Tuesday 30 August 2016

A Swift weather vane from Andy Jarrett

Those who visited our stand at Birdfair 2016 will have noticed the new Swifts Local Network logo. This was derived from a picture of a new, commercially available, Swift weather vane made by Andy Jarrett

The Swifts Local Network logo

Click picture to enlarge. Photo Richard Porter

Ever since I installed a Swift weather vane on my house in 2012 (see story), people have got in touch to ask where they can get one. 

Mine is a one off, commissioned by a friend as a birthday present, so, until now, I could not help them.

We are happy to feature here this rather nice picture of Andy's new weather vane on Richard Porter's house in Cley.

Andy Jarrett's contact details are:
Email: andyjarrettsculptor@gmail.com
Website: http://www.andy-jarrett-sculptor.com
Phone: 01508 53 8050

Friday 26 August 2016

The Manthorpe Swift Brick back story

The Manthorpe Swift Brick has been announced and is now in full production. It is well described on Manthorpe's website, so we thought it worth describing how it came about.

The origins of the concept go back to 2014 when Judith Wakelam wished to add more nesting places on the gable end of her bungalow after having success with an external nest box. Bill Murrells came up with the idea of making a Swift entrance piece to replace a half brick in the wall. 3 such entrances were installed, and since then Swifts have bred in one of them and have explored the other 2.

Bill's entrance pieces were fabricated out of pieces of clay air brick liner; we have implemented one other project using this idea. Since then we have found it simpler to cast the entrance pieces using a simple mould.  A further 7 projects have been completed using cast entrance pieces, mostly half-brick sized and one with a whole brick sized entrance.

Extensions of the idea by casting entrances in situ have also been completed, one such project in Spain resulting in 100 nest places in a castle.

There are case studies of all these projects here

In all cases, the final result is attractive and neat, giving secure accommodation for Swifts. The approach has been labelled "The Cambridge System". [We hope that the Cambridge System itself will be commercialised soon].

At this point, on a visit to Cambridge by John Day of the RSPB he thought that the concept might be of interest to Barratt Homes. RSPB and Barratt have a partnership agreement. In October 2015, a meeting was arranged with Technical and Design Director Michael Finn. Michael carefully assessed what we showed him, and commented that when they put accessories, such as ventilation grills, in walls they use injection moulded products and he asked whether it would be possible to have an injection moulded Swift box.

It so happens that, in 2013, we had looked at the potential of an injection moulded Swift box so we produced a computer model of what we thought would be a simple, cheap and unobtrusive injection moulded Swift box.

I dug this out and sent it off where it ended up with the design engineers at Manthorpe Building Products, who immediately understood what was required and produced a first design, including their own innovative ideas.

On a visit to Manthorpe's offices in early December 2015, Paul Stephen, RSPB, and I were shown a complete 3D-printed prototype. The level of thought put into the detail was impressive.

A few iterations later and the product has now been launched and the first examples have already been installed.

Injection moulds are expensive, but the per unit costs are low. So it took a fair bit of courage to commit to an untried and untested design. There would have been no other way of exploring this approach.

This project would not have happened without the partnership between Barratt Homes and RSPB. You can read the RSPB press release.

We look forward to hearing about the first occupants of these revolutionary new Swift boxes.

Monday 22 August 2016

Birdfair 2016

After the success of Birdfair 2015, we just had to do it again. For the second time, Swift Conservation, Swifts Local Network and Action for Swifts got together to showcase Swifts, their challenges and opportunities.

Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation gave a well-received talk at the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre (AWBC) encouraging everyone to put up some Swift nest boxes.

On our stand, with plenty of help from SLN members, we got to talk to a large number of people including important celebrities, Chris Packham, Nick Baker, Richard Porter and Mike Clarke, RSPB CEO.

We had 3 TV monitors showing rolling videos, and an attraction call system drew people into the stand. 5 swifts flying in a mobile above the front of the stand made us easy to find. 

This all impressed the judges to the extent that we were awarded Second in the Best Stand Awards 2016, conservation category.

We had a first production example of the new Manthorpe Swift Conservation Brick, which was universally acclaimed as a game changer: It is mass produced, so is a low price, very easy to install, conforms to all building standards and is unobtrusive. It should gain wide acceptance by builders and architects. Chris Packham quickly got it, saying "this is the way to go".

