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Swifts quietly incubating and nest building

The first weekend of North Yorkshire Open Studios is over and a lot of people know more about swifts and house martins! I am guilty of talking far more about my subjects than my art, but I make no apology about that because the natural world inspires every piece of work I produce. For me the message is far more important than the medium.

The weekend was generally grey and cold. If I hadn’t pointed out occasional swifts coming and going to relieve their incubating partners visitors could easily think there were not at least ten pairs of swifts in the vicinity. Sadly there were no aerial displays though swifts were continuously visible on camera in my studio (thanks to my son Rupert for making this possible!).

But the eggs were continuously incubated which means that the birds off egg duty were finding enough food to sustain themselves. I would love to know where they roam on these forays which generally last about an hour. Almost invariably incubating birds return with nest material at the start of their shift- in this respect the weather has been kind. Wind is stripping fresh leaves and seed bracts from trees and the swifts are making the most of this airborne material. Many people were relieved to see these swifts having commented they are seeing hardly any. It is remarkable how breeding swifts can pull off this deception to even the most experienced observers and surveyors. Many people who monitor colonies are reporting numbers of breeding swifts more or less where they should be at this point in June. The good news at our colony is that we still have four pairs nesting- a 100% increase on last summer. 

Hopefully we will start to see more aerial swift activity when the wind switches from easterly to westerly this week. We are are near enough to the cold North Sea to really feel the effect when the wind comes from that direction.  Also we may see some non breeding swifts arrive if the temperature recovers. Their prospecting opportunities can be severely limited in some summers. 2021 was an unremarkable but good average summer and prospecting birds stayed by the colony for most days throughout June/ July and early August, however two periods of low pressure systems producing cold, windy weather in summer 2020 saw prospecting birds away from colonies for at least a month of their potential prospecting time. 

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

North Yorkshire Open Studio demonstration. Fast watercolour studies of swift in flight.
Incubating swifts at the moment almost invariably bring back nest material when they start their shift.
Swifts nest building during incubation. incubating birds almost invariably arrive back for their shifts with nest material.

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