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June 18th- approaching halfway through the swift season.

Warm weather over the last few days certainly brought the swift flying action. After an early June with virtually no activity other than breeders coming and going, it was a joy to see some prospecting and screaming parties again.

I watched some classic mid June behaviour as younger birds (2-3 year olds?) hung on the entrances of breeders’ nest sites- these birds hardly ever attempt to enter. This behaviour may be as much about searching for a colony to join as nest site selection- they are clearly capable of landing on vacant nest boxes, but don’t. You can drive through local villages and towns and see the same behaviour everywhere, particularly in the first half of the morning. Thursday was one of those rare days when prospecting behaviour lasted throughout the day on and off, for example there was a very notable prospecting session starting at 3.20pm.

I’ve also been watching a quiet single prospector- this bird seems fixed on a box already occupied by tree sparrows. These birds are very distinct in their behaviour because they select very quiet times with no other prospectors around. They are often the only swift in the air around the colony and remain totally silent. You can see them working out best flightpaths- clearly a learning process. They have experience at landing on a selected entrance first time. We rarely have the chance to sex such birds but I observed this behaviour in an aberrant male at my colony in Ampleforth. I think it is a reasonable guess that most of these single prospectors are males selecting a nest site before they guide a female to it. In other words, potentially one half of your next pair.

The swift season has seasons within it. Currently we see breeders, some still incubating but most feeding chicks. We also see older non breeders some of which are searching seriously for nest sites to breed late this year (laying eggs as late as early July), but others are searching to occupy sites prior to breeding in 2023. I have spent time scanning high for swifts and house martins this week. A good reclining sun lounger is useful to be comfortable with the binoculars. Focus set almost to infinity, I scan the sky for feeding birds sometimes too high to see with the naked eye and tiny specs even through the bins. You can see them spiral down to your colony, a sign that the weather is good and all the swifts need to do to gather food is to fly straight up.

The best screaming parties are yet to come. Things always get shaken up when the youngest non breeders arrive. In the last two years this has been on the same date- 23rd June. After then colony airspace can be frantic with the new birds criss-crossing each other to fling themselves at the walls!

As I write a prospecting pair are checking out the house. They are clearly a formed pair, remaining close to each other continuously. One bird(male ?) leads the other towards potential sites. I hope this will be our fifth pair but they may select another site in the village. I have countless observations of swifts written and sketched, but no matter how much I record I always come up against the same two basic questions- how old are they and what sex are they? Swifts are a difficult species to study in the air for these reasons,  but one thing I never tire of is just watching them fly.

We are approaching half way through the swift season. There are always some late birds right through August and into September but for main colony activity this is pretty much half way. With six or seven weeks to go, make sure you imbibe every precious moment with swifts.

Event as part of Swift Awareness Week 2022

Helmsley Swifts 

 

July 9th 10am- 5pm, a free event
 
At N Galleries, Barker’s Yard, Helmsley YO62 5DR Tel: 07900 998242
 
Join artist and author of On Crescent Wings Jonathan Pomroy at this fine swift viewpoint as he sketches swifts from life. See recent paintings of swifts. Watch swifts in flight. Activities for children. Have a go at sketching swifts guided by Jonathan. Helmsley Swifts will be showing their work in the town and offering advice on attracting swifts.
 
 

ALL TEXT AND IMAGES COPYRIGHT JONATHAN POMROY 2022

Swift flight studies in watercolour- an hour sat on the lawn with A3 watercolour sketchpad observing swifts in flight, especially a prospecting pair that kept returning. This sheet incorporates some commonly seen aspects of swift flight including approach, feeding flight, maximum speed pass and the V wing display.
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Swifts, swallows and house martins- a summary of the season so far

Social media is awash again with concern about swift numbers. I can only report on my own area and similar observations from friends in various locations. What I can say is that during windy, wet or cool weather I am very familiar with swifts ‘vanishing’. Our own colony has four breeding pairs this year up from two last year.

