Help Our Devil Birds?

Common_Swift_nestlings_in_nest_boxTwo Common Swift nestlings, peeking out of a swift nest box, a few days before fledging, in Greifswald, Germany. Photo used under Creative Commons Licence.

On many birders’ lists, Swifts – once called devil birds – are top birds, their magnificent flying skills, robust flying skills and raucous calls make them so. We should actually call ‘our’ Swift the Common Swift, (Apus apus for you quiz buffs). In fact there are as many as 93 members of the Apodidae family. We need of course to be able to distinguish a Swift from those other aerial experts, the Martins and the Swallows. Swifts aren’t a member of their family but are often linked with Hummingbirds, how weird is that? Anyway, Swifts are black, often fly together in fast, noisy groups and have that wonderful scimitar shape because of their sweptback wings, which often paddle at high speed. They nest in the roof space of houses, most frequently under the tiles. Swallows have long tail streamers and nest in porches and outbuildings, they have a white body, blueish-black back and a reddish head. House Martins usually nest under your eaves, if you are lucky, and although similar to the Swallow, the tail is less pronounced and they have a white rump which is diagnostic. Finally Sand Martins look similar but are found mainly around water and have no white rump but are brown. For a great ID video visit the BTO Identification Guides.

But I’m talking about the Common Swift because I recently attended a talk about Swifts from Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation and organised by Harrogate Futures Forum. Edward has loved Swifts since childhood. In the late 1990s he noticed that the Swifts nesting in his local area were in decline. He realised that re-roofing of local properties was blocking Swifts from returning to their long-established nest sites. Edward set up “Swift Conservation”, a web-based advice service, celebrating Swifts, and showing what can be done to save them. Swifts used to live in holes in ancient trees and perhaps cliff faces but they have shared our homes, or at least open eaves, for as long as 2,000 years. Now we are stopping them reaching their homes by use of close fitting plastic and other material which just doesn’t provide the holes necessary for Swifts to nest in. Swifts only come to ground to have their young, they do everything else in the air, yes even that. But they need a place to rest their eggs and because their legs have adapted to be mostly useless they need a small space and an easy drop off or runway. If we don’t help them they will continue to reduce in numbers by around 3% per year, as they have been for the past 15 to 20 years. I’m no mathematician but I reckon that’s pretty bad and I recall far more Swifts filling our skies in the past, The BTO say numbers have reduced by a third since 1995, so what can you do?

Swifts Local Network

Well Swift Conservation have some of the answers including buying or building and installing nest boxes, information, along with siting information from Swift Conservation. But we could also form a Swifts Local Network. A group of concerned folk who would encourage interest in Swifts, survey and monitor Swifts, encourage local authorities to make provision for Swifts in new developments and give advice. If you’d like to help, drop me an email (outdoors@virginmedia.com) and I’ll facilitate an initial meeting. One thing you might all like to consider doing is to monitor where Swifts breed. So again drop me a line if there are Swifts breeding near you. That is if Swifts fly low, roof level, over somewhere make a note of where, but don’t make a note if they are flying higher because they might just be foraging and they can fly prodigious distances to find food. The RSPB are also seeking help with their National Swift Inventory so you could also share your records with them.

More Red Kite Killings

They are at it again, this time in Blubberhouses. Can anyone make any legal suggestion as to what we can do to help? I’m wondering about a mass walk through the grouse moors nearby. We might target the wrong folk but by walking through the moors en masse we are disturbing the Grouse and the landowners won’t want that and maybe they may cease their activities or even encourage the culprits to stop shooting our kites. I know it’s extreme and affects the Grouse but it also affects the income from Grouse and sometimes direct action may do the trick. What do you think? Only using public footpaths and access land of course, nothing illegal. See Raptor Persecution UK for full details of the latest killing.

June Pinewoods Planting Events

The Pinewoods Conservation Group (PCG) is reaching the end of a project to plant over 3,000 new wild flowers in the Harrogate Pinewoods to increase biodiversity within the woods. As a last push an event is planned for Sunday, 5th June from 10am for one to two hours with a request for volunteers to help with the planting. Volunteers are asked to bring a trowel and meet at Harrogate Council Nurseries off Harlow Moor Road. Just a small amount of time spent helping to plant will ensure PCG reach their target of over 3,000 new wild flowers within the woods, keeping the Himalayan balsam down and increasing biodiversity within the woods, benefiting all our visitors.

