Wednesday 23 May 2012

Fulbourn update

Written by Dick Newell, photographs by Rob Mungovan

Rob Mungovan, centre in yellow, with the volunteer team
Fulbourn is a great example of a district council, working together with local people to mitigate the consequences of the destruction of a large colony of ~70 pairs of Swifts in prefabricated buildings from that rich architectural period of the 1960's (see buildings in background in first picture).

John Willis, centre in blue, organises the team
This has been a well planned project to make sure that new nesting sites are available in the new housing estate nearby (called "The Swifts") before the old buildings were pulled down. A number of styles of nest-boxes have been installed in the new housing estate, including built in boxes, as well as Schwegler 1MF swift boxes.

The Swifts are steadily occupying the new boxes, but so are the Starlings, especially in the Schwegler boxes, as their entrances are larger than is necessary for Swifts.

Front louvres with and without Polyfilla
We earlier reported on ideas to restrict the entrance size to exclude Starlings, here we can report on the implementation of that plan with local enthusiasts organised by John Willis, overseen by the South Cambs District Council Ecology Officer, Rob Mungovan.

The idea is a simple one, reduce the entrance size by using Polyfilla.
Unmodified entrance

Entrance reduced to 30mm

Swift nest boxes at Shirley Primary School

Alan Clarke suggested to Kirsty Morris, a teacher at Shirley Primary School, Cambridge, that it might be a good idea to install some swift boxes at the school. Kirsty (Mrs Morris to the children) thought it was a good idea too! So, permission was obtained, a suitable location on the school was found and the project was started.

8 boxes ready for painting and installation
We decided to make 8 boxes similar to those erected at Milton Road Primary School and at Lackford Lakes in Suffolk - these are easily adapted to any odd-shaped eaves. All of the eaves at Shirley school are sloping one way or another.

It was decided to copy Martin Grund's idea in Germany to get the children to number and paint the boxes before installation. As swifts have excellent colour vision and as it is a good idea to have distinctive marks on the boxes for the swifts to recognise them, this seemed a good plan.

The school has an 'Eco Group' of 12 children, made up of 2 children from year 1 to year 6 (6 to 11 year olds). So, on 2nd May, the children gathered around, paint brushes in hand ready to paint the boxes.

Exquisite artistry by Jean Wutchaiyatamrongsil

Colourful artwork by Emily Cooper
8 boxes installed together with sound system
Clarke admiring 4 of the 8 nest boxes
The painting was supervised by Vida Newell and Alan Clarke, together with teaching assistant, Marjory Calamel and student teacher, Sally Worthington.

After painting the boxes, the children stuck sterilised pheasant feathers onto MDF nest concaves. As swifts are very unlikely to find pheasant feathers, we will easily be able to recognise any feathers added by the swifts themselves, typically pigeon feathers.

After gluing the nest concaves into the boxes, they were ready for erection. Here we were joined by Clarke Brunt, who has his own swift colony in Milton, and the 8 boxes were quickly installed under the eaves. While installing the boxes, we spent a lot of time looking up, and we saw several swifts flying over. We finished  off by installing a Box of Swifts attraction call-playing system.

Shirley Primary School is now one of a very small number of schools in the UK with Swift nest-boxes.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Cabinet on a chalet-style gable end

Contributed by Dick
Sandy Jackson of Pakenham in Suffolk sent me some pictures of her chalet-style house asking for suggestions of where to put some swift-boxes.
The original opportunity, as presented
It looked an interesting challenge, as there was nowhere immediately obvious for standard rectangular nest-boxes. So, I decided to have a go at it myself. Trying a number of Google Sketchup models, we eventually came up with a 2-storey cabinet containing 3 nest-boxes. It is again based upon the Zeist-box idea with entrances pointing obliquely downwards.

Front view
There are quite a few 45° cuts to make, but having mastered that, it came together quite well.

It was fortunate that the eaves were nice and wide at about 300mm. Which allowed a good width for both storeys. The dimensions depend critically upon an accurate measurement of the angle at the apex, which in this case was 90°.

We chose the north end of the house to avoid the sun.

Internal structure
With the benefit of hindsight, first make the back and check that it fits perfectly, then make the rest of it.

The whole front, made of 4 pieces of wood, is screwed and glued together, and is removable as a unit. So installation is achieved by screwing the back, with floors attached, to the wall, then replacing the front.

Sandy and husband Tony decided to stain the box to match the colour of the woodwork on the sides of the house.

End result
The final result fits in nicely with the house.

Just how many gable ends like this must there be in the country?

