The 2010 Nestbox Diary

July (part 3)

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16 July - And at lunchtime we still have all four chicks in residence!

The pattern of activity in SW(UP) this morning), 16 July


It has been a blustery morning, mainly cloudy with occasional short, sharp showers, and a few periods of sunshine.

In SW(UP) it seems to have been a morning of 'will we won't we' as the pair alternate between sessions looking out, some exercising, and resting back up on the nest cup.

At 1pm they were considering the world outside once again, but ten minutes later and they are back on the nest and doing some flapping and stretching exercises.


The chicks look down from SW(UP) this morning), 16 July


Earlier, during a break in the more threatening clouds I headed out into the drive once more to capture a couple more pictures of the pair looking down through the exit in the floor of the box.

My presence below the box seemed to have little affect on them, and it was another dark cloud that ended my session.


A chick yawns as the pair look down from SW(UP) this morning, 16 July


It would be easy to suggest that one of them became bored with the attention they were getting as I managed to capture a yawn, albeit slightly out of focus.

Just like the wing stretching, this has to be an important exercise for the chicks, and gives an idea of how big the gape is - very important for snatching insects out of the air!


Wing stretching in SW(UP) this afternoon, 16 July



Returning to the cctv images, another look at a chick's stretching exercises.

First, the chick is exercising its wings and tail muscles to flare out the feathers,


Tail flexing in SW(UP) this afternoon - 1, 16 July



but as well as doing this ( and raising the tail), this time it is also flexing its body to twist the tail to one side, an action which I think will be an important aspect of steering in the air.



Tail flexing in SW(UP) this afternoon - 2, 16 July


This second image shows the extreme position reached during the exercise. Notice how the inner wing feathers now cross over to form a continuous surface.




Resting and preening in SW(UP) this afternoon, 16 July



After such efforts the chicks need to rest once more, and at approaching 2pm they are side by side in the nest cup again, with a bit of mutual neck preening going on!



The chicks resting in SW(UP) this evening, 16 July


The wait goes on, and at 7.45pm the pair are still in the box, although unusually they are resting on the side of the nest.

In the previous 5 hours they have continued to move back and forth between the nest and the exit, and an adult returned at least once during the afternoon.



Heading away from the Swifts for a moment, the absence of House Martins again has been a disappointment. I have only caught sight of a single Martin a handful of times during the nesting season. However, when I walked up back up our road this evening I heard something that made me look up.

To my surprise there were two small white faces peering out from a Martin's nest! How have I missed it up to now? Anyway, this has reminded me that even when the Swifts do finally depart I will need to keep monitoring the Martin boxes even though there has been no activity at all in them over the last couple of months. In the past we have been surprised by a whole family of Martins arriving to use the nests as a roost before the adults went on to produce a late second brood.

As I write this at 8pm I see that the Swifts in SW(UP) are looking out once more. It is fine, and quite bright outside (for this time in the evening). One of the pair actually seems to be nibbling at the straw of the nest, perhaps cleaning up in the way that the adults do.


Wing stretching in SW(UP) this evening, 16 July


As time went on there was just a bit more wing stretching by one chick, and this time it concentrated on just one wing at a time.

The process was repeated in the opposite order before the chick once again started foraging in the straw. Rather than clearing up, is this a sign that it is very hungry?


Chicks rest once more in SW(UP) this evening, 16 July


Then it settled down to rest, once again at the edge of the nest, where the second chick soon joined it.

This one pushed its face into the body plumage of the first chick and closed its eye(s).  It didn't hold this position for long before it dropped it head down along side its sibling.



Chicks with one of their parents in SW(UP) this evening, 16 July


The pair's rest exploded into a blur when one of the parents returned at 9pm and they both tried to be first in line for food. Once the chaos subsided the trio settled down together for the night.

The second parent completed the group at 9.25pm.



I'm afraid that I rather ignored SW(LE) today, an omission that I hope to remedy tomorrow, but tonight all is well in the box, with one or other of their parents with them for most of the evening, and the whole family in for the night just after 9.30pm.



17 July - A bright, sunny morning, and an early start for me, beating all but one of the Swifts!


In SW(LE) a technical fault meant a poor webcam image overnight. Fortunately it turned out to be a bad connection behind a multiplexer and was easily solved.

By 6.20am the male had already left the box, and with the two chicks and mum (on the left) still remaining huddled together, this yawn by a chick summed up my early morning feelings!




Despite a bit of stretching by one chick the trio had made very little progress by 7.15am.





Across in SW(UP) there was also a slow start. At 6.30am all four birds were still in their overnight huddle,




and it was approaching 6.45am before they started to move about, with one of the adults leaving soon after.




It was another fifteen minutes or so before the remaining adult departed, and as I write this at 7.15am the two chicks are poised at the exit, looking out.

And an hour (and some stretching) later the pair are back in the nest cup.



1.30pm and there is still no sign that they are preparing to leave.

They hatched on 8/9 June and are now 38/39 days old.





18 July - Just a short entry today, but it includes what may be a significant development.


At the end of the day the chicks are still in SW(UP), but tonight they have been joined by just one of their parents.

