Friday 16 September 2011

Cambridge AfS End of Year Report 2011

This report describes what we in Cambridgeshire have been up to this year. The Cambs team includes Jake Allsop, Guy Belcher, Helen Hodgson, Bill Murrells, Dick Newell and Bob Tonks

To say the least, we have been busy. We have progressed projects started in previous years, we have been involved in new projects, some of them spectacular and we have done a number of innovative things, including this blog.

Nest-box progress

Swift sculpture at Edgecombe
In 2010, we helped Cambridge City Council install 71 nest-boxes on Edgecombe flats. Resident, Peter Glass, used his CD player on his balcony, and succeeded in attracting Swifts to the area. In 2011 we provided “A Box of Swifts” to Peter, with the speaker attached to one of the Zeist boxes, with the result that Swifts were seen entering all 4 boxes next to his flat. Edgecombe flats promises to be a substantial Swift colony. The opening of the project was celebrated with this sculpture.

At Ekin flats, Cambridge, we advised the City Council roofing contractors how to avoid disturbing 3 existing nest sites in summer 2010; all 3 nests were again occupied in 2011. An additional 12 nest sites created by the roofing contractors are yet to be occupied.

At Birdlife International headquarters in Girton, a single pair of Swifts returned to breed in 1 of the 8 boxes installed in 2010. CD playing has been well supervised by Trish Aspinall.

Article in Cambridge News 20/7/2011
click image to enlarge

At Milton Road Primary School, the pair of Swifts that occupied one of the boxes in 2010 returned to breed. Fortunately, we had installed a CCTV camera, so the children could see the nesting Swifts on a TV screen in their library. After more CD playing, Swifts were seen entering all 4 boxes. We ran another workshop where all of the children made Swift mobiles, and we also added 2 more nest-boxes bringing the total to 6. The project featured in the local newspaper, the Cambridge News, in July.

Nest-boxes installed on people's houses in previous years included Bob’s house in Milton, where boxes were first installed in 2008, first occupants in 2009, first breeding in 2010, and probably two more boxes occupied in 2011. Bob has had this success as a result of dedicated CD playing. [we also discovered another house in Milton where Clarke Brunt succeeded in achieving an occupied nest-box for the first time after several years of CD playing].

Bob and Mary Osborne in Histon used “A Box of Swifts” to acquire their first occupants in boxes installed in 2009.

Bob Humphrey in Landbeach had his first occupants in a Pipe Box, in his 3rd summer of CD playing, and Neil Roberts, also of Landbeach, had his first occupants in a 4-Box Cabinet in his second year, with virtually no CD playing!

Dick's colony, also in Landbeach, increased from 6 to 7 breeding pairs. One bird was caught leaving the nest, then fitted with a geolocator by the BTO. The Landbeach Swift population has increased from 2 or 3 pairs to 11 or 12 pairs as a result of new nest-boxes.

After building work disrupted Swifts breeding in the eaves of St Andrews, Oakington, we installed “A Box of Swifts” in the belfry for a whole month. The Swifts responded well, and although we did not attract them into the 8 nest-boxes there, a pair of Swifts did nest in a small space outside of the louvres near the speaker.

At St Mary the Virgin, St Neots, where one pair occupied one of the 12 boxes last year, David Gill installed a new CD player, and he believes there may be two pairs this year.

At All Saints, Worlington in Suffolk, there was an increase from 1 breeding pair in 2010 with a second occupied box in 2011. CD playing has been well organised here by Judith Wakelam and Don Macbean. With 17 boxes in the belfry, the future looks bright.

At St Mary's Church Ely, where Bill inspired the first nest-boxes in 2007, this year, 26 boxes contained substantial nests, 13 of these contained 16 chicks, 2 contained eggs, so, there were at least 15 breeding pairs and 11 other occupied boxes. St Mary's is a great success despite no CD playing there. The evening Swift spectacle is well worth a visit.

Quite a few other projects are still waiting for their first occupants, despite well organised CD playing at some of them

New projects

The Cambridge Swift Tower
inspired by the African setting sun
The most sensational new project of 2011 was the Cambridge City Council Swift Tower, a piece of urban art, accommodating 100 Swift boxes and 10 bat boxes. At the opening event in July, the solar-power charged ‘bird scarer’ inspired a flypast by a squadron of 14 Swifts as the Mayor was starting his speech. Swifts were frequently seen around the tower, so signs are good for the future. Cambridge City Council, under the leadership of Guy Belcher, is doing an excellent job implementing projects for Swifts around the city.

As part of the Swift Tower project we ran a workshop with the children at Shirley Primary School, in which they made nest concaves out of Modroc and assembled Swift mobiles. They all received a copy of “I am a Swift - I am in Trouble”.

Other school projects included Newnham Croft, where we ran a workshop and installed 4 nest-boxes; and Elsworth Primary School, where we joined an eco-day and gave a presentation about Swifts to the whole school as well as running a workshop making a Swift mobile with a group of 12 children.

We worked with Anthony Clay to install 8 nest-boxes in the belfry of St Mary, Longstowe. CD playing was well organised, but there was no evidence of occupancy.

Further afield, we advised Carol Collins and Alan Wilkins in their project to install 10 Swift-boxes in the belfry of St Luke’s, Kinoulton, Nottinghamshire, which resulted in one pair of breeding Swifts in this first year.

Not least in our nest boxing campaign is the success of John Stimpson's sales of Zeist Swift boxes, made to our specification. John has now sold over 2000 Swift boxes. The same design has inspired Filcris to make a robust, waterproof box out of recycled plastic. Bob has now delivered over 40 4-box cabinets, mostly deployed in the Cambridge area.

Other activities included manning a stall at village fetes and a street party to celebrate the royal wedding in April. We responded to a large number of enquiries by people wanting to put up Swift nest-boxes; many more swift-boxes have been installed as a result.


Knowing early in the year that we would be involved with children in schools, we set about finding ideas for children. These include the small book, conceived by Helen, titled “I am a Swift - I am in trouble”. We handed out about 300 of these, but we still have a few left for those who want them (price £1.50).

We devised a method of making nesting concaves out of Modroc. Some children stuck feathers onto nest-concaves. This involved autoclaving 10 kilos of pheasant feathers. We chose pheasant feathers so that we could easily recognise feathers that the Swifts might add - typically pigeon feathers.

We came up with a prototype Swift mobile design, which, with the use of some CAD (Computer-aided Design) software, was turned into a production design.

We also produced an attractive AfS polo shirt, using the AfS logo (Available from Jake at £15).

One of the main barriers to success in attracting Swifts is the hassle of installing and playing Swift calls. As a result, John Clamp, of Newnham Croft PTA, developed a small solid state player which drives a “tweeter” speaker. This kit, which we call  “A Box of Swifts”, has been successful in getting Swifts to occupy nest sites in 3 places this year.

An exciting project with which we were involved in 2010 was the deployment of geolocators on Swifts by the BTO, resulting in a massive increase in knowledge of where Swifts spend their time in Africa, where they linger and where they might be getting into trouble.

Our last innovation has been this blog, which started in February 2011 and has now had over 10,000 pageviews, so we hope people are finding it useful. We will continue to accumulate ideas and experiences which can be used by others who wish to help Swifts.

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