News and posts

Some Dates for Your Diary

Environment and Climate Change Canada in Quebec have released the dates for the National Roost Monitoring Program in the past few days.

The dates as released are:

May 23rd
May 27th
May 31st
June 4th

MCSI will follow-up in the coming months with our own plans for 2018 – watch this space!

In the meantime, reports on eBird are showing that Chimney Swifts have recently been recorded in two separate areas of South and Central America. The first is in the traditional wintering grounds of the Upper Amazon in a place called the Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Rio Los Amigos in Peru. The other sighting is from the Parque de Piedra in Costa Rica form January 3rd – maybe a sign that a few swifts are already on the move!

You can look at all the latest sightings on eBird by clicking this link – http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/map/chiswi?neg=true&env.minX=&env.minY=&env.maxX=&env.maxY=&zh=false&gp=false&ev=Z&mr=1-12&bmo=1&emo=12&yr=cur.

or use the following shortened hyperlink. http://bit.ly/1SGKXYv

We will begin to ratchet up our communications as spring closes in.
—  Tim Poole on behalf of the MCSI Steering Committee

Keeping you in the loop

We at MCSI believe it is important to keep our volunteers and supporters informed in relation to the latest research and information from elsewhere in the Chimney Swift (and wider swift) world. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits that have come to our attention recently.


We begin around a slightly older story from 2012 that came up again in recent conversation – and if you haven’t seen it yet is worth the look. Soil scientists can find out about the history of an area by studying the structures and chemistry of soil taken from a borehole. In the same way, a biologist can learn a lot about Chimney Swifts from studying guano (or swift poop) remaining in the bottom of a chimney. In one particular study from Ontario (dated 2012), we learn about changes in diet over time linked to the spread of DDE in the wider environment. It appeared that the number of beetles in the diet of Chimney Swifts declined as levels of DDE (a chemical that comes from the pesticide DDT) increased. Beetles were replaced in the diet of swifts by less nutritious ‘true bugs’. There is also an interesting comment about the need for conserving chimney habitats in the final paragraph – we certainly support this view! If you haven’t seen this story before then please look at http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/04/clues-species-decline-buried-pile-bird-excrement.


This segues nicely into some news from London Ontario. We are delighted to share a few articles from Winifred Wake. Winifred has long provided MCSI with advice and assistance and carries a huge wealth of experience. She has published a couple of papers, one in The Cardinal and the other in Ontario Birds and we are delighted to have permission to publish these on our resources page. The Cardinal article analyses chimney loss in London, painting a similar picture to that MCSI published in the Blue Jay. You can read this excellent piece at https://www.mbchimneyswift.com/Documents/Wake2016_cardinal.pdf. The piece in Ontario Birds provides an overview of conservation efforts in London between 2004 and 2015. This is extremely relevant to us here in Manitoba as so many of the issues do overlap and this exchange of experiences going forward will only benefit each organisation as we strive to conserve this species. You can read the piece at
https://www.mbchimneyswift.com/Documents/Wake2017_ONbirds.pdf.


The rescued chicks

Finally, this segues nicely into news from CBC Manitoba! Winifred was the rehab specialist responsible for the final preparation and release of the Manitoba Chimney Swift chicks (take a look here). These birds were released around a roost in London Ontario. A neat segue then as we move onto a nice profile of Tiffany Lui, the Manitoban rehabber who painstakingly cared for the chicks here in Manitoba. You can read more about Tiffany at
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/cool-jobs-tiffany-lui-wildlife-rehabilitation-1.4367869.

Tim Poole
MCSI Coordinator

Lewis Cocks Swift Champion !

Our latest Swift Champion plaque was presented recently to Lewis Cocks. Many of you will already be familiar with Lewis as a longtime supporter of Chimney Swift conservation in Manitoba. Indeed, Lewis was the closest we have to a founder of MCSI – it was his idea to do something for Chimney Swifts and he was the initial driving force in setting up what we now call the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative. Below Lewis answers a few questions about his involvement as a champion of Chimney Swift conservation in Manitoba.
1. What were you doing before helping to set up MCSI? 
I was able to retire in 2005 but still had an interest in policy, writing, working with others, making a difference and doing something for our feathered friends.
 
2. You were instrumental in starting MCSI back in 2006. Why Chimney Swifts? 
Chimney Swifts populations were in decline, they were urban adapted which meant they were flexible and perhaps amenable to artificial roosting and nesting structures. In essence, if you build something for them, will they come? 
 
