The 2012 Nestbox Diary

July (part 2)

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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.


24 July - At 3.40pm on a hot day the chicks are still with us.

They have been looking out a lot more today, although usually keeping back from the exit itself. They continue to be fed although I haven't seen more than one adult in the box.

In contrast to that, while there was only the one resident in SW(ri) last night, at 1pm this afternoon there were two birds in there, staying for quite a while.

I mentioned at the beginning that it is a hot day. As I write this (3.45pm) I have a thermometer sensor perched at the top of a long bamboo so that it is about 50cm below the boxes. This is registering 30C. Down at head height the temperature is 31C. The slight difference in temperature may be accounted for by just a hint of a breeze that is blowing from east to west down the driveway. During most of the day these boxes, on the north side of the house, are in full shade, although as we head into the evening during the summer the western end of SW(ri) will receive direct sunlight. Perhaps I should consider attaching a reflective surface to that end panel before next year.

Even when the boxes are in full shade, on sunny days like today I expect that some heat may be reflected from the pebble-dashed wall of my neighbour's house which is in full sunshine - I placed the sensor against that wall and got a reading of 36.8C.

While I was taking these temperatures there was an adult in SW(ri) and neither it nor the chicks next door appear to be suffering in any way. The boxes are ventilated in that as well as the entrance itself there is a gap of about 10mm along the top of the front wall, tapering to nothing under the ends of the sloping roof.

During the day wing and tail exercises continued in SW(le), but there was no sign of the heightened excitement that seems to occur before fledging,

until around 9pm when I began to think that at least one departure might be imminent.

At the time there were at least a dozen Swifts flying about, with groups of up to five making screaming passes  through our driveway, and this seemed to trigger an energetic spell in the box.

However, at the end of the day we still had the two chicks, together with one parent in SW(le), but SW(ri) is empty, despite there having been two Swifts in there this afternoon.

And notice the Sparrow in SW(up). This has now become a regular rooster in that spot.

25 July - On what is likely to be an even hotter day the chicks are still with us at 9.30am.

Not only that, but a Swift has been in SW(ri) since 6.45am.

I'd be surprised if at least one of the chicks doesn't fledge today....

While in SW(le) the chicks get the occasional feed, look out and otherwise take things easy, in SW(ri) the adult pair have spent at least three hours in the box during the morning, and just after 2pm this Swift brought in what appears to be fine straw.

I wonder if the rather lethargic behaviour of the chicks today is related to the temperature. Once again I have the thermometer in place and this indicates that it is the hottest day of the year so far.  At 2.15pm it registered 32C just below the boxes and 32.7C at head height! At 4pm it exceeded 33C just below the boxes, although the temperature dropped by a degree or so whenever the breeze picked up.

Despite my prediction the chicks are still here tonight, along with one of their parents - and SW(ri) is empty again.

And our Sparrow rooster is in SW(up).

26 July - With fledging having been due 20-22 July there can be no doubt now that the long period of bad weather that we experienced slowed down progress for the Swift chicks.

At 12.45pm they are still with us, gazing towards the exit from a safe distance, as if leaving room for mum (or dad?) to arrive with food.

There has been some exercising but no great enthusiasm to check out the world outside, despite at least one occasion when a dozen screaming Swifts flew past the box.

During the morning there was little activity in SW(ri), with a single Swift spending just half an hour in there from around 8.30am until just after 9am. This turned out to be the only visit to that box all day.

In SW(le) for much of the afternoon and evening the ledge above the entrance was occupied by either one or both chicks.

Between noon and 9.20pm they were visited by a parent just three times,

and tonight they are still with us, but with neither parent present. Fledging cannot be more than a day away now.

Today was definitely a bit cooler, with the temperature around mid-day just below the box being 28C in a steady light breeze. By 3pm it was up to just over 31C but got no higher.

The BBC news this morning included a report about the effect the wet weather in May and June  has had on Swift breeding this year, with the RSPB describing the situation as disastrous, with many Swifts returning to Africa early. With Swift numbers already declining by some 30% since the mid-1990's this year's high failure rate could affect the population for years to come.

