Swift viewing highlights

smiling sunThe end of July is almost nigh and it feels like the right time for an update on the exhausting summer of swift activity. Highlights of the previous month include new active chimneys in The Pas, Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, a swift rescue and more!

First some context from the month of July, and the best way we can do that is to paste some of Barb Stewart’s reports from St Adolphe. On July 3rd Barb reported:

‘I have checked in on all of the St Adolphe nest sites over the last two days. Brodeur Bros is still unoccupied; no primary occupation during the spring arrival phase and no secondary arrivals of late migrants/dispersing locals in late June. The SE and NE Club Amical, Church, and Main St sites are all occupied and all pairs are incubating eggs. There are quick exchanges with ~ 50-70 minutes between visits. Yesterday at the Church, I saw repeat hovers at the ends of a dead Manitoba Maple branch. It is a tree with a newly exposed flight path now that the old convent/school/nursing home has been demolished. Nest building does stop completely with hatching so that is another indication that incubation is still ongoing. There was one interesting entry at the Church with a swift blowing by a goldfinch that was perched on the chimney rim.’

Her update on July 13th was as follows:

‘What a difference a few days makes…in St Adolphe, the SE Club pair failed to show up on Monday (July 10) and again today (July 13) – the nest has failed. However, feeding juveniles has moved into the non-brooded stage at the Main St, Church, and NE Club sites. Consecutive entries/exits sure help make monitoring definitive! The NE Club Amical pair were feeding 4 X hour and the other 2 sites were 3 X hour. Lots of continuous, low flying action this morning and again, some buzz-by’s over the artificial tower top but no entries. The group size in town was 7 in the air while 2 adults were in the NE Club, so at least 9 swifts are in town.’

And on July 24th:

‘In St Adolphe, the earliest fledging date has been July 27th; the latest on record are Aug. 11, 12, and 16th; most have occurred between July 30 and Aug. 6Currently, 3 nest sites are active in St A and while I need to put my head down into the datasheets to fine tune details, this year’s fledglings are due out ~Aug. 1-4thI checked in with the St Adolphe sites this morning and all 3 of the active sites were still ok. There was a lot of low flying feeding and activity by the swifts; recently fledged Purple Martins and adults added to the chaos. Quite fun chaos though. Wind was the issue – lining up on the chimney tops for entries was tough on occasion.’

Elsewhere, it’s been a busy month with a lot of monitoring and a fair few new sites to boot. Joel in The Pas reported in on July 18th:

Yesterday at 7:10 am was getting gas at a station adjacent to a long suspected swift site at 5th and Larose.  As usual look up at the chimneys hoping to see an entry/exit.  While their sitting on the chimney is a small bird, the angle and crouched position make it impossible to id. Could it be a fledgling swift, I ask myself, hoping.  Realize my truck has an air lock so it takes quite a long time to fill.  It was getting to the time my tank is just about filled when whoosh a swift comes out of nowhere and enters the chimney.  This rousts the perched bird which turns out to be a juvenile sparrow, when swooping through the air comes another swift to escort the sparrow away.’

Further south and Ken and Jan in Dauphin are expecting their first confirmed fledgling swifts in the coming days. This site has been a regular large roost but in 2017 a pair have decided to attempt nesting for the first time in 10 years monitoring. Fingers crossed that the nest will be successful!

In Brandon, Margaret and Millie were still reporting 2 swifts in the Orange Block as of July 19th.

Further south in Souris and back to June, Katharine gets the award for most dedicated volunteer for 2017. Following her very early morning Breeding Bird Survey, Katharine spent the entire day in Souris monitoring swifts. She checked four sites and had successful entries at the museum and Chocolate Shop. Great effort!