Breeding swifts seem to be doing well. They are incubating without fuss, changing over incubation shifts within the normal time range. This means that they are finding enough food to sustain themselves and they are not having to leave their eggs uncovered. The question I would love to answer is where do they feed? They fly off low, quickly leaving the colony airspace. Then they have something like an hour to feed before they take over incubation duty again. I imagine that they have well ‘trodden’ circuits which maximise feeding potential. In the strong winds recently I have seen swifts and house martins feeding on the sheltered side of woodland, a well recognised feeding technique. Sometimes they nearly skim the tree canopy in search of insects which are kept close to the foliage.

Some older non breeders/first time breeders are here but they are reluctant to prospect in the windy, cool conditions. Many are probably feeding over water and roosting above it while the weather remains cool so won’t even be visiting colonies. Some of these birds would ‘bang’ breeders nest sites in warm weather, but I have only seen this behaviour very briefly(2/6/22) on a morning before windy weather really set in. Swifts, though amazing fliers, don’t cope particularly well in confined airspace when crosswinds and unpredictable air currents caused by gusts surround buildings; even experienced breeders can take several attempts to enter a nest site in these conditions.

First time breeders do not necessarily have to occupy nest sites the year before. These birds sometimes prospect(probably males) then attract a mate in. They have usually already found a mate and paired in the air at this point, so their prospecting tends to be efficient and often quick to result in possession of a nest site.

I have felt the lack of aerial displays keenly because for two weekends I’ve had visitors for open studios and I love to show them swifts performing low level over the garden- there has not been one flypast in two weekends. Fortunately we have had cameras on nest sites so they can see incubating birds but no birds have lingered in the airspace above the colony. In perfect swift weather a swift can leave its nest and ascend high to feed, it probably doesn’t have to go far simply catching insects high above the nest before descending for its incubation shift or to feed young.

I am very confident that when the wind drops and the forecast warmer air drifts up from the south swift aerial displays and prospecting will resume quickly. Every swift season is different but the amount of activity we see is very much controlled by weather conditions. Strong winds are one of the biggest factors influencing how many swifts we see- strong winds keep insects low. The last few days have not been particularly cold and with light winds we would have seen far more swifts over colonies. The arrival of the youngest non breeding swifts looking to join colonies occurred on 23rd June in 2020/21; it is only after then that we see the peak annual numbers and the most impressive displays people tend to remember. 

It still amazes me that breeding swifts can be so discrete and I can easily understand how people think there are none around or that populations are depleted, but as I write our swifts are all incubating, yet not one swift has lingered in the air above our colony or two nearby colonies this morning. For now the sky remains swiftless save birds occasionally arriving and departing to look after the eggs

Swallows and house martins
I would never be complacent about swifts, but as far as I can see they are doing well in this area. In our village we have seen a substantial increase in the last two years and Helmsley and Ampleforth seem very well populated. But swallows and house martins are a different story. Swallows have abandoned many former nest sites, which remain unchanged- they are simply not returning. The days of driving around countryside and seeing swallows around nearly every farmstead are gone for now. Similarly house martins have abandoned former nest sites which remain unchanged in many villages and towns. I wish I knew why? It could be a perfect storm of events or one single factor- we can only speculate.

We are very fortunate to have five pairs of house martins (up from none in 2019) but this doesn’t represent the wider picture. I have a feeling that isolated birds are gathering in ‘hub’ sites because they are colonial species. These sites can give a false impression that there is nothing wrong, but further afield a large proportion of former nesting sites are deserted due to the population crash. Recently when swifts have been absent the house martins have provided us with their summer soundtrack. In all but the worst conditions they tend to stay close to the colony and give us continued pleasure when the swifts are elsewhere.

