The Nest Box Diary 2011
August (part 1)
1 August - The month begins with a step-up in temperatures. On a sunny day with light south-easterly breeze the temperature remained over 20C for nearly twelve hours after 8am and reached a high of 27C in the middle of the afternoon.
In SW-ri there was an early start with both birds leaving at 5.14am and returning at 5.25am. After that there was a pause for nearly an hour before one of the adults headed out once more. When it returned there was a change-over. The sitting parent stayed put for half an hour before it too left, and from then on for the rest of the day both birds were back and forth so that the chicks were left unattended for 17 periods ranging from 1 minute to 1 hr 20min.
The first bird (left) had been in the box for twenty minutes. Having fed the chicks it had spent quite a bit of time looking towards the entrance, as though expecting its partner to arrive.
On its arrival the second bird headed straight past its partner at high speed,
and was greeted by a pair of hungry chicks that seemed set on devouring its entire head as they persuaded it to give up the ball of compressed insects that it had in a food pouch in its throat.
While this was going on the other adult quietly slipped out of the exit.
Today the parents returned to the nest 24 times (including their final returns at 9.10 and 9.14pm).
It was noticeable today that the parents stayed on the chicks for far less time, very possibly because of the high temperature. Tonight just one of the pair is on the chicks. Its partner is roosting on the base of the box.
2 August - Another very warm (and humid) day with the temperature around 26C all afternoon.
Both parents left SW-ri at 5.45am during the rest of the day the chicks were left alone for 15 periods of between 2 minutes and several of around an hour. Following their first departure and including their final arrival(s) at 8.59/9.07pm the parents returned to the nest 23 times today.
During the day I checked the skies from time to time but saw no more than one Swift (and no House Martins) at any time.
3 August - the hot spell continued today. By the early afternoon the temperature was over 27C and in the sheltered shade of the garden a thermometer read 30C. This evening it was still registering 22C at 8pm. The air was still for much of the day, but this evening there was a brisk breeze for the south-west - perhaps the first indication of a change in the nature of the weather that is promised for tomorrow.
In SW-ri the day started with both adults leaving the box at 5.23am. By the time they returned for the night at 9.05/9.10pm they had returned to the box with food 22 times today. Today the chicks were left alone 15 times, and during the afternoon the three longest of these periods each lasted for the same time - 1hr 26minutes!
Six days ago I removed a spider's web from in front of the camera, and this afternoon I needed to repeat the process - much easier now with these longer gaps between visits. I waited until one of the occasional times when both parents visited, and as soon as they left I climbed the ladder once more to use a paint brush to clear as much of the silk as possible.
Of course I took my little Olympus camera (handy because I can wash it afterwards!), although I took just the one picture this time.
What a difference in six days (they are now 11/12 days old) - only the occasional pink of bare skin visible this time, and clear signs of the first emergence of flight and tail feathers from the protective sheaths in which they develop.
A closer look at the picture once I was back in the house revealed a parasitic flat-fly Crataerina paillida on a chick's back.
This box was clean before the parents arrived , but I saw one of these flies on the bird that made the first inspection visit.
You can also see the tail feathers in the early stages of emerging from their sheaths.
This cctv image captured early this evening also captures two events.
The chick stretches its wings during the process of producing a faecal sac. The parent simply looks on as it drops to the floor. By the time the pair fledge the floor will be almost completely covered with them.
This image of the family tonight shows how there is now only room for one adult on the rather cramped nest
As you can see, after a long gap I'm finally able to use cctv images once more. Things aren't quite sorted yet, and I hope to improve the quality of the images fairly soon. When time allows I will be starting to add images to previous entries where I think they are helpful (see above).
4 August - After a series of very warm dry days, we saw little of the sun today. With a westerly breeze blowing the day started wet, and we had drizzle and rain until lunchtime, The afternoon remained cloudy but largely dry, and after dusk the sky started to clear. The temperature was 17C at 8am, rising to 21C by the late afternoon and was still 19C at 9pm.
The change in the weather had a dramatic effect on activity in SW-ri. The first parent to leave waited until 8.15am, and when it returned at 9.17am it was soaked. While its partner left at 9.26am it remained in the box for the rest of the morning - the other parent hadn't returned when it decided to leave at 12.03pm.
During the second half of the day the parents got back into business and while the morning saw just the one return, during the rest of the day there were 12 further returns. This just about matches the number seen over the same period on other 'full' days, so no extra feeds to make up for the lost time due to rain!
