The MCSI aims to understand the causes behind the decline in Chimney Swift populations and help reverse the trend. The project receives funding from the Environmental Damages Fund, Habitat Stewardship Program and the Baillie Memorial Fund.
Last night, I was reminded by son Ryan, of that which I know and should have remembered (the Einstein moment). Successful breeders in the southern-most portions of the swifts distribution e.g., Texas, can produce two clutches per year. In Manitoba, however, the birds simply run out of time to produce a second clutch before migration. BUT, if the first nesting attempt failed and a second nest was started, that might explain the ongoing confusion and feeding behaviour seen at this late date. The down-the-chimney details for the SE Club Amical will never be known – there is no accessible cleanout trap and we have no nest cam. The best strategy to decode the mystery is to continue watching for evidence of fledging and start polishing up the rear view mirror.
Waiting for late-fledging swifts is happening beyond St Adolphe. There are at least two other nest sites which could produce fledglings in the next week or so. A multi-site blitz took place in Portage on August 17. The monitoring team – Gord, Janice, Joyce, Jim, and Cal – reported intense feeding activity at the Victoria School/Red River College site. There were 7 feeding cycles before the roosting hour and a total of 5 adults roosted. That means up to 3 helpers were on site or a pre-migratory group assembled at the nest site; this activity also was noted during monitoring on August 8 and 10.
On August 18, late nesting Chimney Swifts were discovered by a Winnipeg chimney sweep at St Avila School – see our August 21 blog “Peering Down the Chimney“. Jeff saw 3 juveniles in the nest which means that they were < 21 days old. Fledging takes place at 28-30 days of age = after August 25 at the St Avila site. That would be a new record for the latest date of fledging in Manitoba.
To put “late-fledging” in perspective, migration is underway. Ken reported that the Dauphin roost emptied between August 6-10. David and Adolf recorded 0 swifts at the Assiniboine School roost on August 6. Two unsuccessful nest sites in St Adolphe were unoccupied on August 17 (Jacquie at Brodeur Bros.; Rob at NE Club Amical) while 2 other successful sites had lower counts indicating a redistribution of family groups (Frank and Lewis at the Church: fledged young July 30 – 8 roosted August 5 – 3 roosted before the roosting hour August 17); Barb at Main St.: fledged August 12 – 2 juvenile entries August 17).
While we continue to monitor the progress at the remaining active nest sites, your patience is appreciated too. The final August monitoring update is still a work in progress…
Chimney Swift stewardship is all about reaching out to the general public and providing engaging information. When good fortune is on our side, good folks contact us at MCSI to share their experiences. Such was the case when Jeff reported in recently.
On the morning of August 18, 2016, Jeff was dispatched by a local chimney cleaning firm, to St Avila School in Fort Richmond, Winnipeg. He had quite an unexpected and raucous reception as he peered over the chimney rim! Two breeding adult Chimney Swifts, clinging to the interior wall, voiced their considerable displeasure at having their nest site disturbed. Three young juveniles sat stuffed into a small twig nest. At approximately 21 days of age, juvenile swifts move out of the nest onto the wall of the chimney. Then they practice flying up and down the shaft of the chimney until fledging at 28-30 days of age. So, the St Avila young were at least a week away from their first flight outside the chimney when Jeff spied them.
After shooting an amazing video to document the event, Jeff prudently withdrew from the chimney. It is all to easy for folks dealing with species at risk to quietly go the “shoot, shovel, and shut up” route. MCSI is grateful that Jeff allowed the St Avila swifts to carry on undisturbed at their nest site. Click here to view the 46 second video on YouTube.
Our on-the-road specialists, Frank and Jacquie, monitored St Avila school on August 19. There was intense activity – the 2 adults had 6 feeding entry/exit cycles in the 1.5 hours preceding their nighttime roosting entries. We will continue to monitor the progress of these swifts and hope for successful fledging soon.
It’s mid-August already. Our last blog update was at the end of July. Since then, the “radio silence” has not reflected an absence of Chimney Swift news. Rather, monitors have been inundating me with truly fascinating reports.
Here is a very brief synopsis of some of the key developments. A detailed update with everyone’s monitoring results will follow when I finish up with daytime monitoring.
