take the risk that they wouldn’t take a fancy to the female toad albeit a different species of amphibian. After they finished spawning they separated themselves and I put them back in the pond well away from the frogs. I expect the female toad will leave almost immediately now she’s spawned but the male toad might hang about for a bit longer. LH photo – newly laid spawn. Middle photo – pair now separated. RH photo – released back into pond.

Sunday 14th April

I’ve got my new trail camera a couple of days ago and I’m still getting used to it. The picture is definitely sharper than my old one but I’ve found I need to place it further away to get the best results. Therefore if you’ve been following the hedgehog saga over the past few weeks you’ll notice there’s a slightly different camera angle than before. However the new feeding cage seems to be doing its job well. Both hedgehogs are using it on a regular basis and quite often together. The two badgers that visit our garden most nights seem uninterested in it, but that might only be because there’s no food left by the time they come! However I’ve still not seen the fox since I made the changes to the cage, so the juries out on that front as well. Heres a videos of the action taken on Friday night. Click on this link.

Saturday 13th April

Yesterday was the first really warm day of spring. In our back garden it got to balmy 18C during the afternoon. The welcome warmth brought out a myriad of different creatures, many for the first time this year. Let’s start with the butterflies first. For me seeing them is always something special. I saw my first speckled wood, brimstone, orange tip and small tortoiseshell.

The first red mason bees emerged from their mud cocoons deep inside my bee hotel. Several slowworms basked in the sunshine on top of a slate tile on the edge of the vegetable patch.

However the real big surprise was a very late pair of breeding toads. The male was holding the female around the waist in a mating hug called amplexus. He will then fertilise her eggs as she lays them. Amplexus can last for hours or days, so it maybe a while before I see any spawn. The strange thing is most of my toads bred in mid February so these two are almost 2 months late this year. I’m not sure why but I expect the female was held up on her way back to my pond. Anyway I’m delighted to see them both. Back in February we had a bit of a disaster with the toads. They arrived at the same time as the frogs, however the male frogs in their eagerness to mate accidentally drowned at least a dozen female toads. To avoid the same fate with this late pair I’m keeping them in a bucket to spawn and then I will release them back into the wild. Not ideal but at least she won’t suffer the same fate as the others.

And finally just as it got dark a lone common pipistrelle bat hawked for insects around the eaves. The only thing that was missing was the scream of a swift as it entered one of my boxes. That pleasure is still to come….

Thursday 11th April

Typical no foxes or badgers came last night so we don’t know if the new cage adaptations worked. However our two hedgehogs did and this time they helped themselves to all the food. Here is a photo of the male inside the cage feeding and the female outside. She was reluctant to enter with him inside and left shortly after this photo was taken. However she did return about an hour later when the male had gone and hoovered up all the scraps he had left behind.

Wednesday 10th April

The battle with Mr Fox continues. I thought I had solved the problem but he’s much smarter than I gave him credit. Last night he wandered around the new feeding cage a few times and eventually worked out that if he put his paw through the mesh he could flick out the food. What a clever fox. He also managed to half squeeze through the tiny feeding hatch I put the dish through. So today I’ve added some finer mesh to the outside of the cage and blocked up the feeding hatch. Whether it works we shall see. Click on this link to see him in action last night.

Tuesday 9th April

Last night I borrowed a trial camera from my mate George to see how the new feeding cage was working. I didn’t need to worry as it seems to be working just fine. Jane’s spliced together a nice little sequence of videos shot during the night which tells the story of the evenings activity. Click on this link.

It all begins just before 8pm when the male arrives. Without going into too much detail you can tell it’s a male! He enters through the front entrance, helps himself to a feed before wandering off into the night. Then there’s a gap until just before 10pm when the female arrives. She deftly enters through one of the side entrances, helps herself to a feed and leaves via the front entrance. Then there’s another gap of a few hours till just after 1am when the male returns again. This time he enters through the side entrance and hoovers up some of the spilt food on the floor. A few minutes later he’s outside the cage and just in front the camera finds a juicy snail which he devours with some relish. In this last bit it’s even more obvious what sex it is! So the great news is we have a male and female regularly feeding in our garden. Just out of camera view is the hedgehog house I built which I hope will be used to raise some little hoglets this summer.

