August 21st- three pairs of swifts still and hirundines gathering

Swifts and house martins in blustery conditions- 21st August 2020. A watercolour painted en plein air, available at Nunnington Galleries this weekend 22nd/23rd August.

Sand martin and swallow sketches- 21st August 2020.


Hirundines have started to gather on the wires in front of our house. There was a big increase in numbers today. I wonder each summer where all these birds come from. There are far more than breed in village. Perhaps this is the gathering area for a large catchment of birds, or perhaps some are passage birds from further north on their way south? Hirundines consist of swallow, house martin and sand martin in the UK. We are lucky to have all three species breeding in the village and I could stand at the bedroom window on eye level with each on the wires today. It was particularly interesting to see sand martins so close, They really are minute, being the smallest of the hirundines.

The wind was very gusty  and they fed in the shelter of the trees. With them six swifts. Swifts are not, as often thought, related to hirundines. I spent an hour or so sketching swifts and house martins as they negotiated the strong wind. We still have three breeding pairs of swifts in the village. It is not unusual to see a late breeding pair of swifts in late August, but three pairs together in a village with a population of no more than ten pairs is unusual. They were feeding low with the hirundines and regularly making trips to the village hall to feed their young. It was easy to see their engorged throats which contain a bolus of insect food gathered for the nestlings. This bolus may contain hundreds of small insects. Whilst it is a treat to see six swifts this late they are very quiet and industrious, with the sole purpose of feeding their nestlings. They will head south at the earliest chance, probably leaving before their young fledge. The fledglings will have to learn to feed in the air and navigate their way to Africa immediately.

This has been another good year for tortoiseshell butterflies. We counted well over thirty in the back garden yesterday. By contrast red admirals and painted ladies are scarce.

2 thoughts on “August 21st- three pairs of swifts still and hirundines gathering”

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