In early August, new fledglings were greeting by John at one of his City Centre sites, Tim witnessing a “wobbly” entry in Melita, and Winona seeing a family group flying about her Selkirk site.
In St Adolphe, the stealth swifts that flew so far under the radar at Main St. that they had belly rubs, fledged young on Aug. 12; I actually thought they had a nest failure in mid-July. A very late starting SE Club Amical breeding attempt is still playing out.
I often ask “Does the St Adolphe breeding situation specifically reflect the provincial condition generally?” This year, the answer is yes.
Gord, in Portage, reported in on the weekend that 2 nest sites have young in them still – Janice and other recruits also are pushing late season monitoring sessions to track developments – these were also stealthy, late nesters as no nest building behaviour was seen by early July. A race to the season end is underway as migration has begun. Gord wonders if adults ever abandon juveniles and if very late-fledging young will be at risk during migration. Great questions.
Indications of migration comes from our big three roosts. In Dauphin, Ken had 19 roosting swifts on July 29, then 10 on August 5. The Selkirk Large Stack had 17 roosting swifts on July 18, then 27 on August 3; some local nest sites have emptied. At the Assiniboine School, Adolf noticed the August 2 counts had dropped significantly to 8 swifts, from 61-63 on July 25; the August 6 count was zero.
Matt, in Carman, witnessed late evening departures (~9 PM) from a roost on August 12 and the 4 swifts did not return that night. On Saturday, Matt checked in the morning and evening, and no swifts were seen in town at all.
Next round, we’ll feature detailed monitoring results from: Millie and Margaret in Souris; road warriors, Jacquie and Frank, in Aubigny, Otterburne, and Winnipeg; David in La Broquerie; Ken in Wasagaming; John, at yet another new City Centre nest site; the Selkirk birding club; the St James observers; Ken and Jan in Dauphin; Matt in Carman; and a multi-site recon from the St Adolphe team.
The next blog instalment likely will come when most of our sites have emptied. Until then, enjoy your last Chimney Swift sightings for 2016. If you feel inspired for just one more head count, send in your news. Your participation is always appreciated and the results are golden!
My personal highlight of being involved in MCSI in the last couple of years is hearing different peoples stories of finding new sites for swifts in Manitoba and sharing their experiences. So far in 2016, 13 new site codes have been issued by Barb, which reflects brilliantly on the endeavours of MCSI volunteers. Each time a new site is reported, there is always a story to tell and this blog uses extracts from emails and a couple of personal accounts to give a impression of how these sites are found.
Site 1 – Portage Avenue, St James – the eagle-eyed spotter
David Wiebe is part of a team monitoring the chimneys around Assiniboine School in St James. He recently sent a report of a new chimney on Portage Avenue which was found thanks to Jake Peters of Osborne Village fame. Here is Davids report:
‘A couple of days ago I looked more closely at the apt block on Portage Ave right beside the Carillon on the east side of it. 1780 Portage. Something Jake Peters had said the last time he was monitoring with us made me curious. And so I noticed upon closer inspection that it has a chimney mostly hidden because of trees. Because of the trees and because it is barely higher than the roof there is almost no spot where the chimney can be seen. So this evening I thought I would look at that spot and see if any swifts went there. Lo and behold at 9:20 I saw one swift go down there, and although I couldn’t actually see it enter the chimney it is the only thing that could have happened. A new site!’
Sites 2 and 3 – the historic anomalies, St Francois Xavier and Lanark Gardens
Some sites have been on the database for years but no one has ever recorded an entry by a Chimney Swift. Marshall Birch has been working on bird stewardship projects with Nature Manitoba and here tells us how he has finally managed to find swifts in some chimneys:
During an outing to visit Grant’s Lake and Delta Marsh IBAs, Tim figured we might as well stop by some potential Swift nesting sites which had yet to be confirmed. St Francois Xavier lies along Highway 26, around 30 km West of Winnipeg. The centrepiece of the town is the stately St. Francois Xavier Parish Church, built in 1900, and sporting and mighty intriguing chimney on the back. It had long been suspected as a Swift site, and we were here to investigate. Some time was spent on lookout (on the hottest day in recent memory), and after being repeatedly teased by Swallows, we decided there wasn’t anything going on and went to check out the oxbow lake before taking off. As we were returning to the car, the tell-tale call of Swifts was heard, and two were spotted above the church. We staked out shady spots to watch, and after about five minutes, I caught one Swift exit the chimney – the very moment Tim looked away to change position, of course. No entrance was seen, and while this amount of time spent in a chimney mid-day is unusual, its not unheard of. On a day that hot, everyone needs a bit of extra time to rest!’
