May 11th- swift and house martin diary

9th May– our first swift returns to nest box 2. It (almost certainly a male) first enters the nest box early in the morning, rests for a while and then leaves to feed for the day returning to roost at around 4.30pm. The evening cooled quickly so the swift had little cause to leave the nest box, preferring instead to save the energy it gained from food caught in the warmest part of the day.

10th May– after leaving at 7.30am the swift is out feeding for most of the day. It returns early in the evening to roost. A maximum of three swifts seen above Gilling East today.

11th May– I awake to the sight of a pair of swifts in the nest box. The second bird (probably last year’s mate) arrived at 5.38am. The pair quickly settled on the nest and began mutual preening. They left to feed at 8.30am. This gave me the chance to sketch one bird’s face. Swifts can be easy to tell apart with a good view. This was the first bird back on 9th and almost certainly the male. I will make some studies of his mate tomorrow. To do this I use a telescope and sketch the birds as they look out of the entrance hole before they leave. At 10.30am 8 swifts were screaming in a tight flock about 200 feet above the village, a sure sign that the breeding birds are beginning to assemble; shortly afterwards our pair make a couple of very fast passes by the nest box. At around noon a swift brings a large white feather to the nest box.

I spent a glorious morning painting in the garden. It is dandelion time and I’m proud of our show of these cadmium yellow beauties, soon to turn to seed which attracts bullfinches, greenfinches and goldfinches. I made some cloud studies in oil and water colour. This was the first morning of the year when swifts could always be seen trawling the sky above the village. I am struck, as every year by the sheer distance they cover in a few seconds. We had several fast screaming passes.

While we relish having the swifts back we are also thrilled by the arrival of a second pair of house martins. They are using an artificial nest cup on the back of the house. The airspace above the garden is suddenly very busy and the sound of house martins and swifts fills the air. The morning was warm with some stunning cloud formations. Convective showers built up by early afternoon. As I write torrential rain and lightning is overhead, our swift pair came back to their box just before the rain arrived. It is an impressive storm, but I can’t help wondering how it compares to the thunderstorms they may have encountered over the winter in Africa.


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