Friday 22 November 2013

Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project - 2013 report

Last year we hosted Chris Mason's 2012 report. This is an update describing an impressive amount of activity.

Contributed by Chris Mason

Main Aim
Working with volunteers and the Cherwell District Council to:
  • find and protect Swifts’ traditional nest sites;
  • encourage provision of new nest sites;
  • encourage interest in Swifts and awareness of the risks they face.

This year Swifts were found to be nesting
under the eaves of St Etheldreda’s
church, Horley
Summer of 2013
The summer came in two distinct halves. May was so cool that for Swifts to find food must have been very difficult. I had several reports of eggs being ejected from nests and nests being deserted. June was only slightly better, but suddenly towards the end of the first week of July a period of settled warm days began. This was ideal for Swifts feeding young and also brought in good numbers of prospecting birds.

Cherwell District Council
I continue to get great support from Sue Marchand (Cherwell District Council). We meet regularly to discuss topics such as Swifts and new developments in Bicester, links with Housing Associations, Council guidelines for urban biodiversity. We have had great support from her and the Council Ecologist in connection with proposed work/development at ‘Swift’ properties, mapping of Swift records and our links with the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre.

1. Banbury Swift Watch
We have made a start on collecting data about the Swifts in Banbury. We identified 13 buildings with Swift’s nest and several other places where screaming parties were noted. A nest was found at the Banbury Cricket Club pavilion (completed in 1996); a nice record and a reminder that Swifts do find new sites if they are available. All these records have been mapped. We will continue the search in 2014.

2. Bodicote
Reg Tipping has produced a remarkable record of the Swifts’ nest places in Bodicote. He’s recorded nearly 40 buildings they have used there over the years, and the good news is that he saw 33 of them occupied this year. How fortunate to have such a good Swift friend here!

3. Bloxham.
Alison Urwick spent many hours watching Swifts in Bloxham. She found 14 occupied nests and several other ‘hot spots’ – a great piece of work which will be an invaluable record. We plan to have a meeting in the village next spring, show the film and hopefully enlist more help to keep an eye out for other nests.

4. Drayton (nr.Banbury) and Ledwell.
Pete Tuzzio in Drayton and Clive Hill in Ledwell have both established Swift’s nests at their homes from scratch. This summer both had 4 nesting pairs.
Clive has now had 43 Swifts fledge from his boxes since Royston Scroggs inspired him to make provision for Swifts during building work at his home 10 summers ago.
Clive then encouraged Pete to do something similar, and now, apart from successfully persuading Swifts to share his house, many customers at a certain barbers in Banbury learn a lot about Swifts whilst having their hair cut!

6. Combe
Here is another extraordinary story from Richard in Combe. One of his many nesting pairs (these were first time breeders) laid 2 eggs. Richard knew pretty well which day they would hatch. Incubation is 19 days, give or take a day. So he was looking out for them. One morning he noticed that both eggs had disappeared. He found them on the ground below the nest. One egg was clearly beyond recovery, but the other was only partly broken and still showed signs of life. He took it indoors, and put it in the airing cupboard for an hour, by which time the hatchling was trying to push out of the shell. Having carefully removed the remains of the shell, and because the true parents had obviously given up on their offspring, he decided to pop the chick into another nest where there were 2 nestlings of 2 days old. Happily the adopted parents accepted the addition to their brood and all 3 subsequently fledged successfully. 

Surprisingly this was Richard’s only pair with 3 offspring this year – an indication perhaps of the unfavourable conditions early in the season. In all 15 young birds fledged from the 7 nests which reared young.

One of these recently-installed nest boxes, in
Kings Avenue, Bicester was occupied this year.
7. Nest boxes
At least one of the nest boxes put up by Sanctuary (the Residential Social Landlords of the 1950’s council-built properties along Kings Avenue Bicester) was used by Swifts this summer.