And Marshall again
‘My first Swift search of the season was a successful one. Just South of Corydon, on Lanark Street, is a series of apartment buildings, which have been on the MCSI’s list for some time without any confirmation. What’s interesting about this site is that it encompasses not one but nine buildings, each with its own chimney, and some with two. While I was able to stake out a place in the back lane that provided a view of four chimneys, it became clear why this site hasn’t been successfully monitored. There were certainly Swifts in the area, but even if I had a position from which I could see all the chimneys, there could be an entrance in one in a split second as I glance at another – they’re that darned quick. As time went on and the realization that monitoring this site was really more like monitoring about ten at once, I began to lose hope. Noting that they seemed to be swooping mostly around one end of the area, I changed my position slightly and focused over there. Just as I did this, two Swifts slipped into a chimney in front of me. I’d say that a good deal of luck was at play this evening, though a history of interest in the site was what had led me there in the first place.
Site 4 and 5 – pure luck, the Granite Curling Club and the Pembina Rexall
Usually finding Chimney Swift habitat comes down to a combination of skill, knowledge and hours of work. Occasionally luck becomes the key factor in finding swifts. Here I give an account of finding a new site:
‘Arriving at work one day, Marshall asked whether there are known Chimney Swift sites near Balmoral Avenue as he had spotted 10 Chimney Swifts circling the area the previous evening. There was nothing in the immediate vicinity on the database apart from the new chimneys in Osborne Village. I decided to pop over to the area on my bike. The Granite Curling Club has a rather funky chimney with 5 flues on top. While passing this point, I saw a streamlined black object plunge into one of these flues – a Chimney Swift – that was one lucky chance! On another occasion, I saw a pair of Chimney Swifts plunge into a known site on Roslyn while waiting at the bus stop (thanks again Jake Peters for finding this site in 2015). Luck is sometimes needed in Chimney Swift world.’
And back to Marshall:
‘Luck played a key role in a site spotting a few weeks back while driving down Pembina. There had been suspicion that a chimney atop a Rexall could be inhabited by Swifts, though no sightings had been recorded. While driving by, Tim suggested I take a peek, and lo and behold, a Swift was just passing by the chimney. We immediately pulled over to survey the scene. At first it seemed like not much going on – there appeared to be a couple of Swifts in the area, but they showed little interest in the chimney. We were about to assume they were nesting elsewhere and take off when I spotted a black flash near the chimney in the corner of my eye. We hung around for another few minutes – long enough to witness the Swift reappear out of the chimney and to confirm it was being used. While instances of this sort aren’t that common, it’s amazing how often one can find Swifts if they’ve just got it in their head to keep an ear and eye out. Since getting involved with Swifts I’ve hardly gone a day without seeing or hearing a few somewhere around the city – but maybe I’m just extra lucky.’
Site 6 and 7 – good old fashioned endeavour and sleuthing, William and McDermot
I suspect most Chimney Swift sites over the years have been found thanks to good old fashioned boots on the ground looking up to the skies. Each year many of you are doing just this, heads to the skies. John Hays, a Nature Manitoba member has been doing just that:
‘Friday evening I went back to the area where I had seen swifts that afternoon. I watched the sky and a couple of chimneys from the Parts Source parking lot at Notre Dame and Isabel for more than an hour, about 8:30 till 9:45. I saw no Swifts. Still curious I tried again Saturday evening at Isabel and William and found swifts flying every few minutes. I could not count more than 6 at a time in the air. I watched the chimney on 442 William from about 8:20 till 9:50. At 9:44 I saw 2 swifts enter the chimney and another at 9:45.’