It can be hard to find hope at times. It really does feel as if we are watching an extinction of favourite summer migrant species, at least on a local level. If we could identify the exact cause it might be possible to help their recovery, but if for example this is a result of our changing climate global and individual responses are needed. What you can do is provide some artificial nest cups for house martins and swallows and set aside areas for insects to thrive, not just flowers but cover where they can breed and rest. A pond encourages an array of insect life. Talk to others about these birds, enthuse about them, help people who already have them to know how important every nest is and tell them how privileged they are to be supporting an endangered species.

All text and images copyright ©️Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Watercolour studies of our house martins- 12th June
Swifts and house martins
Swallow studies
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Swift diary- some new swifts arrive and a brutal tree sparrow attack

At last, on a cloudy but warm morning more swifts arrived. Most activity was between 7- 9am with new birds landing on the breeders’ nest boxes provoking screams from the occupants. These birds are typical of the older non breeders who arrive now;  this behaviour could well be social rather than prospecting, if they were prospecting they could clearly land on empty boxes too, but they don’t. Perhaps they are swifts joining the colony and seeing who is nesting where- we just don’t know. Later in the morning a lone prospecting bird was seen exploring the eaves. These are often very significant prospectors, probably the older non breeding males who deliberately search at quiet times when few other swifts are around. They can sometimes breed in the same year if the weather is good and they can find a mate. For more on this see

https://jonathanpomroy.wordpress.com/world-swift-day-june-7th-2020/

Many people around the UK are reporting new swifts this morning. I was struck again today by how often they follow house martins in towards the eaves. They clearly feel more secure prospecting when house martins are around. We now have five pairs of house martins, a pair up on last year, which very much bucks the general trend in the UK. Our first pair nested in 2020- we put nest cups up in 2017.

A tree sparrow entered the nest box of our oldest breeding pair of swifts at 7.12am. It didn’t hesitate in attacking the swifts on their nest. It was an unpaired male tree sparrow- they often interfere more with breeding swifts and house martins, perhaps partly fuelled by frustration? The fight lasted well over a minute and was it brutal. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I could see that the three eggs had remained intact and all birds had survived. Below is a link to footage of the fight.

I block up the boxes until mid April at least but this has no effect on sparrows that move nest sites for their second and third broods or indeed the unpaired males that chirp incessantly from the eaves until mid summer at least. They are very feisty animals and often attack prospecting swifts, sometimes landing on their backs when they cling on to a nest box. It was a fascinating bit of behaviour to watch and a reminder that swifts have competed for nest sites for millions of years, before man made buildings there would have been competition for cavities in trees and rock faces. Such ancient behaviour played out in front of the camera.

North Yorkshire Open Studios

I’ve been working up some oil skies for North Yorkshire Open Studios this coming weekend. I’ve been using water mixable oils from the Winsor and Newton Artisan range and find them very rewarding to work with. They avoid the need for using turpentine and certainly make cleaning up much easier. I’m often asked whether I only paint in watercolour. It is my preferred medium but the oils make an interesting change. Some say it is an advantage to use oils and rework if necessary- being a watercolourist I see this as a disadvantage. I enjoy the fact that I do a painting in one sitting and try to treat oil painting in the same way. Hopefully this keeps the work more lively and fresh. Some of these skies will have added swifts when they are dry enough to work.

https://www.nyos.org.uk/jonathan-pomroy/

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

 

Some swift sketches! All available to view at North Yorkshire Open Studios this weekend.
Four new oil paintings and various watercolours for North Yorkshire Open Studios this weekend 11/12th June 10am- 5pm
Lapwing in winter
9th June- new swifts here on a cloudy, mild morning.
Unpaired male tree sparrow continuously chirping from gutter. Attacked breeding swifts at 7.12am.
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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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An impressive flypast -) -) -)

As one impressive, but highly polluting flypast takes place over our capital city today there is no flypast I would rather watch than a group of swifts propelling themselves on a fast approach towards our eaves; they pass a few centimetres over my head, rock steady, making the house martins bomb-burst before they peel off just before hitting the wall. Today the weather has at last been injected with a little warmth. It has taken a while after an early ground frost(1.8C), but now the air is still and warm and the swifts are responding.

