The 2022 swift season in Gilling East

After a couple of weeks away on Anglesey we have returned to near swiftless skies. The main swift season ended very early here in Gilling East with the last prospecting behaviour observed on 21st July and not much at all in the air after 23rd July (similar on Anglesesy). I cannot help but think the extreme heat played a part in this but that is speculation and every year is different. However for this part of North Yorkshire this was a very early departure of breeding and non-breeding swifts. I would normally expect aerial activity well into August and sometimes until mid August.

To summarise the year here- amazing breeding performance by our first three pairs (two of these raising three chicks) but a very mixed year for aerial activity with many seemingly suitable days quiet. Our first three pairs all arrived between 9th- 16th May. In addition a forth pair took up residence on 21st May so we were up from two pairs in 2021 to four pairs. June was largely very quiet in the air before 23rd when the youngest non- breeders arrived . This silence masked the superb breeding performance happening under the eaves. You could be forgiven for thinking we had no swifts nesting most of the time, but the breeders were efficiently incubating eggs then feeding young with the weather very kind on the whole.

July saw mixed aerial action but was notably lacking in sustained yearling activity. A few exceptional days saw birds landing on random spots on the wall and house martin nests etc. -classic younger non breeder behaviour. Could this relatively quiet year for prospecting be related to poor breeding success in 2020/2021?

What really impressed me was seeing our colony develop as a unit. 4th, 2nd and 1st year breeders all returned between 9th- 16th May and laid first eggs within a few days (23rd-25th May) resulting in 8 chicks being fledged between 26-29th July. 50% of these chicks fledged at dusk. The adults left promptly after their chicks had fledged. The pair in box 2 took some time to add a little new nest material and repair the nest on the day they left!

Several friends in the North West of England are still seeing flypasts today and have good numbers roosting. This is a puzzling aspect of swift behaviour, the difference between colonies and regions. Perhaps it is best for the swifts that they go immediately rather than hang around after young have fledged? Or perhaps it is the other way round? What I can say is that for us the season ended very early and this coincided with record breaking heat (38.9C on 19th July here)- coincidence or not?

I do not have a camera in the nest box of our 4th pair but my suspicion is that a single adult is feeding a single chick. I do know one of two chicks died in the nest box. I have just seen the adult return with food bolus mixing with twenty or so house martins before descending to the box, but seeing a single swift is so different to watching their communal behaviour. But for now I am assured of seeing those beautiful crescent wings for a couple of weeks or so.

What doesn’t change is my emotions after they have departed. I am very used to this now, but I am always taken by surprise by the relative silence and the melancholy feeling it brings. Swifts’ dramatic aerial activity transforms the ambience of villages and towns for three months of the year. Birdsong is at its quietest at this time in August which accentuates their departure- I await the first late summer robin song as they finish their moult. But, we do have the house martins, their cheerful “chirrups” filling the air, with the fledglings’ slightly deeper “chirrup” particularly good to hear. We arrived home from Anglesey to see little piles of house martin droppings, indicating at least four pairs on second broods, so summer is very much here. For me having house martins lessens the blow of the swift exodus.

The love for swifts has never been greater. They are undoubtedly an iconic bird of summer. Some like to single them out as the greatest bird- I don’t buy that at all and feel we mustn’t think any species is greater than another. Every species is adapted to its own niche in the ecosystem and many are now dependant on how humans act. Swifts are no greater than a blue tit which lands with perfection on the end of a branch to take a tiny caterpillar. But swifts please us, enhancing our lives with their dramatic flying displays and incredible noise and perhaps crucially they are a species we seem to be able to help. This is not so with the beautiful spotted flycatcher, now so scarce – we can put dozens of open fronted nest boxes up, but the flycatchers are gone. We have to start treating all species as we treat swifts.

Images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Below- some highlights of the 2022 swift season

2 thoughts on “The 2022 swift season in Gilling East”

  1. Hi Johnathan glad you had a lovely holiday. so pleased you are helping the Swift’s and house martins, your doing a great job.
    I’ve put some swift boxes up and house Martin . they are nesting over the road from us so it’s lovely to see them return every year.
    hopefully we will be lucky to have them next year fingers crossed.
    I’ve put a impeccable four box up
    which is very good quality but we’ll see. many thanks again for helping them hoping to see you next year at the open swift day
    yours thankfully Janet and bill Cuthbert. York.

  2. Your art work of the common swift is stunning! It’s my favourite bird and your art brings me comfort now the swifts have left. I just can’t wait for them to return…

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