The Nest Box Diary 2011

July (part 3) 

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22 July - The first chick fledges from SW-le

An even better day with the temperature remaining around 19C for much of the afternoon, with a northerly breeze that started to swing westerly as the afternoon progressed.

In SW-up there was no repeat of yesterday's feather deliveries. The pair left at 6.52/6.56am and returned to roost at 8.50/9.06pm.

For the inhabitants of SW-le the day started when the parents left together at 6.46am. During the day the female returned just twice and the male three times. When they did the very hungry chicks mobbed them frantically.  In the absence of the parents one of the chicks was clearly more agitated than its sibling, and was especially so in the early evening.

Their father had feed them at 7.33pm and didn't leave until 8.02pm. Once he had left the two chicks headed for the exit again, as they had done frequently during the day. However, this time one of them reversed away from the opening several times to stretch its wings, and at 8.23pm, and with little fuss, it slipped past its sibling and left the box.

The male parent returned for the night at 8.56pm and his partner entered the box at 9.17pm.


As fledging gets underway in SW-le, it coincides with the 'hatching window' in the adjacent SW-ri. However, there was no sign of broken shells today. In fact I didn't see the eggs at all as the pair returned to a routine of fourteen change-overs between the first bird leaving at 6.12am and the same bird returning for the night at 9.03pm.


**A correction** - In SW-ri one of the eggs hatched this morning - see below




23 July - A day of fledging and hatching!

I shall start with SW-le. The day began when the male left at 7.15am. The chick looked quite agitated, and when the female headed out at 7.39am it looked as though the chick would follow her.

However, this didn't happen and the chick settled into a long day, spent between the nest cup and the exit. Soon after 1pm it became very active again with some strenuous wing and tail stretching. Once again this was a false alarm and it headed back to the nest cup. It engaged in only a bit of exercise during the rest of the afternoon, but reacted vigorously when its mother returned to feed it for what turned out to be the first and last time at 4.39pm.

She left at 5.03pm and the chick headed for the exit immediately. It spent the next four minutes looking out, then just slipped out and was gone.

Tonight its parents are back in the box to roost, the female returning first at 9.02pm with the male returning at 9.17pm.


Similarly, the adults from SW-up continue to use that box to roost. They left this morning at 8.03/8.06am  and returned tonight at 8.48/9.09pm.


The fledging of the second chick in the adjoining box has coincided with the hatching of both eggs in SW-ri, although their hatching had occurred earlier in the day. I cannot be sure of timings because at no time today did the adults completely uncover their nest.

The first of the adults left the box at the start of the day at 5.13am, and when it returned at 5.25am it was clearly bringing in food for a chick - I caught sight of movement in the nest! More food was brought in, with a further thirteen deliveries being during the rest of the morning and the afternoon. There were glimpses of just the one chick during these, but when food was brought in at 5.34pm I saw the bird that was sitting eat a piece of egg shell and for the first time I saw the heads of two chicks begging for food!

During the evening there were four more food deliveries before the second parent returned for the night at 9.24pm.


While the adults may still be roosting in SW-le and SW-up, by the end of the weekend I will probably reconnect the webcam to concentrate on SW-ri to cover the rest of this family's progress towards fledging sometime around 27-28 August.

There is a slight problem with the image from the SW-ri camera at the moment thanks to what I assume a is a spider's web. Now that SW-le is empty during the day, over the next week (or longer if necessary) I will have my ladder at the ready to take advantage of any time that both parents leave SW-ri so that I can get up and remove the offending web.


A correction to the entries for  both today and yesterday -

The diary entries were based on my observations recorded as I went through the day's recording of the quad image from my time-lapse recorder. In addition to this I also record the individual  video feeds from two of the boxes (SW-le and SW-ri over the last two days), and after closing down the computer for the night, I spent some time selecting short clips from these recordings to be copied onto DVDs when nesting is finished.

While I normally do that editing each evening, last night I didn't edit the day's recording from SW-ri. I have done this now and it reveals that the first of the chicks actually hatched yesterday morning.

As I mentioned in my diary entry, at no time did the adults uncover more than a small proportion of the nest cup during the day, but looking more closely at the footage of the change-overs has revealed that a single chick was being fed from before 8am.

 Looking back at the increase in activity that I saw yesterday, I should have realised that it wasn't just because of the improved weather. However, I didn't see the discarding of shell fragments that occurred in the other boxes, and the pair did an excellent job of keeping the nest covered during their change-overs. In fact, during those change-overs there was a marked reluctance by the sitting bird to make way for its partner! That alone should have prompted me to look more closely at what was going on!





