Martins, Swallows and Swifts

On 27 March I was out walking with my sharp-eyed eight-year-old grandson. “Look, look up there, Grandad, what are those birds?” With my poor eyesight it took me a while to focus on them – sand martins!

The sand martin is one of our earliest summer visitors from Africa. It has brown upperparts and is white underneath with a brown band across the breast. As the name implies, they nest in a hole in a sand or river bank, excavating a tunnel to a chamber where the nest is made. Well, that’s what the book says. Our local sand martins do something a little different. At Zouch, they nest behind the shuttering at the side of the canal cut, accessing via holes in the steel plate. 

I saw my first swallows of the year seven days later when two flew over the Soar, thanks once again to my keen-eyed bird watching pal. Bigger than a sand martin, the swallow’s upperparts are an iridescent blue-black, underparts off-white and the face is a reddish brown. It has long tail streamers, those of the male are noticeably longer than those of the female. Now it’s often called the barn swallow, which reflects the fact that most nest in barns and outhouses. So where did swallows nest before there were barns? They were originally a cave nesting bird but have taken advantage of man-made structures since humans came along.

The next to arrive is the house martin. Again, the clue is in the name. Like the swallow, the house martin builds a cup like mud nest, but prefers the eaves of a house. Some nest on cliffs which were the original nesting sites before we came along to provide lodgings.  A few houses in Hathern are landlords to families of house martins who, like their cousins, have flown in from Africa. Superficially similar to the sand martin, the house martin is blue-black where the sand martin is brown. It doesn’t have the breast band but makes up for it by having a distinctive white rump.

The swift is the last of the four to arrive from Africa in late April or early May and the first to leave in August. Swifts are sooty brown with long curved wings and spend more time on the wing than any other species. I always think that Hathern is the village of the swifts (and not just the sock factory!). Tony Croft is a member of the Leicestershire Swift Network and has had swifts nesting in his nest boxes in Narrow Lane for 37 years

“We put up nest boxes when we replaced the fascias which prevented the birds from entering the loft. I have five boxes now, three with cameras. Up to three years ago all were occupied with birds fighting to secure a box, but since then there’s been a decline and last year only one box was occupied. However, there are still 30 or so swifts flying in “screaming parties” over the village. There are nests in Narrow Lane and Wide Lane but there must be more nests somewhere. Nationally, swifts have declined by 58% from 1998 to 2018, so they need all the help we can give them.” Tony is willing to give any advice about installing nest boxes – you can contact him on 842634.

Watching these four species all feeding over the Soar on a hot summer’s day is a most pleasurable and memorable experience – not to be missed! 

PS   We had two rare summer visitors recently stop off in Hathern. On 9 April a pair of Ring Ouzels took up temporary residence on the football field. They are like blackbirds with a white bib and nest in mountains and moorland. They were closely followed by more visitors – a large number of birdwatchers!

Thank you to Dave Neville (in connection with Swift Partnership Team)

Ghostly Images

You will, no doubt, have seen the impression left by a bird crashing into your patio window. You may be interested to know that only certain birds leave their waxy mark. I had received this response from RSPB:

“These are the natural oils and feather dust which originate from the downy feathers close to the skin. These provide woodpigeons with great insulation and they also have fine barbs which crumble to form this waxy dust, which the bird then uses to preen the outer feathers to make them waterproof. Birds with powder down feathers such as woodpigeons and members of the parrot family generally have a reduced or no preen gland, which is how most other birds look after their feathers. Feather dust is therefore vital in order to keep the woodpigeons feathers waterproof and in good condition. Bathing is an important part of keeping feathers in good condition for all birds but especially important for birds with powder down. Washing the dirt-covered powder off enables the woodpigeons to reapply fresh powder to their outer feathers in order to keep them water proof and well insulated.”

I had noticed a film of powder on my pond every time Woodpigeons bathed….

“The powder deposits on the pond are not harmful to the pond wildlife or other birds that may be using the pond for drinking or bathing and will eventually disperse with the movement of the water.”

I hope this is of as much interest to you as it was to me.

Swift Box

Message from Jools Partridge:

I installed a three colony swift box yesterday (made from an old organ pipe I was given some years ago). I set up a swift caller too which I am really pleased with. However, please tell members not to record screaming swifts over Carvers Corner, Glen Parva till they actually see them! LOL. Cost of the caller was £15.82 including a 12volt amplifier (FM radio and Bluetooth too) and pair of tweeters. I bought 100m of speaker wire for £14.89 (cheapest way to buy it) and have plenty left over (70 odd m) at 15p per m if anyone wants some!? The calls were chosen, and downloaded for free, from a Dutch website, and I am so happy with the results of my work. Happy to share links if anyone wants to try out getting their swift boxes occupied this year!?

