Thursday 31 October 2013

Trumpington Community Orchard Swift Tower

Trumpington Community Orchard is an area of ~0.2 acres which is used to improve biodiversity and habitat for wildlife and plants, maintain a green space within the allotment envelope, grow local food, preserve heritage apple varieties and help combat climate change (we wish them luck with that!). And now they have a Swift Tower!
[See UPDATE 2015:]

Final assembly on the ground
Photo Judith Wakelam
Whereas at Micklemere, we had a large tractor with a fork lift to erect the tower, at Trumpington we had to rely on a simple winch and a lot of brawn. The 8 metre pole probably weighed over 120kg and the boxes on top weighed 32kg. An A-frame was built out of scaffold poles to support the pole after each lift. The combination of a winch and a tug-of-war team pulled the tower up, while 2 teams on each side ensured that it did not veer off to the side.

The tower design is similar to the Micklemere Tower, but the entrances are slightly different. Both of these towers contain 11 nesting places, 7 in the front and 2 on each side. 
The assembled pole and nest-boxes, resting on an A-frame ready for erection. Photo Judith Wakelam

Almost ready for the final lift.
Photo Helen Hodgson

Final checks with a spirit level
Photo Helen Hodgson
All of the nest-boxes contain a nest-concave, coated with feathers by local children. A 1.5 inch tweeter was installed inside 2 of the nest-boxes, 1 in a front-facing box and a second one in a side-facing box. All that remains is to install a car battery, solar panel, SD card player and timer switch next May.

Trumpington is a village on the outskirts of Cambridge City. The inspiration for this project came from Susanna Colaco, chairman of the Orchard Committee. 

The team on the day included Guy Belcher, Clarke Brunt, Juliette Colaco, Rosa Colaco, Susanna Colaco, Helen Hodgson, Bruce Martin, Bill Murrells, Dick Newell, Vida Newell and Judith Wakelam as well as helpers from Cambridge City Council and Cambridge University. 

The front boxes are facing slightly north of west.
Photo Judith Wakelam

Sunday 20 October 2013

A brief history of Swifts at Lyndale Avenue, Bristol

We were sent this story by Mark Glanville, who has persevered with building a successful colony on his house in Bristol. Bristol has been elected Green Capital of Europe 2015 and Mark's colony is an example of what pro-active conservation in the City can achieve.

[Postscript: Mark now has a website]

I have lived in Lyndale Avenue since 1989. It is a 1920’s semi-detached property situated on the outskirts of Bristol approximately 3 miles from the city centre and ¾ mile from the River Avon as the crow flies. The local area has a mixture of both private and council houses surrounded by many parks and open spaces including the famous Clifton Downs.

I have been interested in wildlife in general, and birds in particular, all my life. My own house has a large south-facing garden which I have designed to encourage as much wildlife as possible.

I first became aware that Swifts were nesting in my house in May 2005. Whilst I was painting the front bedroom windows one flew over my head and “disappeared” under a raised roof tile. From that day on my love for these remarkable birds has been immense. 

The original nest boxes
Back in those days, information about Swifts on the internet was very basic indeed, and my first nest box designs were rudimentary to say the least. They looked like long brown shoe-boxes, with a large side entrance. I installed them in a row under the soffit above the garage which gave them only a 3 metre drop. Needless to say they were not successful.

The updated nest-box design
By 2006 I had changed my nest box design, the first of many alterations to come.

I also painted them the same colour as the house (magnolia) to try and blend, purely for aesthetic reasons.  I had also acquired a swift CD which I played almost continuously. My original pair returned to their nest under the roof tiles in late April. Throughout the summer, despite playing the CD on a daily basis, I was unable to attract any newcomers into any of my nest boxes, which now numbered 14.

This routine continued for 2007, 2008 and 2009. As soon as the original pair returned each spring I played the CD as loud and often as I could. This did attract small groups of non-breeders from time to time, but for some unknown reason I couldn’t get them to go anywhere near my boxes.

Nest box cabinet
By May 2010 and after the arrival of my original pair, the design of my boxes had changed once again.
There was now a mixture of all shapes and sizes, each with a ribbed landing strip under the entrance hole. 

It was during June that I had a flash of inspiration.  I was watching a new pair prospecting around one of my drain-pipes and completely ignoring my nest boxes (as they normally did). 

Addition of sections of pipe
These newcomers seemed intent on flying up to and trying to squeeze in behind the drain-pipe where it joins the gutter. They seemed drawn to the darkness. Immediately out came the ladder and I fitted small 80mm sections of black pipe adjacent to each entrance hole on every box.

