Articles

Aldeburgh Times March 2019

A message from Storm

Trust me, it’s not just you Brits who fret about the weather!  It’s fine for you – you just put on your coat and hat, head into town (probably in the car) to do your shopping and then pop back home.  For me, heading home is a little more challenging than that.

But where is home for me?  Whilst I was born in Aldeburgh, most of my life is spent in Africa and indeed travelling there and back.  No turning up at an airport for a quick flight north in a comfortable plane where someone else takes care of flight control and dishing out the food & drink.

My 7,500 mile journey back from the Congo is fraught with danger but the weather is probably the most important one. And how wrong did my friends the Swallows get it this year, arriving as they did on the south coast of England during the lovely weather you had in February only to be hit by the gales a few weeks later? When will they learn to leave it later like we Swifts do?

Last year the weather presented us summer visitors with a huge challenge as we got as far as Spain only to then get held up by the bad weather.  Then we overheated in our nests during the summer to such a point that many of our chicks decided they’d had enough of the sauna-like conditions and jumped from the nest too early.

So whether you call this ‘Climate Change’ or just an evolutionary change to world weather patterns, please spare a thought for us birds and think about what you can do to halt the change.

In the meantime, I’m packing my bags, checking my passport (you will let me back in won’t you!?) and building up my energy for the long haul north.  All being well I’ll see you on May 7thand hopefully will meet up with my mate again in time to raise another family in my homeland.

See you soon

Storm

 

Aldeburgh Times February 2019

How often have you wished you had a crystal ball to predict the outcome of events or the decisions that we make in the course of our lives?

Had we foreseen the effects of plastic on our beaches and on our wildlife or of pollution on our health, might we have changed the course of our actions to avoid the damage that we have inflicted on our planet?  Whilst the results of many of our previous actions have now become all too obvious, increasingly we are able to foresee and assess the possible consequences of our future actions.

The recent BBC series‘Cities – Nature’s new wild’has shown how wildlife has been seriously challenged by the urbanization of the territory that was once exclusively theirs.  Unfortunately the feature on Beijing’s Swifts was pulled from the UK version but it vividly demonstrated how these birds have managed to survive and thrive by nesting in man-made structures.

It was also interesting to learn how the city of Beijing recognises that the relationship is mutually beneficial as the people living there acknowledge the vital service the Swifts provide by helping to control the number of mosquitoes.  A Swift can consume over 7,000 insects in a day, many of which will be irritating pests to us.  Indeed they have become an integral part of the fabric of the city since the Ming Dynasty. Maybe the same applies to Aldeburgh!

Perhaps we do underestimate the benefits we derive from the wildlife around us whether it be consuming unwanted insects or preserving particular types of habitat which make up some of our unique coastal landscape.

But whilst nature has an amazing capacity to overcome the obstacles we present it with, locally we have to wonder what challenges we are going to introduce if Sizewell C & D and/or the substation at Friston get the go ahead to be built on our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSSIs.  There is clearly a risk to the area’s flora and fauna and we can only hope thatthe strapline on the Government’s LandscapeforLife.org website “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are Landscapes for Lifeis honored and that a full independent Environmental Impact Survey is made available ahead of any planning applications.   Only then will we be able to make an informed decision on the proposals and on the risks they will present to our wildlife and to Minsmere in particular. The fear is that we will not find out for many years and by then it may be too late for our wildlife to recover.

So don’t forget, express your view to EDF by the end of the month and then support the RSPB’s #LoveMinsmere campaign.

 

Aldeburgh Times article November 2018

Swifts and the Wildlife Challenge

Hopefully our Swifts have now safely reached their winter destination in the Congo – no mean feat being a journey of 7,500 miles without stopping! But flying long distances is not the only challenge our wildlife is facing and recent media coverage has highlighted the threat to both our resident and migratory species.

Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planetfocused on the devastation caused by plastic in our oceans and waterways and more recently Chris Packham’s People’s Walk for Wildlife showed that people do care and that they want some action to be taken at Government level to prevent an ‘ecological apocalypse’.