Heading east and to Portage la Prairie. Gord has just reported a new site in the west of the city with non-brooded young and also that a pair is in residence in the Southport site. There was also news that swifts were checking out some of the historic buildings in the Fort La Reine Museum earlier this spring. On July 5th there was a blitz night with Janice recording breeding activity in the main chimney at the Trinity United Church and a roost in the second chimney. Cal also had a pair in the Victoria College chimney that evening. Cal and Betty continued monitoring the church one evening per week with both chimneys occupied by swifts.

South to the area around Morden and Carman. Paul and Valerie confirmed daytime activity on the Darlingford Museum again for 2017. On July 26th Patricia and Tim noted at least 5 swifts in Carman and Patricia counted 3 entry/exit cycles on the Memorial Hall. Later that same day, Matt, Tim and Patricia observed 2 swifts in Morden but no entries. If anyone lives down there, please keep an eye out for swifts! They also checked the towns of Miami, Roseisle, Homewood and Roland, found some interesting looking chimneys but no swifts on the day.

The southeast, an area which is probably under-observed when it comes to swifts has thrown a tantalising observation. Carla Church from the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre thought she heard swifts in the town of Roseau River on July 12th. if anyone is in the area please take a look! A little further north and Frank and Jacquie counted 5 swifts at Providence College using 2 chimneys but unfortunately not showing any breeding activity.

Frank and Jacquie had more luck on their return to Winnipeg. On the 24th they found a new site at 415 Mulvey and noted numerous entry/exits including a possible early juvenile tumbling awkwardly.

John has been his energetic self. We make it that in the month of July alone John has watched at least 14 chimneys. He found a new site at 486 Sherbrook and another at 527 Waterfront. Another of the sites John was watching, the Bardal Funeral Home on Sherbrook was discovered by Christian one evening while visiting a friend in the area. In the Exchange, Tim found a new site at 54 Adelaide while out on his lunchtime stroll and as of today (the 26th), the adults were still feeding young in the chimney. Ron also noted daytime activity at VJ’s on July 5th.

In Osborne Village, both Marie-Eve and Patricia confirmed use of two new apartment blocks. Patricia also discovered a new site on the Mount Royal Apartments on Portage with daytime entries on July 20th. This was on the western end of a group of apartments with a known site on the eastern end. This chimney on the New Silver Height Apartments also had daytime entries and exits, with adults likely to be feeding non-brooded young.

In St Vital, Badal counted 2 swifts at the Good News Fellowship chimney but nothing at Christ the King School in mid-July.

Heading north along the Red River and congratulations to Gerald, Robert, Nia, Linda, Carol, Sharon, Ray, Sybil, Ray, Dorothy and Virginia from the Selkirk Birdwatchers for a terrific one night blitz in Selkirk and Lower Fort Garry. We now have two occupied sites at Lower Fort Garry including a roost with 4 swifts. Gerald also added yet another new site in Selkirk, the Lord Selkirk Hotel having 5 swifts. 24 swifts were counted at the large stack chimney at the Mental Health Centre as well. This dedicated group continue to provide excellent coverage in this area!

Christian was also called on by the Dalgleish family in Tuxedo to perform a swift rescue act when a swift was found in the fireplace. the family managed to continue the swift in the fireplace before Christian arrived. He tells the rest of the story 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…’

​Phew, all ends well then!

Over the next couple of weeks we will start to see a change as swift adults are joined in the air by juveniles. So please keep those reports coming, we really appreciate them!


— Tim Poole

Canada Day Update

Firstly We hope all our supporters had a wonderful Canada Day Weekend! Since the last email update there has been a plethora of observations, some new sites and real progress in monitoring our list of 30 target chimneys.

We start though in The Pas. Swifts have been noted here previously but never has a swift been noted entering a chimney before the past week. A note was sent to Chimney Swift Towers from Joel Kayer from the Pas on June 26th:

‘Finally got a swift going into a chimney this am, 7:56 in the north most stack at the via station.  It all took place in a split second with the swift coming down from the stratosphere  and doing a half circle over the chimney and the entering.  On the 21st saw 4 swifts flying over this site.  Seemingly in 2 courting pairs.’