Peacock - Stephen TomlinsonBilton’s Peacock Peter – Photo by Stephen Tomlinson

Peter The Peacock

Folk keep asking me how Bilton’s favourite and probably only Peacock is progressing, indeed someone who has just moved away from Bilton has asked me to keep him informed of how Peter is doing. Pretty fine, as far as the enthusiastic and sadly unsuccessful attempts at finding a mate are concerned, which can be very noisy and very dramatic when that brilliant tail is displayed. Anyway Stephen Tomlinson has sent me a photo for you to enjoy. It seems incidentally that a peafowl lives around 15 years in the wild and maybe as long as 23 in captivity.

Insects / Wildlife Decline

Sue Boal makes an interesting observation which for me sums up why our biodiversity is in decline, “There is also a worrying lack of insects. The bumble bees in our garden seem to be in trouble. We also have ground bees and bee flies which I believe prey on them. Windscreens used to be covered in insects in the summer and you were covered in them when you went cycling. I notice from the D&S (Darlington and Stockton Times) that farmers have tried to get banned insecticides through but have failed. I think exceptional farmers who truly love wildlife should be given medals or some type of commendation. My neighbours chop down trees and view the outside as simply somewhere to have a barbecue.” What Do You Think? Adult bee flies generally feed on nectar and pollen, they can be important pollinators. Larvae generally are parasitoids of other insects. 38 Degrees have a petition to Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking her not to lift the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

Alan Croucher was “wondering how butterflies are faring at the moment. We’ve had a few occasional visitors to the garden but not many. There have been Peacocks around and an Orange Tip a couple of weeks ago and then, last weekend (14/15 May), we had a Blue pass through (I wasn’t quick enough to see which kind) and my first Speckled Wood of the year. Apart from that just an odd White, but not much more. The rain will keep them from flying today I suspect!” I reckon that butterflies are doing dreadfully and personally I have seen and continue to see despite an improvement in the weather very few. Please plant nectar rich plants in your gardens.

Joan Hill writes, “Wondered if you have any clue as to what has happened to the finches this year? Haven’t seen a Chaffinch at all or a Greenfinch and where are the Goldfinches? Every year we have had at least 8 Goldfinches at a time – two on each feeder and four waiting and whistling for their turn, but this year there only appears to be an odd one. We have had a very interesting time watching two Pigeons building a nest in the silver birch tree just outside our conservatory. The male brings a foot-long piece of stick and sometimes it gets knocked out of his beak before he reaches the female and he has to go and find another. The female seems to sit on the nest all the time. This is the third year they have built in exactly the same place.” I think some finches have suffered after last year’s poor summer for breeding. Greenfinch have that disease and whilst it affects them the most many other birds also suffer, although mainly finches. After saying that, whilst finch numbers are definitely down my experience is they are not faring as badly as you are experiencing. It may be worth everyone ensuring their feeders and especially water bath is kept spotlessly clean, although I realise you probably already do that. Maybe numbers will increase after a good breeding season this summer. I wonder why Pigeons and other birds repeatedly need to add to the nest structure?

The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is a £1.8 million scheme to look after and help people get involved with Upper Nidderdale’s historic landscapes, cultural heritage and wildlife habitats. Watch the film to find out more about the dale and the projects, lots for everyone to enjoy.

Magpie - John WadeJohn Wade’s Attempt at Teaching Birds Language Seems to Have Failed Miserably.

Your Sightings

I think John Wade may be having Magpie trouble! Shirley Dunwell has solitary bees occupying her bee log. Sue Boal writes “On our way back from Leeds on Tuesday this week, my daughter spotted 2 baby yellow rabbits. She googled it and found that they are a rare genetic mutation but we are not sure how common they are.”

Carol Wedgewood spotted what I think is a buff ermine moth at Ripley Castle. Other sightings from Carol include “Oystercatchers in wet field on Brimham Rocks Road, Tawny Owl perched on drystone wall near Thornthwaite Scouts Camp. In our garden a Goldfinch and Mistle Thrush amongst the usual visitors. A Buzzard calling and flying low over our field. Great to see it close up! A return visit of a Barn Owl quartering over our field, perched on a low branch on tree near the pond. It then flew back up the field and perched on a fence post, in front of our barn window, overlooking long grass. Then it flew off towards the northwest, up the hill, as it always does, over more long grass in a neighbour’s field.

Judith Fawcett reports seeing a Tawny Owlet at High Batts Nature Reserve recently.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include Arctic Terns, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Yellow Wagtail, Black-Tailed Godwit, Avocet with chicks, Little Egret and Sedge Warbler.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Nesting Little Egrets.

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