The 2012 Nestbox Diary

July (part 1)

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A reminder of the monitored nest boxes on our house at mybitoftheplanet - 

The original Swift boxes at the eastern end of our north-facing wall. Only the upper box has been used for nesting. Both boxes are equipped with cameras and microphones

Attached to the boxes is a speaker enclosure used to broadcast Swift calls and designed to deflect most of the sound upwards away from my neighbours' house.

Later this year I may replace these nest boxes with a neater side by side arrangement.

This pair of Swift boxes is at the western end of the wall. The boxes were originally put up for Starlings. Both boxes are equipped with cameras and microphones.

New for 2012 this group of Swift boxes is on the front of the house, facing East. They will not have cameras installed permanently but in boxes 1 - 3 there is a small hole into the loft to allow for a microphone or small camera to be used on a temporary basis when nesting takes place.

Also on the front way is this trio of artificial House Martin nests. Not used since a complete brood died of starvation during bad weather in 2007. However, the boxes are equipped with cameras and monitoring continues each year.


3 July - Ten days since the last entry and up until last night I could have said that there had been little in the way of news to report from the boxes. With leaden skies predominating (apart from one day last week when the temperature hit 29C in the garden and instead of rain we had a covering of dust from the Continent) there has been little aerial activity and the empty boxes have remained unvisited.

In SW(le) the chicks seem to be healthy despite the poor weather making life difficult for their parents to find food. here, one is stretching its wings, giving us a chance to compare it with a parent.

The chicks are due to fledge between 20-22 July. It will be interesting to see if this date is a bit on the optimistic side as the miserable weather is set to continue until at least that time.

In SW(ri) this is the pair at just before 8.30am, before leaving at around 8.45am. It's dull and damp outside, with a cloud base of 600ft reported at Farnborough.

As you can see, these is still no egg, but the pair have gathered a decent number of feathers over the past weeks!

Anyway, the most interesting news comes from last night. I have been recording activities in the two boxes from 4am until 10pm each day, and when yesterday's recording ceased there were the usual two pairs of adults in the boxes, settled down for the night.

However, when I looked at the monitor at 10.30pm there were not two but three adults in SW(ri), with all three in a resting state.

They remained like this until 12.20am when the intruder was disturbed by the movement of a Swift Louse Fly (Crataerina pallida) in and out of its plumage.
This in turn disturbed the resident pair, one of which  turned to investigate. It probed the intruder gently to start with before there was a flurry of feathers as the encounter became more aggressive briefly.

As the intruder turned towards the exit there was another pause before it was finally ushered out of the box in a comparatively gently way before the resident pair embarked on a bit of mutual preening prior to settling down once more by 12.25am.

This morning there has been no sign of this 'visitor' checking out any of the empty boxes.

Tonight the status quo has returned with just the two pairs of adults in the boxes.

8 July - Since that last report there have been no further visits by the 'fifth' Swift, and with no eggs being laid in SW(ri) it looks as though we are going to have just two offspring produced in our Swift boxes this year.

There was something new to report last night. As this image shows, box SW(up) once again had a Sparrow in residence, something not seen since the start of the Swifts' nesting.

The Sparrow left at around 6.45am,

and at 8.20am I saw the first visit by a Sparrow to the new Swift boxes at the front of the house. In this case the male remained in the box for just over half an hour.

The last few days have seen an improvement in our weather. While there is still a lot of cloud about, as well as sometimes heavy showers, we are experiencing more sunny spell, which I'm sure must be helping the parents of the Swift chicks to find insects on the wing.

The chicks themselves are starting to stretch their wings now, and

the elder sibling ventured over to its parents as they peered outside before leaving this morning.

The pair in SW(ri) have now produced quite a nest of feathers now.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that we will see eggs produced this season, so I'm beginning to wonder how much longer the pair will remain here before headed back to Africa.

15 July - I'm afraid that I've been out of action since the middle of last week thanks to a viral infection that has yet to give up its hold on me. At least I haven't been trapped indoors in good summer weather! While the rain has been more showery then continuous this last week, it's only today that we have seen some decent spells of sunshine, although the skies were grey once more for the final flying display of the Farnborough Airshow. This evening the sky is almost cloudless - I'm sure that the Swifts will be grateful.