24 July - A bright day with scattered cloud, a high of 22C (the temperature was over 20C by late morning and stayed that way until early evening. The breeze was mainly from the north north-west.

IN SW-le the day was straight-forward with the adults both leaving at 8.26am and returning to roost at 9.21pm (the Male) and 9.30pm (the female).

Up in SW-up both birds left at 8.04am. One returned with a feather at 10.01am and stayed until 10.19am. Then tonight just one of the pair returned to roost at 9.25pm. How long before this second bird also heads south?

While the birds in the other boxes are spending their last nights here, in SW-le the pair have stepped into a higher gear to cater for the needs of their chicks, with 21 change-overs/food deliveries being made today between the first out at 5.04am and the final return at 9.28pm.

They continue to keep the chicks well hidden, and I have had just a single glimpse of a bit of a chick all day. perhaps I shall see a bit more as I go through the day's recording from that box's camera.




25 July - A 'proper' summer's day with lots of sunshine and a high of 23C that lasted throughout the afternoon. The north north-westerly breeze that was with us, just about, during the day swung more to the south south-west in the evening.

In SW-up the single Swift is still with us tonight. It left at 7.18am and returned at 9.30pm - no feathers today!

Both birds in SW-le are with us again tonight. This morning they headed out together at 7.53am but returned separately tonight, the male at 9.29pm and his partner three minutes later.


In SW-ri, two days don't make a pattern, but for the second day in succession there were 21 change-overs between the pair between the first bird out at 4.56am and the final return at 9.24pm (22 returns in total). The only noticeable change from yesterday was that the bird that sat between 8.38pm and 9.10pm left the nest cup to look out briefly just before 9pm, providing the first clear view so far of the chicks.




26 July - Back to grey skies, although it remained dry with a maximum temperature of 20C reached in mid-afternoon.

Today we have said goodbye to two more of our Swifts. The one remaining bird in SW-up left at 7.11am, then returned at 8.09am before finally departing at 9.03am. The box is empty tonight.

The male from SW-le left the box at 9.10am, the female heading out for the last time three minutes later. The male was back in the box between 11.33am - 12.06pm, and he returned to roost at 8.56pm.

In SW-ri care for the chicks goes on with the parents bringing in food and changing over sessions with them 18 times today between the first out at 5.17am and last in 9.13pm.


One of the neighbours that I put up a pair of Swift boxes for last year is so thrilled by the fact that both boxes have been in use over the last month that I may have to make more for her this Autumn.




27 July - Tonight we have Swifts in just one box with the male from SW-le having headed away. he first left the box at 7.19am but returned at 9.55am and remained there until he departed for the final time at 10.20am.

Weatherwise it has been another disappointing, if dry day, with medium altitude cloud cover for much of the time. It looked as though it would brighten up as we headed into the afternoon but the patches of blue skies shrank once more and dullness returned. The breeze was mainly northerly.

In SW-ri the parents continued their change-over routine for much of the day, with seventeen change-overs between the first bird out at 5.10am until the absent bird returned at 8.26pm. Then at 8.45pm they both headed out. They returned at 9.02/9.05pm and one left again three minutes later. It was out for just six minutes before returning for the night at 9.14pm.

While they are still hidden from the camera for most of the time, the chicks are more active now, and occasionally I see a head poking out at the side of the parent that is sitting.

The parents returned a total of 21 times today.





28 July - A return to summer, with sunshine and temperatures around 23C all afternoon (and still 19C at 9pm). There was very little breeze, and what there was swung form west of north in the morning to just about easterly by dusk.

At one stage this morning there were 15-16 Swifts flying together over us. I didn't see any very low flypasts but they were low enough to hear some screaming going on.

As expected, in neither SW-up nor SW-le was there any Swift activity all day, however, I was surprised by the arrival of a single bird in SW-le at 9.05pm. The way it settled down quickly suggested that it must be the male coming to roost once again!


In SW-ri the day started  as it has for the last few days, with the first trip out by one of the parents at 5.22am, returning six minutes later to start the usual sequence of change-overs as food was brought in for the chicks.  By 3pm there had been twelve such change-overs, but the the pattern changed radically.