Monday 8th April

Yippee! The first swifts of the season are just beginning to return to the UK. Yesterday one was seen in South Buckinghamshire and the other over Rathlin Island just off the north coat of Northern Ireland. Back in Bristol a lone Alpine swift was seen flying over the Downs near Clifton. I think it’s the same one that has been here for the last couple of weeks. Soon it will depart back down to southern Europe where it belongs.

On Saturday night the badger overturned my hedgehog feeding cage in an attempt to get at the food. As I was already thinking about making a bigger version it prompted me to get on and make it. Basically the new feeding cage is the same as before only much bigger. I’ve also secured it more firmly so Mr Badger shouldn’t be able to overturn it again. Now there’s plenty of room for both hogs to eat safely together, side by side inside. Unfortunately my new trail camera developed a fault over the weekend and has been returned, so at the moment I’m unable to see what goes on at night. However the dishes are empty in the morning which is a good sign that the hogs are still about.

Sunday 7th April

Last summer we were contacted by Justin a local swift enthusiast and children’s author. He came over to ask for advice about putting up swift boxes on his house. He also mentioned that he was in the process of writing a book about swifts for children. We spent a lovely afternoon chatting with him about swifts. He’s finished his book and it’s just been published. We think it’s really lovely and we’re sure our grandchildren will love it when they get a bit older. Here is a link to buy ‘Super Swifts – The Small Bird with Amazing Powers’ by Justin Anderson.

Saturday 6th April

An update on the hedgehog saga. Back on 28th March I modified the cage to keep out the fox. That worked fine and keeps the fox out, however the local moggy still managed to squeeze in! So I had to tweak it a second time so now the only way in is through the two side holes. This works a treat and keeps everything out bar the hogs and a couple of wood mice. The only downside is the position of the entrance holes makes its difficult for me to get the food dish in and out, but taking all things into account its a success. The good news is the larger hog has returned and most nights we see both feeding side by side together. The larger hog seems more dominant so I’ve started putting two dishes in the cage at either end to give the smaller one a chance to feed. Here’s a short video from last night. I think I’m going to make an even bigger cage to give them more room.

Monday 1st April

It’s the first of April today. The long wait is almost over. April for me is when the first swifts return and time to get excited.

Seed planting and potting on for the garden is now in full swing. I must have over 400 small pots of vegetable and bedding plants in various stages. The patio looks like a mini garden centre at the moment. However when I’m outside I always have one ear tuned in for that familiar scream. It’s amazing how you can block out all other sounds when you want to.

A swift friend of mine asked me what the nests looked like that I made for my boxes. Basically they consist of a small handful of hay and feathers moulded into a cup shape and glued into position. At the moment they are a bit scruffy around the edges, however when the swifts return they soon smooth them back into shape with their spittle. After a week or two they will look completely different. Here are a couple of photos below.

Sunday 31st March

Yesterdays weather turned out fine in the end despite a sharp shower around 9ish. The main thing though was the wind, it was light which makes going up and down the ladder so much safer. I also found a couple of minor glitches to rectify during the day. Two cameras had died over winter and had to be replaced. Plus all the nests had been completely eaten by feather mites which was unusual. I normally get the odd one or two destroyed, but not every one. A handful of soft feathers and hay in each box sorted that problem out. By lunchtime all 25 boxes were up and ready to welcome back our summer visitors.

Saturday 30th March

The first dry, non-windy start to a day for ages, time to start putting my swift boxes back up. A tad on the early side I know, but the long range weather forecast looks unsettled into mid-April. I can’t risk not having my boxes up just in case I get an early returnee. The earliest I’ve ever had one back is 20th April.