​A massive development in The Pas for sure. Speaking of new places for swifts, Gerald Macnee of Selkirk Birdwatchers Club fame made a couple of terrific discoveries at the Lower Fort Garry Parks Canada site, counting swifts into chimneys ​on buildings within the fort, one in the southwestern building and four in the southeastern. Seems like Parks Canada now have swifts in Wasagaming and Lower Fort Garry now. Just need to find one in Wapusk to complete the set! Gerald has with the help of other members of the Birdwatchers Club, with special mention to Robert Hemplar, continued to monitor Selkirk chimneys and even bagged a second new site, noting a daytime entry at an apartment on Main Street.

Ken and Jan in Dauphin and likewise continuously checking out their site and are down to a single pair of birds seemingly. This is big news as breeding has never before been noted in this chimney after a decade of consistent monitoring.

In Melita, Ken, Christian, Alex, Jessica and Cassidy have done a terrific job in between grassland bird monitoring and Burrowing Owl activities at checking out the local swift hangouts.

Two new sites have been added to the database this year including the very fetching chimney photographed by Christian below.  

Further north in Souris, a group of seven people descended on the town for a night of peacocks and swifts on June 27th. Louanne took the Rock Shop and had a pair enter. Ken took the church and funeral home, 2 and 1 respectively. Margaret and Millie looked at the pub (4) but had the only blowout at the Corner Closet. Glennis had 2 in the chocolate shop. Finally Gillian and Tim did the museum. Nothing until 10:09 then a single entry on the east side.

The Orange Block in Brandon still had a pair nestling in for the night when Margaret and Millie checked on June 24th.

Gord, Janice, Cal and co have still kept up a terrific pace in Portage la Prairie. Gord did also manage to drop into Clearwater but saw no sign of swifts and spotted a pair in Manitou with Janice one evening who passed up the opportunity to enter the church chimney. In Portage itself, there have been entries in the Red River College, Correctional Centre and in both church chimneys. Gord also had a group of seven join him for a swiftwatch evening at the church. Finally Gord sent an interesting observation:

‘Last night, June 25 around 9PM, I observed 3 swifts chasing a Kestrel south of the Red River College building. But that does not compare to Selkirk where I once observed 15 swifts pursuing a Merlin.’

Frank and Jacquie have been on their usual committed selves and travelling over southern Manitoba in pursuit of those hard-to-get-to sites. With a Tim Horton’s en route, this time they traveled down to La Salle and watched the church. Frank’s report the following morning created a buzz of mystery:

We witnessed one exit and one attempted entry to the larger church chimney, and there were definitely four CHSW cavorting in the area, circling the site at various heights. We did not see the four birds return to the chimney, but we did hear them (very noisily) overhead at 22:11. We left around 22:30 because of the low light levels.

Interestingly in Winnipeg, Cam Bush reported a similar exit and no re-entry on 471 William around the same time. This was Cam’s first ever swift entry/exit action having tried in vain at another site previously.

Onto Winnipeg and John Hays has been his usual brilliant self, covering a huge amount of ground since June 12th. He has confirmed swift use at the Nygaard Building on Market, Vita Foam on Waterfront, 70 Higgins and found a new spot on Pacific, the coffee place chimney:

I hadn’t planned to chimney watch yesterday but was biking by Higgins and just had to stop and have a quick look. Within two minutes two exits. I was hooked, the gardening would have to wait. Road a couple of blocks to Vita foam and noticed the building has a chimney on the east end as well as the one I had watched on the west end of the building. Spent 23 minutes and got a zero , I will try it again. Went to the west side of  Vita Foam and didn’t chimney watch but did see 3 swifts in the air just a block west of there. Looked for chimneys in the area but did not see any likely nest sites. Heading home I noticed two chimneys with a nice looking coffee shop with sidewalk seating across the street. What a perfect spot to watch a chimney. Waiting to make my order inside, looking at the chimneys through the window, I had an entry and a quick exit. Sat out front having coffee for 30 minutes but no more action from the chimney but the coffee was great.