Nest boxes were installed at
St Martin’s church, Bladon
8. Swift Tower
The Banbury Ornithological Society has agreed to install a Swift tower at its reserve in Bicester. Funds have been raised to cover most of the costs. We now have to get planning permission. I am hoping the tower will have been installed for the 2014 season.

Summary of events and action
Evening walks: Somerton, Stratton Audley, Launton, Upper Heyford, Lower Heyford and Steeple Aston
Talks: Leafield Primary School, Bletchingdon and Caring for God’s Acre conference in Benson.
Displays: Banbury (Library and Farmer’s Market), Deddington (Library and Farmer’s Market), Bicester and TVERC Recorders Conference (Oxford).
Nest boxes: installed at Bladon church and sites in Bodicote, Bicester and Islip.

Film Swift Stories: Extracts shown to staff at Cherwell DC. We are planning to show the complete film in Kirtlington on Saturday 8th February next at 7.30 pm.

Care and Rehabilitation
Gillian Westray in Broadway Worcs, cared for a record number of Swifts Swallows and House Martins this summer (136). Of these an amazing 120 were successfully rehabilitated and released. There were surprisingly few from our patch. Father Andrew found a grounded bird near the church in Carterton in May, and later in the season another was taken to Gillian from Charlbury. Both these birds were later successfully released. The care and rehabilitation of these birds is a highly specialised job and taking them to an expert offers them by far the best chance of making their long migration to Africa.

Plans and hopes for 2014:
  1. Build on the survey work begun in Banbury and Bloxham.
  2. Extend the use of mapping of Swifts nest sites.
  3. Complete the installation of the tower in Bicester.
  4. Attend the International Swift Conference in Cambridge (April 8th-10th).
  5. Promote ‘Swift Stories’ as widely as possible.
  6. Continue to campaign for Swift nest provision in appropriate new developments.

Many thanks to all who have recorded Swifts; talked to friends and neighbours, builders, developers and planners; climbed ladders and church towers; made nest boxes; carried out Swift surveys; organised walks and talks; sent me information and otherwise supported the project.

Here is a map of Cherwell:

View Larger Map

Friday 15 November 2013

Fulbourn Community Swift Survey 2013

The Fulbourn Swifts housing development is one of the largest and most successful nest-boxing projects in the country

Contributed by John Willis

This was a very successful year for the Fulbourn Swifts Group and the fine weather helped to make it a great year for the local swifts as well.  Increased publicity enabled us to recruit new members for the survey and to significantly raise awareness about swifts in the village.  Our main focus was again on surveying swifts on the Swifts housing development, which is approaching completion, but also we were able to monitor the small colony located at St Vigor’s Church. In June a BBC crew filmed the survey team in action for an item on swifts in the regional television programme ‘Urban Jungle’.

The survey team pictured in front of the Fulbourn Life Wall
On the Swifts Development, an estate of 1960s system built houses, home to a large colony of swifts, has been demolished to be replaced by new homes with internal and external swift nest boxes. 

At the start of the swift season the third part (Phase 2a) of the Development had been completed and building work had commenced on the fourth and final part. One original block of five houses will remain after the completion of the redevelopment and these still provide nest sites for swifts. [You can read background information in Fulbourn Community Swift Survey 2012 and Swifts in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire.]

In March we mounted a display at Fulbourn Community Market, followed by publishing an item in the Parish Council Newsletter and by distributing a flyer to all homes on the Swifts Development. The latter was particularly successful as we recruited several local residents, who participated in the survey, and during the season others telephoned or sent e-mails to report observations made from their own homes.

We met on site for the survey every Wednesday evening from the beginning of May to late August, but individuals made observations on many other evenings during the summer. There were usually between 5 and 10 observers, but numbers peaked at 17 to coincide with the presence of the BBC film crew!

Swifts moved into nest boxes on these newly completed houses’
Our first two swifts of the season were seen at the survey on 1 May and due to the cool weather the numbers were slow to pick up with double figures not being recorded until mid-month. 