Thursday 28th March

Yesterday I modified the feeding cage for a second time. This time I added a 10” wire tunnel to the entrance of the cage making the total length over 2 feet. Surely now Mr Fox won’t be able to wriggle his way inside to pinch the food!

Success. The fox just looked at the cage a couple of times and wandered away without even trying to get in. However I don’t expect we’ve seen the last of him. Whereas the hedgehog found it rather easy to get in, squeezing in through the side as well as using the main entrance. The good news is that the hedgehog had all the food for itself last night. I think it was the smaller of the two hogs we saw the other night. There was no sign of the larger one, perhaps it only comes into our garden every now and then? Apparently male hogs are bigger than the females so maybe our resident hog is a female and was visited by a passing male? Click here to see last nights action.

Wednesday 27th March

The great news is we have two hedgehogs not one. However my battle with the wily fox continues.

After watching the fox stealing the hedgehog food on Sunday night I set about modifying the feeding cage. I narrowed the entrance hole by a couple of inches and added a small length of wood inside the cage to act as a barrier. Let’s call this plan A. It worked a treat on Monday night with the fox quickly giving up and leaving the food for the two hedgehogs. Perhaps that explains why the fox snapped at one of the hogs later that night. See Monday night’s video.

However my optimism was short lived. Last night the fox was back again and this time it wasn’t going to give up that easy. After surveying the situation it worked out how to get inside. In an almost snake-like action in slithered in and over the barriers I had put in place. In a few moments all the food was gone. Click here to see him in action last night. So now it’s back to the drawing board with plan B!

Tuesday 26th March

A quick update on the hedgehog situation. For the past few days I’ve noticed the food dish empty and outside the cage in the morning. I assumed it was the hedgehog licking every last bit of food off of it. Just to be on the safe side I thought I’d better check, so I set the trail camera up last night. Well just as well I did. It wasn’t the hedgehog at all, but a very determined fox who managed to squeeze its head inside the cage and with great skill and dexterity gently picked up the dish with its teeth. A wily old fox if ever I saw one! The badger on the other hand couldn’t care less about the dish and wandered past with barely a glance or a sniff. Jane has spliced together a short video of the action click here. I’ve spent yesterday afternoon adapting the cage so hopefully only the hedgehog will be able to reach the food. Another thing we noticed was it looked like we might have two hedgehogs. We never actually saw both together but one looked bigger than the other but it could just be an optical illusion. I’ll have to do more recording!

Thursday 21st March

Yesterday an Alpine Swift was spotted over Portland Bill Observatory in Dorset. They breed much further south in Europe, however we do occasionally see the odd bird this time of year that was been blown off course during migration. Along with the sighting of the Alpine Swift the first House Martin of the year was also seen. Two days earlier on Tuesday the first Swallow of the year was recored. More and more Sand Martins are arriving each day. The arrival of the summer migrants has begun.

Wednesday 20th March

Yesterday afternoon after emerging from hibernation a female slow worm basked in the warm sunshine on our back lawn. Female slow worms are a bit browner and have a much smaller head when compared to the males. They breed during May and June. After a gestation period of a few months the females then gives birth to up to 12 baby slow worms during August or September. Most reptiles lay eggs, but slow worms are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs hatch while they’re still in the female’s body. They are a gardener’s friend, eating a host of garden pests such as slugs and snails. They are particularly fond of compost heaps, where you can often find them hiding during the summer months. Another favourite spot to find them is under bits of corrugated iron or roofing felt left on the ground in sunny locations. As a youngster I spent many a happy hour looking for slow worms at this time of year.

Saturday 17th March

The dawn chorus is getting louder each morning as the days get longer. Six of the most vocal songsters are the Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren, Blue and Great Tit. These will be joined by the first summer migrants arriving back to the UK any day now. Yesterday I heard my first Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing in the woods close to me. The Blackcap has a beautiful flutey song which is very pleasing on the ear. However if I had to choose my favourite songster all I reckon the Blackbird takes some beating.

