House Martin Diary - 2006
16 June - Nothing much to report since our return. The adult Martins seem to be taking shifts in the right-hand nest and there was increased activity at that nest towards the end of this afternoon. I shall have to watch carefully over the next few days.
I am still not seeing any activity in the camera equipped nest, although the webcam is now in operation again. It seems as though a bit of debris had got into the cooling fan to cause the noise before we went away. A blast of air through it solved the problem.
I have changed the lens on the external camera to give a closer view of the right-hand nest entrance - I'm not sure if the image is now too restricted, and I may switch to a slightly wider angle lens in the next couple of days.
As I have reported in the garden diary, there is a lot of Swift activity here at the moment. I must make modifications to those boxes to correct the entrance shape before next year's nesting. If the last Starling chick fledges in the next few days I may go ahead and do it within the next week - probably too late, but it will be worth a try.
25 June - It been far too long since my last report on the Martins.
As I said on 16 June, activity at the nest had started to increase. Then, we started to see feacal sacs being brought out as more and more food deliveries were being made.
Yesterday I noticed that the adults were often passing food to the chicks without entering the nest, and today we have seen a chick for the first time. This picture was taken this evening.
While most of the feeding visits were by a single parent, on several occasions both turned up at once - and both ended up in the nest!
One more image that shows one of the parents more clearly.
While I need to spend more time watching the Martins over the next week or so, I'll also be pointing my camera at the Swifts. While I was set up to take these pictures, a Swift left my neighbour's roof space and swooped past me as it headed for the rest of the Swifts that were flying around the neighbourhood. This morning I watched as a dozen or more swooped repeatedly between our houses, sometimes landing briefly and flying very close to the Swift boxes.
27 June - Yesterday Sheila caught a glimpse of two chicks at the nest entrance and today this has been a regular occurrence. They can have 4-5 young but we won't know the total until it is time to fledge..
With activity increasing at the entrance to this nest, and with the continued absence of activity in the camera-equipped box, I've changed the webcam to follow the external camera, which now has a long lens to give you more of a chance to see the chicks.
This picture was taken early this evening when food deliveries were being made at intervals of five minutes or less.
I watched for about an hour, and during that time I saw a Swift leave next door's roof and then return some 30 minutes later, suggesting that eggs are being incubated as the bird stayed in the nest.
8 July - It may look as though I'm neglecting the House Martins very badly, but they are doing very well despite the lack of diary entries! In fact, we have them on daytime TV all day here, both downstairs and in the bedroom that Sheila uses for her sewing, knitting and computing.
I have spent a few sessions out at the front of the house, and it's fascinating to watch as the parents approach with food. They nearly always follow roughly the same flight-path down our road before swooping under the eves.
Once they had delivered the food, they leave with a low swoop as they continue down the road before heading up high.
Considering that we first saw faecal sacs being dropped out of the box back on the 16 June, the chicks must be within a day or so of fledging now. In fact, tomorrow will be day 23, and my books suggest that fledging takes place anywhere from 18 to 22 days! I shall be setting up my video recorder for tomorrow morning to try and establish how many youngsters there really are, as we only ever see two at the entrance. At least they have been showing a great deal on the webcam during this last week.
While I was watching, I also saw one Swift go into my neighbour's roof space, and then about 40 minutes later two left??
It didn't move for a while, and
it wasn't until 8.35pm that two adults emerged.
With the weather really miserable, it wasn't long before one returned to the nest.
The other adult headed for the camera nest, and with the exception of one quick trip out, spent the next two hours in there, spending much time preening.
I must take another look at the camera arrangement before next year to try and give more coverage of the interior space.
For some of the time it moved nearer the entrance to look out. When that happened, things got darker in the nest, sometimes completely blacked out - how can I arrange a little bit of lighting next year. To do that I will really need to switch to the use of an infra-red camera - a difficult choice.
As the skies started to get brighter, this bird left the nest and didn't return to it for the rest of the day.
It was then business as usual, with two chicks on almost constant guard at the entrance, and regular supplies of food being brought by both parents.
This fuzzy image was captured from the cctv feed as one of the chicks exercised its wings, something I saw happening several times during the day.
Finally, this was one of those lucky moments when I pressed the shutter at the right moment, as the adult swooped away after a food delivery.
10 July - No pictures today, but this evening they are still with us, with no sign of the chicks fledging!
11 July - Fledging has started, just about!
First thing this morning it was a case of business as usual, with two heads looking out of the right-hand nest just about all of the time.
Both parents were visiting,
although I only saw them bringing very small insects. We saw one chick drop a tiny fly that it simple couldn't get a good grip on!
Every so often, a rear end reversed out of the nest as a chick added to the pile of droppings that have now accumulated on the porch roof below the nest. One of those moments gave me a chance to get a photograph of the tail.
The roof is stainless steel so is easily cleaned!
After spending a while watching the Martins I needed to get on with the job of trimming the Hawthorn from in my neighbour's garden.
There were three chicks looking down from two boxes - one had flown, at least for a short distance.
