Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Portlaoise Swift Box Project 2017

With help from a successful funding bid to the Heritage Council the Laois-Offaly Branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust are co-coordinating a great new Swift nest box project in Portlaoise this autumn.

Earlier this summer the BirdWatch Ireland Laois Branch volunteers combed the county for Swift nest sites and discovered many previously unrecorded sites. The results of this effort helped steer the Portlaoise project to ensure the boxes are located in the best areas to help strengthen and grow the local Swift population.

Leinster Express Article by Stan Henderson

The plan involves erecting 12 new specially designed "triple cavity" Swift nest boxes at 6 locations both in the town centre and the outskirts of the town. The boxes have 3 separate nest cavities so there will be 36 new nest sites available to returning Swifts nest summer. Each site will also see a solar powered Swift caller kit installed, the kits proven to increase success with attracting Swifts will play a Swift Call to attract passing Swifts to investigate the boxes. As Swifts are colonial, they are attracted to sites where birds are already present, the lure mimics that and can help the colony establish more quickly.

Proposed nest box sites for the Portlaoise Swift Project 2017 

The proposed sites for the boxes include: Laois County Council Offices, Gaynor-Miller Estate Agents Office, Portlaoise Equestrian Centre, Portlaoise Golf Club and Portlaoise GAA Club grounds.

The boxes have been designed and built in Ireland by Genesis Nest Boxes a company based is Killarney, Co.Kerry. With final preparations in place Stonyford Engineering who designed the solar caller systems will install the equipment in the coming weeks (autumn 2017).

Launch of the Portlaoise Swift Box Project at Portlaoise Library (from left) Paul Gaynor (Gaynor-Miller Estate Agents), Kieren Flood (Irish Wildlife Trust), Padraig Fleming (Cathaoirleach Laois CoCo), Ricky Whelan (BirdWatch Ireland), Micheal Parsons (Heritage Council), Mary Sweeney (Laois Libraries) and Brian Gaynor (IWT Laois-Offaly Branch). Not pictured Catherine Casey (Laois Heritage Officer) and Pat McEvoy (Portlaoise Golf Club).

The project was officially launched during Heritage Week by Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council Padraig Flemming. Our own Ricky Whelan gave an illustrated talk to the audience describing Swift ecology right through to threats, conservation measures and the details of the Portlaoise Project.

Congratulations is due to Brian Gaynor who is Conservation Officer with the IWT Laois-Offaly Branch and the key person behind the project.

Brian has asked that thanks is given to the Heritage Council, Gaynor-Miller Estate Agents who part sponsored the project and provided a box location, Laois County Council, Laois Libraries, the owners of the nest box sites for their agreement and enthusiasm for the project, Catherine Casey (Laois Heritage Officer) and BirdWatch Ireland for their effort and advice throughout.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Buncrana Tidy Towns and The Wild Inishowen Club Teaming Up for Swifts

Recently Brian Caffrey travelled to Buncrana in Donegal to catch up with the local groups who are championing Swift conservation in their area. Brian’s talk and walk came as part of efforts that Buncrana Tidy Towns together with the Wild Inishowen Club have been doing for Swifts in recent years.

Karl King explains “In 2010, Martin Moloney, asked the Tidy Towns to put up Swift boxes. We did, at the courthouse in Buncrana. Martin said the reason for this was that Swift populations were in decline. We continued on with our other Tidy Towns projects and never passed any more remarks on the Swift boxes until 2015.”

Brian Caffrey with one of Buncrana's younger Swift fans Karl King

Flatout with the their tidy towns work the Buncrana group hadn’t put anymore focus into Swift projects since the initial work in 2010.  Dermott McLaughlin the then Chairman of the Wild Inishowen Club mentioned that a Swift talk was being held in Letterkenny by BirdWatch Ireland and a gang from Buncrana Tidy Towns group traveled down to check it out.

Karl said “Dermott, George and myself attended the talk, it was in 2015, July time, and we were very impressed with the talk about the life of the Swift and how it came to Ireland to breed. The thing that stood out to me the most was that it lived on the wing and how one half of the brain can close down and the other half can stay awake.”