The numbers flying overhead varied throughout June depending on the weather with a maximum of 30 being observed mid-month. Flying numbers improved significantly during the warm weather of July, presumably with a large influx of prospecting young birds.  

Peak numbers of 50+ were seen around mid-month with low level screaming parties of up to 20 birds providing a wonderful spectacle. In the first few days of August there were still around 30 birds flying overhead, but numbers dropped well into single figures within a week. The last low level screaming party was observed on 7 August. However, swifts were still feeding young in at least five nests up to mid-month and were still active at two sites on 21 August. The last swift of the season was seen on 28 August entering a nest site in a block of old houses, which is due for demolition.

At the start of the season there were 227 swift nest boxes on site – 139 internal and 88 external – and it was a significant challenge for us to successfully monitor all of these, as is demonstrated by our observation on 7 August of an adult swift feeding young in a box where we had not noticed any activity before!

This year, swifts were observed using 66 out of 139 internal nest boxes, 9 out of 88 external nest boxes and 5 sites in the remaining old block – 80 sites in total. We estimate that there were 58 potential breeding pairs – 51 in internal boxes, 3 in external boxes and 4 in the old block. In 2012 we saw 51 locations in use and we estimated that there were 32 breeding pairs, so it appears that 2013 was a great year for Fulbourn swifts and the outlook for the colony looks very bright!

A young swift viewing the Fulbourn streetscape in mid-July
In the hot weather of mid-July we observed several young swifts at nest box entrance holes, and around this time two young swifts were found out of the nest at different locations and were taken to Judith Wakelam, who successfully raised them to fledging. One of these had even survived being picked up by a cat!

Over the last few years swifts have colonised each of the areas of new development in turn usually after a delay of one season for prospecting, but this year a few pairs moved into nest boxes in houses that had been built over the winter.

The major preference was again for the internal boxes although we saw one additional breeding pair using the external Schwegler boxes this year with prospectors in another 6, which is encouraging for next year. We have previously noted the presence of starlings in some Schwegler boxes but we have not observed any direct interaction between starlings and swifts. Last year we reported attempts to make these boxes less attractive to starlings (you can read background information at Fulbourn update) and they successfully nested in at least one of these modified boxes in 2013.

Swifts started using these unusually located boxes this year
Most of the internal boxes in the earlier phases of the new housing development are located high up on the gable ends of either two storey houses or three storey flats and many of these are already occupied by breeding pairs, so it was interesting to observe swifts this year using a set of three boxes located just behind a lamp post on the gable end of a single storey house (see picture). The nest box entrances are around 4.5m above ground level. Young swifts were raised in the left hand box (we heard them up to 21 August) and the middle box was also used by swifts over a period of weeks during which time a sparrow also showed interest! Residents have reported sightings of sparrows regularly using some of the internal swift nest boxes.

This sparrow was visiting a box being used by swifts!
As mentioned above, we monitored the small swift colony at St Vigor’s Church where four nest sites were used for the third year running. Activity around the Churchyard reached a peak in mid-July with some wonderful flying displays of over 20 birds right in the heart of the village. The group flying here are supplemented by birds from the nearby small colony on the Old Manor House, which was not monitored this year.
Over the last two years 30 swift nest boxes have been installed on houses in various areas of the village away from the new housing development and we remain optimistic of recording our first use of any of these in 2014.

The builders are now working well into the last phase of the Swifts Development so by the start of the new swift season there could be up to 50 additional swift boxes available on site for us to monitor. In spring 2014 we intend to survey breeding starlings in the external boxes to increase our understanding of the potential for impact on swifts attempting to breed in them.

We will continue with our publicity within the village to maintain awareness of the project and to ensure that we have good participation in the 2014 survey. If any Fulbourn residents reading this would be interested in putting up a nest box or taking part in the 2014 survey, then please contact us at