June 27th- hobbies feeding and swift diary

Another day of breathtaking swift activity. Countless high speed passes and flying at the nest box entrance holes very fast before peeling off in a split second. We have had far more activity this year than last, possibly because our breeding pair is more experienced and their young are much older than on this date last year. I hope this means we may see another pair established this year or next. It is still possible for a pair to enter a nest box and build a nest ready for next year. Not all swifts do this. Others pair up and start to build a nest in May to breed in that year.

At dusk we had a pair of hobbies feeding over the field north of our house. They were finding insects, presumably moths or beatles and eating them held in their feet as they cruised around slowly. Hobbies have relatively large eyes which enables them to feed in low light. I watched them silhouetted against a twilight sky until 10.20pm. A really beautiful sight, though their presence certainly curtailed the final quarter of an hour of swift activity.

Today the air has turned much fresher. The non breeding swifts gathered in a high circling group this morning before vanishing, there have been big movements of swifts down the east coast today indicating a exodus of younger non breeders. However we have seen a few flypasts today, so I suspect that older non breeding birds are probably staying around for now.

Our house martin pair came in to roost at about 6pm yesterday and stayed in the box until 7.20am. A good sign that they may stay, I hope.



June 26th- curlew and swifts at dawn and house martins in nest box

I was woken again at dawn. The dawn chorus is surprisingly strong still. Robins have all but stopped singing now but blackbird and song thrush alike are still singing vigorously at about 3.30am. I went out into the garden at 4am hoping to see the first swift flypasts. It is a wonderful, peaceful time, fresh with a chance to witness the sunrise. This morning there was a bit more high cloud than recent mornings. The cerulean blue was crossed with rosy stripes.

A curlew burst into song as it passed low over the village, flying north towards the cut hay field. They have been feeding there in the early hours of light. As I listened to that evocative bubbling call three swifts powered in towards our eaves screaming as they went. What a glorious juxtaposition of species and one I would only have seen by waking very early.

Non- breeding swifts piled in towards the eaves several times before 9am. They were almost impossible to count as they criss- crossed each other in fast swerving flight. There was lots of landing on the walls today. Some individuals paused in a clinging position before being displaced by another. All the swift activity attracted a pair of house martins. Quite quickly they were in one of my nest boxes.

I have been hoping to attract martins since we moved here in 2017. They have raised my hopes before by entering a box but not staying. Whether they stay or not it was wonderful to have house martins around. The pair was in and out of the box for most of the morning. In the afternoon one bird was nearly always present. It was great opportunity to make some watercolour studies of one of my favourite summer visitors. Their calls bring back very happy memories of my childhood when they used to nest by my bedroom window. Like swifts they are a real soundtrack of summer.



25th June- young kestrels, a very warm Holbeck walk and 72 swift flypasts!

Tolly and I had a very warm walk along the Holbeck, our most regular walk since lockdown began. We have seen so much change since early April and today’s walk saw us walking through a high summer landscape. The wild cherries are covered in fruit already. We paused to smell the wild roses which will fade soon. Elderflower is fading fast now. We saw dozens of meadow brown butterflies and tortoiseshells. Tolly spotted our first ringlet of the year. Grasshoppers were heard throughout.

Very close to the village we watched a pair of young kestrels hopping around in an ash tree. They are growing well and doubtless beginning to practice their hovering hunting technique. These are probably the offspring of the adult female that has been hovering over local back gardens. This technique of looking for fledglings seems to be very successful judging by the amount of time the bird spends above the gardens. It can be quite disruptive for the garden birds who call in alarm and stop tending to their young.

There was still plenty of bird song still. We heard garden warbler, chiffchaff and lesser whitethroat singing together. Skylarks sang very high above the Holbeck- we played the game of spot the skylark! Yellowhammers and reed buntings sang in hedgerows, sometimes very close to us. It was bliss, not a cloud in the sky, but we felt very hot and walked lazily.

Back at home we sat by the new pond with a long cool drink and watched a beautiful male broad- bodied chaser. We put a perch up by the side of the pond and he was on it within five seconds. This then became his favoured perch. The swifts screamed overhead every few minutes.

Swift Diary

In short, another wonderful day of swift watching. Yesterday evening I decided to tally the flypasts again after the sensational evening of 23rd where there were 104 passes between 8.19-10.15pm. In the same time period yesterday evening we had 72 flypasts, still an incredible number compared to any evening last year. I made yet another watercolour of a swift flypast and tried to concentrate on the perspective of an approaching flock going right over my head.

The swifts performed their first flypasts at 4.24am, waking me instantly. I lept out of bed, made a strong coffee and sat on the lawn to enjoy the show. On several occasions today swifts were so low over my head I could feel the air rush. Wonderful!



June 23rd- 100+ swift flypasts!

The warm weather has brought the best swift watching of the year so far. To think two days ago I was wondering where they were. As our breeding pair continue feeding their two chicks, the younger one, two and three year old birds are speeding round outside. The youngest of these have returned here quite recently and they really mix things up. The parents often return to their nest box to scream at the younsters as they fly past or perch on their nest box. The behaviour of young birds clinging on to potential nest sites has become known as “banging”. The bangers hurl themselves at the eaves often at the entrances of occupied nest sites. This induces wild screams from the occupants which seems to encourage the bangers even more!

