We feel very privileged to see spotted flycatchers back in the village. One is currently nest building. This species is one I hold with huge affection. It was one of the first species I really studied and sketched in my early teens. In the days when every reasonably sized garden or churchyard seemed to have a pair nesting I was lucky to observe them using nest boxes placed in view of my bedroom window. Indeed my first woodwork project at secondary school was a chance for me to build a flycatcher nest box!
I watched a display by the male showing a female a nest site on numerous occasions. The sense of privilege even back then that this long distance migrant appeared each summer in our garden is only increased now by their relative scarcity. How sad to think of the decline of this once common and much loved species.
It is an attractive bird. If you look closely the shade of brown or fawn of its upperparts has a slightly pinkish undertone. The breast and throat feathers are silvery white to cream admixed with very subtle stripes. Their behaviour is a delight to watch, the bird powering then gliding fast towards its insect prey with deadly accuracy before perching again.
Our swift pair, which in recent poor weather has frequently been the sum of swifts visible here has at last been joined by more birds. As the air warms swifts are more able to feed locally, high above their nest sites, so we have been seeing some wonderful swift behaviour again. including courtship chases and mating on the wing. As even warmer weather arrives things should really ramp up. Some of the first younger non breeding birds should arrive and that is when those hoping to attract swifts need to be ready with call systems. This morning we were treated to frequent fast low level passes by up to five swifts, just wonderful!
Many people this year have observed birds returning and still waiting for a mate to arrive. Hopefully many pairs will be reunited this weekend as the last breeding age birds arrive. In some cases mates will have been lost and those swifts in search of a new mate will begin to lead a potential partner to their nest sites. This can be spectacular to watch. It can also be frustrating to watch as a new mate has to learn the approach path and landing. I remember a day a couple of years ago when a swift tried to lead a mate into our nest box. Thirty or more times he entered the box but each time the other would peel off at the last second. The next day the new mate finally entered the box and after that the pair never looked back.
Our pair now have two eggs but do not seem to be incubating yet, There might be a third on the way, we will have to wait and see? Unusually there was a 72 hour gap between the first two eggs being laid. This gap is normally 48 hours, the egg always being laid in the morning. The 72 hour gap is undoubtedly weather related with the female swift needing more time to make the egg in the cold conditions.
House Martin Diary
I am more concerned about house martins than I am about swifts this year. We are very lucky to have two pairs of house martins on the house but neither pair has laid eggs yet. One bird has been back over a month now without attempting to breed. Numbers of house martins are well down for this time of May though today we have seen much more activity in warmer weather so I hope we can welcome some additional pairs yet. Like swifts house martins arrive in waves and we are yet to see younger birds born last year. These birds nest later in late May and through June, but for the older birds already here breeding has been severely delayed and this could well have an impact of productivity this summer. Given good weather now, some birds will hopefully raise two broods.
It is wonderful to have house martins back. This time last year I had been trying and failing to attract them since May 2017. That all changed in June 2020, but you can never take this for granted. A friend in nearby Easingwold who had 5 pairs last year has yet to have any return. I feel his pain, for once you have lived with these birds you miss them when they are not around. Their cheerful calls are as much a part of summer as the screaming of swifts and they last through to September providing comfort when the swifts suddenly depart.
I would recommend trying to attract house martins. Artificial nest cups enable them to progress quickly with breeding which can help sustain local populations. For information on artificial nest cups and other ways you can help house martins see the link below: