June 17th- swift eggs hatch

Yesterday, approximately twenty days after laying, the first swift egg hatched. It is possible both eggs have hatched but the parents are so attentive we have just had one very brief glimpse of a tiny featherless chick. The parents are coming and going quite frequently with food. This can be seen in the bulging throat pouch which can carry hundreds of tiny insects back to the nest. Our swiftlets have had great start with fine weather from the moment they hatched. They have been brooded constantly by each parent in turn, while the other collects food.

Outside the nest there are frequent low level, high energy flypasts, usually by three birds but occasionally up to six. I made a watercolour today of five approaching head on. I love this view of swifts and delight in them passing inches above my head. Their wings look needle sharp, sometimes criss crossing each other when the formation is tight. The noise can be impressive too with multiple calls overlapping. We don’t know the full function of these flypasts but I imagine they are a social gathering for the colony. We do know that they become increasingly common and larger as the season progresses, especially shortly before they leave for Africa. There may well be an element of display involved too with individuals showing their flight prowess.

Swift flypasts are very common at dusk, when the flying can be particularly energetic. The energy used is clearly substantial as flypasts all but stop during cold or wet weather. We had just one flypast yesterday evening as sea fret set in. They are perhaps the piece of swift behaviour which people most look forward to as summer approaches. They are a certainly true indicator of fine weather and for many, including myself, the ultimate natural sign that summer is at its peak.




June 16th- curlews and swift diary

We are so lucky to have curlews breeding nearby. To stand in the garden and hear them is an immense privilege. Few calls evoke place as much as the curlew’s. Sometimes they lazily drift over the village calling at full volume and I remind myself how lucky I am. Tolly and I did what has become our classic lockdown walk this morning. It is only a couple of miles with home as the base. We wandered today, rather sluggish, the humid air seemingly harder to walk through. We paused just outside the village to look back at our swifts. They have always been a summer marker of where I live. Arrive in our village without a map or sat. nav., go to the nearest circling and diving swifts and there is a reasonable chance it will be our house!

Walking on through the first meadow we found our first meadow brown butterfly, immaculate, freshly emerged, we felt like we were the first humans to see it and perhaps we were? Hares hid in the long grass before scarpering. Sometimes two ears moving high speed above the level of the grass. We have named areas on the walk now. one of the most exciting patches is “warbler corner”. It is so good for warblers that any other species seems rare. This morning the corner was intruded by a train of long tailed tits. Many of them were juveniles, dark brown instead of pink, yet with the same unmistakable shape and call as their parents. We encountered many wild rose bushes, all at their very best. Tolly discovered that the tighter the flower the greater the scent. The big blousy flowers with brown stamens had already given of their best. We stopped and put our noses right in several flowers. Such subtle scent and colour, but to my mind no cultivated rose comes close to the beauty of a wild one.

The roses were accompanied by elderflower, smacking us frequently with its scent of midsummer. The yellowhammers and reed buntings sang throughout. But as we neared the end of the walk, we heard a curlew. assuming it to be on the ground I scanned the meadow. But Tolly’s young eyes found a pair in flight, just breaking the horizon, the first calling whilst effortlessly gliding on long wings held in a shallow V.

Swift Diary
An incredible evening of activity yesterday with young birds screaming around our roof top. Sometimes up to six while our pair were in the nest box. I worry about them sometimes, their flight pushes extremes, circling tight, then tighter to miss the wall by millimetres. They just kept going, fuelled by the still humid air, they didn’t want the day to end, and neither did I. at 10.03pm, by now the gloaming, they raced hell for leather our the eaves calling their frustration that darkness was near, then up, up they went into the gloomy zenith, their calls fading with altitude.

Today another swift was born, at least one of our pair’s two eggs hatched. Sketches will follow when the attentive parents let me have a look at them.IMG_2548 (3)IMG_4445IMG_4447


June 15th- prospecting swifts

Swift Diary

We have had two days of fast, low level swift action! The volume of their screams still surprises me. What is interesting about swift calls is that the sound moves. In one scream the swift will have travelled perhaps twenty metres or more. So if you are close to the swifts the screams increase and then decrease in volume with distance, much like the noise of a passing vehicle. I think this factor really adds to the sensation of hearing swifts.

I sat on the lawn with the watercolours and made some sketches of a couple of aspects of swift flight behaviour today. For those of you who can watch swifts here is some behaviour to look out for. The V display is where one bird holds its wings up in a steep V when approached by another from behind. At times the wings may be almost vertical and parallel. The V is brief because the bird loses height rapidly in this position. I wish I could tell you what this means. We simply don’t know, partly because we cannot tell male from female in the air. But it is a very beautiful display to watch and it is commonly performed around breeding colonies.

Another flight to look for involves a prospecting pair. The lead bird, which is probably a male, leads a potential mate towards a nest site. As it does so it quivers its wing tips, the following bird will then do the same as they approach. A soft piping call is made on approach, quite unlike the well known swift ‘scream’. This piping call is very similar to the bonding call the birds make once in the nest site together.

If you are trying to attract swifts, look for a very fast approach where the lead bird aims straight at a potential nest hole. At the last minute it may air brake and peel off screaming very loudly as it passes the entrance. This flight perfectly demonstrates the speed and accuracy of a swift’s flight and comes with the expectation that a pair might use your nest box.

After the recent cool spell it has been a joy to watch the power and finesse of swift flight. I am still excited by every flypast. As they approach fast and low my heart rate literally rises as I soak up the sight and sound as they rush overhead.



June 14th- nightjar, tawny owl and swift diary

I’ve had very little slee! Tolly and I had a wonderful socially distanced evening with Nathaniel and Phil Dargue watching nightjars. We are fortunate to have them very close to Gilling East, a species that is doing very well locally in clear felled forestry areas. Nightjars are nocturnal, emerging at dusk. They have an incredible churring song, which really needs to be experienced to be believed. It has an other-wordly quality, primeval almost. If I didn’t know the sound was coming from a bird, a very beautiful one at that, I would frankly say the sound was quite chilling.

As we arrived an impressive fret spread across the area, rolling in from the North  Sea. This curtailed the light, though the gloom had I thought a rather magical quality, a pewter light enveloped everything. We managed to find the bird churring from a tall fir. But it made frequent sorties around the clear fell giving us very close flight views many times.

This was my son’s first nightjar experience and one we hope to repeat it soon, perhaps without the sea fret. We also saw a woodcock on its territorial patrol flight, a flight known as roding.

This morning I was up at dawn to empty the moth trap, then to carry out my BTO Breeding Bird Survey. I have been covering the same area for nine years and find the survey both enlightening and rewarding. I had wonderful views of a barn owl at dawn. Later I heard then saw a young tawny owl. It was still largely covered in down, but with fresh flight feathers well able to fly from tree to tree. I made a study of the owl as it looked down at me from a beech tree.


Swift Diary

What a day! The swift action came thick and fast from mid morning, encouraged by the settled, warm and calm conditions. We had low level flypasts of four birds very regularly, particularly late in the morning and between 1-2 pm. As our breeding pair incubate eggs (which should hatch very soon) it was wonderful to enjoy frequent flying displays by the younger birds.




June 13th- en plein air watercolours, kestrel and summer warmth

What a joy to experience summer warmth again. We have had more than 70mm of rain since June the 3rd. We haven’t seen any butterflies since then. I spent some time sketching blue sky and cumulus clouds this afternoon, it felt like a good way to celebrate the change in the weather and hopefully the return of our swifts.

Watercolour is testing in these conditions, it dries extremely fast so I work very quickly. As I sketched a kestrel hovered nearby. At this time of year our kestrels change their feeding tactics. They hover above local back gardens keeping an eye out for recent fledglings. We see them drop at great speed into a back garden and then hear the commotion of the parent birds if the strike is successful.

Sparrowhawks are also exploiting this bounty using two tactics. Sometimes they circle very high, watching for a victim, before dropping like a stone at incredible speed. We rarely see the kill, but again hear the commotion. The other tactic is to hunt at extreme low level using obstacles such as fences, hedges and cars to cover their high speed approach, typically towards birds on a feeder.

We saw a couple of immaculate tortoiseshell butterflies in the garden this morning. These will be the offspring of the tortoiseshells that emerged back in March and early April. We realised that we are unlikely to see another orange tip now and will have to wait until next April for our next.

Swift Diary

I noticed there was some good swift movement over the Netherlands yesterday. This could be an indicator of the arrival of the next wave of younger prospecting swifts in the UK. There was no sudden arrival or upturn in activity as the warmer weather arrived this morning. It will be interesting to count numbers towards dusk this evening. Many places in the UK will this evening experience some fine swift flying displays again after a long period of absence.

IMG_5396IMG_5404Below, sky studies. Kestrel hovering.

IMG_5403Below, en plein air watercolour landscapes in all weathers.IMG_8471


June 12th- swift diary and NYOS 2020

North Yorkshire Open Studios online

You can view some of my work and my studio on the NYOS website at 12.40pm tomorrow. Follow this link 


To see my work available through ooen studios please see



Swift Diary

Our weather station has recorded more than 28mm of rain in the last 24 hours. Our monthly total now stands at 69mm, all of that since 3rd June. So far June has been wet, incredible given how dry April and May were and how wet the winter was!

Today started very wet. Frequent bursts of moderate rain prevailed until early afternoon. The swift pair stayed in until mid morning, one then venturing out. This afternoon the eggs are left uncovered. Swift eggs are well able to withstand being left. They are now only a day or two away from hatching.

We saw swifts over Gilling woods south of our house for much of the morning. They were often feeding very close to the tree tops. My feeling is that some younger birds are back in the area, but are not yet indulging in high speed flights around the colony areas. I think as soon as the weather improves we will quickly see a return to flying displays and prospecting around the house. It has been a long wait.

Below, Swifts feeding over Gilling Woods in the rain this morning, all facing into the strong easterly breeze.



bird behaviour, Daily blog from Gilling East, Sketchbook, Sketching outside

June 11th- redstarts, pied flycatchers and swift diary

Tolly and I had a very early trip to the North York Moors this morning. We went to see pied flycatchers and redstarts. We were lucky to see both very well. The male pied flycatcher is a little black and white gem. They contrast so well against fresh green foliage. The male was busy feeding young with his mate. Both dart around the woods very fast when looking for food. The only chance to see them well is when they perch briefly before entering the nest hole.

We were spoilt for choice because a pair of redstarts were also showing well. The male sang on an open perch for a while giving us superb views. He was very fluffed up in the cold conditions. We found some wild strawberries to feast on to keep us going for breakfast! This was a welcome trip out, but we feel keen to continue our coverage of the local patch around Gilling East. As the weather improves in the next few days we are keen to walk the Holbeck again and see how our local birds are doing. So expect more local updates in the coming days and weeks.

Swift Diary
Some older non breeding birds returned yesterday afternoon though they have not yet been putting on low level flying displays around the colony. Our pair continue to incubate with the prospect of the eggs hatching in the next few days. We are still awaiting fine weather. Today is atrocious with both swifts huddled in the nest box throughout the afternoon, but on this day last year the same pair didn’t leave the nest box at all with wind and rain keeping the temperature below 10C, so some improvement!


June 10th- swift diary and North Yorkshire Open Studios Online

Swift Diary

Tolly and I had a trip out to try and find hirundines and swifts feeding in the rain. We found none at either Castle Howard Lake or Newburgh Priory. We would love to know where non breeding swifts go to in poor weather. They have been missing from here since the evening of June 3rd. Other swift watchers in various parts of the country have noticed a synchronised absence at their colonies. It will be really interesting to watch the weather charts over the next few days to see exactly what conditions bring them back…

So much swift watching is speculation, but my feeling is that older non breeding birds (born in 2018 or before) had started to arrive before 3rd June. They then departed for better feeding, probably over wetland somewhere, but probably within the UK. They will feed here and go up to roost in the air above these locations overnight. When the weather improves they will resume feeding and roosting over their chosen colony area.

The swifts born last year probably haven’t touched the shores of the UK at all yet. They will arrive in the second half of June and even into July. Those hoping to increase their colonies anxiously await the return of younger prospecting birds. Swift attraction calls will be played across the land as people hope to attract them to nest on their house.

It is a sobering thought that we are nearly halfway through the swift breeding season now. There will be a few late breeding swifts here in August, perhaps more so because of this recent poor weather but the low level, fast flying activity will have ceased. Most will be gone in the first week of August. So when they do come back and grace our skies again in the next few days enjoy every moment you have to watch them



North Yorkshire Open Studios

The following two field sketches are available as part of NYOS ONLINE. Please click the relevant page on my website.


Peregrine at Scarborough, watercolour painted at Marine Drive


Whitby Waxwing, watercolour painted outside Wickes store!



June 9th- cuckoo and swift diary

We went for a walk on the North York Moors this morning- the first time for many weeks. We were immediately greeted by the sound of a cuckoo. What a beautiful sound, we listened mesmerised. It was accompanied by a snipe ‘drumming’, curlew calls, crossbills, skylark, willow warbler and meadow pipits. A really special moorland chorus and one which I have probably heard just in time, as soon it will fall silent again until next April. We had superb views of the cuckoo as it perched on top of a nearby pine, mobbed by meadow pipits. A calling cuckoo has such an interesting silhouette with tail held high and wings drooped. A front view showed the drooped wings particularly well.

We found a patch of Arctic starflower in full bloom. This uncommon northern species has a delicate beauty. It is a member of the primrose family and one which I seek out each year.

I had wondered whether we would be too late to hear or see a cuckoo this year so we left elated and ready for breakfast.

Swift diary

There is little to report. Although the weather has improved, it has not improved enough to encourage the younger birds to return to prospect for nest sites. They had just arrived before the weather turned on 3rd June. Since then we have not had any low level swift activity at all, though we remain grateful that our pair are probably through the worst and continue to incubate their two eggs.


June 8th- blackbird and swift diary

We have been busy building a substantial pond in the garden. The digging is almost done and this has been beneficial to the local blackbirds. Each time we retreat for a rest or refreshment they explore the bare earth and enjoy the bounty.

We can’t wait to take delivery of the pond liner now and see the pond filled. The really hard work is done- now comes the rewarding part as we watch wildlife adapt to this new habitat.

P1000251 (2)

Swift Diary

The weekend was very difficult for our incubating swifts, they spent huge amounts of time huddled up in the nest box together during the cold, wet and windy weather. But a drop in the wind speed yesterday afternoon was just what they needed and they left the box for a feed. Today the eggs were left uncovered for several hours during the afternoon. This is not normally a problem for swifts. Both birds were undoubtedly taking the time to have a much needed feed during the warmest part of the day.

Let’s hope that warmer weather tomorrow will see a return of the younger non breeding swifts and an increase in the high energy, screaming flights we all enjoy. There should also be a return of prospecting swifts. They have been gone now since the evening of 3rd June and their return will be very welcome!

P1000253 (2)