Earlier this evening there were at least twenty Swifts overhead for a while, although they remained quite high. Having read reports of Swifts already leaving the UK, I wonder if some of these were just passing through. Perhaps the 'missing' parent has joined them.




Over in SW(LE) we still have a full compliment of four Swifts.





19 July - And then there was one (in SW(UP))

On a day when the temperature at Farnborough reached 27C and was a few degrees higher in the shelter of the garden, SW(UP) has contained just the one chick since the first of the pair fledged at just before 6am.

At 5.52am the parent and that chick moved from the nest cup to the exit and spent the next seven minutes looking out before they left.

The remaining chick showed absolutely no interest in following them.


It was not forgotten however, and at 10am a parent brought in food for it and then remained in the box  for nearly an hour and a half.



The rest of the day was spent moving between the nest cup and the exit, and each time that I thought it may be leaving it would climb back up the hill!




Now that it had the box to itself I half expected it to have numerous vigorous exercise sessions, but there were few and far between, and as I write this at 7.55pm it has been peering down through the exit for at least the last twenty minutes.

It will be interesting to see if either parent returns tonight.




Earlier today I took advantage of one of these sessions to take a few more pictures from the driveway.




This one may be somewhat  misleading in that it appears as though it's looking up. Again, I need to emphasise that the plywood panel is horizontal, and the youngster is simply looking down, just as in the first picture.

The camera was pointing up at an angle of around 80.




The chicks in SW(LE) are into the wing exercising phase too, and are also spending increasing amounts of time looking out, although it is much more difficult to see them from the ground. Once the remaining chick in SW(UP) fledges I will be switching the webcam to cover just SW(LE) for the remainder of their time in the nest.

Having experienced little Swift activity during much of the last week, yesterday evening's increase in numbers was followed today by quite a lot of activity, especially during the morning when in addition to being able to see 20+ Swifts high overhead, smaller groups made numerous low level passes, complete with screams. During the time I spent out in our driveway I had a small TV to allow me to monitor activity inside the boxes. I wondered if the low-flying Swifts  would have any effect on the Swift in SW(UP), but it appeared to ignore the sounds completely.

This evening at 8.30pm the sky is completely covered by high cloud, and against that cover I can see around twenty Swifts again.

A couple of minutes  later, just after I returned indoors, the Swift in SW(UP) was fed for what I think is just the second time today.

As soon as the feeding frenzy ended the chick seemed to come alive for a while and had an exercise session before joining the parent at the far end of the box. Twenty minutes later and the chick followed its parent  up onto the nest cup, and then back to the exit once again.



An interesting end to the day in both boxes -



In SW(UP) we once again have one adult and two youngsters as it seems that the fledgling has returned for the night.





And in SW(LE) we also have just one adult along with the two chicks.



In addition to watching the Swifts, I was also able to confirm that two of the four Sparrow boxes on the north wall of the house are active at the moment, with the right hand box containing noisy chicks that were getting frequent feeds by both their parents, with the parents passing most of that food from the entrance. I'll probably take a few photographs over the days to come.

I will be catching up with the large images as soon as I can!


20 July - And then there were none, at least for a while, in SW(UP).




The day's activities in SW(UP) began as the adult left at 6.15am, followed five minutes later by one of the youngsters, presumably yesterday's fledgling.




At 7.33am the remaining chick was joined by an adult, but despite frantic efforts by the chick it couldn't persuade the adult to provide a feed.

Nevertheless, the adult remained in the box until 9am.




For the next hour or so the chick moved back and forth between the exit and the nest cup, with only a bit of wing exercising taking place.

Then, at 10.23am it stretched its wings over the exit and left.



That was the last time that I saw either of the youngsters in the box today, but I've been fascinated by what I have seen since.

An adult visited the nest for a short time after 1pm, but shortly after that a pair of adults entered and remained in the box for well over an hour, and engaged in a great deal of mutual preening.

Are these the parents of the fledglings, remembering that one of them has been absent for a couple of nights, or could they be a different pair?!




And tonight the box is occupied by two adults. I shall be following what happens....






Over in SW(LE), after one of the parents was absent last night it is back with the rest of the family tonight.




I continue to see no activity at all in my other two Swift boxes.

Today the aerial activities continued, with quite a lot of high flying. We are directly under one of the departure routes for helicopters carrying business people from the Farnborough Air Show. They fly over very low ( must be less than the usual 1500ft?) and I'm sure that sometimes they and the Swifts must be at close to the same altitude.

I have made a chance to the webcam to take into account the changing circumstances, although with SW(UP) still active I have tried to alternate between the quad image and the single image from SW(LE). Unfortunately, at the moment I'm having a problem balancing the brightness of the two video feeds. I will try to improve the quality tomorrow.


25 July - The video problem was a simple one to solve, more difficult was the problem of concentrating on keeping up with the diary!

Anyway, things have been pretty quiet in SW(LE) since that last entry, with the usual long periods of rest during the day, interspersed with looking out and exercising, and then the chicks being joined by their parents each night, until last night when only White Spot (the female) returned.