‘Since monitoring the chimney at 442 William I have been dropping by there and two other spots nearby, hoping to see a daytime entry or exit. Yesterday, July 2nd, my time invested payed off. At 4:46 PM after looking at a chimney for about 10 minutes I had an entry and within a minute an exit. I stayed for another 40 minutes but did not see another exit or entry, although swifts were flying by. This happened at the chimney on the northwest corner of the old warehouse at 579 McDermot ave. A clear view of the chimney is had from the corner of Bannatyne and Lydia. This morning I went back at 10:40 AM and had the first entry at 11:23 AM and exit at 11:28. Had to wait till 12:29 PM for the second entry and 12:48 for the exit.’
Sites 8 and 9 – using technology to find Chimney Swifts, Osborne Village
Where possible, I have been using Google Satellite Images and Street view to find information on swift sites. The quality of these images especially in larger cities like Winnipeg and Brandon, is such that they can show whether there is a gaping hole in the top of a chimney or not. This could in theory then be used to point new volunteers to possible monitoring sites. In a few cases this has led to discovery of new sites for swifts. Back to Marshall:
‘I’d been out to investigate a site from the MCSI database in the Osborne Village area one night. While no entrances or exits were seen, it was notable how many Swifts were in the area. This got us thinking that there must be other nest sites in the vicinity. Using Google Earth, Tim scanned aerial images of the neighbourhood and came up with four potential sites – they seemed to be the right size and looked uncapped. Several evenings were spent lurking about back alleys, scoping out chimneys. Of the four, two proved to have no activity, while there were entrances spotted at two of the locations. A 50/50 success rate ain’t bad for guessing sites based on aerial images, and certainly confirms validity for the technique!’
Just as the “Heading Into The Home Stretch” edition was being beamed up to Frank, our webmaster, the postal service and web server delivered a delightful array of messages. Unfortunately, with a “black and white bush kitty” delivering a smelly spray to our naïve 14 month old golden retriever, skunky cleanup duties took over. Here are the news items submitted from that fateful night of July 26 through to the end of the month…
John continued his diligent tracking of two City Centre nest sites on July 24. In the morning at 41 Princess, John saw 6 entries and 6 exits in 78 minutes – two consecutive entries and, later, two consecutive exits confirmed that feeding non-brooded young was well underway. In the early afternoon at 579 McDermot, the 2 attending adults made simultaneous, or nearly simultaneous (less than a minute apart) entries and exits. There were 4 entries and 4 exits seen in 42 minutes = excellent care giving effort to non-brooded young. All the best for successful fledging at your nest sites John!
On July 25, the St James squad snagged roosting hour counts for all four of their sites. We certainly appreciate the ongoing efforts of these volunteers during the busy summer months! Here is what Jake, Donald, Anna, and Adolf saw:
Carillon Tower- 3 entries
Kings Theatre – 3 entries
1780 Portage (new site east of the Carillon) – an entry/exit cycle was seen followed by an entry. This appears to be a nest site.
Assiniboine school – 61-63 roosting; “activity was very similar to that on 21 July: a buildup of the flock whirling over the school beginning at about 9:48 to 9:50.” There were single entries at 9:40 and 9:48 PM, then between 9:50-9:57, the others descended including a “bulk entry of ca. 20 birds”. That is a real challenge to count. It will be interesting to see if any pre-migratory increases start soon at the Assiniboine School roost.
Tim went to check out John’s City Centre William Avenue. site on July 26. The day was sizzling with more than high temperatures – the discovery of new site 2016-15 took place “…while heading back down William I noticed a chimney on 471 William just emerging from the rooftop and a swift overhead. What d’you know, the swift entered at 1310.” Congratulations Tim on identifying yet another active site for the critical habitat registry!
Now Tim might have taken heat in a different fashion, but I hope Chimney Swifts added to the charm of a special anniversary dinner instead of being a distraction…on July 26, swifts were seen regularly from an outdoor patio on Corydon and one descended toward a Dorchester chimney. A post-prandial walk featured 20 swifts flying about Lilac and Grosvenor. Aerial activity over a couple of homes near Edderton Park was particularly “crazy”. If you are in the vicinity, this hot spot appears to be great Chimney Swift habitat.
