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:

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