Friday 16th March

Back in November I saw a hedgehog in my garden. I’ve never seen one before and we’ve lived here over 30 years. However they are pretty elusive, so they might have been around and I’ve just missed them in the past.

When I saw it last year I immediately built a hedgehog house hoping it would stay and if I was extremely lucky raise a family this summer.  I didn’t see any more signs of it over the winter. However recently I noticed the hedgehog food I was putting out started to disappear. Even though the food was inside a metal cage I was worried it might be rats helping themselves. So I borrowed a trail camera from a friend to see what was eating it. When I watched the footage back I was amazed by all the different animals that wander through our garden at night. Apart from the local cat I saw a fox, wood mouse, badger and also the animal I was hoping to see the hedgehog.

It came back to the feeding station many times over a 5 hour period from 9pm until 2am. The metal cage not only keeps the food dry but more importantly, it protects the hedgehog from any unwanted attention. The fox in particular took a great deal of interest in the hedgehog but was unable to reach inside the cage, leaving it to carry on feeding in peace. I was so chuffed to see the hedgehog again, although I was slightly worried by the presence of the badger which sometimes prey on hedgehogs. Hopefully though it might leave our little friend alone and look for food elsewhere. Jane has compiled this short video of the nights activity click here.

Thursday 14th March

Yesterday George Ashwell, Di Bunniss and I took full advantage of a brief respite in the weather to put up the remaining 11 house martin nest cups around the old station at Sea Mills. When I started out on this project a month ago I was unsure which type of nest cup to buy. Luckily I know Ian Donovan from House Martin Conservation (he’s an old swift friend of mine) if he could recommend a particular design or make. He said Paul Stevens nest cups were second to none, so I ordered 11. They arrived on Sunday and I was absolutely delighted by them. They are superb looking nest cups and so natural looking. I’m sure the martins will love them.

In total we’ve fitted 16 onto three sides of the building- North 4, South 4 & West 8. We couldn’t put any on the east side as it was too difficult to reach. We’ve numbered each cup to make recording easier. Now all we have to do is wait and see what happens when the birds return in May.

Tuesday 12th March

The first swifts have already arrived back in Israel. Amnonn Hann in Jerusalem has numerous swift boxes around his house, many fitted with cameras. His first swift arrived back on 24th February. Since then more and more have been arriving each day as the colony reforms. The first eggs have just started to be laid. By June all his swifts will be gone. If you want to follow the action from inside his nest boxes click on this link.

Sunday 10th March

Following on from my blog on Friday 23rd February. The 11 House Martin nest cups we ordered for Sea Mills Station have just arrived and they look really good. I’ve stained them a light brown colour to match the mud of the River Avon. If the weather behaves itself I shall fit them on Wednesday.

Monday 4th March

An update on the two tree creeper boxes we fitted at Old Sneed Park Nature reserve last week. We’ve just added some bark around the entrance holes this morning to make them look more natural. Quite pleased with our handiwork I must say. I just hope the tree creepers like them as much as we do!

Friday 1st March – Spring begins …

The First of March heralds the beginning of Spring according to meteorologists. The meteorological calendar basically splits the year into 4 equal sections to fit the seasons i.e. Spring – March, April & May. Alas in reality the weather rarely takes any notice of that and Spring begins when it wants to begin. Here in Bristol I think it starts around mid February with the arrival of the first frogspawn.

The last couple of weeks has seen a marked increase in bird activity. The ever lengthening daylight telling them the start of the breeding season isn’t that far away. Time to pair up and start looking for nesting places again. Wanting to take advantage of this heightened activity I’ve been busy building nest boxes and one box in particular has taken my fancy, the tree creeper nest box. These tiny little birds will use boxes, but are extremely choosy about the design.