3. What were your original intentions for MCSI and how and why did they evolve to where we are now? 
Originally our MCSI Steering Cmte was heavily focused on erecting Swift friendly structures, which didn’t attract and retain Swifts so we adapted, we stopped building stand alone structures and switched to repairing existing Swift friendly structures that were falling into disrepair. Interest in our initiative grew along with the need to better understand the breeding biology of Swifts. 
 
4. Who else was involved in those early days? 
The granting agencies all wanted to know who would be involved in any proposed activity and it was felt that the original project submission should be a blend of public and private interests. As such, Dr Jim Duncan from Manitoba Conservation, Ron Bazin from the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada, Cheryl Hemming from the City of Winnipeg Naturalist Services Branch were consulted and were integral and essential early contributors and since I was a Board Member of the Manitoba Naturalists Society ( Nature Manitoba ) we had a great cross section of quite knowledgeable and keen people. Soon after grants from the Federal and Provincial Governments came through we recruited our first of several MCSI Project Coordinators Mike Quigley who was provided office space and support in the City of Winnipeg Naturalist Services Branch Office. 
 
5. What have you learnt about Chimney Swifts since beginning MCSI? 
Chimney Swifts are amazing. They come here from the Amazon to raise their young on insects that they hover up from the air above us, within a very tight time frame, find suitable nesting sites, raise young under very demanding circumstances where the weather can be hot, cold, wet and dry and when insects can be super abundant or practically non existent.
 
6. What are your hopes for the future for Chimney Swifts in Manitoba? 
You have to be optimistic or else why do what we do. It may not be too late, but honestly, the trend is for the CS population to continue to decrease. There’s problems and opportunities here in Manitoba and throughout their home range. In the Amazon there is massive habitat destruction, there’s problems over the great distances they travel north and south including increasingly erratic weather, we’re losing most of our suitable chimneys, there are even recent reports of major declines and shifts in insect populations that are complex and just barely beginning to be understood.  
 
7. Anything to add?  
There are many very talented, brilliant and committed people who thinking and doing good things to make sure that Swifts survive and thrive and they deserve our thanks and support. 
 
As does Lewis deserve and thanks for his years contributing to our understa
nding of Chimney Swift conservation here in Manitoba. Thanks Lewis!
— Tim Poole

2017 MCSI Data added to the Website !

Thank you once more to all our volunteers who spent hours in sunshine, wind and rain collecting Chimney Swift data in 2017. The fruits of your labours can be found in two datasets which we uploaded to the MCSI website today.

The first of these is the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP) dataset. This dataset includes all data collected during four set evenings joining other volunteers across eastern Canada. The data collected by our volunteers has been submitted to Environment and Climate Change Canada in Quebec. We have also added the additional MCSI three night results to this dataset. It should be noted as well that the evenings of May 28 and June 9 had terrible weather, hence the low numbers of counts (and low numbers of birds where counting took place). Here is the link .

The second dataset is a summary of all chimneys monitored between 2014 and 2017 (for 2007-2014 see https://www.mbchimneyswift.com/Documents/2014_sites.pdf). The figure in the lefthand column for each year represents the largest number of birds seen entering the chimney in that year, the columns following include a note on whether we could determine if the chimney was used for nesting or just roosting, the known status of a nesting attempt and finally the date and details of the high count for that year. You can take a look at this data by clicking here.

Spreadsheets can be amended and documents can be re-uploaded to the website so please, if you have any additional data to submit please do so. Also, we have tried to be as accurate as possible when recording your data but occasional mistakes do happen when dealing with large amounts of data from multiple sources. If you spot any missing or misrepresented data please let us know and again we can amend. The important thing is for us to have the most accurate and up to date dataset possible.

Finally, thank you once more for everyone who made 2017 such a special monitoring year for the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative. You can see just by looking at the number of sites monitored in 2017 that this has been an absolutely phenomenal year.

By the way, we have updated our Monitoring Results page to include links to new information from the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba. you should take a look…

Manitoba Government News Release about saved CHSW chicks

News Release – Manitoba  September 29, 2017

Click here for additional details about the rescue from CBC News/Canadian Press (no fake news here!).

St Adolphe Nest Outcome Summary for 2017

St Adolphe Church

Brodeur Bros. was unoccupied the entire year – absolutely no sign of an entry or exit.