There has been a lull in low level swift activity around colonies during the last few days. Nothing surprising about that as it often happens when birds start incubating and the weather is cool, but this morning something is different. Some new swifts have arrived, many probably last year’s non breeders that occupied nest sites, though some of these are already paired and incubating eggs; most of these previous occupiers should breed, often several weeks later than the oldest birds that arrived in April/May. The arrival could also include some of last year’s older non breeders that didn’t occupy nest spaces but could potentially breed this year. 

When an arrival of swifts occurs there is often much excitement high above the colony involving newly arrived birds and those already here, and so there was this morning. Many of these birds will already know each other. Colony members of the previous summer will reunite and there is often a lot of chasing and sometimes high speed screaming parties.  

I am trying to prepare for North Yorkshire Open Studios which starts this weekend but the distraction is ridiculous. They time their flypast immaculately to coincide with me starting a task and I cannot not watch. Each pass is different, be it in numbers or flight path taken, the different sound of air rushing over wings according to speed or the make up of calls. Unlike the Red Arrows unrehearsed, yet impeccable in execution, millimetres from certain death against bricks and mortar, all fuelled by tiny insects.

North Yorkshire Open Studios- 4/5 and 11/12 June

https://www.nyos.org.uk/jonathan-pomroy/

House martins
We had a house martin taken by a sparrowhawk today. I bear no grudge against the magnificent female sparrowhawk that took the house martin in a very impressive back flip by the kitchen window this morning, but it could be the start of a new hunting behaviour. Sparrowhawks recognise new feeding opportunities. The loss of one house martin with the population so low is very significant. This bird is likely incubating eggs which will result in several weeks of wasted effort and quite possibly now one brood being raised in this nest box rather than two. Ever since the kill the mate of the suspected victim has gazed continuously from the nest box entrance. At a time of low house martin numbers this bird will have to try and find a new mate now and start the breeding process all over again.

All images and text copyright ©️ Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Swift trio flypast
Swifts and cumulus cloud
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All swift clutches complete but you’d hardly know they are here.

We have a full house of swifts, not that you’d know it as they venture further afield to hunt for insects. The air mass is currently cool due to a big buckle in the jetstream plunging cold air south. In fact if you ignore the deep green foliage of late spring the air could be from a mild January day. Our three pairs of swifts have completed their clutches of eggs. I am thrilled that two pairs have produced three eggs and the other pair(non breeders last summer) has two. Interestingly both pairs with clutches of three eggs laid the first two 48 hours apart and then left a gap of 72 hours before laying the third egg. This almost certainly reflects the onset of cooler windier weather during laying.

The switch from egg laying to incubation is a big moment for swifts. Since the pair formed this spring they have spent virtually every hour together, but now, at least in daylight hours the birds have to get used to separate lives again as incubation duties begin. It is now that you see the importance of that intense pair bonding from the moment they meet. Today all pairs have settled down nicely into incubation with change overs after about an hour of sitting. Returning birds often start their shift with nest material brought in to add to the nest cup. They glue this down with their saliva. This can be a very testing time for adult swifts; they must feed themselves sufficiently while spending enough time keeping the clutch warm. Fortunately swifts can leave their eggs uncovered for many hours without causing the developing embryos harm. 

Today with the afternoon temperature around 12C (we have in recent years had milder Christmas days)the swifts leave their nests and go straight to feeding areas. I suspect for our swifts this might be somewhere like Castle Howard lake with a relative abundance of insects over the water and surrounding reed bed or perhaps the deep, wooded river valleys around Helmsley and Riveaulx Abbey. During incubation feeding time is much reduced so in cool weather every moment outside the nest box is spent feeding.