The camera in the left-hand box showed the youngster exploring the nest and preening when not looking out.
The tree work was put on hold for half an hour as I watched to see how the parents would react.
They continued to feed the chicks in the right-hand nest, seemingly ignoring the loud calls of the youngster on the left.
I don't know if it was fed during the rest of the afternoon, although I expect it was. Anyway, the fledgling was still there during the evening. However, just before 8pm it suddenly left. I grabbed my camera and headed out to see what would happen.
The fledgling had great difficulty on the first few approaches. This picture show one such moment. As a parent looks out, the fledgling has actually got its wing tip caught between the parent and the nest entrance, leaving it hanging there for a moment.
It did make it into the nest eventually and was still there when darkness fell.
As soon as I saw this I went outside and
was greeted by three faces peering out of three boxes.
A quick check of the cctv image showed that there were still two in that nest, so it seems that the family has at least four offspring.
I have switched the webcam to cover both external and internal cameras, and change the lens on the former to cover all three nests.
I've used an arrow to indicate the link between the two images, the same fledgling making an appearance in both images.
Whenever a bird looks out of the left-hand box the cctv image goes dark, even in the daytime.
It turned round and seemed to spend a short time checking out its offspring, who begged for food.
This was the only time I saw an adult in the box today.
For the rest of the day the youngsters seemed content to remain in the nests and wait for the parents to choose them when food was delivered.
I would have expected to see a lot of wing stretching during the day, but this seemed to be only a very occasional activity.
There was clearly a dominant bird (on the right) which spent most time at the entrance, and bullied its sibling, sometimes with vicious pecking.
However, at other times it seemed to be preening its 'nest mate', and a couple of times it was on the receiving end of similar treatment.
The small, triangular shapes on this image are not markings on the birds, but optical effects as a result of dust particles on the camera lens.
This evening, as the cctv images become dark the situation in the boxes remains unchanged, and I am uncertain whether or not the chick in the right-hand nest has made its first flight today - I don't think so.
At 9.20pm I have just been outside and can see no birds at the entrances. and neither can I see any House Martins on the wing. The only high fliers still hunting, or just enjoying themselves(?) are the Swifts, performing their usual aerobatics with the occasional scream thrown in for good effect.
14 July - Sorry I missed a day -
This morning started with at least three birds in the camera box, one in the right-hand box, and two on the wing at 6am. All the youngsters left the nests at one time or another today, and for a while this afternoon the nests were all empty, although not for long.
It was the youngster in the right-hand nest that was the most reluctant to fly. I watched for a while as the parents flew low level circuits in front of the house such that the fledgling could see them.
Sometimes they would fly up to the nest as though to deliver food, only to turn away at the last moment.
When it didn't leave after several of these manoeuvres the feeding resumed.
By the end of the afternoon the family was returning to the nests more frequently. This picture was taken at 5.40pm.
During the course of the evening at least two birds moved into the camera nest, but I won't be sure of numbers until the morning.
The House Martin family in the nest across the road from us seems a little behind - the parents are still taking food to the chicks who have yet to fledge. There is just the one (natural) nest on that house. I wonder what those chicks will do in the days and nights following fledging. I assume that they will all roost in that one nest.
15 July - No photographs today -
I started recording the cctv output at 5am, and saw the first bird (an adult, I think) leave the camera nest at 5.31am, returning to the same nest about 15 minutes later. When it left again at 6.13am there was enough light to see that it had been the only occupant. A bird looking out of the right-hand nest was fed around 6.24am.
There were several more visits before a bird entered the right-hand nest at 7.49am in the next two minutes I saw four birds leave that nest. A fifth bird continued to look out and was fed again before it too left at 8.30am.
After all the comings and goings, the nests were empty as far as I could tell, with a total of five birds having left while I watched.
During the day there were occasional visitors, and as I write this at 7.30pm, there is a bird in the camera nest again. It is at the back of the nest and is spending much of the time preening.
16 July - Again, no photographs today, but as I add this note at 8.20pm there are Martins in at least the left and middle nests, one in each. They have been visiting at intervals throughout the day, and I saw one being fed at the nest around lunchtime.
17 July - On a very warm day (max 32C) I only saw a couple of visits to the nests all day, and tonight, at 9.15pm I cannot see any signs of the House Martins in the skies over us. In contrast, there must be a couple of dozen Swifts in a couple of groups to be seen wheeling about. Occasionally we can hear the screams as some of them swoop low in front of our open windows.
I have decided that, as there is little action taking place, I will suspend the webcam for the moment. Over the last two years we have had late broods here, starting in August. If this happens this year then the webcam will be resumed.
At one time I stood outside our front door watching a spectacular demonstration of low level, high speed flying by both the Martins and Swifts. Our Martins seemed to have teamed up with others, and there were at least a dozen flying up to the nests at one stage.
There will be no further entries for a short while (length undecided - as usual) as we are on our July migration to our summer roost in Cornwall. When we return I hope to be following the second brood - my fingers are crossed!
Click on the images to see larger versions -