Whilst we may all be concerned about the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, here in the UK we continue to view our SSSI and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty as something less than sacrosanct despite these areas being legally and purposefully set aside for wildlife. Indeed our Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB remains under threat from housing and, of course, another nuclear power station.

It is now thought that destroying the flora and fauna within these areas may well have a long-term adverse impact on our own existence and with 15% of this country’s wildlife species threatened with extinction, a recent study shows that the state of the UK’s biodiversity ranks at number 189 out of 218 countries.  Not exactly something for us to be proud of.

There is a great deal that we can do to protect our local environment if we become ‘mindful’ of our actions and take some small steps to help our wildlife, whether it be the occasional beach clean, putting out bird food or installing nest boxes.

Here in Aldeburgh we have been able to identify twenty natural Swift nest sites this summer (unfortunately we are unsure if the White Hart has retained its residents) but what results have we to show for the Swift nest boxes which residents have installed?  Occupation in the first year was always unlikely – but 3 Blue tits, 1 Great tit and a family of Starlings have been recorded and Swifts have been spotted inspecting a number of the boxes hopefully with a view to returning next year.  All four of our own boxes have had pairs taking up short-term occupancy (see photo) most likely attracted by the call system we installed, so there is a good chance that we might secure some tenants next May.

The return of our Swifts in future years will be one measure of our success in preserving habitats for our wildlife and evidence that the extraordinary migratory cycle is still working.

 

 

Aldeburgh Times article August 2018

Swifts in Jerez

One e-mail said “Swifts in their 1,000s (no exaggeration) attack the walls and provide a spectacular airborne display…”. Another said “I think all the Swifts are in Jerez, thousands, literally, of them…”

Now I know that from time to time we are all prone to exaggeration but receiving two e-mails on the same day, about the same town on the same subject?  This just had to be investigated further … but to save you a flight to Spain, take it from me, the observations were not wrong!

When we arrived in the centre of Jerez at lunchtime, much to our concern, the skies were empty.  But we needn’t have worried.  As we sat outdoors eating dinner in the warmth of the evening sun, the skies filled with the incredible sight and sound of screaming Swifts.

The Alcazar in Jerez is an old fort where every hole in the ancient walls, and there are thousands of them, provides a nest site for a family of Swifts.  Consequently in the early mornings and late evenings the sky is full of these amazing birds in unbelievable numbers and during the nesting season the chicks can be seen precariously balanced at the edge of the holes.

Meanwhile back in Aldeburgh, to our great delight, Swifts have taken up temporary residence in all four of our new nest boxes. Witnessed on camera, one adult spent two nights alone in one box before being joined by a partner. Were these the two-year olds bonding and reserving a nest site for next year? They certainly could be and if so, this suggests that, contrary to our previous understanding, rather than just banging on the outside of a box to reserve it for the following year, Swifts may briefly occupy a box during the year before they are ready to breed.

Sadly, as you read this article, our Swifts will be planning their journey back to Africa; indeed they may have already left as by the end of August they will all be gone. We will now be wishing our lives away waiting for the Swifts’ return on 7thMay next year and then to see how many of our boxes around town secure a new resident – we may not be able to compete with Jerez yet but Aldeburgh has certainly made a flying start!

 

Aldeburgh Times article July 2018

Aldeburgh’s amazing… Starlings

Our winter night roosting Great Tit was ousted by a Starling just before the ‘Beast from the East’ hit and she duly set up home in our Swift box.  So we had a decision to make – did we help preserve the sight of our screaming Swifts or of a Starling murmuration?

But Starling numbers are declining just like the Swifts so we decided to let them build their home.  Watching them on our nest box camera gave a fascinating insight into their daytime and nocturnal habits.  From egg laying to fledging took just 20 days and four Starlings successfully left the nest in the early hours of the 28th May.

For a number of days the young remained dependent on their parents to feed them even though the food was right there on a plate in front of them!

To many people, Starlings have the reputation of being noisy squabbling birds and they’re not wrong!  The chicks are as noisy as the adults, which is in marked contrast to the placid Jackdaw chicks which were on the nest box camera in the Parish Church (two young birds successfully fledged).

