News archive

February 2019

Thursday, 28 February 2019

For the love of Swifts- a personal perspective by Carol Cockbain

For the love of Swifts- a personal perspective by Carol Cockbain

I grew up with swifts nesting in the roof space just above my bed at the family home in Liverpool. When Spring arrived I couldn't wait for their screaming calls to wake me in the morning. We had at least four pairs breeding every year and ours were one of three houses in the Close that they chose to breed in. What a privilege. Compared to swallows and martins they are very clean birds around the nesting site: no need to dodge their droppings ever!

When I moved to Hale, although there were swifts around none were breeding near to us. I really missed them. We've had swift boxes since 2007 and over the years we have had mixed fortune with their breeding success. Our original Shwegler box, with two nest holes, was a Christmas present to Rob: it was heavy but has worked well. We used the prescribed tape recording to attract them in and this meant we had them breeding the first year, although that year the swifts squeezed into the bat box which is hidden at the back. Although they raised young we don't know how many fledged. As there was only a small chance of bats using the box we blocked it off the following year.

By the second season we had added two new boxes on either side. They were made to our own design from marine ply. These were not so successful: we think they got too hot for comfort but they were readily taken up by starlings. Initially we were annoyed by the starlings (not red-listed then) but it soon proved that their first broods had all fledged before the swifts arrived. The swifts stood no nonsense from them and quickly ousted any trying for a second brood and the swifts cleaned the nests thoroughly before nesting began.

The following two years they successfully raised young which were ringed but there have been no further sightings of these birds. As they are such long-lived birds we hope they are still on the wing. Usually only one pair bred in the Shwegler box although we have had two breeders occasionally. Over the following years we had two years when they failed to breed and a couple of years when they failed at the feeding stage, mainly due to prolonged adverse weather conditions. On the whole they fledged at least one young and sometimes up to three.

Every year there is a stage when it all goes quiet: you know the young have hatched because you hear them and then - nothing. Panic sets in! Have they failed again? What happened to the young? Was an adult killed somehow? It happens every year and we've never got used to it... And one day you're in the garden - a movement catches your eye, you look up and there's nothing there! Over the next few days you keep glancing up and suddenly you see the youngsters peeping out at you. Later it can become a bit of a scrum as the jostle for position.

Part of one of the wooden boxes fell onto the roof below in a storm last year, so we removed them both. Our neighbour built a new extension and a garage last year and he has incorporated two swift bricks into the construction and we now have a couple of swift bricks to try out but are keeping the Shwegler boxes too. At least four friends now have boxes on their houses.

In the Autumn we play the calls again for a couple of weeks: this encourages young, passing birds to look at the colony and hopefully attract them to breed the following year. This is the most exciting time, when up to twenty birds are screaming around the house in the evenings while we sit with a glass of wine! (or beer)

Please try to find a way to encourage the swifts to nest on your house. There is plenty of information on the Internet. It's just so exciting to watch their progress. Honestly, I can't imagine being without them.

Carol Cockbain
RSPB Liverpool member, Editor and Friend of Pickerings pasture

Friday, 15 February 2019

Wirral nature reserve receives VisitEngland Welcome accolade

Wirral nature reserve receives VisitEngland Welcome accolade

Staff, volunteers and visitors are celebrating at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, the popular nature reserve near Neston, following news that the site has been awarded the prestigious Welcome accolade from VisitEngland - one of just six attractions in the North West to receive an award this year.

Attractions across England are awarded VisitEngland accolades in appreciation of the outstanding experiences they provide, with other categories including story-telling, food and drink, hidden gem status and an overall Gold award. The attractions have achieved these awards based on the score they obtained following their annual assessment by VisitEngland, with Burton Mere Wetlands' Welcome accolade a result of its 100% score on the staff component of the assessment.

Burton Mere Wetlands, the heart of the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve, is increasingly popular with nature enthusiasts of all ages, with thousands of visitors flocking to the site each year to explore its unique visitor centre, extensive trails, breath-taking wildlife spectacles, wild play area and impressive views.

Graham Jones, Site Manager at RSPB Dee Estuary reserve, said: "This is fantastic news for the reserve and we're sure that our visitors will be as thrilled as we are.
"To achieve a Welcome accolade is such an honour. This award reflects the ongoing hard work by everyone here at the Dee Estuary to deliver an outstanding visitor experience for the many families and individuals who enjoy our wonderful reserve each year.
"A huge thank you goes to our staff and volunteers for working so hard to deliver the highest level of visitor experience at Burton Mere Wetlands. To receive this award in the reserve's 40th anniversary year is a fitting recognition of the sensitive development the RSPB has delivered on the Dee Estuary, since our beginnings at Parkgate in 1979."

VisitEngland Director Andrew Stokes said: "England is home to world-class attractions right across the country, welcoming visitors throughout the year and offering experiences of the highest quality including excellent food and drink and outstanding customer service. It is also really fantastic to see these accolades recognising the work of those employees, managers and owners who make sure that all who pass through their doors have a truly memorable experience."

VisitEngland's Attractions Accolades, now in their fifth year, can be attained by members of the VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme in categories including the Welcome Accolade, Hidden Gem, Best Told Story, Quality Food and Drink and the Gold Accolade for all-round top-scoring attractions.