One event was worth a special note today. During a visit by just one of the parents shortly before 4pm, one of the chicks was dumped accidentally out of the nest cup (for the first time) by the adult.
It found itself at the wrong end of its parent as its sibling was fed, but it wasn't long before it climbed back into the nest, squeezing under the adult as it did so.
5 August - A dry, bright day, the temperature back up again with a high of 24C. Tonight it is cooler, with the temperature down to 15C by 9pm.
A cool start to the day (16C at 7am) may have explained a slightly late start for the parents in SW-ri. They left for the first time at 6.26 and 7.08am. During the day they returned to the box at 25 times, their final arrival(s) for the night coming at 9.03/9.04pm.
It looks as though I will need to visit the box again over the weekend after the ghostly image of what I believe to be Pholcus phalangioides spider appeared in the cctv image just before 7pm.
There are already new threads of silk across the image and left unchecked it won't be long before the image is badly degraded.
6 August - The weather is on a bit of a yo-yo at the moment. Today was mainly cloudy again, with the occasional touch of dampness on a south-westerly breeze. A high of 19C was reached only briefly in the late afternoon.
Once again the cool conditions had an effect on the feeds the chicks received. The parents left together at 6.56am and then returned to the nest just 15 times, the second bird finally returning for the night at a very early 8.59pm (its partner having returned four minutes earlier).
There was just one long absence of 1hr 49m ( 8.11 - 10am), but several longer stays (in the box) by an adult. The longest stay involved both adults, and that sequence started when the first returned at 6.01pm.
Having fed one of the chicks, adult 1 settled down on the pair and allowed itself to be pecked on the neck by both chicks. At 6.12pm adult 2 entered and positioned itself at the back of the box, feeding a chick that stretched across to it.
Feed over, adult 2 stayed put and the chicks resumed their occasional pecking of the neck of adult 1. The family remained like this for the next 28 minutes, during which adult 1 frequently looked across at the chicks while adult 2 ignored them.
Then, at 6.40pm adult 1 stretched across towards the chicks. They responded immediately by stretching over and pecking at it. This prompted adult 2 to turn its head and also peck at its partners neck.
Three minutes later and adult 1 was back on the next with the chicks, with adult 2 joining the group after a further two minutes. Another pause occurred at this point, and another couple of minutes went by before the two adults then indulged in some mutual neck pecking before adult 1 headed for the exit at 6.55pm.
Adult 1 didn't leave the box. Instead, at just before 7pm it returned to the nest and squeezed in between bird 2 and the camera end of the box. There was another pause before bird 2 stepped off the nest and left the box at 7.11pm.
Bird 2 (does its behaviour suggest that this is the female?) then spent some time looking out but didn't leave until 7.55pm.
Tonight, the squeeze to fit on the nest left one of the chicks pushed out onto the floor for a while. While the wing display mentioned above was interesting to watch, tonight's image is the first I've captured in which a chick shows an early hint of the pointed nature of the Swift's wing.
It didn't stay there for long, and was able to clamber back onto the nest and under its parents once more.
As I mentioned yesterday, today I needed to tackle the spider problem in the box (a lot of web in place by this morning!). This time I apprehended the culprit and confirmed the species as P. phalangioides and removed it.
Again I took advantage of the situation to record the appearance of the chicks, now 14/15 days old.
With the spider gone I hope that I will not be disturbing them again.
7 August - Another day with the temperature not making it above 19C. There was some sunshine today, but also a few showers which brought the temperature down a few degrees for a while.
Activity in SW-ri was once again somewhat reduced with just 16 returns by the adults between leaving for the first time at 7.18 / 7.48am and their final return(s) at 9.01 / 9.06pm. For most of the day the visits involved just one adult, the only exception coming just before 9pm when the pair arrived together - one left again within a minute with the other following a few minutes later.
Tonight as I write this just after 10pm I see that just one of the adults is on the nest, with a chick on top of it! The other adults is on the floor of the box but tucked right against the rim of the nest.
Twenty minutes later and the whole family is now squeezed, just about, onto the nest itself, with both chicks underneath.
This afternoon there was one of those 'step forward' moments for the older of the two chicks, coming just after a feed. The chick opened its wings, as it has done previously, but this time it went on to flap them vigorously.
Then it then pressed its body into the corner of the box and really stretched its wings out at the same time as it arched its body, in a process that will be repeated numerous times as it approaches fledging at the end of the month.
The other chick (which I must presume is the younger of the two) only managed a single extension of one wing.
Click on images to see larger versions
2011 Nestbox Diary Index .......... ..........................................................August (part 2)