Monday, 20 August 2012

Some success in Nottinghamshire!

This was originally posted on 30th July 2011, scroll down to the update (beyond the 'read more >>') on 19th August 2012 at the bottom of this post: successful breeding and a second pair established!

Contributed by Carol Collins and Alan Wilkins

Boxes inside the north louvres
In Kinoulton we started by visiting the experts. We went over to Ely in February and spent a really useful morning with Dick Newell and Bill Murrells being shown the intricacies of installing swift boxes in St. Mary’s Church, as well as looking at several other sites where boxes have been put up by the Cambridgeshire team. We learned a lot, about swifts in general and about the boxes, and came back determined to get boxes installed in Kinoulton Church before the end of April.

St. Luke’s Church is brick built, with a square tower with a louvred window on each side. We are lucky in that there is a boarded floor above the bells and below the louvred windows, so that we have a safe and empty space in which to work. The only bell which is above the wooden floor is the large one which tolls the hours - and inevitably takes us by surprise each time it strikes. We now wear ear-muffs on the hour!

10 inspection holes
We decided to put the boxes on the north face and as close to the top of the louvres as possible which meant constructing a semicircular unit (incorporating 10 boxes) to fit the top of the window. We thought about trying different designs of entrance holes but in the end made them all the same size of oval, and put a concave in each box. In the picture the observation holes on the back have yet to have their sliding covers added; the entrance holes are the smaller ovals on the lower side.


We set up two speakers directly below the unit and have used a time switch to play the CD of swift calls from dawn to dusk (4am to 10pm in midsummer but not so long earlier and later in the season) for three-quarters of an hour in every hour. This pattern wasn’t deliberate – the only way we could get the CD to keep playing was by using the timer (which works in 15 minute blocks) to turn it off after 45 minutes and restart (at the beginning) after another 15. We adjusted the volume to what we thought sounded reasonably lifelike and not so loud as to annoy local residents, and certainly it seems to convince the swifts.

We first spotted birds in Kinoulton on 8th May, but some distance from the church. For a few days there was little reaction but after a week or so they were definitely circling the tower and on 18th May we saw a bird enter one of the boxes. Inevitably the occupied box is not the one in which we have a camera, but by late June we could hear cheeping in the box and the adults are visiting regularly, so we are pretty confident that they are breeding.

Other birds continue to circle the tower and to scream, apparently reacting to the CD and to the resident birds. Occasionally birds have landed on the louvres but as yet we haven’t seen them enter any of the other nine boxes – fingers crossed for next year.
If anyone would like more information please get in touch. We have lots more pictures of the boxes during construction, and can give you dimensions etc.

Carol Collins and Alan Wilkins, Kinoulton, Nottinghamshire.

Update 19th August 2012
In July 2011 we posted about our experiences of learning about installing swift boxes in churches from the Ely Swift Group and then making and fitting our own in the tower of St. Lukes, Kinoulton (see above). In July we were reasonably sure that one pair was breeding and we eventually saw the chicks peering from the box in the first week of August, before they fledged. At the end of our first season we were emotionally exhausted – thank heavens the birds are only with us for three months of the year!

Once we were into 2012 we gathered our wits and made a second unit of 10 boxes, to the same design as the first, and fitted it behind the louvres on the east side of the tower (the original one being on the north). We invested in a second camera and fitted one in the box which was used successfully in 2011, and the other in the box below which showed some sign of perhaps having been entered. We also moved one speaker over to the east so that each unit of boxes had a speaker beneath it. Had we known what an awfully wet and cold summer we were about to have we might have been less optimistic, but we spotted the first swifts in Kinoulton on 10th May and on the 13th saw birds entering the box they used last year. Brilliant – and the camera worked – we were hooked!

We watched the birds and waited and behold – on 26th an egg, and on 28th a second egg. On 17th June we had a Gardens Open event in the village and managed to move the television showing the nestbox down into the back of the church where there were displays of flowers to attract visitors, many of whom were equally fascinated by the events on the small screen. The sitting bird seemed extremely restless and although we didn’t manage to see a chick that day, we did the following day – and another the day after that. Since then we have left the television in the church (turned off on Sundays to avoid competing with services!) with a record sheet for anyone to note activity they’ve seen.

We have had lots of interest and had a second opportunity to explain what we were doing in July when we were asked to do a display about the swifts and other conservation projects as part of Nottinghamshire Open Churches Weekend. We also had a visit from the Headmaster of the local primary school who then did a “Swift Assembly” and encouraged the children to visit the church and see the swifts. We are lucky that our Church Wardens are totally supportive of the project and, because the church hosts the outreach Post Office, various social groups, and a weekly coffee morning, we have been able to introduce the swifts to a goodly number of people from the village and beyond.

We worried constantly about the birds during the awful weather but they managed to find food for themselves and the chicks which fledged, two days apart, on 30th July and 1st August. The adults then continued to use the box to roost for another week before disappearing on 8th August, just twelve and a half weeks after they arrived. We were a bit disappointed not to see any more of the original ten boxes being used, but a pair of swifts was investigating one of the new boxes on the east (the equivalent box, top left, to the one being used on the north) during June and July and we have discovered that they have begun to make a nest, so fingers crossed that they will return to breed next year.

During the winter we hope to investigate how to set up a webcam and perhaps show our swifts on the village website. This will be a new experience for us, so any advice on how to go about it, or pitfalls to be avoided would be much appreciated.

I don’t think we had realised quite how long it would take to build up a colony, but if we have two breeding pairs next year we will be on our way. If anyone in our area would like to know more about the boxes we have installed with a view to doing something similar, please contact us on: carol.w.collins@talk21.com

1 comment:

  1. Carol and Alan have worked hard on this project and i can't wait to see the first swift arrive at the church tower this year ....

    Marnie (Kinoulton Nottingham)

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