One of the best boxes out there is by Dave Francis. He has studied tree creepers for years and his design is a flat narrow box that mimics their natural sites of cracks in the tree bark. It has been remarkably successful when compared to other designs on the market.  As I had the time and plenty of spare wood I decided to give it a go. In total I made three of Dave’s boxes to trial. Two have been fitted in the Old Sneed Park Nature reserve near me and the other one in Little Wood Nature reserve, near Kenn in Somerset. Below are some photos of one of the boxes I put up.

Friday 23rd February

The first House Martins have arrived back in the UK, albeit a tad too early for my liking. These delightful, joyous birds with such a charming song are very close to my heart. Sadly my local colony that nests under the eaves of the Old Station Building in Sea Mills has dwindled from over 20 pairs in 2018 to only 2 last year. Desperate not to lose them forever we decided we must do something to help. I’ve made 5 nest cups myself and ordered another 11 from a specialist nest cup maker. In total 16 des-res cups will be installed before the birds return. Hopefully they’ll like what they find and move straight in. For more information on the Sea Mills Station House Martin Project click on this link.

Tuesday  20th February

The pond is alive with the sights and sounds of mating frogs and toads. There must be over 100 frogs and a couple of dozen toads. Here is a short video of their activity filmed this afternoon.

Thursday 1st February 

The first signs of spring are just starting to appear in the garden. Snowdrops and winter aconites are in flower and the crocus are just pushing up through the lawn. On the milder days bumblebees are out and about foraging for nectar and the birds are beginning to sing more in the mornings.

A couple of weeks ago on BBC Winterwatch they did a bit on great crested newts (Weds 17th Jan programme). Howard Inns from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation explained that their breeding cycle had changed. They were now starting to breed in winter rather than their traditional time in spring. Intrigued by his remarks I checked my own pond and sure enough I saw great crested newts – 2 males and 1 female. The males had fully developed crests along their back and were displaying to the lone female. I was amazed to see so much activity that Jane took a couple of photos and we sent them to Howard. Not only were there great crested newts in my pond but a couple of dozen palmate and smooth newts along with at least 40 frogs, many in amplexus.


Swifts need our help more than ever. Their numbers have been declining year on year for the last 25 years. They’ve fallen to such a low level that in December 2021 the species was Red-listed in the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern report. However it needn’t be like this. Simple things like putting up a nest box or swift brick can make a huge difference. At Swift House we now have 25 boxes under the eaves – see this link for their location. By providing them with a suitable place to nest we’ve managed to reverse the decline. Since we put up our first box in 2005 the number of breeding pairs has risen from 1 in 2005 to 19 in 2023.

Here is a brief summary of what happened during the summer.

The first swift arrived back at Swift House on 28th April.

May was a mostly dry and warm month, although the mornings were a tad nippy. The colony slowly re-established itself as last years breeders arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the month.

June turned out to be an exceptional month – the hottest June since records began. It was sunny and warm for almost the whole month. More and more swifts arrived a back and by the end of the month we had 19 breeding pairs, which was a record number at Swift House. 18 were in my camera boxes and the other was in one of my non-camera boxes. The camera boxes produced 40 chicks between them.

July on the other hand was a truly awful month. A shift in the position of the jet stream to the south of the UK brought in a succession of deep low pressures. Week after week of rain and wind followed. The prolonged poor weather eventually took its toll on the colony with 7 chicks dying from starvation. On top of the poor weather we also had the unwanted attention of the local Sparrowhawk who caught at least four adults, leaving another 9 chicks without any parents. Luckily I managed to foster 7 into my other boxes. The remaining 2 had to be hand-reared. We named them Stanley and Oliver.

Augusts weather started in the same vein as Julys. Thankfully though by the beginning of the month I only had 7 chicks left in my boxes. The last chick in my boxes fledged on 24th August. The following day the last adult departed. The chicks we were hand feeding fledged as followed – Oliver on 20th August and Stanley on 30th August.

Total number of eggs laid 46. Total number of infertile/reject eggs 6. Total number of chicks 40. Total number of chick fatalities 7. Total number of chicks fledged 33.

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