Also, an article on the same topic appeared on the Guardian website

While I've been disappointed with having just the one breeding pair on my house, at least I can be certain that there is at least one more breeding pair in one of the boxes that I put up for my neighbours. Hopefully 'my' non-breeding pair will return to better weather next year and produce offspring.

Just to end today's entry - unusually,  the Sparrow that roosts in SW(up) has chosen to settle away from the entrance tonight - I wonder why?

27 July - The first chick fledges -

On a morning when high cloud is protecting the boxes from the rising sun, and in a very 'quiet' exit, the first of the chicks headed out at 5.27am.

There was no visit by a parent, and virtually no wing stretching before a chick headed for the exit at 5.18am. After a couple of minutes it moved back across to its sibling, which had just stretched its wings. Then there was a pause  before it returned to the exit and slipped out a minute later.

Shortly afterwards the second chick stretched its wings again, giving what appeared to be a farewell look at the camera (!), but

two hours later and it is still looking out. With no sign of a parent it must be getting very hungry by now.

Any concern that I may have had about the non-appearance of a parent was set aside when one arrived just after 8am to feed the chick and remove a couple of the faecal sacs from around the entrance.

Approaching 11am and the chick is resting in the nest cup area having exercised its wings and tail.

Outside the sky is overcast (at quite a high altitude), there are occasional light showers, and the temperature is just 20C - quite a change from yesterday.

That didn't last. By noon the rain had stopped completely and with the sun making a hazy appearance during the afternoon the temperature below the box rose to 28C and it felt quite humid.

As the afternoon progressed the chick spent more and more time on the ledge, which is where it is at 4.30pm. It has not been fed since this morning.

I have just spent a couple of hours out in the garden and during that time I have neither seen or heard groups of Swifts about, just a few individuals that are clearly hunting for insects. Also, there have been no visits to SW(ri) so far today, so it looks as though that pair may have left.

This evening ended on an unexpected note. At 8.15pm the parent entered the box and may have fed the chick, although the encounter took place at the far end of the box and I'm not convinced that feeding took place. The parent left ten minutes later.

Just before 9pm the chick went through a series of robust wing exercises, leaving me wondering if it would leave shortly. However, the parent returned at 9.15pm.

This time it definitely fed the chick before the pair settled down for the night!

SW(ri) remains empty and in SW(up) the Sparrow is resting immediately below the camera.

Yesterday afternoon the webcam was hit by a technical problem - my old Win98 laptop froze, perhaps overheating on a day. Tonight there is a different, if intermittent problem in that a spider seems to have taken up residence on the camera and occasionally blocks the view. At least it didn't do this earlier in the season!

28 July - At 9am it is a bright morning with hazy sunshine and a temperature of 17C just below the nest box,

and the remaining chick is still in residence.

The parent left at 7.01am  and for a short while afterwards the chick spent time wing stretching and preening before settling down in the nest cup area once more.

Now that I've said that it has just moved to the exit.

Tonight it is still with us, along with its remaining parent.

At 9.50pm the webcam image had me wondering. While the adult seemed settled for the night, the chick was looking out.

It wouldn't have been the first Swift chick to fledge this late in the evening, but I needn't have worried as five minutes later the chick had rejoined its parent.

29 July - The nest is empty!

Perhaps I should have taken last night's behaviour as a hint and continued the recording right through the night.

As these images show, the chick was there when recording stopped at 10.30pm last night but had left before recording restarted at 4am.

The adult, not having to head out to find food any longer, had a bit of a lay-in before it too left at 7.15am.

Well, that more or less brings to an end this year's Swift season at mybitoftheplanet, although I will continue to record for the next day or so just in case an individual decides to roost here, as has happened in the past.

The poor weather resulted in fledging being delayed for a week for both chicks, but they certainly looked healthy prior to leaving so I'm optimistic that they have a fair chance of surviving, at least in the short term. I wonder how far south the first of the fledglings will have travelled before its sibling took to the air.

