29th June-Swift and House Martin Diaries.

Swift Diary

29th June- easily the busiest swift day of the year here, we were bombarded by dark crescents almost continuously between 6.30- 11am. It took a while attracting a second pair of swifts to the house, but activity has really ramped up since. With both pairs of breeders in their nest boxes up to five birds hurtled around the house. Two of these birds appeared far more serious- they were probably older and alighted on nest boxes with a confidence not yet bestowed on the others, lingering to have a good look at breeders’ and empty boxes alike. This pair returned again and again.

They performed the tightest circuits and some of the most impressive aspects of swift flight. Amongst my favourite swift flight displays is the steep, tilting, wing quivering approach of a bird leading another towards a potential nest site. We saw this often. If I thought swifts were predictable, which I know they are not, I would predict another occupying pair this summer…

It was an unforgettable morning, distracting in the best possible way. Well I am so lucky to be able to call such a morning on the lawn with my sketchpad, work; so I worked (!) very hard all morning, playing with swift shapes on paper. High above a pair of RAF Typhoon pilots did well, but were easily out manoeuvred by the swifts’ insect propelled display down below.

Very predictably the action dwindled towards midday as the swifts climbed to feast on the abundance of insects. Now as I write they are passing the eaves regularly again, obliterating the sound of young finches and tits around the garden as they scream past. I think swift wise this evening could be the best of the year so far, so to sit outside with a beer and a sketchbook is my idea of a good result!

House Martin Diary
Our two pairs are feeding their young at an incredible rate now, returning with insects every minute or so. I love to watch their graceful flight curves as they swoop down to the nest, landing in the perfect position to shove food straight into the bright orange gapes of their offspring.

While we are thrilled to have two pairs of these lovely birds, if I look around the village and other villages I see terribly depleted populations of house martins. We don’t know the cause, I have a suspicion that a poor breeding season here last summer has something to do with it, but it is clear to see that house martins (and swallows) are no longer the common birds they used to be. Living near them can give you a false impression of abundance , but I have seen sharp declines and abandoned nest sites throughout this area.

Please if you know people with house martins, tell them how lucky they are, educate them, offer to clean up the droppings, ask them to put up artificial nest cups, anything to help these once common summer visitors. Truly you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Swifts and RAF Tyhpoon
Swift activity. Sketchbook page featured in Charles Foster’s The Screaming Sky.
House martins feeding young.

1 thought on “29th June-Swift and House Martin Diaries.”

  1. The House Martin decline this year is uneven but worrying. Several regular sites are not being used in my area (Cardiff0. But one farmhouse that had 15 occupied nests last year has the same this year, possibly one more. I conduct an annual HM survey all around the Cardiff Bay area. Over the years there has been a movement in the location of the nests (from Cardiff to Penarth if anyone knows the area), but overall numbers of nests have stayed very roughly the same. However, increasing numbers of residents in Penarth Marina, the House Martins’ stronghold in this area, are hanging metal strips and using other methods to deter or remove the birds and their nests. I conduct the survey in the second half of July, so we’ll see what we find this year.

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