Many people are reporting a lack of swifts in the air at the moment. It is important to remember just how much swifts are affected by weather. A week ago they had energy to burn and low, fast flying displays were frequent. Also there were enough insects for the swifts to feed above the colony throughout the day. In contrast, today I have had very occasional sightings of swifts coming and going to swap incubation duty, no screaming parties and no birds feeding around the village, yet they are all still here and roosting on their nests at night. So with swifts feeding away from the colony and many committed to incubating eggs it is not surprising that we see fewer in the skies. 

Soon though if the weather warms up the first older non breeding birds will arrive- this swells numbers in the air dramatically. They tend to be visibly more experienced than the younger non breeders who arrive later in June(on 23rd June here both in 2020/21). Many of the older non breeders easily target entrance holes, perching quickly on the entrance to breeders’ nest sites, something younger swifts with their lack of experience must learn to do. Some of the older birds will pair and occupy nest sites this summer and a few may actually start breeding in June.

One of the easiest ways to tell that non breeders have arrived is to look for sky roosting swifts. So far most swifts I have been observing have been descending to nest sites at dusk, but soon the spectacle of watching swifts spiralling high into the twilight to roost will return.

All images and text copyright ©️ Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Swift incubating
Swift incubating
Brief swift fast flypast at 8am before they head off to feed. Partners of incubating birds will return in about an hour to swap incubation duty.
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Swifts distracting me as prepare for North Yorkshire Open Studios 4/5 and 11/12 June!

I am currently preparing for North Yorkshire Open Studios which starts a week tomorrow. The swifts are a constant distraction with their frequent noisy fly-pasts so it’s a good job painting them is one way I earn my living! Visitors to my studio can expect to see piles of watercolour swift sketches, but I paint much else besides! Approximately fifty percent of my output is landscape painting as well as many other species of bird. My lockdown sketchbook work will be on display too.

Here is a link to my page on NYOS 2022 – 4/5 and 11/12 June

https://www.nyos.org.uk/jonathan-pomroy/

I have always felt very fortunate that my art can be used in raising awareness for conservation. So a big part of the visitor experience for open studios here is showing people swifts, house martins and other wildlife in our garden. Hopefully they can take away ideas for their own gardens. I will be sketching from life in the garden throughout the weekend to enable people to see how I work and the materials I use.

So do come along and see what you can do for these birds and other wildlife. There will be cameras on three swift nests. The current flying displays by swifts easily rival that promised over London on Jubilee weekend and hopefully by NYOS even more birds will have arrived.

Swift diary

Each of our three pairs of swifts has two eggs and the they are making the switch to incubation. Having spent a week or so constantly in each other’s company the swifts must now separate for much of the day as they take turns to incubate the eggs. The pair bonding leading up to this point is essential for this stage when the birds spend so much time apart.

It has been a very windy week, not particularly cold but taxing for aerial insect feeders, hence records of big numbers of swifts and hirundines over wetlands across the country. However our swifts have generally hung around feeding here. They often feed on the sheltered side of Gilling Woods where they fly close to the canopy to glean insects. The last three days have seen very frequent low level flypasts, spectacular to watch on some down wind approaches, their speed and tight turns around the garden breath taking.

Yesterday evening saw a spectacular sunset; clouds quickly began to evaporate as they were blown west to east on a strong cool breeze. I watched the swifts come in to roost against this beautiful backdrop. A cold night followed with a ground frost in the early hours of the morning.

Below is a small selection of work on view at NYOS 22, much of it available to purchase.

ALL TEXT AND IMAGES COPYRIGHT JONATHAN POMROY 2022

Final low flypast before roost- 26th May.
Swift pair before roosting- 26th May 9.18pm.
Flushed red grouse- North York Moors.
Stormy sea at Sandsend.
Lapwing in winter- watercolour.
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Observing swifts in flight

While it’s wonderful to be able to observe every move of swifts in their nest boxes with cameras, big mysteries remain about the behaviour of swifts in the sky. Each year I manage to put together more pieces of the puzzle of some flight behaviour, or rather speculate about it a bit more, because unless we can identify the sex of the birds involved it is impossible to know for sure what is happening.

