Tuesday 23 October 2012

Cambridge AfS End of Year Report 2012

This report describes what we in Cambridgeshire have been up to this year, 2012. The Cambs team includes Jake Allsop, Guy Belcher, Helen Hodgson, Bill Murrells, Clarke Brunt, Alan Clarke, Rowena Baxter, Judith Wakelam, Dick Newell, Vida Newell and Bob Tonks

This has been a year of mixed fortunes. As far as we can tell, occupancy of all nest boxing schemes that we know of has either remained stable, or increased since last year.

St Neots in Bloom nomination
So the adult birds turned up, but then the dreadful summer weather meant that breeding success was below normal, with reports of eggs thrown out of nests and of chicks dying. Alongside this, the take up of boxes at new sites has been unusually slow.

We were delighted that our projects in St Mary the Virgin and the old Brook Street factory site in St Neots were nominated for an award by the 'St Neots in Bloom' Committee.

Nest-box progress
Large/public buildings
At Edgecombe flats, Cambridge, the 71 swift nest-boxes have been very successful with House Sparrows. However, 2 pairs of Swifts bred in the boxes outside Peter Glass's flat. We hope to install another attraction call player ready for 2013.

The 12 boxes built into the eaves of Ekin flats, Cambridge, in 2010, were not monitored in 2012.

At Birdlife International headquarters in Girton, a single pair of Swifts returned again to breed, raising 2 chicks and providing entertainment on a TV monitor in the kitchen. We still await more pairs in the other 7 boxes.

Built in nest boxes at Fulbourn.
Photo Rob Mungovan
Although our involvement in the Swifts housing estate in Fulbourn has been minimal, we are delighted to hear that about 30 of the new nest-boxes there are occupied. Swifts preferred built in boxes to those mounted outside. It is worth reading this RSPB case study. Credit to Rob Mungovan.

We were pleased to be able to contribute an idea to reduce the entrance size of Schwegler 1MF boxes to exclude Starlings.

At MiltonRoad Primary School, early in the season, birds were seen entering 4 of the 6 boxes, but we are only sure of them becoming established in 2 boxes, at least raising one chick in the camera box.

Domestic dwellings
Nest-boxes installed on people's houses in previous years included Bob’s house in Milton, where 2 pairs bred, but one failed and the other raised 2 chicks. Clarke Brunt , also in Milton, increased his established pairs from 1 pair in a nest-box with a second pair in a hole that he had made in the eaves of his house.

3 Boxes on a house in Chesterton
Bob and Mary Osborne in Histon had successful breeding, with 2 chicks raised on top of a House Sparrow's nest in their camera box.
Bob Humphrey and Neil Roberts in Landbeach, both had pairs returning to their boxes.

Dick's colony, also in Landbeach, increased from 7 to 8 breeding pairs, but only 4 pairs succeeded in raising chicks, one of which was the new pair. The geolocator bird was retrapped revealing where it spent the winter. A colony of bees occupied one box at the end of the season.

Linda Jarvis in Cambridge had her first occupant of her nest-boxes to add to the pair already nesting in her eaves.

Rowena attracted Swifts into her boxes in Dry Drayton, but it is not certain that they became established.

Although we did not continue with attraction call playing at St Andrews, Oakington this year, we were disappointed that the 8 boxes in the belfry remained unoccupied. We have now installed an extra 12 boxes at the tops of the louvres on the south and west sides, and we hope to resume attraction call playing in 2013.
At St Mary the Virgin, St Neots, the occupied boxes increased from 2 to 4, we hope to expand the number of nest boxes in 2013.
All Saints, Worlington
Photo Judith Wakelam
At All Saints, Worlington in Suffolk, there was an increase from 2 occupied boxes in 2011 to 7 occupied boxes this year. There are now 18 nest-boxes in the church.
At St Mary's Church Ely, we found a total of 30 boxes containing nests, of which 20 boxes contained a total of 31 chicks, and 3 boxes still contained eggs. This is now a major colony.

