We feel so lucky to have a pair of spotted flycatchers nesting close to the garden. This pair arrived in May and wasted no time at all. Now they are feeding young. Their needs seem to be few in terms of territory. They collect most of their food it seems within a very small area, literally two or three gardens. They very rarely visit our garden even though we are well within 100m of their nest. Considering this it does really make you wonder why they have declined so drastically to the point of being red listed? But it is a delight to watch them, such proficient aerial insect hunters and all being well there will be some very precious flycatcher fledglings around soon…
We currently have two breeding pairs, one our established pair feeding six day old chicks the other now incubating two eggs having first entered a new box on 9th June. The last week has been cooler than the first half of June, but we’ve seen plenty of activity and I expect this will really ramp up when younger non breeders arrive. Last year there was an obvious arrival of younger birds on 23rd June though it was short lived and they departed for two weeks due to bad weather on 26th June, returning on 10th July.
Our new pair has learnt incubation quickly. Their change overs are rapid and the eggs are rarely left uncovered. They first entered the nest box on 9th June and now they are incubating two eggs. They have not added any nest material until today, indeed they have even expelled feathers provided by us in preference of a bare nest mould. The mould is a very effective, quite expensive Schwegler woodcrete one, but talking to friends who watch bigger colonies it seems that this behaviour is down to individuals. Swifts often add material to the structure throughout incubation stopping as soon as the eggs hatch. Sometimes it looks as if they do it to relieve the boredom while they sit on the nest for extended periods! Two weeks ago we had one pair of swifts but change can indeed be swift in the swift world and it suddenly feels like we have a small colony in the making.
Watching the swifts over the weekend I was struck as always by how low they drop to gain flying speed. Whilst we know they could leave the nest on a much more level trajectory, as most fledglings swifts do, it seems the adults deliberately choose this low path before gaining height. Perhaps gaining speed assisted by gravity gives them the highest chance of escape if a predator were to spot them or perhaps this is the most efficient way of gaining flying speed, or perhaps both? Whatever the reason their departures low above the lawn result in some spectacular views. They are very often at leg height before climbing higher and sometimes you can literally look them in the eye as they pass.
Yesterday evening one of our pair feeding young returned to the nest at 10.23pm after a late food gathering foray. Midsummer is here, there are perhaps six or seven more weeks of the peak swift season. Beyond that time only late breeders are likely to linger. So now is the time to relish every swift sighting; store them in your memory for the largely swiftless nine months ahead.