Joel, in The Pas, had several sightings from June 17 to 23. He saw trio flying – ” 3 swifts together in territorial like chases”. After being out of town, Joel returned to sky gazing on July 7 but no sightings were made until the early evening of July 22 when 1 swift was seen flying “round and round the railway station”. On July 24 another sighting was made ~5:30pm, beyond the west side of town, while fishing (just like going to the Fringe Fest, heading to the fishing hole is a good multi-tasking pastime) – 2 barn swallows and a swift were pursuing a Merlin. What a great value-added sighting. As Joel summed up the 2016 season to date, “The swifts are here somewhere, but time and luck have yet to join forces.” We hope you identify the first active site in The Pas sooner than later!
The troops assembled at St Adolphe for a multi-site robust roosting hour session on July 27 (no Pokémon Gym battles were engaged in). Here is what we found:
Kathy and Rob (and the stinky pup) were at Club Amical –
SE Club Amical: feeding non-brooded young (fledging due August 6-7-8); 2 entry/exit cycles plus 2 roosting entries
NE Club Amical: nest failure site July 16 – feeding non-brooded young, Day 13; 0 entries/exits
Jacquie watched Brodeur Bros: nest failure site July 15 – feeding brooded young, Day 6; 1 roosting entry
Frank and Lewis monitored the non-stop action at the Church: feeding non-brooded young (fledging due July 30-31-Aug 1); 19 entries, 19 exits, and 2 roosting entries together at end of session
Barb looked at the Main St chimney: nest failure site July 16 – possibly feeding brooded young, Day 2; 2 entry/exit cycles; 1 roosting entry
In retrospect, signs of change were evident in St Adolphe. Helpers had not been at the two nest sites for a week and the maximum aerial group size declined from 5-6 to 3 swifts. I was quite shocked, however, to have no swifts roosting at the NE Club and only 1 roosting at Brodeurs and Main St. Way back in the early monitoring years (2007-2010), all the swifts would hang around in St A through August and often form a pre-migratory group at the Church or another successful site. In more recent years, unsuccessful breeders would stay through the first week of August at least – once a fledging took place at some site, unsuccessful breeders seemed “cued” for release and then they left the community.
Margaret and Millie’s site in Brandon gave us the first indication of early withdrawal/relocation for unsuccessful breeding birds in 2016. They had reported 0 roosting swifts on both July 18 and 24.
The million dollar question is “where are these unsuccessful breeders going?”
Tim was following a hunch again on July 28 while “passing the Flag Shop this evening and thought I would stop and take a look on the off chance of activity. Turns out it was a good decision. About a minute after leaving the car at 7:29, a swift enters the chimney. Approximately 30-40 seconds later a swift left, swiftly followed by another about 15 seconds later.” This site has been in our database since 2007, routinely has a small number of occupants, and is likely a nest site.
As noted in our previous blog, Margaret and Millie were planning a trip to Souris. They visited on July 28, after checking their line of bluebird nesting boxes ~ another great volunteer activity! A group of 12 Chimney Swifts were flying around which was a welcome sight. Margaret and Millie “drove around and found the chimneys where swifts had been seen and spent some time at the museum and the Rock Shop hoping to see an entry. No luck. We did see swifts high in the sky while in the vicinity of the museum but most of the action happened between 7:30 & 8:45 in the vicinity of St Paul’s United Church, Kowalchuk’s Funeral Home, and west. The swifts were flying low and quite vocal – none appeared to be taking any food to any young!” Thanks so much for your recon report Margaret and Millie. The situation in Souris merits further monitoring, so we would appreciate suggestions for local volunteers who might be recruited.
Jake was at his 94 Roslyn Rd site on the evening of July 29. He saw 6 entry/exit cycles then 2 roosting entries – fledging is at hand!
Ken and Jan, up in Dauphin, were also out for the roosting hour on July 29. One swift appeared 20 minutes into the session, then at the 45 minute mark, “swoosh – a whole bunch” showed up. Two swifts entered followed rapidly by 17 more; 1 swift was in the air at the end of the monitoring session (19 roosted; 20 seen). Ken’s impression was that the large group of swifts could be a migratory group. The solstice head count in Dauphin was 4-6 seen in the air. The northern swifts seem to be on the move…
Gord and Janice took on a special assignment, heading to Manitou on July 29. Remember the backstory that Ken had identified swifts in this community during his July 4 recon. Janice and Gord’s time was well spent as they discovered new site 2016-16 – 338 Hamilton St, St Andrews United Church. During the robust roosting hour session, 4 Chimney Swifts were seen in the air and all 4 roosted in the Church chimney.