Swift Towers
We were disappointed that we failed to attract Swifts to occupy the Cambridge Swift Tower. Attracting Swifts into new boxes has proved particularly difficult this year. Apart from this, the tower attraction call player proved to be unreliable requiring attention on a number of occasions.
A number of other projects are still waiting for their first occupants.

New projects
We were involved one way or another in many projects, including the following by providing nest-boxes, Box of Swifts attraction call players, or advice:

4 double boxes in St John's chapel
Photo Bob Tonks
St John's College Chapel: 8 nest-boxes installed (plus 2 boxes on the groundsman's house)
Wessex Place, Cambridge: 34 nest boxes installed
St Neots Brook Street factory site: 12 Swift bricks installed, at least 2 occupied
Shirley Primary School: 8 nest-boxes installed
The Ace foundation, Stapleford: 8 nest-boxes installed
The School House, Chippenham: 6 nest boxes installed, 1 box occupied
Colville Road, Cambridge: 2 Swift bricks installed
Bob's next door neighbour, Milton, Cambridge: 4 nest-boxes installed
John Clamp and neighbour, Newnham, Cambridge: 8 boxes, 1 box occupied on John's house
Lackford Lakes, Suffolk Wildlife Trust: 12 boxes, built by local volunteers
St Andrew's Oakington: after the end of the season, we added another 12 boxes to the 8 there already.
Packenham, Suffolk, Sandy Jackson's property: 3 boxes installed

We advised on the installation of 7 boxes in St Catherine's, Litlington and 4 boxes in St Leonard's, Southoe.
We were honoured to be asked to design some Swift cabinets for St Rémy Church, Molenbeek, Brussels.

A number of these projects were implemented late in the the season, ready for 2013.

Presentations and workshops
We gave presentations to the Cambridge Natural History Society and to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. This was followed up by a tour of potential nest-boxing sites in Suffolk.

We ran a workshop for the eco group at Shirley Primary School where 12 children painted Swift nest-boxes before installation on the school. The children also completed a Swift quiz.

At Fulbourn Primary School, John Willis made arrangements for us to give a Swift presentation to the whole school assembly, the children made Swift mobiles and nest concaves out of Modroc.

Sound equipment
In our last report we mentioned the development of the "Box of Swifts” attraction call player. In 2012, we sent out 30 of these. Although a small number had intermittent faults, feedback was positive; people found them easy to install and to operate. On the whole, they performed well, with many people reporting Swift activity around their boxes, but occupancy rates were disappointing, with only 3 places with new occupants.  This contrasts with previous years when we have had a higher success rate. We believe this is explained by the weather.
The Box of Swifts has a component cost higher than we would like, and it took about 2 hours of skilled soldering to assemble. This we decided we would not repeat for 2013, so we have a new plan with a lower component cost, no soldering and with a more powerful amplifier. After beta tests are complete, we will describe it on this blog - watch this space!

Boxes for different sloping eaves
For nest-box design, we have found that a format similar to a Zeist-box, but with a vertical front has suited many situations where the boxes fit nicely under eaves that slope one way or another, and where a standard production model, with a horizontal top, would fit less well. Examples include Milton Road Primary School, Shirley Primary, Ace Foundation, Chippenham, Wessex Place and Lackford Lakes (see links above).

Air brick liner Swift brick
We are particularly pleased with the air brick liner Swift brick which was invoked for an emergency situation in St Neots, and they were also deployed in Cherry Hinton. We are in the process of making a short production run of 20 units. They are low cost and easy to make with the right equipment.

Judith reports that a difficult season had produced more casualties. 
3 successes. Photo Judith Wakelam
She reared and released 11 nestlings. Of 6 adults and one free-flying young bird, she rehabbed and released 4; the other 3 had to be euthanized
In addition, 4 adult Swifts were rested and released by their finders after contacting Judith for advice.

In 2013 it is our intention to focus on consolidating the projects we already have underway rather than make a push for new projects. We would like to increase the percentage of nest-boxes occupied, which currently stands at about 1 in 4. Ensuring consistent attraction call playing from May to July should achieve this. This will be made easier with the further deployment of easy to install and easy to operate sound equipment.

You can also read Cambridge AfS End of Year Report 2011

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