Looking for Swifts in Buncrana town centre Karl King

The group was inspired to do more and they did exactly that as Karl describes “From that point on we started looking for Swift nests. The club decided to take on how we could help the Swifts and how we could identify their nesting sites. Dermott and Martin, who both have a lot of experience with birds, started doing walks around the town along with the rest of the Wild Inishowen group. After a few nights, we identified our first Swift site at the back of Mac's bookshop, which we were delighted with. As it was towards the end of the season, we said we would try and make a better effort the next year.

In 2016, we put up a couple of new Swift boxes beside the first site and we started to do some more walks during June and July. The weather was quite cold and we never seemed to see more than seven Swifts at any one time. That year we identified a further three Swift sites along with the original. The other three sites were at the back of the courthouse, Naylor’s Row and at Cockhill Church. We were looking for more guidance and what we could do to help the Swifts by either identifying sites or erecting more Swift boxes in the proper locations. This is why we made contact with Brian in BirdWatch Ireland, to come and give a walk and talk.”

A "swift" talk in the car park
before heading down town to see the Swift boxes
Karl King

All was going well in Buncrana with their Swift survey knowledge and experience growing so to did the number of nests sites the group were finding. “In 2017, we made nine Swift boxes from recycled PVC and erected them at the Cockhill Church where we had found one nest the previous year. On the 3rd of May, when we were erecting the boxes in Cockhill, we discovered that we had another two Swift nests at the Chapel, as the Swifts flew in while we were erecting the boxes. The clubs ambition this year was to find as many Swift sites as possible. The group put in a huge effort and in May, June and July we found an additional ten sites to add to the four previous nests that were found in 2015/2016. On some of the walks in the evening we counted up to sixteen Swifts in flight, this year seeming to be a better year, maybe it's because it was warmer? One of the group, George Mc Dermott, erected a Swift box at his own home and put on the Swift caller, playing morning and night. It managed to attract two Swifts to the box. It goes without saying that it was a fantastic result. Then on the 25th of July, we had a great information night with a walk and talk. This gave us a boost and will help us monitor the Swifts and hopefully will lead to more success next year. Our intention is to get all the nests recorded on the BirdWatch Ireland online mapping system and try and keep a good record of their behaviour.

In summary, the group is delighted to be doing this work to help increase and maintain the Swift population in Buncrana.”

At BirdWatch Ireland we are delighted to see such a great effort being made in Buncrana over multiple years with both groups committing significant time and resources to Swift conservation in the area.

For more info on Buncrana Tidy Towns Group see here:

And the Wild Inishowen Club see here:

Thanks to all involved in the work in Buncrana and a big thank you to Karl for providing the summary and photos of activities for this blog post.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Swifts Season Close to Completion

With the first laid broods fledged and the remaining active nests containing large chicks we are reaching the final few weeks of Swift nesting activity.

Large chicks in Box 11 at the GMIT Castlebar Campus -
GMIT/Swift Conservation Ireland

With the end of the season imminent these next two weeks are a vital time to get out and survey your local patch for active Swift nest locations. 

A good way to get an estimate of what point the season is at in your area (nesting stage ie. eggs, young chicks, near fledgling etc) is to log on to the Swift Conservation Ireland/GMIT Swift Box Cameras webpage. The cameras provide a live feed to a number of Swift nest boxes erected some years ago in a partnership between Swift Conservation Ireland and GMIT to help provide safe nesting locations for the local Swift population. 

Box 1 chicks, not long before fledgling (est 7-10 days) -
GMIT/Swift Conservation Ireland

Once chicks have fledged, adult birds will not return to nest sites and the opportunity to locate their exact location is lost for another year.

Newly logged Swift nest locations 2017 Season - BirdWatch Ireland

So with some good weather around and the adults visiting big, hungry chicks, why not make a final stab at finding your local Swift colonies. If you do make the time to get out and about we would love to receive your records. All records of Swift nesting locations allow us to help protect them and without this info we remain helpless to protect these sites!

Log your nest locations HERE

For more info on Swifts and survey tips try our BirdWatch Ireland Swift Project pages.

Good luck