Thanks for the tip John and even more so, thanks for finding a new swift chimney. On a related note, Marie-Eve spotted an entry on the rear of VJ’s on Main, the first time this building has housed swifts. Tim has also confirmed another new site in South Osborne.

In St James, Frank and Jacquie had a pair in the Beverage Room at the Assiniboine Gordon Inn in the Park and David confirmed a new site on Portage at the top of Cavell. Assiniboine School continues to amaze with 108 counted on our Swiftwatch evening attended by 16 people. Follow the link below for a video of the swifts entering and flying around the chimney. Interestingly experienced counters were struggling with the amount of ‘misses’ and ‘dips’ towards the chimney on that evening.


Finally, an update on St Adolphe. We put it here as there is some useful information on breeding behaviour for any swift watchers out there. Over to Barb for a report on July 3rd:

I have checked in on all of the St Adolphe nest sites over the last two days. Knowing you follow your sites through the summer, I thought you may be interested in where things are at. Feel free to share the news with others.

 Brodeur Bros is still unoccupied; no primary occupation during the spring arrival phase and no secondary arrivals of late migrants/dispersing locals in late June.

 The SE and NE Club Amical, Church, and Main St sites are all occupied and all pairs are incubating eggs. There are quick exchanges with ~ 50-70 minutes between visits.

 Yesterday at the Church, I saw repeat hovers at the ends of a dead Manitoba Maple branch. It is a tree with a newly exposed flight path now that the old convent/school/nursing home has been demolished. Nest building does stop completely with hatching so that is another indication that incubation is still ongoing. There was one interesting entry at the Church with a swift blowing by a goldfinch that was perched on the chimney rim.

 There were many low flights over the artificial tower but the swifts were “just looking” and no entries were made.

— Tim Poole

Putting your data to use

A few of the MCSI Steering Committee members led by Rob Stewart have just published a short paper in the Blue Jay (Summer 2017 edition) analyzing the rate of loss and preservation of Chimney Swift habitat in Manitoba. The paper uses data generated by MCSI volunteers over a decade. The information highlights the importance of retaining, and, if necessary, restoring existing habitat for conserving Manitoba’s Chimney Swifts.

You can read the full paper by clicking on the link.

Target 30, the final 15

Thanks to everyone who has so far contributed to the monitoring program in 2017. It has been a very successful year with 76 sites monitored up until this date and of those, the vast majority being occupied by swifts. We are seeing plenty of breeding activity, in chimneys from Melita to St Francois Xavier. We have also added 9 chimneys to the database with 7 of these occupied.

We still need some help covering our 30 priority sites in communities across Manitoba. So far volunteers have checked on 15 of these sites, a very good number.

We still have 15 to cover, some have a nominated volunteer already. However if anyone is visiting any of these places, please feel free to do some extra monitoring. The priority sites are (with current monitors included):

Souris – Margaret, Millie, Liz and Louanne interested in going out to monitor
1. Rock Shop
2. St Paul’s United Church
3. 11 Crescent Avenue West
4. Bonus site – the museum always looks as though it should have swifts so worth a look


Clearwater – Ken may check during daytime
1. Memorial Hall chimney


Manitou – Cliff and Paul are checking. Janice and Gord did an evening of monitoring, counted 2 birds in the air but no entries or exits
1. United Church


Stonewall – Ken checking but feel free to drop in at other times
1. 336 Main Street