It is great fun to watch and at times you can have wonderful views of the swifts as they cling on. People trying to attract swifts to nest boxes sometimes become very frustrated watching this behaviour because they seem to go anywhere but into the unoccupied nest boxes! But, it is worth remembering that many of these birds will not have landed since fledging the year before. In part this behaviour is probably practising approach and landing for the first time. They are too young to think about breeding at this stage, but they are probably learning far more than we think with each miss.

But yesterday evening was really special. I have rarely seen so much low level screaming activity in one evening, even at much larger colonies. They were very loud and very fast, fuelled by the abundance of food in the warm weather. At 8.19pm I decided to start a tally of flypasts because they were so frequent. The noise at times was incredible; my youngest son was kept awake by the swifts’ screams so he came down to watch the show from the garden at 9.15pm! The last flypast of three birds came at 10.15pm ending one of the most spectacular evenings of swift watching I have experienced. Between 8.19- 10.15pm there were 104 low level flypasts, mainly of three or four swifts but occasionally up to six. There were many more passes before I started counting. But there was not much rest for me. At 4.35am, it all started again as presumably the same three that passed at 10.15pm returned to shatter the silence and my sleep!

Today has been similar and I am looking forward to seeing what this evening has in store. But you never know with swifts, it could be very different even though weather conditions are similar. Swifts really teach you to enjoy the moment.


IMG_1923 (2)
Swifts over the garden. Oil on Canvas. At Saltbox Gallery, Helmsley.
Swifts over the garden. Available as a print. See SHOP section in website menu.

June 23rd- marsh hoverfly, azure blue and swift diary

Our new pond is quite simply a joy. Tolly spotted some interesting and beautiful new species today. The first two pond skaters arrived. We enjoyed watching some marsh hoverflies, their larvae develop in water. They bask on leaves close to the water, a beautiful species with bold black and gold markings. But the real show stopper was our first azure damselfly. In fact I was so taken by the beauty of this insect that ignored two low level swift passes! We have built the pond in time for the peak dragonfly season and can’t wait to see more. Mind you, I had work to do this morning and the numerous swift flypasts and pond action proved to be a major distraction!

Swift Diary

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday evening was so quiet. But from about 6.30am the swift action came thick and fast. Some slow prospecting by a pair plus one was wonderful to watch and I made the watercolour study below of swifts approaching the eaves. This included my favourite swift flight, when the lead bird approaches the nest boxes quivering his(?) wingtips whilst uttering a soft piping call. It is such a beautiful flight. But added to this we saw countless very fast flypasts close to the eaves. I am distracted as I write by their loud screaming calls.

Today is a classic swift watching day. The birds clearly have plenty of food and plenty of energy. A random scan in the sky nearly always revealed swifts high up gulping up aerial insects. Note to myself, take this in, every flypast, every loud call, bank it in your memory for winter.




June 21st- a midsummer eve and swift diary

Not quite the longest evening of the year, but one day away, however it was interesting to compare June 21st this year with the same date in 2019. Both were clear of cloud. In 2019 the second of the swift pair came back to the nest box to roost at 10.21pm. I was keen to see if the swifts could beat this record and come in later. But at exactly the same time, 10.21pm the second arrived back to roost.

It was a beautiful summer evening. The scent of honeysuckle wafted around the garden. I remembered that on the same date last year I had watched a late swift come in and then noticed noctilucent clouds. I decided to stay up late. Sure enough, sometime after 11pm the noctilucent clouds started to show. They only appear at twilight around mid summer. They are incredibly beautiful, being a silvery pale blue in colour. At around 50 miles from the surface of the earth they are the highest known clouds.


The young swifts are growing at an incredible rate. Their first feathers are beginning to show now. The parents come and go in complete silence and often leave the young in the middle of the day.

Below, swift coming in to roost at 10.21pm.

Below. Photograph of noctilucent clouds at 11.45pm, taken in Gilling East.

Below. Swift nestlings  now approximately 6 days old.


June 21st- swift solstice

As big southerly movements of swifts were recorded down the east coast of Yorkshire over the last two days the non breeding birds have been absent from this area. However yesterday evening, the lightest and longest of the year some swifts appeared and performed some awe inspiring flypasts. Up to four carried out high speed turning passes by the nest boxes on the back of our house again and again. These are the evenings I try to savour for the eight or so months of the year when I cannot see a swift. The evening saw a beautiful sunset turn to twilight with high cloud streaks ahead of an active weather front approaching from the west.

Today saw heavy occasionally thundery showers in the afternoon. Our swiftlets have had a great start and are growing very fast now. They are starting to grow downy feathers and in warmer periods the adults are more confident about leaving them uncovered.

I have been puzzled by the absence of the non breeding birds again, the weather has been warm between rain. We know so little about these younger birds. Where were they born? How far do they roam whilst they are here in June and July? What exactly causes them to just leave for several days? Swifts pose so many questions. Mysteries that in some ways I would rather keep that way and yet I suspect if I found out they would be even more mysterious than I could imagine.