See another idea for a gable end here


Thursday 17 May 2012

Bury Farm, Stapleford, Cambs

Written by Dick

Bury Farm, Stapleford was a derelict Victorian granary which has been converted into offices for the ACE Foundation. The land surrounding the building has a stream running through it, and is something of a wildlife haven. The ACE Foundation is keen to enhance the site for wildlife and have already installed Barn Owl boxes. After talking to Rob Mungovan, Ecology Officer at South Cambs District Council, Kevin Hand approached us about the possibility of installing Swift nest-boxes on their building.

Bury Farm with swift nest-boxes installed

8 nest-boxes ready for installation
This is a very nice looking building, so any installation of nest-boxes has to be unobtrusive. The eaves of the building have joists with spaces about 300mm between them, and they extend outwards for about 200mm.  So, we designed simple nest-boxes, with an open top, to fit between the joists and tucked up behind the gutter.
Although the floor area of the boxes is on the small side, it should be more than adequate for Swifts. The maximum width of the boxes being about 175mm and length about 270mm.
We decided not to include nest concave platforms, as, given the limited space, it may be better for the swifts themselves to decide exactly where they want to position their nests.

Nest-box in place, with bottom removed for installation
The boxes were installed by me, Dick, and Clarke Brunt by securing them with 2 screws, one each side, into the adjacent joists. The boxes are very light weight, so this is more than adequate to support them.

Installation complete, with tweeter speaker attached.
After replacing the bottom of the boxes, a tweeter driven by A Box of Swifts was attached to one box, by using double sided stickers normally used for sticking mirrors onto walls.
This is a very nice site, where the boxes are high with a lot of space in front of them, and we achieved our goal of making them virtually invisible.
There is plenty of scope for more nest-boxes in the future.


Entrances in air vents

This is a repost from The Northern Ireland Swift Group by Mark Smyth

Many homes and buildings in the UK and Ireland have these air vents in front of or under the eaves. I recently found one lying on the ground. I realised that if the central, 14mm x 14mm, squares are removed the hole is perfect for swifts. With the spikes filed down this leaves a 64 x 28.5mm hole. This will exclude starlings but not tits and sparrows.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Swift Boxes at St John's College, Cambridge

Written by Dick Newell
Rowena Baxter regularly waits for the Park and Ride bus outside St John's College, Cambridge, and being an observant birder, she could not fail to notice the decline in Swifts in recent years, so she arranged for us to explore opportunities for Swift nest-boxes somewhere on the site together with Dr R. E. McConnel, a college fellow, and Steve Beeby, Superintendent of Buildings.

[Update Nov 2019 an inspection in 2018 showed 1 box in which Swifts had bred. This year 3 boxes with evidence of occupation were found in which they had almost certainly bred in 2 of them]

To quote from their website: "St John's College is one of the oldest and largest colleges in Cambridge. Former students include famous business and political leaders, as well as renowned scientists and artists. It's an inspiring place to study, or even just to visit."
For a college that was founded in 1511, one couldn't exactly go hanging Schwegler swift boxes around the buildings, so we cast our sights on the chapel tower.

St John's College Chapel

8 nest-boxes in 4 cabinets
By the standards of any normal church, this is an enormous tower, with huge louvres, but the space where one might expect bells is empty, a disused dusty cavern with openings to the outside world. The top of the tower looks down on the Round Church and gives an evocative view of Kings College Chapel to the south.

There are 3 sets of louvres on each of the 4 sides of the tower, with openings behind 'bird proof' mesh at floor level. It was decided to place 4 2-box cabinets behind the openings on the west side.

Permission was granted by the dons and other college authorities.

Bob Tonks designed, built and installed the boxes. A Box of Swifts, driving two speakers, is barely audible at ground level [upgraded to a Cheng Sheng player amplifier in 2013]. Should we succeed in attracting Swifts into these boxes, there is plenty of opportunity for expansion.
One nest-box cabinet with, with back removed, showing concave
nest platforms feathered by the pupils of Fulbourn primary school.
A swift's eye view of The Round Church
taken from the tower of St John's Chapel

Monday 14 May 2012

Geolocator Swift returns to Landbeach

Contributed by Dick

This swift with a geolocator returned to its nestbox on 13th May, following its mate that returned on 11th May. It was fitted with its geolocator on 21st July 2011, and then continued returning to the nest-box until the chicks fledged on 28th July.
The video shows the bird with the geolocator returning first, followed over 20 minutes later by its mate bringing the first feather in of 2012. The initial greeting looks more like a fight, but they soon settle down for a night of mutual preening.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

More on the old St Neots factory site

2 white faces peer out. One could be a chick.
UPDATE 2020 In subsequent years, up to 7 pairs of Swifts have nested
UPDATE 20th July 2012: We went to St Neots to see progress. From the scaffolding, we found feathers in boxes 11 & 12, a completed nest in 10 and we saw a swift disappear into box 8. A short while later, 2 white faces appeared at the entrance. Yeessss!!
Further, we found four occupied boxes out of the 12 in the church, up from 2 last year.