Spring Watch last month once again gave us an insight into how our birds, both large like the Goshawk and small like the Firecrest, face the challenges of bringing up their young.  Anywhere on the food chain is a dangerous place to be unless you’re at the top and even our Swifts are a meal to the occasional Hobby.  Swift numbers in Aldeburgh are down on last year, possibly due to the bad weather in southern Europe during the migration, but hopefully this year will be a successful breeding season for the few who managed to return  … and we do believe the White Hart family are back!

Aldeburgh Times article May 2018

Last to arrive after the Swallows and House Martins, our Swifts are due back any day and Aldeburgh can now offer over 50 new homes for these summer visitors.  We are indebted to the many residents who have supported our campaign and helped us exceed our target – Thank you!

With the kind permission of the Rector, Mark Lowther and the Tower Captain, Richard Rapior, new discreet nesting sites have been created in the Parish Church tower and we are grateful to the Suffolk Secrets/Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Fund for its support, enabling us to install these with a camera and call system.  Do visit the church and look up at the nesting sites in the lower louvres on the south side of the tower.

There is only an outside chance that we attract Swifts this year, but in the meantime the nesting Jackdaws may well be starring on the television located inside the church.   The belfry has been home to a number of Jackdaws for many years and their nests are now over 2ft tall, sandwiched between the slate louvres and the inner window above the West Door. There is always the risk that the Swifts will be intimidated by their noisy neighbours, as indeed they often are by Starlings, but hopefully we will be able to witness some live wildlife in action over the summer.

Aldeburgh Times April 2018

Text of post card reads!

Dear All

I am getting ready for my return flight to Aldeburgh having spent most of the winter here in the Congo.

I hear you’ve had some terrible weather whilst I’ve been away enjoying the sunshine.

Some of my friends have already left on their journey back to China and others will be off to Israel soon.  Really looking forward to discovering some of the houses you have been putting up for us and I’ve seen on’swift-tripadvisor’that there are some new penthouse apartments to rent in theParish Church too.

Hang out the flags…..I’ll see you on May 7th!

Love from Storm – Aldeburgh’s Amazing (rescued) Swift

P.S please note the date opposite – it’s our first such event

 

Aldeburgh Times article March 2018

Who’s been sleeping in my bed…?

You may well have noticed that even at the beginning of February Blue Tits and Great Tits were checking out your nest boxes ahead of this year’s breeding season, despite the fact that, at the time of writing, winter seemed far from over. This may indeed be what they were doing but does this mean your boxes will only be used in the summer?

BBC’s Winter Watch had stunning film clips of Long-tailed Tits huddled together on a branch trying to keep warm and you may have often wondered where all the birds go at night. Many will hide under bushes, in the reeds out on the marsh or under whatever protection they can find but it is quite possible that, unbeknown to you, they may be roosting in your nest box – and they may well be squatting in someone else’s house while the intended resident is away on holiday.

Whilst testing our Swift nest box camera recently we were surprised to find the bird pictured below all snuggled up in our box. Certainly not a Swift given that they are sunning themselves 7,500 miles away in Africa – so who is it? Each evening she arrives at 4.30pm and leaves just before 7.30am so this ball of feathers sleeps for fifteen hours (on one leg) stirring only occasionally to fluff up her duvet.

So don’t wait until the spring to put up a nest box; do leave it out over the winter months as you may well provide a night-time home for one of our winter residents which literally could mean the difference between life and death. It may also help secure you a tenant for the summer.

So have you worked out who she is?

A Great Tit

Aldeburgh Times article January 2018

A date for your calendar!

Now you’ve hung up your new 2018 calendar here’s a date to put on it … May 7th. On this day Aldeburgh’s Swifts will start to arrive – yes, they really are that predictable and they will be the last of our aerial acrobats to arrive. The Swallows and House Martins will have beaten them back from Africa. Last year’s parents will return to the exact same nest they used last summer but this year our Swifts will have a few new houses to inspect thanks to the many local residents who have supported our local campaign to put up nest boxes.

