Gest blog by Jenny James, RSPB Woodbridge Local Group committee member
A lot of people will share my feelings about swifts. The screams and shrieks of swifts as they turn and swirl in the evening sky are a precious part of summer.
I want this to be more than just a nostalgic memory, and the danger is ever present, as swifts are declining in numbers. They only spend three months with us, the rest of the year they are in their winter feeding grounds.
This summer in Woodbridge I heard some bad news - swifts had been vainly trying to find nest sites in a newly restored building by the harbour. It appears that the spaces under the eaves where they were previously nesting had been blocked up. But I also heard some good news - the council had recommended that nest boxes for swifts should be part of the new building on the Whisstocks site by the harbour and that the developers had agreed.
If we want to help swifts we need information. So three enthusiasts, Jan, Sue and I got together and simply asked as many local people as possible to tell us about their swifts, whether they were nesting or just flying. We had a splendid response, from 35 observers in Woodbridge and the surrounding villages. We now know about at least 10 nesting sites, some in roofs and some in boxes.
We also know that this year swifts first appeared in Woodbridge around the first week of May and that the last birds were seen on 6 August. We know that the birds were flying singly or in pairs early in the season, with groups of up to 12 being seen by June. The big surge in numbers flying comes in July when the young join these dramatic evening flights giving groups of up to 30 birds. The largest groups of up to 80 around the end of July are probably migratory groups which have gathered for the long journey south to Africa.
Swift, by Mark Thomas (rspb-images.com)
Now that we know where the swifts are and where the nests are, we can ask for help. We need to work closely with home owners, builders and developers to remind them that swifts need access to roof spaces for nesting. It is very easy to block the gaps under eaves and tiles, particularly pantiles, when doing roof repairs. Swifts are clean and non-intrusive guests. We also need to publicise nest boxes. They are a possible alternative, they can be ‘swift bricks’, built into the wall under the eaves or traditional nest boxes. They work best with a CD of swift calls. Finally we should work with SCDC to encourage planners to make provision for swifts. Many local authorities have such a policy.
Do help us if you can by telling your friends about swifts, especially during the winter and next spring and summer. We will be asking for more help then.
For further information please visit our web site www.rspb.org.uk/groups/woodbridge where you will find lots of information or email me on email@example.com.
If, like me, you share a passion for swift, you might also be interested in a talk that is taking place soon.
At the Suffolk Ornithologists Group meeting on Thursday 5 November, Dick Newell be speaking on "Swifts - problems and opportunities". The talk will be help at the Holiday Inn, London Road, Ipswich, IP2 0UA. The talk starts at 7.30 pm and the cost will be £2.
If you don't live in Suffolk, don't worry, as you can still help by taking part in the national RSPB swift survey
Guest blog by Christine Hall, Visitor Experience Officer
On Saturday 19 September, a group of staff and volunteers got together and, donning litter pickers and rubbish bags (kindly supplied by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team) took up the challenge of cleaning Minsmere’s beach. We were also joined by the Minsmere Young Wardens Group who were eager to get started.
Volunteers cleaning the beach. Photo by Christine Hall
The event was part of the annual Great British Beach Clean, coordinated by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). It is the UK's biggest beach clean up and survey, and every year thousands of people get involved all along the UK's coastline. The aim is to clear your beach and survey the first 100m stretch, with the survey results going towards the MCS annual summary report.
At first glance the beach looked quite clean but as we started looking closely in between the shingle and in amongst the grasses in the dunes we started to find a variety of smaller items. String/rope was the most abundant with 130 pieces found along with plastic items such as bottles/bottle caps, sweet wrappers, food containers and unknown pieces of plastics at 84. Fishing lines, hooks, a number of plastic bags, five balloons and even items of clothing such as a sock and a tie the list was ongoing.
All these items as can be harmful to seabirds and marine mammals as they can be mistaken for food or even used as part of nesting material resulting in young birds getting tangled and unable to leave the nest leading to starvation. Much of the rubbish clearly originates at sea (fishing gear for example), but the amount of plastic bags, balloons and bottles found show that our land-based rubbish easily finds its way into the sea too.
But it wasn’t all man-made items we came across, cuttlefish bones, mermaids purses (egg cases of rays, sharks and dogfish) and crab shells were dotted along the beach.
A beach clean is not only a fantastic way to help protect the wildlife on our shores but also a great day out in the fresh air.
But the day was far from over as it was also International Moon Night. Once the day started drawing to a close we were joined by the Darsham Astronomical Society to host an evening event. With a clear night sky and the choice of eight powerful telescopes to look through everyone had a superb views of the moon. In view were a number of maria (seas) - these are large, flat plains of solidified basaltic lava - and interesting landforms including the Descartes Highlands where Apollo 16 landed!
Moon watching. Photo by Christine Hall
As it was such a clear night star constellations such as the plough (also known as the big dipper) and Cassiopeia ('W' shape, formed by five bright stars) and the milky way were visible and pointed out. Another highlight was managing to see Saturn with its rings through a telescope. Once the moon went out of view behind the trees we had an interesting and informative talk by the internationally acclaimed astronomer, Professor Michael Rowen-Robinson about the Late Heavy Bombardment and the ‘Nice’ model of the Solar System.
The moon, by James Rowlands
Yes folks, I have good news. The starlings are back.
Last night about 6000 starlings were seen over North Marsh, putting on a great display from about 6 pm to 6.30 pm. The best place to watch from is probably the North Wall.
We hope that numbers will increase in the coming weeks, and the favoured location may move, so we'll try to keep you posted, but it's definitely worth an evening visit. You may hear roaring stags from the car park at dusk too.
Photo by Jon Evans (not from this year though)