Today she visited numerous times, and this image shows more clearly than usual the white feathers on her head.


This evening she joined the chicks just after 7.30pm and stayed for over an hour.


When she returned for the night at 9.19pm both chicks were soon at the exit once more. Although they rejoined their mother in the nest cup, it wasn't long before one chick headed back to the exit.

There it looked out, stretched its wings, and left the box at 9.41pm - the latest I've ever seen a bird fledge here. Assuming that this was the chick that hatched on 15 June, it took 40 days to fledge.



The remaining pair have settled down for the night, but I would expect the second chick (hatched 15 June) to fledge tomorrow.

White Spot is on the left in this image. In addition to the white marks distinguishing her you can also seen how her wing feathers do not have the fresh lighter edges of the those on the chick.



You'll have noticed in the composite image above that SW(UP) is also occupied. The adults have made daytime visits and returned to roost in that box every night since their chicks fledged.

Yesterday Swifts were busy in the skies overhead all day, with some noisy activity at very low level around us. I even saw one pair fly at high speed under my neighbour's car port. In contrast, today it was much quieter, especially this afternoon, even with the skies reasonably clear.



I don't know if the Sparrows sensed a change, because this morning an male Sparrow inspected both SW(UP) and SW(LO) for the first time for a while.




Back in their own boxes the Sparrows continue their nesting. This morning I found pieces of a Sparrow egg directly below the Sparrow Terrace situated on the west side of our house.



I knew that at least two of the four boxes in this group have been active so I watched for a while this evening.

First, I confirmed that one of the front facing boxes has at least two chicks that are close to fledging.




The other active box has a side-facing entrance, and in this case I saw both parents taking in very small food items, and staying in the box for some time on each visit.

This picture shows the male having to move aside as his partner leaves.

Perhaps the egg came from this nest.



In some ways these boxes are in the 'wrong place' in that they are on a west facing wall, with this second nest entrance facing south. Nevertheless they have been used frequently, and successfully over many years. The boxes are made entirely from timber which is an inch thick, and when I covered the roof with felt I painted it white. I'd like to redo the roof but with the box in use throughout the year it is difficult to choose a good time to do the job.


26 July - It was a grey day, and although the cloud base remained quite high there was far less Swift activity compared with yesterday.

In SW(LE) the day began with White Spot leaving the box at 5.24am. She didn't appear again until 1.32pm when she returned and stayed until 1.53pm. After that the chick visited the exit quite frequently, but I was surprised how little time was spent exercising its wings.

It was 9.04pm when White Spot returned for the night, and for the next three quarters of an hour she engaged in a great of neck preening of the chick.

Despite the rather grainy nature of this image you can just make out a flat-fly on the top of the chick's head. During the nesting season I have seen one just occasionally in this box, while I saw none in SW(UP).

I'll be checking the box for pupae once the Swifts have left.



Despite heading for the exit several times, the chick kept on returning to its parent until after 9.50pm. Then, there was a stretch of wings and soon afterwards it headed for the exit again.




This time there were a couple more stretches, and finally the chick left the box at 9.56pm to complete the successful fledging of all four of our chicks.




And as for White Spot, there was hardly a glance as her second chick headed out, and she settled down for the night.

And over in SW(UP) the pair are roosting again. They left their box at a tardy 8.45am, made a few visits during the day, and returned together tonight at 9.26pm.

I wonder if White Spot will be joined by her partner tomorrow night...


No Sparrows visited the Swift boxes today.



29 July - Our 2010 Swift story seems to have come to an end.



On night of the 27th the three adults returned to roost for what turned out to be the last time.

Yesterday morning White Spot left SW(LE) at 7.15am, and the pair in SW(UP) departed for the last time at 8.23am.




In the evening I watched for their return, but although I was able to count at least six flying overhead after 9pm, no birds visited the four nest boxes, and these remained empty overnight.



Today I have seen no low level activity by Swifts, although at 8pm I could see three flying about at quite high altitude. Last year 'our' non-breeding pairs were with us until 8 August, so I would expect to see similar birds about for perhaps the next week or so.

Remembering that my Sparrows continue to nest in their boxes, the departure of the Swifts is likely to mark the end of cctv monitored nest box activities. However, an interesting moment earlier today (unfortunately not recorded) that may indicate that the end may not have arrived quite yet. I went out of my front door to be greeted by the sight and sound of a low flying House Martin. I rushed back indoors to switch a monitor over the the Martin cameras just in time to see it clinging to the wall just to the left of the artificial nests. Perhaps it was just a fledgling from the nest further down our road, but it does mean that at least one House Martin is now aware of our artificial nests.

Once we have had another night of unoccupied Swift boxes I will be re-organising my video connections to monitor the Martin cameras, as we have had families turn up to produce late broods in the past  - my fingers are crossed! I guess that I may as well switch the webcam to those images as well for a couple of weeks, just in case.

This is my view of the three nests tonight. As far as I can tell there have been no visitors to the nests since the Sparrow visits that I reported on a few months ago.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

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