Thursday 20 September 2012

A Swift fix in Lanzarote

Contributed by Dick

As it is the off season for our Swifts, I took a trip to Lanzarote to see some seabirds. I had heard that there were Plain Swifts Apus unicolor at the Costa Teguise golf course, so I decided to spend a couple of hours there on my way to the airport to see if I could find them.

Plain Swift Apus unicolor 
(Click to enlarge)
Sure enough, I soon heard the sound of screaming swifts, higher pitched than ours, but charging around above the palm trees in the same exuberant way.

Apus unicolor is an appropriate name, they appear to be uniform black with no white about the face. They are also smaller than our bird, with a more deeply forked tail, otherwise not that different from their close relative.

Plain Swifts are endemic to Madeira and the Canaries, and they visit the African coast in winter, but no one knows where they go from there. Interestingly, according to BWP, it has not been proved breeding on Lanzarote.

These delightful little birds kept me entranced for a good hour before I headed for the airport and home.

Part of a flock of 30 Plain Swifts screaming overhead

Tuesday 18 September 2012

We won an award!

This was a nice surprise. For some years we have been working in St Neots to make sure that swifts have somewhere to go when the inevitable happened to the dilapidated Victorian factory site in Brook Street, occupied by the ATS tyre company for many years.

We started in 2009 by installing nest-boxes in the church, St Mary the Virgin, next door, then when the renovation work started on the ATS building, we were instrumental in the installation of nest-boxes fashioned out of air brick liners built in to the building (see this post). Both the church and the old Brook Street site nest boxes have since been occupied by Swifts.

As a result of our efforts we were nominated for an award and have been given a certificate:

Click to enlarge
Alison Pearson first raised the alarm when renovation work started. Alison is not only a Swift enthusiast, she also happens to be chair of the "St Neots in Bloom" committee, which is how we were nominated in the first place.

So well done Alison, and thank you!

Tuesday 4 September 2012

All Saints Worlington

We have not posted anything before about All Saints Worlington, but it is quite a success story. One of the main reasons for success has been the enthusiasm, support and involvement of local people Judith Wakelam and Don MacBean, who ensured that the attraction call playing was well organised and of high quality.

Written by Dick

In 2012 there were 4 pairs on the south side
and 1 pair on the east, north and west sides
In 2009, we first installed 10 nest-boxes in the belfry of All Saints, Worlington, Suffolk. We played attraction calls with a CD player on a timer switch, and swifts were seen entering 1 or 2 of the boxes, but they did not build a nest.
In 2010, after more attraction call playing, 1 pair of swifts built a nest and raised 2 chicks. This was most encouraging.
In 2011, the masonry around the louvres on the south side was replaced (see picture at bottom), resulting in one entrance being blocked, but we added another 8 boxes, resulting in 17 accessible entrances. Also a more robust and dependable call playing system was installed. When we checked the boxes in August, there were now 2 boxes with nests, and again 2 chicks in the previously occupied box.

3-box cabinet with the back off. In 2012 we moved the blocked
top entrance so that it became accessible from the outside. 
Floors 1 and 2 both contain swift nests
In 2012, when we checked the boxes in September, no fewer than 7 boxes contained nests, together with 3 discarded eggs.

We re-engineered the box with the blocked entrance by moving the entrance, resulting in a total of 18 boxes available for 2013. This involved moving the 3rd floor down by about 9cm, but there is still plenty of headroom in the 2nd floor. In the picture left, you can see the original 3rd floor entrance, and the new position below it.

In addition to the 7 pairs of swifts in nest boxes, there is also 1 pair of swifts in a hole in the stonework part way up the tower.

The detailed history of occupancy at Worlington is in this spreadsheet. It is significant that the birds go for boxes near the top and bottom louvres. The bottom louvres on the east and south side, both occupied in 2012, have a tunnel entrance as feral pigeons often nest on the sill.
All Saints Worlington in winter, before the masonry repair on the south side window.
Photo © Judith Wakelam
The south window before and after renovation
The small tunnel at the bottom is to get past the nesting feral pigeons
Photo © Judith Wakelam