Moving ahead one day and onto the final stage of nesting, I am happy to announce that fledglings were seen mid-morning of Saturday, July 30 at the St Adolphe Church. On the previous morning, many “strafing run” approaches to the chimney were seen plus adults were dropping down then veering off close to the rim. I interpreted the behaviour to be what the Kyle’s describe as adults luring the juveniles close to the top of the chimney just prior to fledging.
On Saturday morning, the identification of a fledgling could not have been easier – I sat in my chair and stared up, only to have a low, slow flying swift oblige me with an easy view of its trailing wing margin. It was INTACT – no moulting discontinuities were seen. After watching groups of birds fly around the area and seeing escorted, cautious but competent entries into the chimney (no tumbling misses), I realized that these were not first-flights. My best guesstimate is that 2, perhaps 3, fledglings were airborne sometime on Friday, July 29 AFTER I finished monitoring for the morning OR fledging had taken place very early on the morning of the 30th.
Checking in St A again during the morning of July 31, I saw 2 juveniles jostle for position during their near simultaneous entries to the Church. Good news continued as the SE Club Amical young were being fed; at Day 22, the juveniles should have been out of the bowl of the nest and onto the wall of the chimney. That boded well for the severe storms which were predicted to finish off July’s awful weather events…Rob and I managed an evening session at the Church on July 31 – we saw a juvenile in flight and the roosting count was 3. In a few days, another robust roosting hour count should help confirm the number of fledglings at the Church; juveniles often head into the chimney to rest well ahead of the roosting hour curfew so it can take up to a week to get an accurate census.
Garry also checked out his Watt Street nest site on July 31. It was a profitable trip as Garry noticed entries which were “slower, less-direct, more horizontal approach, with a very brief stall at the rim”. Fledging has taken place likely! Thanks Garry for tracking this site over the season – it is useful to gauge the breeding success of Chimney Swifts throughout Manitoba to understand the provincial situation.
Frank & Jacquie, Tim, and Lewis took to the road for a multi-site recon at Otterburne on July 31. Jacquie and Frank have wondered about the convent and church sites across the river from Providence College. Jacquie and Tim became blood donors to a flock of mosquitoes while they watched swift-free air space. Lewis and Frank had a civilized monitoring session, replete with classical music. Their monitoring results for the three Providence College chimneys – relative to previous sessions – are:
Site 550 – chimney near bell tower: 2 roosting on July 18 and 0 roosting on July 31; there was never any real nest building activity noted by the end of June, so I would say that a breeding attempt was never underway. There they are gone.
Site 551 – fat chimney: 11 entries, 5 exits and 6 in for the night on July 18 = an unusual (ok, weird) number of birds for a nest site, but too much activity for a typical roost; there were 4 entries and 3 exits and 3 in the chimney on July 31. Net loss = 3 swifts. Should we designate this as a roost site for 2016 and consider that some birds have dispersed? Another monitoring session would be useful to figure out what is going on.
Site 552 – skinny chimney: 12 entries, 8 exits, and 4 roosting for the night on July 18 = breeding pair + 2 helpers? OR a small roost?; there were 13 entries, 12 exits, and 3 roosting for the night on July 31.There were three instances of 2 entries and 2 exits occurring very close together – more so than on July 18. Given the date, high level of activity, and clumping sequences, fledging may be at hand…however, juveniles were not obvious…this does appear to be a nest site, so a follow-up monitoring session within the next 10 days would be useful.
Frank and Jacquie are planning another trip to Otterburne to help decode the end of July activity. Good luck!
That’s a wrap for July – thanks everyone for such a strong monitoring push this past week.
August may not be a full month with Chimney Swifts in Manitoba after all. We have had indications of early withdrawal of unsuccessful breeding swifts from nest sites. The northern most roost is approaching a secondary pre-migratory peak for the season.
Many questions remain about the current Chimney Swift activity at both nest and roost sites. As usual, the swifts lure us to monitor yet one more time…
Barb for the MCSI team: Frank Machovec, webmaster; Tim Poole, Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator; Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, and Rob Stewart, Steering Committee Members.