A nesting attempt was made at the other 4 sites and 3 attempts were successful (75% success). This ties the previous record of 3 successful breeding attempts in 2013, however, in that year all 5 nest sites had a breeding pair onsite (60% success).

The SE Club Amical nest failure took place on July 10 (Day 6-8). Crop dusting took place outside St A. on July 2, 3, and 9.

The number of fledglings per site was low, although behavioural estimates tend to be underestimates: 1 fledgling at NE Club Amical (behavioural obs.); 2 fledglings at the Church (behavioural obs.); and 3 fledglings at the Main St site (clutch size = 3 = 100% fledging based on physical evidence; behavioural observations estimated n=2 fledglings).

A pdf version of the 2017 Nest Outcome Summary for St. Adolphe may be  seen at http://www.mbchimneyswift.com/Documents/stadolphe_2017.pdf

Tim and I are connected to a U of W grad student, Martine Balcaen, who had mosquitoe traps at Howden C.C. on Red River Dr and Marchand Rd (my area northwest of St A.) She noted interesting pulses of mosquitoes between trap locations and shifts in the mass of mosquitoes relative to other species of flying insects. We will follow up with her to see if some explanation can be offered for the successful year of Chimney Swift breeding in St A. relative to the stinking low numbers of mosquitoes in the valley all season long!

The big question to ponder this year is “If mosquitoes never present as a primary food source at the beginning of the season, therefore they do not decline in numbers with mosquito abatement programs mid-season, do Chimney Swifts shift to other prey species with better breeding success?” There’s another big difference this year though: when the hot temp’s arrived the strong winds didn’t; compare to 2011 when rip roaring winds blew for days on end with 30+ C temps – in 2011 the Church nest failed Aug. 2nd on Day 25 (3-5 days before fledging was due) when no bugs could be found.

There’s always a good reason to keep checking in on the birds next year…

Barb Stewart

 

End of season update

It’s been over a week with no reports, so it’s very unlikely that any Chimney Swifts remain in Manitoba. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative over the course of this busy summer. If anyone still has any outstanding data to submit, it is never too late to email them to us – the more the merrier!

In 2017 you have generated a phenomenal amount of data and below are just a few highlights from a very successful summer.

 Number of Communities with Active Monitoring: Volunteers monitored Chimney Swifts in 24 Manitoban communities. The communities in question were: Brandon; Carman, Clearwater; Darlingford; Dauphin; La Broquerie; La Salle; Lac du Bonnet; Lower Fort Garry; Manitou; Melita; Otterburne; Portage la Prairie; Selkirk; Souris; Southport; St Adolphe; St François Xavier; Saint-Jean-Baptiste; Steinbach; Stonewall; The Pas; Wasagaming and; Winnipeg. Swifts were also noted in Morden and the Turtle Mountain Provincial Park.

Number of Sites Monitored: A very impressive 137 sites were monitored in 2017, up from 87 in 2016. This is an awesome effort from a lot of people.

Number of New Sites: We added 39 new site codes to the MCSI database. 32 of these sites were active (i.e. someone saw a swift fly into, or out of, the chimney). New sites were added in La Broquerie, Melita, Selkirk, Lower Fort Garry, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg (Downtown, South Point Douglas, Fort Rouge, the West End and St James). The La Broquerie chimney is of particular interest. In 2016, volunteer David Dawson was involved in helping to remove an old bees nest and masonry from the top of a second chimney on the church. In 2017 the chimney was used by a second pair of swifts. Well done David!

List of 31 Target Sites: Amazingly, we were able to monitor every single target site identified prior to the breeding season. Of these, 1 was already capped, 1 was later demolished, 13 were unoccupied on the date of monitoring and 16 were occupied. See https://drive.google.com/open?id=1QZxKbV9ditkyVKWQCr4TwK_z4vc&usp=sharing

Old Database Sites With Chimney Swifts: There are a number of sites present on the database which have no swift records. In 2017 swifts were seen entering a few of these sites in Winnipeg. These were the Nutty Club Food Club on Lombard, VJ’s on Main and 303 Assiniboine Avenue, which turned out to contain a rather large roost. In addition, the Via Rail Station in the The Pas and St. Hyacinthe Church in La Salle were confirmed as active sites.

Number of Volunteers: We are aware of 95 volunteers who have been out and about monitoring chimneys in 2017. This is up from 61 in 2016. The Selkirk Birdwatchers Club led by Gerald Macnee, the Assiniboine School monitors and Gord Ogilvie in Portage la Prairie have coordinated group monitoring in local areas. Frank and Jacquie Machovec also deserve a mention, being always willing to drive longer distances to monitor swifts where no local volunteers are available.

