Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Swift Return To Clonmacnoise

Part of the OPW Clonmacnoise heritage site Ricky Whelan

Swifts are birds of impeccable taste, often selecting the oldest and most beautiful buildings and locations to nest. During our 2015 fieldwork season BirdWatch Ireland carried out Swift surveys at a number of OPW heritage sites. Of these we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Clonmacnoise, the ancient monastic site set in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Shannon Callows of County Offaly. 

The site proved not only to be a pleasant stop in the fieldwork schedule but it also turned up one of the most interesting Swift nest locations we know of! 

Kate at the "waist-high" nest hole
 at Clonmacnoise
Brian Caffrey
A single pair of Swifts were detected near the main round tower. The tower had been subject to a number of renovations over the years but one suitable gap in the masonry, very close to the base of the the tower remained. Initially the hole was overlooked as a potential nest site as it falls well below the average height range that Swifts nests are more commonly found!

Nest location in the "Round-tower" Ricky Whelan
Swifts are "site-faithful" meaning they will return year on year to the same nest hole (if it has survived), lay and raise young within. Last week we took the opportunity to swing by Clonmacnoise to see if the 2015 find was indeed a fluke or if the site was an established site being used by the resident pair. 

Yep thats a nest site! Ricky Whelan

It was fantastic to find a sitting Swift incubating an unconfirmed number of eggs inside the cavity. A quick peak confirmed occupancy and incubation behaviour and also detected one "rolled" egg. On occasion eggs will get dislodged from the nest cup and birds fail to get them back into the nest to incubate, the eggs will fail to develop and remain at the nest or be disregarded whilst the parents concentrate on the viable eggs.

The beautiful location and novelty of this nest site make Clonmacnoise well worth the visit for any Swift fanatic or natural history fan. One only knows how many bus loads of people from all over the world have passed the nest each summer, totally unaware of what a special creature lays within, silently rearing its young before embarking south to the Congo for the winter.

For more info on the OPW and the sites they manage click here:


We are always looking for records of Swift nest sites. Do you know of any? Enter your known sites here:

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

2017 OPW Heritage Sites Swift Survey

BirdWatch Ireland are delighted to be undertaking the third year of Swift surveys on behalf of the OPW at their heritage sites throughout the country.
This year we are carrying out fieldwork at The Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle (Tipperary), Dun Aonghasa (Galway), Castletown House (Kildare) and Altomont Gardens (Carlow).

The Rock of Cashel, Co.Tipperary Ricky Whelan

With the second site visits happening this week we are delighted to have already found strong signs of nesting Swifts at most of these sites.

The Inner Ward, Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary Ricky Whelan

Given the historic and ancient nature of the sites managed by the OPW they often provide suitable nesting sites for Swifts. Swifts need a small entrance gap that opens to a larger cavity in which they make a small nest cup. These gaps exist in abundance at many historic sites and Swifts are often associated with heritage sites for that reason.

This years survey has even taken us as far west as the Aran Islands where we surveyed at Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór. This massive, ancient hill fort is built exclusively from local limestone, the network of walls creates potential opportunity for nesting swifts. The only known nesting records of Swifts on the Aran Islands was recorded in "The Atlas of Breeding Birds of the Burren and the Aran Islands"(Liam Lysaght) published in 2012. Liam and the team of volunteers that carried out that fieldwork found a small cliff colony at Poll an Bhranda on the sout-east most edge of the Island. Since that work there have been no confirmed records of Swifts nesting on the Island.

Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mór, Co.Galway Ricky Whelan
Section of the limestone wall at Dún Aonghasa Ricky Whelan
With chicks now hatched and growing bigger and more hungry by the day, activity at nest sites will increase. We will use this window of maximum activity to nail down the exact locations of the nest sites in order to ensure their future protection. We will keep you up to date on our final findings later in the season.

If you have a historic building in your locality, why not go and see if you can identify any Swifts visiting nest sites at the location. We would love to receive any new records of Swift nest sites.

You can enter your Swift nest locations online HERE.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Swift Conservation Training Events County Galway - Survey and Projects "How To" with Swift Conservation Ireland

Swifts need your help!

The great project work of Swift Conservation Ireland continues with training being offered to all parties interested in helping Swifts in their local communities.

Next week Swift Conservation Ireland will carry out 3 training sessions in locations around county Galway.

If you are part of a local community group or just interested as an individual these events are not to be missed.

Full details on the poster below.

Swift Conservation Ireland Training Events Poster - SCI

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Swifts in Trim by Terence Cassidy – Meath Branch of BirdWatch Ireland.

Today we welcome a guest blog by Terence Cassidy of the BirdWatch Ireland Meath Branch and he describes a recent branch event through the town looking for Swifts. Over to Terence....

We start our walk on the banks of the Boyne, where Councillor Noel French starts us off, more than fifty of us including many school children. The birds feeding on the wing over the Boyne include Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, birds often confused with the Swift. Swifts fly high as we head into the town.

Our first stop Castle Street is a row of terraced houses built after the Boer war. Most of these houses retain features which allow swifts to safely nest and have helped to maintain this special bird in Trim.  Screaming Swifts whizz past, and we manage to catch sight of them as they dart under the roofs. Swifts need space between the roof and the wall to enter where they nest on the top of the wall. In Castle Street they have the additional protection of a very ornate fascia board.

A Swift dives for the eaves of this house along Trims Castle Street
Photo Franck Ar Moenner

Next stop Loman Street doesn’t disappoint either and we are treated to a spectacle of returning nesting Swifts. The roof of these houses has a large overhang giving protection to birds nesting on the top of the wall and unlike many other houses in Trim swifts have not been shut out of their nest sites by plastic fascia and soffits which are standard in modern building. The residents too are part of the success of this colony of Swift, many having grown up with the sight and sound of Swifts as a harbinger of summer.  Their love for the bird will ensure that at least in these houses a space will always be left for returning Swift, which they say return like clockwork on the 4th of May every year. They tell stories of finding accidentally grounded Swifts and, aware that the birds never land on the ground, they rescued them by simply throwing them back up in the air.

Brian Caffrey of BirdWatch Ireland chats to the assambled crowd on Loman Street
Photo Franck Ar Moenner

Finally we stop for a welcome cup of tea from Maureen in Brogan's Hotel. Brian from our tidy towns committee and Gerry representing the Men's Shed eagerly take in the technical specifications provided by Brian Caffrey who demonstrates the different types of swift nest boxes. Lars, from outside Trim, explains how he built nest boxes and equipped them with speakers and now has several nesting pairs of young swifts. These are probably young birds from the main colonies in Trim, which were attracted on their return from over wintering in Africa by a suitable nest site and the sound of swifts not far from where they were raised.

Another stop to view the Swifts along Loman Street
Photo Franck Ar Moenner

A love of swifts is not confined to birdwatchers in Trim as not only the Meath Branch of Birdwatch Ireland, but also the Tidy Towns committee, those working on heritage and environmental issues and residents appreciate the special place this bird has in the life of the town. After this experience I feel more confident that the Swift will not disappear from Trim, as has sadly been the case in many towns in Ireland, and look forward to reporting on the combined work we will now undertake to maintain a healthy population of swifts in Trim.