Soon after 3pm the sitting bird moved to the exit and left after looking out for a couple of minutes. The chicks were left unattended for thirteen minutes before one of the adults (#1) returned at 3.20pm.  When its partner (#2) returned at 3.42pm there was a change-over and bird #1 left. Just over half an hour later and bird #2 also left.



This time the chicks were left alone for 78 minutes, and I was able to take advantage of the parents' absence to go up to the nest and remove the offending cobweb from in front of the cctv camera lens.

5/6 day old Swift chicks on nest, 28 July 2011


I also used the opportunity to take what will probably be my only photographs of the chicks in the nest, as well as the nest itself, built from nothing by the parents this season before they produced this brood.





5/6 day old Swift chicks on nest - close-up, 28 July 2011



Considering that they hatched just 5/6 days ago, progress is quite amazing. Look at the back of the right-hand chick in this picture and you can see the first feather beginning to protrude from the skin of its back. I cannot see them on the left-hand chick, suggesting that this is the younger of the two.




5/6 day old Swift chicks in nest - lateral view, 28 July 2011

And as for the nest, you need to get down low to really appreciate the degree to which the cup has been built up with nothing more then feathers and spit!

The plywood seen to the left of the picture is 20mm thick.

This nest appears to be a much more substantial structure than that produced by the neighbours in SW-le.



After this absence the parents returned in quick succession at 5.40pm. One left again ten minutes later and its partner stayed until just after 7pm before it too left again. Between ten and when the two adults returned for the night at 9.02/9.14pm the chicks were left along another three times.

In total, the parents returned 21 times today.





29 July - It was back to cloudy skies today, with just a touch of dampness at times during the morning and the evening. During the afternoon it did manage to become a bit brighter, with short periods of hazy sunshine helping the temperature to reach 21C briefly. What there was of a breeze was mainly form the north-east.

Last night's roosting Swift in SW-le left at 5.27am and has not returned tonight.

Much as yesterday, the day was split into distinct parts in SW-ri. During the morning, from first bird out at 5.19am there were eight quite regularly spaced change-overs before noon.  Then, at 1pm the sitting bird left and the chicks were left unattended ( just 6 minutes) for the first time today. During the rest of the afternoon they were left alone four more times (the longest lasting 52 minutes), although between these there were several change-overs as well.

In the evening there was just one period when neither parent was present, for just under 20 minutes.

By the final re-entry to the nest at 9.12pm the parents had returned (with food) a total of 23 times today.


I spent time out in the garden today and only saw one or two Swifts overhead. However, in the late morning there was a group of six House Martins overhead  for quite a while. Up until then I had not seen more than one at a time this year, and that was only on a handful of occasions.





30 July - It was a bright day with broken cloud, very little breeze, and a high of 22C sustained over a couple of hours. It was still around 20C at 8pm.

SW-ri was the only box with activity to report on today. I spent a couple of hours out in the garden this morning and saw no Swifts, apart from a single bird returning to that box. Neither did I see any House Martins.

For the family in SW-ri the day started with the first out at 5.22am. Between then and just after mid-day there were eight change-overs before the chicks were left unattended for the first of nine times  before the parents finally returned for the night at 9.14/9.15pm. In total the two adults returned to the nest  24 times today.

In the two days since I took the photographs the chicks have become noticeably darker as feathers develop on their backs.

It's difficult to be sure, but looking at the image of the two adults illuminated by infra-red light, I'm sure that one has slightly lighter plumage. Also, I have noticed over the last week that one of the pair is more likely to spread its wings slightly when sitting on the chicks. Tonight it is the one with the lighter plumage that is doing this, despite the pair being squashed in together, heads towards the corner as they both share the nest cup with their chicks.





31 July - We end the month with a very pleasant summer's day - sunny, with scattered clouds and a high of 23C for much of the afternoon in a gentle southerly breeze.

Perhaps it was a bit of a cool start (<15C before 7am) but it wasn't until until 7am that the first departure from the box occurred - and both parents left, returning together at 7.40am.

Over the next couple of hours two change-overs took place, but then the sitting parent looked out at 9.33am, and left two minutes later. This set the pattern for the rest of the day, with the chicks being left alone fourteen times during the rest of the day, for periods ranging from 3 minutes to just over an hour in the early evening.

It's interesting to note that despite this change of behaviour by the adults the number of times they return to the box during the day had remained fairly constant, with 22 returns today.


Click on images to see larger versions


2011 Nestbox Diary Index                                                 August (part 1)