A keen observer, indeed: John Hays watched over a dozen chimneys in and around downtown Winnipeg!

Creative volunteer recruitment: Jan and Ken Wainwright have kept monitoring the Dauphin roost throughout the season over a decade. In an attempt to drum up more local interest in the swift population they put on an evening for geocachers with up to 6 coming along for the show! Swift watches were also organised in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg and larger blitzes in Selkirk and Souris.

Largest Roost: Jake Peters counted 210 swifts enter Assiniboine School on May 18th. This was the largest total ever counted by MCSI. The largest fall count was by John Hays at 303 Assiniboine Avenue in Winnipeg, a total of 102 on August 6th.

Confirmed Breeding: It is not always easy to determine nesting success but in 2017 we did have a few sites confirmed. From the information supplied we think we have successful breeding in Brandon, St Adolphe, Winnipeg, La Broquerie and Dauphin. Active nesting behaviour was observed in a number of other places – including The Pas for the very first time.

​Latest fledgling swifts​: Margaret and Millie had a later brood in Brandon. The fledglings were last noted on August 28th having first been confirmed on August 24th. The hatch date is unknown – but this does appear to be a late record for Manitoba.

Latest roosting birds: The Selkirk Birdwatching Club managed it again! Gerald, Carol, Robert and Donna had a single swift at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre on September 2nd. Cal Cuthbert also had birds at the Red River College in Portage la Prairie on August 30th.

Latest birds in air: Rudolf Koes noted a swift over Assiniboine Park on September 3rd flying quite high over the river.

In relation to the latter, we have book prizes for the Selkirk Birdwatchers Club and Rudolf Koes. We will be in touch with them to collect their prizes.

Although the swifts have migrated to their winter feeding grounds in the Upper Amazon, MCSI will continue to be active on a number of projects. Keep an eye on our website during the winter for latest news and developments.

On behalf of the MCSI Steering Committee thank you to everyone who has contributed to making 2017 such a successful monitoring season for swifts. Here is to a successful 2018!
— Tim Poole

A Happy Ending

The last remaining swifts are still lingering in Manitoba with birds still being counted into chimneys in Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Selkirk. Well done everyone involved! We will give a comprehensive update soon.

However, the subject of this blog is of a swift rescue par excellent by Bird Studies Canada’s own Christian Artuso. If you cast your mind back to a previous blog, we left it with a story about Christian rescuing a swift from a chimney in a private household in Tuxedo. The story went as follows:

‘An adult bird had slipped down through the gap in the damper and chimney and could not get back up. I was able to very carefully use my two (large) cupped hands to coax the bird upward to the bottom of the damper (having covered the fireplace glass with black plastic and poking my head through it). The swift perched upside down clinging to the bottom of the damper for a split second and from there i gently coaxed it through the damper gap.  Once through the gap the swift flew straight up and straight out – no signs of damage to the wings and clearly no impediment to flight.. impressive in fact. During this process chicks were audible but i could only see one wall of the chimney and could not see the nest…’

That was the 25th July. On the 27th Christian and then Frank and Jacquie Machovec returned to monitor the adults to ensure they were still actively feeding the chicks. Christian reported at 2:52pm:

‘Things are looking good. the adults have been in and out of the chimney at least three times so it looks like they have found their babies. I will come by after 5 pm to check again and I can update you then but more than likely the plan of attack will be to leave the parents to do the job…’

Everything seemed fine. Christian noted at 5pm that adults were still entering and exiting as normal. When the owners of the house returned home from work that evening and chatted with Christian outside, they decided to go in and just check that everything was ok in the fireplace.

And a good job they checked! Here again Christian takes up the story:

After Frank and Jacquie had found a good pattern of entries and exits in the late morning and early afternoon, I went back at 16:30 and observed two entry/exit cycles between then and 17:30. On both occasions one adult entered and left again within 7 minutes. The family came home around 17:30 and I greeted them in the driveway.  I suggested we check the fireplace just in case, thinking that after doing that I could go home and call it a day. Well, I was horrified to see baby swifts in the fireplace.