Now I need to start planning changes to the boxes ready for 2013. Boxes SW(up), SW(lo) will be replaced by a side-by-side combination to be more in keeping with the other boxes. I may try to improve slightly the infra-red lighting in the boxes, although I would rather keep lighting levels to a minimum. With box SW(le) being the favoured box at the moment, I may replace the camera with a higher resolution type (perhaps one that switches between colour and B/W). I may also experiment with adding cameras to a couple of the new boxes at the front of the house, although these will only be linked to my recorders if the boxes are being used.

This evening I spent twenty minutes outside from 7pm look skywards. Under blue skies (after an afternoon of heavy showers, complete with hail and thunder) I spotted six Swifts flying high over us, and possibly a seventh as one flew down our driveway at barely head-height, just missing our neighbour as he emerged from his car!

Even more interesting were the ten House Martins that I saw - the largest number I have seen here for a good few years now. These were all very high up, and apart from a group of three that stayed around and were clearly feeding and interacting with each other, the rest flew over as individuals, all heading roughly West-Southwest - migrating?

As I suspected, SW(le) is occupied tonight by an adult Swift which arrived at just after 9.15pm.

While I missed the fledging of the second chick, I must say a big 'thank you' to Christine Wilson of Colorado, USA for coming to my rescue. Christine watched it happen on the webcam, and  let me know that the youngster left the box at 10.53pm last night. Here are a couple of paragraphs from her e-mail that describe the moment perfectly -

"Hello David!

I believe the last one left at 22:53BST. I rushed to get a screenshot right at the event (nothing but tail feathers) but only managed to get the blue screen during the image refresh afterward. It happened so quickly. I'm so disappointed I didn't capture the event but I have the screenshot's local timestamp (15:53MDT-Mountain Daylight Time).

After going back and forth between the parent and the exit a couple of times, he seemed to settle down next to the parent (after one last wrestling attempt for food). All of a sudden, he just went over to the exit, leaned out and disappeared. I honestly thought he must have slipped because he didn't look back or stretch and it happened during only a few image refreshes. I was worried about him being alone all night and thought the parent would follow him but the parent didn't move or seem to notice anyone was missing."


30 July - This morning the Swift left SW(le) at just before 7am.

See above for an update on the fledging of the second chick.

I'm writing this entry at approaching 9pm as I wait to see if there is a return to the box tonight. Earlier I spent over half an hour outside and during that time saw neither Swift nor House Martin. Perhaps those I saw last night were indeed making their way to Africa. The only movement of birds that I saw was a flock of at least a couple of dozen Starlings heading east and flying quite low, presumably going to a roost not far away.



Well, I may not have seen any flying Swifts this evening (or all day f, for that matter) by at 9pm our one remaining resident arrived back in SW(le).




 And of course, the Swift isn't our only rooster, with the Sparrow in SW(up) in an almost identical position to the Swift tonight.

31 July - The last day of the month, but will it also be the final day of the Swift season?

There was a cool (15C at 8am, 16C at 9am), damp start this morning and the roosting Swift left later, not heading out of SW(le) until 8.52am. 

Tonight it was back in again, just before 9pm.

1 August - August is now with us, as so is our remaining Swift. It's been a rather hectic family day so there are no images or timings, but the Swift returned to SW(le) just after 9pm tonight.

2 August - And the occupancy of SW(le) continues.

I only saw one airborne Swift all day, and tonight our rooster returned at around 9.05pm. I contrast to that the Sparrow makes its first appearance in SW(up) around 6pm.





3 August - A mainly bright, sunny day. The Swift left the box at 8.10am, and during the day I saw just one Swift in the air over us. However, While outside between 8.30 - 9pm I first saw a group of six that appeared to be feeding to the north-west of us, and a bit later some fifteen or so appeared from the east, all quite high up and soon disappearing towards the west.


Tonight it is possible that 'our' final Swift has joined them in their travels. This image, captured at 9.45pm shows that the Sparrow is the only bird roosting in the Swift boxes tonight.



I will continue to record for another day before declaring our Swift season over for 2012 - a difficult, disappointing one for both birds and humans. I must now hope and prepare for a better 2013.

In the meantime I will now try to refocus on the rest of our garden before the gap in that diary gets much longer!



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

- Click on the images to see larger versions -


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