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April 28th- swift and house sparrow

A single swift was above the village again this morning. It seemed strange standing outside on what felt like a Winter’s morning (7C with leaden skies) while watching a swift. It was cruising around very slowly, conserving energy. Through the binoculars I could clearly see that its body feathers were very ‘puffed up’. I am fairly sure that this bird has returned to nearby Gilling Castle, where a few pairs nest in the old stonework. It remains the only swift in the village for now.

Tolly and I went for a walk to see the sand martin colony this morning. It was surprisingly active given the cold weather, with three pairs feeding low over the river and occasionally investigating the banks. At least six swallows and a pair of house martins joined them.

On our walk back we stopped to watch a male house sparrow displaying. The display involved loud chirping and extreme ‘puffing up’ of its plumage. The back feathers were raised and breast and flank feathers loosened to exagerate the bird’s size. A truly beautiful bird to watch and clearly one very ‘pumped up’ with the joys of Spring! Gilling’s house sparrows are concentrated in a very small area.

We don’t often see house sparrows in our garden despite being within 100m of the colony. Tree sparrows predominate here; one was quick to prospect a swift box when I unblocked it this morning. They much prefer swift boxes to standard nest boxes. The hole at floor level seems to suit them and they fill the whole box with material save a tunnel and small nesting chamber. They are very feisty birds and will attack prospecting swifts.

At this time of year I would normally be sketching pied flycatchers and redstarts in the woods, ring ouzels and whinchats on the moors or puffins and gannets at the coast. Once again the current restrictions meant that I had studied a common bird in great detail and enjoyed every moment.

IMG_4837IMG_4836IMG_4838IMG_4835Tree sparrow in swift nest box.

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