 Not knowing how long they had been there since slipping through the damper gap a second time I decided to act quickly. I put two swiftlets in a box and left one clinging to the fireplace wall (far enough out of my way) and then reached my head in to look up with a flashlight. I could not see any gap in the sponge, paper and cardboard I had stuffed between the damper and the wall but obviously something was not right. Removing the sponges and paper I found that there were five baby swifts in total since one was clinging on the brick wall half way up that I had not seen previously. Since none of the babies looked injured in any way I hatched a new plan to try to get all the babies to cling to the wall and then somehow to try to force the jammed damper into a closed position.

This was not easy at all! The chimney was slightly tapered above the damper and I needed to get the babies above the taper (to maximise the chances that the adults would feed them) and then I needed to encourage them to leave my hand and grab the wall. This meant I had to jam my head right into the chimney with eyes closed due to all the falling soot, carefully cupping a baby swift in one hand, as I slid my arm through the narrow damper gap all the way to my shoulder. I got several scrapes and bruises, especially on my inner biceps doing this but it was the only way to get my arm in high enough.  One by one, I picked up the babies and coaxed them onto the wall (the same wall as their sibling “on high” assuming it was the best seat in the house). Their gripping power was staggeringly strong for such little creatures but their reluctance to leave my hand was also noticeable. When they finally latched onto the wall I had to hold my finger against their back and gently back my hand away. It took some time but finally I could see all five clinging to the wall in what I considered reasonably good positions. The next trick was to try to move the damper into the closed position by scratching away as much soot as possible and gently wiggling it back and forth. Crystal brought a screwdriver and some WD40. I didn’t use the WD40 in the end because, after much scraping and wiggling, I got the damper loose enough that we could turn it into the closed position. It still doesn’t work by turning the knob alone but it opened and closed with Crystal turning the knob and me pulling on it from inside the fireplace. What a relief that was. To be absolutely sure, I wedged a sponge under the damper and we made sure it was good and locked in place. Just before triple checking and closing the damper, I noticed that two of the baby swifts had climbed upwards, one of them had made almost a foot of vertical gain and the other an inch or two. All five were cling to the wall. This was a good sign.

 When all was said and done, I was completely black – hilariously so in fact. My face was as black as though someone had smeared it liberally with shoe polish and my hair was looking like a sooty grey Afro-frizz. I can tell you that when I caught a glimpse of myself in the car mirror I got a shock! Rather than audition for a black and white minstrel show, I went home for a LONG shower and a whole lot of scrubbing!

Once a little more respectable, I went back at 19:20 and observed one adult enter at 19:25 and exit 13 minutes later. Then at 19:55 two adults entered the chimney almost simultaneously. One exited after three and a half minutes but the other had not exited by 20:20 when I decided to leave. Obviously the adults are feeding and that is the most important thing. I couldn’t stand really close to the chimney and watch the top at the same time so I could not hear them; however, the pattern of entries and exits throughout the day (thanks to Frank and Jacquie for great work monitoring) and after the intervention made me feel confident we had given them the best shot we could. A confab with Barb confirmed that the pattern of entries and exits is good for chicks of this age. Fingers crossed none got dehydrated in the fireplace and that all five make it through!’

Following this, Christian, Frank, Jacquie and on one occasion, Tim, took up the mantle of monitoring the swifts, checking everything was ok. During this period all reports were sent to Barb and Rob Stewart and they gave some brilliant interpretation of the behaviour being observed. The good news was that somewhere around August 11th and 12th Crystal, the homeowner stopped hearing the chicks in the chimney and they fledged (we have since confirmed this from the contents of the chimney).

This success would not have happened without the support of Crystal Dalgleish and her family and we were delighted to hand over one of our legendary plaques. We will also work with the family to fix the damper.

Thanks also to Frank, Jacquie, Rob, Barb and of course Christian

–Tim Poole

New Fall Roost Discovered in Downtown Winnipeg

Last week Patricia stepped outside a friends apartment and noticed a large group of swifts forming over the Donald Bridge. In the following few minutes, 19 swifts entered the northern chimney on an apartment block at 303 Assiniboine Avenue.

A few days later, Marie-Eve, a fellow U of M postgraduate biologist whom Patricia had been visiting that fateful first evening, watched 40 swifts enter the chimney from her apartment overlooking the chimney, plus 2 popping into the southern chimney on that same building.

John followed up again last night and counted an impressive 103 swifts, with a possible exit thrown in for good measure.

It is very common for large roosts to form during fall migration, although this is the largest recorded in Winnipeg since MCSI began formal monitoring.

The swifts are beginning to gather for migration but watch out for any further evening gatherings as they prepare for the long journey to South America.