UPDATE 24th May: Marcus de Figueiredo reports seeing 2, possibly 3 pairs of Swifts using the new nest sites. The netting has been removed and although the scaffold poles are still in the way, the Swifts ignore them.

Written by Dick
We can report good progress in the story of the old Brook Street factory site Swift colony. After a shaky start we have excellent cooperation with Callisto Homes who have made great efforts to achieve a satisfactory solution to the loss of 6 Swift nest sites.

Bill Murrells assessing the space utilised by Swifts
before the roof was removed. Photo Alison Pearson
First, let's examine where the Swifts nested under the asbestos roof. As is normal, they were nesting on top of the wall under a single layer of asbestos. One can only imagine the temperatures reached in the heat of the mid-day sun, and, not surprisingly, when Bill Murrells examined the nest sites, he found a number of dessicated Swift corpses. This place was far less than ideal for nesting Swifts.

A dessicated Swift which probably died from heat exhaustion
Photo Alison Pearson
One can only wonder at the success rate of Swifts nesting in such a difficult situation.

It was refreshing that the project manager, Marcus de Figueiredo and the bricklayers on site, quickly got on board with what needed to be done to try to rescue, and improve, this well known Swift colony.

As previously reported, Bill came up with the great idea of using air brick liners, customised using an angle grinder to turn them into attractive, effective Swift bricks

Swift bricks in position. Photo Marcus de Figueiredo
Although the bricklayers were unable to use the total length of the bricks supplied, we have ended up with 12 nest places, roughly 210 x 175mm in floor area, with an entrance 75mm x 28mm. We know that Swifts can breed in spaces smaller than this, so it will be interesting to see the uptake in these new nesting places.

Photo Marcus de Figueiredo

It now remains to place a barge board that covers most of the front of the nest-boxes, insulating them from the sun.

There are now 12 quality nesting sites, where before, there were 6 less than ideal nest sites. What started off as a potential disaster for the Swifts of St Neots, over the period of a week, is ending as a triumph for cooperation, for the Swifts, and for the people of St Neots who can continue to enjoy this well known colony.

On 11th May, we (Dick and Bill, with David Gill) were escorted by bricklayer, Lee, to see the finished boxes with the barge board in place.

Left side entrances partially or wholly behind the barge board
At first we were dismayed, because, on the left side, some of the entrances were behind the barge board. However, on closer inspection, we found there is a 50mm gap between the barge board and the wall, leaving plenty of space for a swift to crawl up into the entrances.

Right side entrances clear of barge board
Left side entrance
Right side entrance
Bill Murrells with bricklayer Lee
The swifts are quite likely to be attracted to this gap, as it is exactly the kind of place they would seek nest sites.
With the barge board in place, the boxes are well sheltered from the sun, so there should be no problems with temperature on this south-facing aspect.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Emergency Mitigation Swift Bricks

Contributed by Dick
We were alerted to a situation last week where an asbestos roof was ripped off an old Victorian building in St Neots, a week before 6 pairs of breeding swifts are due to return to their nest-sites under the asbestos. The old Brook Street factory site, recently occupied by the ATS tyre company has held a thriving colony of Swifts for many years.

Air brick liner about to be cut with angle grinder
Some fast foot work by Alison Pearson and, particularly, by Bill Murrells who managed to get approval from the owner-developer to incorporate swift bricks into the top layers of brickwork, partly hidden behind a 220mm barge board. Commercial swift bricks were out of the question, given the short notice. Bill came up with the idea to use terracotta air brick liners to fashion rather nice looking nest-boxes. The deadline for delivery of the Swift bricks to the brick layers is Friday morning 4th May.

Completed nest-box with roofing felt extension
Bill scoured every builder's merchant around Cambridge and succeeded in buying 12 air brick liners at about £6 each. A morning with an angle grinder, roofing felt and glue resulted in 12 completed nest-bricks with internal dimensions 270 x 175 x 100mm high.

The developers were unable to allow more than 1 air brick-liner per nest-box. Ideally we would have liked to have used 1.5 or even 2 liners per nest-box. However, although the length of the liners is 208mm, we have managed to increase the internal length to 270mm by using the space normally occupied by mortar.

We will have more on this story as it unfolds.
10 completed swift bricks

Update 09/05/2012:
As one can see from this post the bricklayers thought that they could not allow the use of roofing felt within the wall. So we ended up with nesting spaces about 210mm x 175mm, which we hope the Swifts will like - it is certainly a nicer space than what they had before. In conversation with the bricklayers, they agreed that, with the benefit of hindsight, longer nest-boxes made of 1.5 air brick liners would have been acceptable.

Computer model of swift brick in situ, behind barge board