I have names for many different pieces of flight behaviour that I observe. Although it is popular to talk of waves of swifts according to the timing and order of their arrival, this is simplistic. There is so much overlap and variation within each age wave of swifts. The swift season in the UK can be broken down into many swift sub seasons, some only lasting days. My diaries have helped me to build up a picture of what to expect almost on a daily basis. But you then have to add in the weather. This can totally dictate the activity from day to day.

One commonly observed piece of flight behaviour is the V display, as I call it. A swift holds its wings deliberately in a V shape above its back, recalling displays from nightjars. It is a very brief display as the performing swift loses height rapidly. The tail is sometimes closed, sometimes fanned and the bird can be banking at the time. The V displaying swift is usually if not always being tailed by another. It is beautiful, if brief, display to watch and one might jump to the conclusion that it is involved in pair bonding or mating. Wrong, because on numerous occasions I have observed swifts perform the V display when their partner is incubating eggs. Given these pairs are committed why would they be displaying to others?

How do I know that these displaying birds are from a committed pair? I only know by extremely careful observation. I have to track a breeding bird leaving the nest box and keep my eyes fixed upon it while it performs certain aspects of flight behaviour.

Today the weather has been very windy and dull with occasional light rain. Yet the swifts have been very active with lots of fast low level passes, V displays and some prospecting by a new swift or two. While I wonder about what the flight behaviour might mean I never become obsessed by trying to understand it.  But I am obsessed with watching it because the visual spectacle never ceases to give me joy and thus inspires me to sketch and write; each wingbeat, each powered glide, each V, etched on my mind forever.

Swift returning to roost 9.24pm
Sketches of swift V display

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

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May 22nd May- all our swifts returned and a new pair move in.

It’s been a remarkable start to the swift season at our colony. Our three pairs returned and settled quickly between 9th- 16th May. Since then we have gained another pair. This time last year we had one pair of swifts so in less than a year(or June- August 21/ May 22)we have gained three new pairs. I haven’t played calls at all in this time, swifts have just attracted swifts.

The fourth pair first entered a nest box yesterday evening, the second bird entering after repeated coaxing by the male(?) bird. So I slept last night knowing we were sharing our house with eight swifts, eight house martins and at least ten tree sparrows! This latest pair confidently prospected from May 19th, perching on other nest boxes and house martin cups. They have chosen a box which I left up for tree sparrows; the flight path, so I thought, was less suitable for swifts. I am fairly certain one of this pair will be the swift that tried to enter the same box last year when tree sparrows were in residence. Sometimes prospecting swifts(probably males) only enter a potential nest site a few times in the summer; they don’t roost, don’t build a nest, but come back the following year find a mate a breed straight away.

This afternoon a fight broke out in box two, when a third bird entered. The fight lasted for about an hour. Eventually the interloper was ejected from the nest box. It was interesting to watch this bird go. To my relief it cleared the garden boundary, just, it was visibly weak in flight. Its behaviour after that was fascinating. It slowly gained height on very occasional shallow wing beats, clearly exhausted. Once at height it conserved energy, wings straight and gliding very slowly in circles with occasional flaps. Meanwhile the defending pair in the nest box rested there for well over an hour. Hopefully the interloper will not return to box 2, but as a colony becomes bigger these complex relationships and rivalries do become more frequent.

So on 22nd May 2022 we are much further ahead than I thought we would be; all pairs returned and a new pair in. There have been some days of spectacular fast low passes including today, especially late in the morning and early this afternoon. I have already spent hours sketching swift behaviour and the skies I have watched them fly through, adding to a now vast pile of swift work. So a very inspiring start to swift season 2022, just thirteen days since the first bird arrived.