Selkirk – Selkirk Birdwatchers
1. East Hydro Stack


Winnipeg – St James
1. Chimneys on Assiniboine Gordon Inn at the Park – 2 chimneys
2. Bonus chimney – The Viscount Apartments, 1794 Portage near Cavell Drive
Winnipeg – Wolesley
1. 246 Home – Ingrid to do
2. 258 Burnell – Colin to do
Winnipeg – River Heights
1. 465 Lanark (site confirmed but 3 other chimneys in area to check – contact for more info)
Winnipeg – Osborne Village
1. Bonus sites – 424 River, 2nd check required on small chimney (contact for details)
2. Bonus sites – 415 Stradbrook, 2nd check required
Winnipeg – St Vital
1. Miller’s Meats, St Mary’s – Ron to check
Winnipeg – City Centre
1. King’s Hotel, 114 Higgins
2. 139 Market – Nygaard
3. 471 William – Cam to cover
4. 515 Waterfront, Vita Foam
Winnipeg – East Kildonan
1. Bonus chimney – Gordon King Memorial United Church
2. Bonus chimney – Roxy Lanes, 385 Henderson

Of course, there are many other opportunities to carry on volunteering with MCSI throughout the summer. You can carry on monitoring your previous site, or find a new site, or look at the database and see if there is another chimney which might take your fancy.

Finally it is worth asking what all of these observations mean. Rather than reinvent the wheel it seems more appropriate to point everyone to an excellent blog from Barb Stewart posted in June 2016. In this she explains about the behaviours you might be observing and relates everything to what is happening deep inside the chimney, invisible to the naked eye. This is really an excellent piece.

If there are any questions please let us know, otherwise happy swifting to one and all!


–Tim Poole

About last night

The final evening of official Chimney Swift monitoring passed off last evening in a blaze of breezy June sunshine. A new site, seventh time lucky, and some rather overloaded nesting chimneys are among the highlights of this blog.

As ever we start with a wee bit of catching up from the previous round of monitoring and some interesting observations from around Manitoba. Following failure to mention this in the previous email, we begin in Wolesley and Nicole at the Fleetwood. There appears to be a settled pair from monitoring details on the 5th and 12th at this location. Assiniboine School also had a fairly average 177 swifts enter the chimney for the evening. Excuse of the week goes to Christian in St James. He located a new chimney on a private house on his street – apparently he’s away monitoring birds too much during summer to notice swifts diving into chimneys two doors down! Admittedly he did leave before dawn the next morning for a week of grassland bird monitoring in southwestern Manitoba so maybe we should not be too harsh on him. Bob and Valerie had 8 entries to count and 4 exits at the New Silver Heights Apartment, a total of 4 in the chimney.

Over to Melita and Jessica sent in reports of a probable nesting pair at the Health Centre. Speaking of Melita, Ken managed to track 2 swifts into the Ag Building and then drew the bonus of finding another pair in a private property by the museum complete with wonky chimney.

On the 9th, John counted a pair at the McDermot site, Margaret and Millie had 2 in their Brandon site, Cam and Diann had 1 in the Lac du Bonnet Physiotherapy and Jessica again had 2 in Melita.

Move to the 10th and Ken and Jan counted 8 in in Dauphin, including exits. The numbers here appear to be fluctuating this year but the one consistent thing is that there appear to be entries and exits and possible extra birds in town. We await their news with great interest from now on. Gord and Janice visited Manitou on the 10th, spotting a pair of swifts which unfortunately did not enter the church chimney.

Persistence finally paid for Blaire in St Norbert on the 12th, 1 swift entered the church chimney after seemingly weeks of teasing. This was her SEVENTH monitoring attempt at chimneys in St Norbert before one popped in. Strangely, the additional birds present but unaccounted on previous nights did not make a show.

In La Broquerie it was David’s turn to be bemused by the actions of the local swifts. Previously he had consistent pairs in both church chimneys plus extra birds in other unknown roosts. These birds however did not show on the 5th leaving David to assume they had moved on. Instead they reappeared! David adds that


‘My’ 2 pairs were flying around close to the church and at 9.02 and 9.03 one pair went down the large chimney.  At 9.07 oneindividual went down the small chimney.  After that I could still see 2 and maybe 3 individuals still flying around, but not immediately around the church.  They were more above the area where I had spotted 2 possible chimneys so I guess I’ll have to do a bit more spotting.’