We recovered our costs by selling John Stimpson Model 30 Swift boxes, attraction call systems, mobiles, badges and nest concaves, but more importantly we think we persuaded a lot of people to do something to help Swifts.

We will surely be back next year.

There are a few pictures below and many more pictures by Judith Wakelam here

Dick Newell demonstrating the Manthorpe Swift Conservation Brick 
to Chris Packham. Edward Mayer looks on from the right
Just some of the proud team members after receiving our award
Mike Clarke, RSPB CEO, showing off the Manthorpe Swift brick 
with Dick and Vida Newell

Dick Newell discusses the Manthorpe Swift Brick with 
Rebecca Pitman, RSPB Swift Cities lead.
A busy stand
Another view of the stand.
You can help Hen Harriers by signing this e-petition

Thursday 11 August 2016

Edgecombe Flats

In 2010, Cambridge City Council, helped by AfS,  installed 71 nest boxes on their properties at Edgecombe flats. In that first year, one of the residents, Peter Glass, played attraction calls from his balcony, resulting in 2 occupied boxes in 2010. Since then, 2 or 3 of the 4 boxes above the front of Peter's flat have been occupied by Swifts, but, as far as we know, none in the other 67 boxes on the site, until this year, 2016.

We have not said much about Edgecombe flats in previous years, because progress has been slow. The 71 boxes include 50 Zeist boxes made by John Stimpson, 5 boxes made out of water pipes and four 4-box cabinets.

A chick looking out of one of the boxes above
Peter Glass's flat, 2016.
This box is south-facing but has a double roof painted white
Having established occupancy in Peter Glass's boxes, in 2013 we installed a solar panel driven attraction call system with a tweeter in one of the 4-box cabinets, but this did not give a result.

The boxes above Peter Glass's flat were the only ones with major exposure to the sun, so they were given a double roof, painted white. This was an early prototype of the Model 30 now also made by John Stimpson.

In early 2016 we gave 2 of the boxes on the other side of the building a white roof, in the hope that the Swifts might recognise them. These boxes were also the closest boxes to the attraction system.

The result was that these 2 boxes were occupied, whether because of the white roofs or proximity of the attraction calls we cannot say.

In July, Chris De Ruyck of the RSPB was looking for suitable places to study Swift nest boxing projects, and so he spent some time at Edgecombe flats, resulting in him finding a total of 12 boxes occupied by Swifts, and many more with evidence of House Sparrows.

Some of the boxes occupied by Swifts also show evidence of previous occupancy by the sparrows, showing that Swifts are quite capable of nesting on top of a House Sparrow haystack.

Status map with thanks to Chris de Ruyck, RSPB
It is unlikely that there was a sudden increase in 2016, more likely we had not spent enough time monitoring in previous years.

Suffice to say, we are now optimistic that Edgecombe flats will grow into a major colony of both Swifts and House Sparrows. The success of this project should encourage other councils to do similar things. Projects like Fulbourn and Edgecombe show that it is all worth while.

The plan now is to inspect all of the boxes and do some maintenance, such as further wood treatment and reduce or possibly remove some of the House Sparrow nesting material.

The 4 boxes above Peter Glass's flat. These are Zeist boxes with an additional roof painted white.
3 of these boxes were occupied by Swifts in 2016
5 pipe boxes. These have been occupied by House Sparrows, and in one box the entrance
 has been completely blocked with sparrow nesting material. Swifts have not yet found these boxes.
There are 4 Zeist boxes in view on this aspect.
12 Zeist boxes are occupied by Swifts on the whole site.
One of 2 pairs of 4-box cabinets on the site.
There are House Sparrows nesting in these boxes, but no Swifts yet.

[Update July 2020: a careful, but quick survey looking for droppings below nest box entrances, chicks looking out and adults in or out yielded 34 boxes occupied by Swifts. Some boxes with chicks looking out had no droppings, and some boxes almost certainly contained non-breeders, so 34 is almost certainly an underestimate. Further, 32 boxes had evidence of previous occupation by House Sparrows in the form of grass or feathers in the entrance. 16 of these boxes had evidence of Swifts. There is a summary map here]
[Update July 2021: A minimum of 44 nest boxes with swifts were found, and 24 more nest boxes were added, bringing the total to 95]

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