IMG_5460IMG_5459Below. Swift studies, an original watercolour painted outside from life by our swift colony. £375 unframed. For more details email pomroyjonathan@gmail.com


June 20th- pond finished, broad-bodied chaser and swift diary

We have been working hard finishing a pond outside my studio today, so a short blog! The whole family has mucked in, there is plenty of tinkering to do but after the hard digging work and turf edging it is up and running. It gives a great new subject to watch from the studio.

As I was putting the finishing touches to the edges I nearly fell in when distracted by a gorgeous male broad bodied chaser. We have never seen one in the garden before and there it was dazzling us as it checked out the pond. No doubt there will be more pond observations to come in future blogs but for now its time for a beer, a curry and a rest!

Swift Diary

There have been big movements of swifts recorded at watchpoints down the east coast of Yorkshire today. This ties in well with the departure of all our non breeding birds. It has been so quite today. The breeding birds are coming and going with food for their two chicks. They are growing extremely fast. I am a little surprised that the non breeding birds have gone. Other observers in the north have experienced similar whilst some southern observers have seen plenty of action. It shows that much swift behaviour is regional. Today was a beautiful June day. Swifts as ever pose questions which we simply can’t answer.


June 19th- Ampleforth Estate BTO BBS and swift diary

The alarm went off at 3.45 this morning. I almost went back to bed as I looked out on the murkiest dawn imaginable. Then thought, Ampleforth has a little more elevation than Gilling and just maybe the murk will be thinner!

As I drove up the other side of the valley I could see some cloud definition. Ampleforth was just about at the top of the murk! I would proceed with the survey. I love doing the British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Birds Survey. For a start, I am contributing to some really important data on the UK’s breeding bird population. If you hear of bird population changes on the news, the chances are the source is the Breeding Birds Survey and I feel proud to be part of it. How else would we know, but for hundreds of volunteers across the country who go out at dawn twice a year to monitor bird populations?

But there is another side to BTO BBS. It is the most rewarding birdwatching. It makes me experience early mornings at this wonderful time of year and I treasure the memories of each survey. I am lucky to survey two squares which have a really interesting variety of birds, but each survey has come with surprises.

This morning the pages of my note book were soon damp in the misty air. Species mounted up quickly. Both sparrow species, several adult yellowhammers in the lane, SWIFT!!!, whitethroat singing, then two young tawny owls within ten feet in an unexpected area, followed by a barn owl coming from an estate nest box. A curlew called within the survey area. Lesser whitethroats called in a blackthorn, a pair. My survey goes between the Ampleforth playing fields, which always add pied wagtails and swallow. Starlings nest in the cricket pavilion and another whitethroat sang near St Margaret’s and St Hugh’s house. A house martin flew above the abbey, just out of its nest. A spotted flycatcher is a real prize on any survey, a male was singing near the abbey. Also here a marsh tit, another red listed species.

But the real surprise of the morning was approximately 30 crossbills which came from the woods near the entrance to the estate, soon followed by another 3. There are crossbills dispersing at the moment but this was an exceptional record in the Ampleforth valley. These are some of the highlights of a wonderful couple of hours recording in the field. The Ampleforth Estate is managed sympathetically for wildlife and it shows. More work is planned including a conservation area for turtle doves.

My thanks go to the Ampleforth Estate for allowing me special access during this lockdown time. It is a real privilege to survey their land for birds. They can be justly proud of the bird populations it holds.

Swift Diary
We had a few low level fast passes this morning and a solo prospecting bird this morning. These birds wizz round the house hesitating, but not stopping by potential nest site entrances. They are probably males and very significant birds as they are choosing their nest site, a site which will be for life all being well. Once selected the bird will attempt to find a mate and lure it in.



June 18th- woodcock, juvenile nuthatches and swift diary

Yesterday evening was pure swift magic! After a quiet day of occasional swift activity the swifts put on an immense show of flying in the last hour of daylight. I speculated at the time that this might be a prelude to the younger birds leaving the area due to a change in the weather and it has proved to be so. I have noticed very intense displays before when the weather is about to change. Perhaps this galvanises the colony.

I stood on the lawn narrowly missed by swifts coming round and round again, making their very loudest screams. As I watched them I heard the high pitched call of a roding woodcock. A very memorable sighting followed at 9.56pm as our swifts flew below the woodcock. What a unusual combination of birds. Finally when I thought they were done a pair screamed in at 10.07pm and flew very fast, tight circuits below eaves level. It was really getting dark at that time and this demonstrated their impressive low light vision. After this they quickly spiralled up on fast fluttering wings to join other non breeding swifts roosting in the sky above the colony.

Today has been cool and cloudy. Moderate rain has started this afternoon. The adults are coming and going with food for the two chicks, but there has been no other activity. For now the younger birds are obviously feeding elsewhere. It will be interesting to see when they return.

This morning we had a family of nuthatches in the garden. The juveniles had much fluffier plumage than the adults and shorter bills. It was a joy to watch the adults feeding the young and to see the young exploring branches searching out their own food.