This worked almost immediately and within a couple of days I had 2 new pairs taking up residence. By the time they left in early August they had both built two perfect small nests. 
In 2011 all 3 pairs returned to breed, they were joined by a pair of non-breeders in June. The previous winter I had installed cameras in all of my boxes, so I was able to record their activities in greater detail in my logs than ever before. I had also removed the small sections of drain-pipe on each box and replaced them by painting the landing strip black, directly beneath each entrance hole.
2-box cabinet with pipe section
This is the design which I have found the most successful and I haven’t changed it since.
In 2012 only 3 out of the 4 breeding pairs returned in May, but again they were joined by another non-breeding pair in June.
In 2013 all 4 breeding pairs returned in May and were unexpectedly joined by another breeding pair in early June making 5 breeding pairs in total. These were joined in July by 2 more non-breeding pairs who took up residency and built their own nests, making it my best year to date with 7 pairs in total (5 breeders, 2 non-breeders - 6 pairs in nest boxes & 1 pair under the roof tiles).
Black pipes replaced with black paint
My only bit of advice to anyone starting out would be to have a little patience. Install the best box design you can (doesn’t matter if it’s homemade or retail). Play the swift CD as loud and as often as possible, and if you are lucky they could take up residence almost immediately. However sometimes though (like me) it might take a little longer, but don’t give up – keep on trying!

Here are some videos:
Swifts in one of my nest boxes in June 2011
Swifts prospecting in July 2013
Mark Glanville

Saturday 19 October 2013

Ludlow Swift Group Newsletter October 2013

Swift display at Ludlow market 
We thought it worth giving a plug to Ludlow Swift Group, as they demonstrate how much can be achieved by a local group of swift nuts enthusiasts.

The newsletter contains advice, events to welcome Swifts, Swift surveys to find Swifts nests as well as case studies of successful campaigns. It is a good read.

You can read their newsletter here

Thursday 17 October 2013

Retrofitted observation Swift boxes inside a gable end

Toby Wilson, of RSPB Scotland, has kindly sent in this story, with pictures, of a neat and practical way of incorporating Swift boxes in an attic behind a gable end. Similar nest boxes configured this way have been very successful in Fulbourn, Cambs.

A view from the outside
Following very helpful and much appreciated advice from Chris Mason and friends, in April 2013 my parents installed two Schwegler Swift Observation Boxes (See here) in the gable wall of their home in east Oxford. We thought it would be a good site as each year a screaming party of around twenty swifts gather above the house and fly along the road. 

Inside the roof space
Swifts have also been at least prospecting (too high and awkward to confirm) under the gable eaves in previous years (See Youtube ). My brother played attraction calls from the window in the gables during summer 2013 but the boxes do not appear to have been used. 

The upper box reveals a glass back

I am based in Glasgow, so I have not been able to monitor properly the use of the boxes to see whether any birds have been prospecting but I hope to spend more time there next summer and will also aim to rig up some speakers next to the boxes in the roof space

Installation diagram
Installation required drilling a ~100mm hole through the wall, to take the entrance pipe, then fitting a Schwegler face plate to the outside and bolting the box to the inside.


Friday 4 October 2013

Modifications to Cambridge Swift Tower

This year, summer 2013, was the 3rd year of trying to entice Swifts to occupy the Cambridge Swift Tower. We upgraded the attraction call player to a higher quality, louder, system based on the Cheng Sheng player amplifier, powered by a 12 volt car battery charged with a 20 watt solar panel.

Written by Dick

In 2011 and 2012 we played attraction calls using a bird scarer programmed with Swift calls. The sound quality was not great and, in 2012 particularly, proved to be quite unreliable. However, in both years, we had Swifts circling the tower and sometimes approaching quite close to the boxes.

In 2013 we progressed to having Swifts making contact with the boxes, sometimes clinging on, but still failng to find the entrances. They seemed to be focused on trying to get into the horizontal gaps between the boxes, where there was no way in. 2 pairs of Starlings also occupied boxes in the tower, probably because the entrance sizes had crept above 30mm.

The back of the tower, showing some boxes
extending beyond the box below
Of the 221 boxes in the 'African Sun', 88 had entrances for Swifts and 10 had entrances for bats. There were also 36 unassigned boxes which extended beyond the box below. Thus we could add a whole new class of entrance in these boxes, by cutting a hole in the underside of the rear.

We have succeeded in making this enhancement in 9 boxes so far, increasing accommodation for Swifts to 97 boxes, without affecting the appearance of the tower at all. We hope these new entrances are similar to what Swifts are accustomed to in natural sites. A nest concave was placed in all of these new boxes.

You can see the current assignment of the nest boxes here.

The project team was:
Guy Belcher, Clarke Brunt, Alan Clarke, Bill Murrells, Dick Newell and Bob Tonks