COVID-19 Update – Club Suspension Until January 2021

After holding a committee meeting last week (social distancing rules observed) the decision was made that in view of the ongoing situation with COVID 19 to cancel all indoor meetings and field trips etc for the remainder of 2020. The committee will review the situation again in January 2021. Whilst we realise this will come as a disappointment, we are sure everyone will agree that we have to put the health and safety of our members first.

As a result of this decision we will therefore not be producing an August or November newsletter, asking for payment of subscription fees or holding our annual photographic competition.
For this year, in view of these unprecedented times we also will not be holding our AGM, however the 2019/20 accounts will be uploaded to the website in October for all to view. All existing committee members are willing to continue in their current roles apart from Brian Clarke who has decided to step down from the club due to health reasons.

The committee and I am sure all the membership would like to take this opportunity to thank Brian for all his hard work in arranging the speaker bookings covering a variety of topics, and we wish him well for the future, he will be sadly missed.
As Brian’s role cannot be absorbed by the existing committee members this does mean the committee are looking to recruit another member to fill this role of speaker bookings for our indoor meetings. If you would like to find out more please contact either Graham or Marion to discuss. The committee doesn’t wish to apply any pressure for someone to come forward to fulfil the role but would advise if no one does we may have to rethink the format of the club going forward.

The committee also decided to maintain and pay for the website, the club insurance and the room hire so that once we can start up again everything is in place.

We hope to be able to re-start our activities in the New Year, but we will be guided by the government instructions as to what it is safe for us to do. As you know, official guidance is continually being updated in response to the changing pandemic situation and as soon as we are able to arrange anything it will be uploaded to the website, so please keep checking in from time to time.

In the meantime we hope you continue to enjoy your birdwatching in whatever format you can and obviously if you wish to share your local patch and sightings please think about sending a few lines to Marion/Graham with photos, if you have them, and we can all enjoy reading about it on the website.
Enjoy the rest of your summer and stay safe. Any queries please do not hesitate to contact Graham to discuss.

Luckless Lockdown – by Derek Walker

Having spent years trying to keep squirrels away from my bird feeders, including buying squirrel proof feeders (No such thing), I decided to embrace the cheeky mammals.

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I had observed them leaping from a tree branch onto my hide and thought this would make a good photo. I climbed a ladder and put some insect suet feed on the branch to entice the squirrel.

Soon after getting in position to bag a winning photo, what took the bait? A Nuthatch. Followed by Great tits, blue tits and blackbirds !!!

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After days of climbing the ladder and topping up the bait I eventually had a squirrel visit. He sat there, ate the suet – and went back along the branch.

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When I replaced the bait, I also put a piece of apple on the hide roof – a small leap away. YES it worked. The squirrel ate the suet and then jumped over for the apple.

After a few days and many attempts, I eventually got my picture.

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Do you think it was worth it?

Arthur Beyless

It is with sadness that I inform you of the death of Arthur Beyless who passed away last week after suffering from cancer.

You may recall he joined the club last year and recently gave us a presentation on bird and wildlife photography in his garden using a hide he had erected.

Croft Hill and Nature Trail – my daily exercise walk – by Sue Walton

Croft Hill and Nature Trail

Hello everyone, I hope you are well and keeping safe. As my daily exercise I am walking up Croft Hill and around the nature trail every day. Croft quarry is the deepest granite quarry in Europe and still working today, I know this as I’ve been watching the trucks bringing up the stone from the deepest part.

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The weather has been so lovely these last few weeks and the birds have been singing their hearts out, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps to name but a few. The Buzzards and Carrion Crows are filling the sky and although I have not seen the Peregrines I am told they are nesting on the quarry face.

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My route takes me through the trees, which are full of blossom, and through a small bluebell patch, and on up to the trig point. From here the views are pretty spectacular on a clear day, Croft Hill being the only high point around. It’s then down and along the bank, which is now full of mature trees and shrubs, here I sometimes see a pair of Jay’s and often Green Woodpecker and just in the last week or so lots of Whitethroat. Listen to the following video clip of the bird song – what can you identify?

At the far end it’s down the steps to the boardwalk and along to the lake. I don’t usually see much there, just a Moorhen, but there are Sedge warbler singing now and more than one too.

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A pair of swans are nesting along the river and once I caught the flash of a Kingfisher.

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On my way back home it’s really noticeable the lack of traffic on the road and planes in the sky, but great to see that nature is in full swing. I set the app on my phone the other day and my walk is three and a half miles and usually takes me around an hour and a quarter. Now I’m slightly ashamed to admit this but I don’t take my binoculars with me, just my phone as I try to keep up a good pace! Hopefully once the lockdown eases I will go on a proper birding walk and take my time.

Take care everyone,

Sue.