26 June 2014

MCSI News Flash: wrapping up June and Canada Day beginnings

The summer solstice has just passed so, for another few days, we have the maximum amount of daylight hours to enjoy "chimney swifting". Continued thanks are sent out to all of the volunteers who are diligently monitoring nest and roost sites - through the morning, daytime, and evening.
 At the Old Grace Hospital, Nicole reported that a pigeon on the rim of the chimney delayed some entry attempts to roost and kept a couple of swifts on the wing past curfew. David and Adolf had issues with a crow on the rim of Assiniboine School, ~ 0530 H, which may have disrupted the departure of roosting birds (well done gents for that early morning effort!). The Assiniboine School roost continues to draw observers - at least 70 to 80 swifts have been counted recently. We also welcome opportunistic sightings such as those reported by Vere in Fort Rouge, William at the Assiniboine Park Duck Pond, and Cal near McTavish's Lodge in Wasagaming.

What can you expect for July observations? More heat and mosquitoes likely. It is good to have an abundant source of prey items for the insectivorous birds, chimney swifts included. Timing is everything and as hatching is very close at hand now, a bounty of food is essential for adults feeding juveniles inside the chimney. Look for a change of activity patterns at nest sites. The once an hour exchange between incubating adults (one entry followed by an exit within a couple of minutes usually) will change to 2 or perhaps 3 exchanges per hour when hatching, and therefore the start of feeding, occurs. After 6-7 days of brooding, when the adults help regulate the juvenile's temperature by covering them, the young can be non-brooded. At this stage, typically 3 to 4 feeding entry/exit exchanges of adults take place per hour and consecutive entries/exits reflect both adults foraging independently. Some rare and extremely high entry/exit rates e.g., 20 times per hour, may reflect adults reaping a locally abundant patch of insects.

At roost sites in July, the number of chimney swifts entering at night may decline from the spring peak. Non-breeding adults and immature birds may disperse to places unknown during the summer. Ken, in Dauphin, notes that their end of May counts are usually the highest for the season and then a secondary peak occurs in late July just before migration. Ruby & Co. in Selkirk, being further south, may have numbers peaking in August and often have some of the last sightings in the Province while migration is well underway.

Winging our way through Ontario recently (June 13th to 21st) was a delight. Chimney swift sightings near the Orillia Opera House, the Beaches area of Toronto, downtown Guelph, Thames St. in Ingersoll, the main street in Stratford (a drive-by sighting overhead!), and the central square in Goderich were made easily during the day and at dusk. We left chimney swift remembrances of our visits with family and friends behind - sore neck muscles from sleuthing missions; advocacy issues such as how we would protect a previously used chimney from current raccoon habitation (metal flashing on the chimney should work!); and monitoring missions at newly discovered sites passed along to newly converted swift-o-philes. Good luck to Dave & Sue who are the new expert monitors at St. George's Anglican Church in Goderich!

One common theme that Rob and I heard was how the birds were identified for the "first" time by locals because chimney swifts were not obtrusive and had been previously overlooked e.g., "I must have seen them before but I thought that they were swallows".  The other theme was "HOW DO I get a good photograph of these birds?!". Capturing a chimney swift in a still frame is a challenge to a seasoned photographer! Pass your tips along...

Of particular interest, we revisited The New Beach United Church. Two chimneys were saved from demolition in 2012 once local residents, Murray and Kathy, identified the site (initially discovered during another family trip in 2011) as chimney swift habitat to the church congregation and architects responsible for redeveloping the building. Chimney swifts were active in the area during the daytime and used both chimneys at night for roosting on June 17, 2014.

Shortly before the Ontario excursion, Jan and Ken in Dauphin reported a unique sighting of a chimney swift dropping into a terra cotta lined chimney on their roost site building. What was happening? This type of chimney has no known documented use (by our group at least).  Fast forward to Orillia. As we tracked swifts circling the skies around the Opera House, one bird made a distinct entry-type drop over a building to the east. A terra cotta lined chimney was noted once we changed position slightly - the site of the highly suspected entry event. We think that chimney swifts may be able to get toe-holds on the seams of the terra cotta liners or more easily grab onto eroded surfaces; these liners would likely not be suitable for nesting sites as juveniles need to be able to "walk" up vertical surfaces during early flight training exercises inside the chimneys. If you have any thoughts or experiences with terra cotta lined chimneys, please send them our way!

Many opportunities exist for raising the public profile of chimney swifts and advocating for habitat conservation. ​Keeping your eyes to the sky may be a clichĂ©, however, chimney swifts can be silent, stealthy birds which feed quickly and slip easily into nest sites without detection.​ The roosting hour aggregation is at dusk when people generally are busy and not expecting to see chimney top activity. Let the chimney swifts show you what is happening...small numbers of low flying birds seen during the day indicate that nest sites could be close-by. Larger groups of chimney swifts assembling at the roosting hour (1/2 hour before sunset to 1/2 hour after sunset) portend the spectacle of circling and swooping/feinting away from chimney rims before the "vacuum switch" is turned on and the funneling into the chimney occurs. As chimney swift stewards, we can all expand our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of these fast fliers and help protect habitat one chimney at a time.

​Happy Canada Day to you all! I hope that you savour the considerable bounty of our nation.  Keep your chimney swift observations coming in and, of course, let us know of any site that needs repair/restoration/or raccoon butt intervention.  

Happy birding, Barb. ​

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