Mike and Michele had a simpler evening in Saint Francois Xavier with their pair bedding in for the night at the church. Gord in Portage also recorded a pair in the Red River College chimney. Frank and Jacquie also had entrances and exits at Otterburne, 5  swifts in total in the three chimneys with a spread of 2, 2 and 1 across the chimneys.

St James again had some crazy activity. Jane at the Moorgate counted 10 entries and 4 exits for a total of 6 and Bob and Valerie noted (somehow) 13 entrances and 8 exits giving a total of 5. The constant activity in these sites would suggest nesting pairs with helpers.

To Osborne Village and Patricia scored bonus of the night, detecting activity on a second invisible chimney on top of 424 River with an active breeding pair. There were also 2  entries on the visible chimney. Tim at the church had 2  swifts enter by 9:19 in the large chimney and nothing in the funky side chimney (photos will follow soon on this one – it’s rather unusual). Finally Marie-Eve completed the set with 3 entries at the Rosemount. That’s 9 active chimneys noted in this area in 2017.

Finally, Rob and Barb headed to La Salle and sent the following report:

‘We scored another new site! Arriving in La Salle at 8:12 PM, we saw 3 swifts, then 4, flying low over StHyacinthe Church and in the immediate area. Sightings were constant until the roosting hour then 3 swifts was the highest number we saw. By curfew we had a single entry followed by 2 swifts entering one after the other in the bigger, East Chimney. So the total roosting = 3 and one bird was unaccounted for.’

We will add more about the opportunities for the remainder of the season later this week but for now please accept our gratitude for all your hard work over this monitoring season. Any additional information will always be gratefully received.

– Tim and the MCSI team

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Datasheet

MCSI-2 June 9, 2017: Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Datasheet or Do I Monitor If The Weather Is Inclement?

“Keep your eyes to the sky” is our favourite Chimney Swift mantra. Tonight, keep your eyes to the sky for a tantrum which Mother Nature may be playing out.

Environment Canada is predicting wide-ranging thunderstorms for Manitoba, stretching from Dauphin to Brandon/Portage La Prairie to Winnipeg to Steinbach and surrounds. While the Chimney Swifts love feeding at the edge of storm fronts, where insects are pushed into the air column, electricity and monitors is not a good mix. Safety comes first, so please assess the weather tonight if you are considering a monitoring session.

Let’s aim for Monday, June 12th as an alternate date for MCSI-2 which will be our last formal night of spring monitoring.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of our Three Big Roost monitors, we have captured the apparent seasonal peaks for 2017. Many of our nest site monitors have reported entry/exit activity which indicates nest building is underway. It will soon be time to mull over the dataset and put the spring arrival/dispersal story together.

We hoped to kick back and enjoy a group viewing session at Assiniboine School on June 13th with June 14th being a rain date. Mother Nature seems intent on challenging both of those dates too. So, there is a change in plans…

Assiniboine School

The new, hopefully drier, viewing night for Assiniboine School is now Tuesday, June 20 with Wednesday, June 21 being the alternate date. We will assemble an hour before sunset, ~8:40 PM, and hope for a spectacular Summer Solstice swift show!

There is more action to follow this summer. Beyond the four spring National Roost Monitoring Program nights and the two MCSI spring monitoring nights, many of our monitors continue to track swifts at their sites. Also, Tim is focussing on securing monitoring for a shortlist of 30 sites which need a second documentation of use before the chimney can be registered with Environment Canada as critical habitat. More on this next week…

Happy and Safe Swifting, Tim & Frank & Barb for MCSI

Here’s the latest!

Firstly, I apologise that we have not responded to emails this week. I am currently on an IBA trip to Churchill and very busy. But thank you everyone who has got back to us so far, it is much appreciated. Some of you have asked ‘what next?’ We will answer that over the coming days. We still have a final MCSI night on Friday and would love it if as many of you could get out to monitor as possible. 


