News archive

May 2020

Thursday, 21 May 2020

North Kent Swift Conservation Group (a call to arms by Sam Yetman)

North Kent Swift Conservation Group (a call to arms by Sam Yetman)

Swifts are one of our most charismatic urban birds and incredible aerialists. The BTO estimates that they can fly 300,000 miles non-stop between fledging and returning to breed. However, our swifts are in trouble. Over the last two decades the number of UK swifts has more than halved. Like many species, the causes of this decline are likely varied: climate change, habitat loss, loss of food abundance, and issues on migration. But perhaps the most important reason is the loss of nesting sites as the eaves under our houses are sealed up, locking out swifts from places to breed.

All this puts our swifts in a perilous position and the conservation need is clear. I was, then, surprised to find that there is no swift conservation group in North Kent. As such, by setting up the North Kent Swift Conservation Group I hope to fill this gap. My vision for the group is for it to become a strong voice for swifts in North Kent and to reverse the sad decline we are seeing in their numbers. Wouldn't it be great for everybody to experience the same parties of screaming swifts that I had growing up?

To achieve this, I have set four aims for the group that I believe are key to achieving our vision:

To become a network for individuals interested in swift conservation in North Kent to connect and share ideas.
To contribute towards the collection of data on nesting sites of swifts within the North Kent area.
To encourage building developments to be swift-friendly in their designs.
To inspire individuals to work to preserve existing breeding sites and to put up swift nestboxes on their homes.
As a species that is hard to attract to new sites, preserving existing colonies must be our key priority. Faced with the rapid national decline of this bird this might seem like an overwhelming task. But I think there are several reasons to have hope.

First, swifts have taken perfectly to our urban environments and have been nesting around human habitations for thousands of years. This means that in many ways the solution is easy; they don't require vast nature reserves of complex managed habitat. Instead a space in a roof eave or nestbox is perfect. Second, because of their simple habitat requirements, the cost of preserving swift colonies is reasonably small. Essentially the cost of a nestbox. This makes swift conservation very accessible and so small local groups can have a big impact. Third, if we succeed in halting the decline of the swift, what better symbol could there be for how humanity can successfully cohabit with nature? As our population increasingly urbanises, finding solutions for this is a key challenge for our time.

I hope this has inspired you to get involved and we would love to hear from you. Please join our Facebook group (see the link below) or email northkentswifts@outlook.com and let's work together to keep our skies busy with screaming swifts for generations to come.

Sam Yetman

North Kent Swift Conservation Group

Friday, 1 May 2020

Listing under lockdown The sequel - A message from Medway Group Leader Warren Mann

Listing under lockdown The sequel - A message from Medway Group Leader Warren Mann

My list is much as previously with few additions, but I have added my first raptor. It was a buzzard, not seen, but heard calling as I was walking through woodland. I could not see the bird because the leaves of many trees are well and truly out. Although, when I have been in my garden, I have twice been alerted by noisy gulls to very distant views of what were probably common buzzards. On the other hand, I have had my second glimpse of a great-spotted woodpecker. It drummed loudly more or less straight above me and I saw it as it flew away.

I have brushed up my knowledge of bird song for species such as blackcap and whitethroat, and it paid off as I first heard and then got good views of a blackcap singing its heart out. I have not heard any other of the summer visitors other than an occasional chiffchaff, nor have I heard or spotted any nuthatches or tree creepers, even in woods where I have found them in previous years. Despite that it is still very pleasant to get out and see the other signs of spring. It all seemed to change around Easter, with swathes of bluebells appearing, although the wood anemones were still in flower. Even if the birding sightings are few and the songs are all of familiar garden birds, there is something very soothing about walking around a small local wood or patch of scrub in the early morning sunshine.

It is not just the woods where I have been finding birds. I was walking down an alleyway between two houses when I was startled by the call of a pheasant. It was so loud and sounded so close that it must have been in the nearby back garden - not a bad garden tick. I have been spending time looking out at our back garden or out the front from the landing window. Sometimes very little is about, and at other times there are real flurries of activity. Blue tits and hedge sparrows nipping in and out of bushes, robins appearing from nowhere, small flocks of goldfinches or starlings alighting on a tree, the inevitable wood pigeons, and the occasional black-headed gulls flying over. Then all is quiet again.

One bird I have seen far too much is the feral pigeon. A few years ago, on a near-by road, there was a dovecote with a flock of white doves. Then the dovecot went but the doves remained. They attracted passing feral pigeons and the inevitable happened, and now we have good numbers of strangely marked piebald pigeons. They are completely fearless, or should that read gormless, as they seem to think the main road through our estate is the best place to bask in the sun. They also like sitting on solar panels. I can't warm to the birds even when I tell myself that they are really rock doves. I may be biased of course, as a pair of them have taken to serenading each other from just above our bedroom window, and they usually start at about six o'clock in the morning.

The last couple of weeks has seen my lockdown mammal count double. Grey squirrels have been a common garden pest around here for years, so I have seen plenty of those when on my walks, and once or twice I have seen a distant rabbit on the other side of a field. One morning recently I was pleased to see a hedgehog ambling across the road outside of my house. It was a good size and was not troubled by my presence. Urban foxes have been a common sight, late at night over the winter months, but for the first time ever we have seen one in the back garden. Late one evening we saw a fox jump down from the garden wall and disappear across to the other side of the garden. We rushed out for a view but only heard it scrabbling over the back fence. Perhaps it was the same one which had left its calling card on our patio a couple of days before.

If you can't get out and about you can go birding via the internet. There are a number of cameras showing various nesting birds and I can particularly recommend the ospreys. There always seems to be some drama with these birds and we have put the links to various nests on our website and in our e-bulletin. Of course, you can also stay up to date with local birds by visiting our Group facebook pages and our website.

Please take care, look after yourselves, and let's hope we are back to our monthly meetings and walks before too long.

Best wishes
Warren

PS You might be pleased to know that thanks to the magic of modern technology your Committee held its first video-meeting. After a couple of teething problems It worked pretty well and it was useful to update each other and plan for our eventual return to normality.