The challenges of flying back from their winter migration are not to be underestimated and every year we expect our migrants just to turn up again. But this expectation is under threat. Songbird numbers are declining dramatically and one of the biggest threats is the reduction in their food supply. Recent research from Germany reveals that insect numbers have fallen by 75% in the last 25 years and this study was carried out on a number of nature reserves which you would have expected to be able to maintain their insect population.

The latest thinking is that the pesticide neonicotinoids is a key culprit in killing our bees and insects and it is good to see that the Government has recognised this threat and is now backing the proposed EU wide ban on these pesticides. The film, The Messenger, shown in Aldeburgh cinema back in December, highlighted this as a global problem and if you didn’t get a chance to see the film, then do make a point of doing so. Unfortunately this is just one more threat to our wildlife so make a diary note to sow some wildflower seeds in the spring – you may not own a meadow but no flower pot is too small!

aldeburghsamazingswifts.co.uk

Aldeburgh Times – November 2017

 

Aldeburgh Times article August 2017 

Swifts, Swallows and House Martins are all summer visitors to Aldeburgh but the Swifts are the last to arrive, usually at the beginning of May, and the first to leave.

By the time you read this article, summer will be well underway but soon our Swifts will be packing their bags for an amazing journey south.

In early August, Aldeburgh’s Swifts will be getting ready to start the long migration to their warmer winter homes in Africa, a journey not without its perils. That said, summer in Suffolk can have its challenges as our photo shows. This one year old, seen resting rather uncomfortably in a shoe box, was brought down in the storms at the beginning of June (successfully released!) and the downpours we had on 10th July may well have taken their toll too. Unlike other birds, Swifts don’t land so they can’t shelter from the wind and rain.

Swifts usually raise two or three chicks, which take six to seven weeks to fully fledge. The young birds literally do press ups in their nest using their wings and tails to get their strength up ready to fly, as once the birds leave their nest they may not land again for the next three years. During that time they are likely to fly over 14,000 miles a year.

The winter migration route will take them down through Western Europe, into North Africa and then on to central Africa and the Congo. Here they will live until the long flight back to their breeding grounds at the beginning of May, returning each year to the same nest, providing the holes they use haven’t been filled by winter roofing work. Please bear this in mind if you are proposing to re-roof your house soon!

Bon voyage!

 

Aldeburgh Gazette article 14th July 2017

Our Swifts, which arrive in May and leave in August, are under threat due to the work we carry out to our homes which blocks up their nesting holes. This is a particular problem for Swifts as they return to the same nest every year and we are hoping to raise local awareness of this problem.

My wife and I launched our ‘Help save Aldeburgh’s Amazing Swifts’ campaign at the end of May to support other Suffolk based campaigns, but at a local level. Little did we know that we would be carrying out our first Swift rescue two weeks later following the storms on 6th June. See the story on the Latest News page of our website aldeburghsamazingswifts.co.uk.

To help raise awareness of our cause, we hope you will have seen our flags around the town flying in the summer wind – a big thank you to all our flag flyers!

So what can be done to help our summer visitors enjoy their all too brief visit to Aldeburgh? Firstly, if you are doing some refurbishment works, ask your builder to leave a nesting hole in your roof, particularly if you think you might have an existing nest site. If you are undertaking a new build project please look into installing a Swift brick. Local builders, please help us in this regard!

Secondly, you can put up a nesting box. Ideally these should be on a north facing wall at least 5 metres high. But this is not essential – check out the helpful information on installing nest boxes and Swift bricks on the swift-conservation.org website. And the good news is that Swifts don’t make a mess so you will be very happy to have them as tenants!

Thirdly, please get in touch with us if you know you have a swift nesting in your house so that we can build up a picture of existing nest sites around the town. Or, if you would like advice on putting up a nesting box, give us a call.

And finally, visit our pop-up stall in the High Street (outside Deben Willow Care) on Saturday 15th and 22nd July to look at sample nest boxes or just to learn a bit more about our Swifts.

In the meantime check out our website aldeburghsamazingswifts.co.uk or for a lot more information about swift conservation in Suffolk generally, visit actionforswifts.blogspot.com or suffolkwildlifetrust.org