The chicks in SW(le) continue to make progress, confirming that their parents have been able to find food despite the conditions.

Having said that one chick is clearly ahead of its sibling, frequently stretching its wings and tail muscle, as well as arching its back.

This first pair of images were captured on the 12th,

and this image was recorded this afternoon.

With no more than a week before they are due to fledge, the weather forecast is not brilliant, although after a wet day tomorrow it should be more showery thereafter.

The residents of SW(ri) are still with us, and continue to build up their feather nest.

Over the last few days I've read reports of late egg laying taking place elsewhere, so perhaps is is still not too late for this pair to breed this year.

While I've not been in a position to keep watch on the nest box two houses down on our side of the road, my inactivity has meant that I've been able to see quite frequent comings and goings by the Swifts in one of the boxes across the road from us. The level of activity suggests that they have chicks, which is brilliant - that box was used by Starlings before the Swifts returned in May.

20 July - We've arrived at the fledging window for our Swift chicks, and all being well they should leave in the next couple of days, and it seems that when they will be flying in good weather. The poor weather that has plagued us all through the chicks' development is finally giving way to 'proper' summer weather as the jet stream finally drifts towards the north, allowing high pressure systems to move our way.

Looking at the pair this morning, while they both look healthy it is easy to see that one is more advanced, with the Swift on the right having longer flight feathers.

They hatched on the 15th and 16th June, but I'd be a bit surprised if they fledge within a day of each other.

Over in SW(ri) the nest building continues as time starts to out for any prospect of egg laying this year.

With migration departure time getting closer, it has been fascinating to read another description of the travels to Africa and back of a group of Swifts between 2009-10, nesting in Sweden this time.

While the 'British' Swift reported on by the BTO spent the winter ranging between the Congo Basin and the east coast of Africa, this group of six 'Swedish' individuals didn't venture east of the Congo Basin. For all bar one individual both Northbound and Southbound routes included time spent in West Africa. It will be interesting to see how how this picture builds up as more results are made public.

22 July - By the end of a sunny day two of our Swifts had left - but not the chicks!

Yesterday saw no change in the status of the boxes, and when recording stopped at 10.30pm all four birds in SW(le) and the pair in SW(ri) were in place for the night.

By the time recording restarted at 4am this morning an adult had left from each of the two boxes.

During the course of the day the chicks in SW(le) were fed and exercised their wings occasionally, but spent little time near the entrance (exit).

I went through the day's recordings during the evening and confirmed that all the adults were still in the local area, as both birds appeared in SW(ri) at 4pm and both parents appeared in SW(le) at 9pm.

However, by the time recording ceased at 10.30pm there was only one parent with the chicks and one bird in SW(ri)

23 July - The day has started with cloudless skies, and the two adults leaving the boxes at around 5.30am.

The apparent serenity of the two chicks side by side in the nest cup

is shattered when a parent returns with food and the pair compete for the first share.

This was their second feed this morning. The 'glow' around the heads is thanks to sunlight shining in through a ventilation gap at the top of the box.

When it comes to stretching, it seems that the ledge over the entrance is a favoured spot for a chick getting ready to fledge. Maybe it allows for positions that aren't easy to achieve on the floor of the box!

And surely there must be room for both of us?

Just as I begin to wonder if the season is coming to an end in SW(ri), at 8.30am there is once again a pair in the box.

Back in SW(le) this afternoon the chicks are in no rush to approach the exit. Apart from getting in each other's way when wing stretching, they are spending much of their time either looking at the exit from a 'safe distance' or resting in the nest cup area of the box.

It seems that they are not yet ready to leave.

Tonight at 10pm we once again have the chicks with just one parent in SW(le) and just the one bird in SW(ri). I haven't been able to check through the day's recordings but l I have not seen two adults present in either box today.

Here's another link to a site that shows the migratory travels of a Swift, this time from a nestbox in the Netherlands. There is no English version of this link so you may need to resort to a Google translation, but the map is pretty self-explanatory, showing how the Swift ranged right across Africa. Much time is spent in the Congo Basin during our Autumn and early Spring, but between late October  - late January it covered a lot of ground as far east as the Indian Ocean - following insect populations during the rainy season?

I will eventually get around to adding the large images to this page.

- Click on the images to see larger versions -


Nestbox Diary Index .......... ...................................................................  ..July (part 2)