May 19th- swifts prospecting for nest sites including the box shown in last year’s sketch.

ALL IMAGES AND TEXT ©️ COPYRIGHT JONATHAN POMROY 2022

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Swift and house martin diary- May 19th

All six swifts of 2021 are back in boxes, three pairs reunited. All arrived between 9th- 16th May which is early for a whole colony to assemble. It is a joy to watch the six in the air. After a day of poor weather yesterday they turned up early in the evening, performed a couple of rather erratic flypasts in the gusty wind and then retired to their boxes. While we cannot prove that they are the same individuals, all returned and entered the nest boxes with confidence and no hesitation and each pair settled immediately making it all but certain.

In addition this morning there was some surprising behaviour as three prospecting swifts turned up. They perched confidently on unused nest boxes and house martin cups alike. This could be a displaced pair, we’ll never know but the three seemed very familiar with our house knowing instantly, different flight paths to the nest boxes. It does look like we could have at least one more pair.

We have seen some wonderful skies recently. A thunderstorm at dusk on Monday saw swifts flying against a very dramatic backdrop. For me painting swifts has always been as much about observing the skies they inhabit and I am already filling sketchbooks with new swift skies.

The house martins in the village were gathering mud to build or repair nests today. I sat by a wall in the village sketching . Of course when cars passed the house martins flew off so I did receive some rather curious looks from passing drivers. But when these birds come down to the ground they settle very close to each other to gather a good beakful of mud. They waddle about on white feathered legs and being tame allow me  really close views if I sit quietly. Recent rain will really help a lot of house martin colonies where mud is essential to enable them to breed. So far numbers look encouraging in Gilling East after a very poor year in 2021. Watching them interact with swifts over our house is wonderful as is the sound of their mixed calls. All our house martins are nesting in artificial nest cups. While we don’t want to see a world without mud house martin nests, artificial nests offer them a reliable place to breed. In areas where numbers are low the provision of artificial nest cups enables some house martins to maximise their breeding potential.

In a dry spring nest cups can literally be the difference between house martins breeding or not, so they have the potential to save a colony. House martins could occupy nest cups and breed between now and early July, so it is not too late to attract them this year. These lovely, now red listed, birds really need our help, so please consider providing artificial nest cups.

House martins collecting mud- Cawton Road, Gilling East
The colony arrives home just before the thunderstorm. A couple of rather erratic flypasts in the guisty windy ahead of the down pour. Then all six straight into their nest boxes.

All text and images copyright ©️Jonathan Pomroy 2022

A SUMMARY OF THE YEAR SO FAR

Swifts in Gilling East 2022

9th May- first swift arrives and roost in box 2 10.32am

10th May- swift returns to box1 6.46pm (max. 3 swifts above village)

12th May- box 1 2nd bird arrives at 6.21pm (max. 6 swifts above village)

14th May- box2 2nd bird arrives at 8.24am 9 (max. 9 swifts above village) At dusk a swift landed on and looked in box 3. Probably the first of last year’s non breeding pair.

15th May- 5.38am swift enters and settles in box 3. 5 out of 6 birds back.

16th May- final swift arrives back and settles quickly with its mate in box 3.

19th May- a pair of swifts are prospecting new boxes and the house martin nests!

House martins in Gilling East 2022

25th April- 3 house martins prospecting house, 1 roosts in anc 3

29th April- anc 3 bird attracts a mate (max. 6 above village)

4th May- second male roosted in anc 3

6th May- single male adding mud to anc 3

10th May- pair in anc 3 and pair in anc 4

11th May- more martins arrive, max. 10 above village.

New hm into anc 6

12th May- pair in anc 6. So pairs now in anc 3,4,6.

New hms arrive over village max. 15 birds. New prospecting pair looking at potential nest building sites on our north wall.

29th May- pair in anc 2