Tuesday 25 June 2013

Tubbercurry's swift response to the gathering

Tubbercurry is a town in County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland, where they have an annual festival, called 'The Gathering'. Brian Cahalane sent us this article which appeared in the Sligo Champion. It is a light-hearted take on the Tubbercurry Swift Project 

In the spirit of "The Gathering" the Tubbercurry Tidy Towns group have added a warm welcome, and expanded accommodation for the town's Swift population to their other activities to welcome home all of Tubbercurry's emigrants, ramblers and wanderers.

A Swift flies high over Tubbercurry
Photo Michael Casey
Tubbercurry Tidy Towns Committee has interpreted the theme of the 2013 Gathering in a unique way, as they devised a biodiversity project to enhance their other activities that are aimed at making Tubbercurry a better place to live in.

The voluntary group has completed the construction of Tubbercurry's first post-recession housing estate, purpose-built for returning emigrants of the aerial variety.  "Swift Terrace" is a new development of beautifully appointed nestboxes specially designed for Swifts, which are a formerly common urban bird which is now in rapid decline.  
9 Schwegler nest boxes adorn this otherwise bland gable end
Photo Michael Casey

The birds return each year from their winter holiday homes in Africa to find fewer and fewer crevices to build their nests, as we get better at sealing roofs to keep out draughts.  Swifts nest in a few places in the town, but as in other towns, Tubbercurry's Swift population has been in rapid decline.  The decline in the Swifts is at odds with Ireland's reputation as a hospitable and welcoming country, so the Tidy Town Committee embarked on their ambitious scheme to attract the Swifts to special nestboxes in Tubbercurry designed for their needs.  The development also has some unique design features to prevent other species taking up residence.

Swift Terrace is the newest and most exclusive address in Tubbercurry. The development of cosy single storey apartments for Swifts is  located on a store just off the Circular Road belonging to local SuperValu owner GearĂ³id Surlis, and is the brainchild of the local Tidy Towns Committee, with the assistance of BirdWatch Sligo.  To assist birds in finding the development, a sign is planned, but in the meantime, and in case they can't read, a sound system has been broadcasting the sounds of a successful Swift colony, to ensure the birds find and inspect the 'show-house'.  The project was erected by local contractors Dermot Molloy and John James Maye, with finance for the project coming from local fundraising, and a generous grant from Sligo County Council's Community Heritage Grant Scheme.  Surlis's SuperValu sponsored a box and provided a site for the development.

The first Swift is seen flying straight into one of the nest boxes
Photo Michael Casey
The last few weeks have been an anxious time as we scanned the skies above the town roofline for the characteristically slim profiles and direct flight action of returning Swifts.  They returned in the first week of May in small numbers, but the best hope was the later arriving birds, which tend to be the young 'first-time buyers' a key market for the project. These arrived this week, with a noticeable increase in the numbers of Swifts in Tubbercurry since mid-week.  We waited with bated breath to see if they would approve the accommodation.  At 7.50am on Saturday morning 8th June,  the first Swift was seen entering one of the nestboxes.  While it is too soon to say that these birds will breed this year, it is an excellent start, and the committee are now confident that their unique development won't be a 'ghost estate'.

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