Tuesday 31 July 2012

Gable End Boxes

6 boxes within one triangular cabinet
click for larger picture
We were sent this picture by Nick Stokes of Norfolk. The width of the eaves constrained the boxes within 140mm, the same width as a number of successful commercial nest-boxes.

A design tailored to fit a given situation can enhance the appearance of a property rather than detracting from it. These boxes are placed at the north end of the house, the south end may require a thicker front

Note the neat positioning of a speaker above the apex of the boxes.


Wednesday 25 July 2012

The Swifts of Cherry Hinton, Cambridge

Contributed by Dick

Sometimes, you just don't know what is going on on your doorstep. I was recently tipped off by Justyn Thomas of a significant number of Swifts in the area surrounding Fisher's Lane, Cherry Hinton, Cambridge. So I went to have a look. As I arrived in Fisher's Lane, I got out of the car and the air was full of the screams of Swifts. High above me there was a large flock of Swifts. A potshot with my camera (I could not get them all in the field of view) included 29 Swifts.

Perfect eaves for Swifts. They are also ideal for fitting external
nest boxes if roof insulation interferes with nests inside
So I walked up Pen Close and Shepherd's Close, and it was clear that the whole of the estate had been built, unintentionally, with eaves designed for Swifts, complete with suitable entrances.

It was the same story in Keates Road and Leeting Road; rows of houses with eaves designed for Swifts.

Take a drive down Fisher's Lane on the Google Street View below and look at the houses on the left. Also look up Shepherd's Close and Pen Close as you pass them on the right.

Heaven knows how many Swifts are breeding in this neighbourhood, it will require a proper survey. The locals say there are fewer Swifts here than there used to be. So if any of them read this and would like to know how they could help to avoid further decline, then just get in touch.

View Larger Map

PS Also high above Keates Road were 4 Peregrine Falcons in the air together. That's the second time recently I have found multiple large falcons in association with swifts!

Postscript: Later the same day, I ran into Kirsty Morris, teacher at Shirley Primary School. She mentioned that she had a lot of Swifts in her road, Providence Way in Waterbeach, less than 2km as the Swift flies from my house. So I called in on my way home. She wasn't kidding, there must have been 100 Swifts flying around the houses, uncountable really, some entering nest-holes, others prospecting, others in screaming parties - quite a spectacle. Another one that needs surveying next year.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Pacific Swifts in the Russian Far East

Contributed by Dick

AfS regulars may forgive my indulgence in this slightly off-topic post. I have just returned from a spectacular tour of the Russian far east on the ship Spirit of Enderby, starting at Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy and ending in Anadyr in Chukotka. I was surprised and disappointed to find no swifts, of any kind, in Petropavlovsk.

Part of a flock of over 30 Pacific Swifts above the clifftop
One of the purposes of the trip was to search for breeding Spoon-billed Sandpipers, in which we did not succeed. We reached 61°N and embarked on the 2nd of 3 searches.

On coming ashore, we found good numbers of Pacific Swifts circling the cliffs, together with House Martins collecting mud, but there was no time to study them as we had a long walk across the tundra searching for "spoonies" to complete.

However, on returning to the cliffs, a search for Pacific Swifts entering crevices in the cliffs was soon interrupted when a lady, Jude Power, from California, said to me, "Dick - what is this?" Jude was used to searching holes in cliff faces in search of owls and found 3 white birds in a hole - and if they are white, they must be Barn Owls - but try as she would, she could not make them into Barn Owls. I raised my glasses and what I saw, also confused me,  my first reaction was 3 white feral pigeons. In a place so remote? 

3 full grown white Gyr Falcon chicks - a stunning sight
Photo © Chris Collins
Then no! they look like falcons, white falcons? and the enormity of what we were looking at dawned on us. 3 full grown white Gyr Falcon chicks plus an adult flying around.  

Our search for Pacific Swift breeding sites was abandoned - too many distractions, including Red-flanked Bluetails, Bluethroats and Rubythroats singing nearby, breeding Slaty-backed Gulls on the cliff-face, breeding Sandhill Cranes, a huge Brown Bear patrolling the cliff below the Gyr Falcons and more.

Pacific Swift Apus pacificus has longer, slimmer wings than
Common Swift, a more deeply forked tail and softer
screaming calls. This bird appears to have food in its throat
We never did observe a swift entering a nest crevice, but with at least 30 flying around above the cliff top, with their soft screams, there must have been a significant colony here, the most northerly known location on this coast for breeding Pacific Swifts. It was also the most southerly known location for breeding House Martins.  

The picture left shows a Pacific Swift with a full throat pouch indicating this bird had chicks to feed nearby.

The hour or so that we spent in this place was one of the most magical of experiences that I have had in a long birding career.