Swift with twig

Here we come to the end of the National Roost Monitoring Program 4 nights and with one single MCSI night to follow on Friday before Chimney Swift monitoring anarchy raises its head (more to follow on post formal night monitoring in later blogs), here is the latest news from Manitoba swiftland.

 Before completing a summary of Tuesday evening and the latest monitoring results, we need to revisit NRMP#3 to complete the picture from that evening. We have to start at the Moorgate on Portage and Jane. Jane monitored the Assiniboine Conservatory chimney in 2015 and saw nothing. In 2016 she took on a site in Charleswood and endured more zero counts. For NRMP#1 she looked at the Deer Lodge and did not see a single bird. Skipping ahead to Thursday, Jane recorded a fantastic 14 entries – a much larger roost at this site than previously recorded. I hope the wait for a top chimney was worth it Jane! The number rose to 16 for the final NRMP with multiple entries and exits as well – maybe some nest building in that roost?

 Luc had his usual pair at Saint-Jean-Baptiste but of more interest was the total of 5 birds in the air. More mystery as Luc has previously searched all over town for chimneys. Blaire continues to see swifts in St Norbert but including Tuesday evening, they are not using the only known chimneys at the church and Behavioural Foundation. Strange – as with Luc, Blaire has kept a strong eye out for chimneys over the past couple of years. She still had birds but no entreis ont he final NRMP evening. Garry has also confirmed a pair in his Watt Street sites.

 In Selkirk, all 3 chimneys are now occupied, pairs in the small chimneys and 7 in the large roost – down on previous years at a time when the large roost at Assiniboine School seems to be about to burst, something for the MCSI stat bods to ponder.

 To last night and Ken in Dauphin sent in his report as follows:

 ‘Well, it was exciting but at the same time disappointing tonight watching for swifts. I had one of the local guys organize an observation night tonight for geocachers and had 6 extra people. We saw a slow increase in numbers from 3 to 6 but when it came to birds going down the chimney, it was so dark, only Jan saw 1 go down none of the others!’

 What a night to throw a spanner in the works from the swifts!

 In La Broquerie, David had his 2 church pairsbehaving like a bunch of love-sick teenagers’. His extra birds seem to have moved on since Thursday and there was no activity around two new chimneys in town.

 Cam saw nothing at the Elan Design site except a pigeon nesting on the chimney but John was back up to 2 at McDermott. 4 volunteers managed to score swifts entering 7 chimneys in Osborne Village. Lauren, following 3 zero counts in the West End moved to the United Church and lucked out with 1 swift entering the chimney and a pair swooping into a structure on the side of the church which doesn’t even look like a chimney! We are investigating. Marie-Eve finally had an entry with 1 swift at the Rosemount, a new site. Tim also scored a swift on a new site, 1 at 424 River. Earlier in the evening he also caught 2 disappear into 100 Roslyn and 3 into the Biltmore en route to 424 River. Luck! Pat completed the set catching 4 entries at 321 Stradbrook. A great evening then for everyone.

 Jenny had a nesting pair at the Hampton Church rear chimney but nothing in the side chimney. Kelly-Anne also had 2 swifts on Academy. Badal counted 5 swifts in a very active chimney at the Flag Shop on Pembina. 

 Barb and Rob watched two chimneys at Lanark Gardens, Barb reported that

 ‘I had entries and exits at 465 B (nest building!) but all of the swifts were in the air at curfew!’

Frank and Jacquie returned to Otterburne and recorded 2 swifts in each chimney. Christian also counted 2  swifts into one of the Melita chimneys. Gord reported from Portage that:

 The number of swifts in Portage has dropped by half, with the most birds seen in the air at one time being five. Cal was at Trinity Church and had three entries. Janice had one entry at the MTS building. I was at Red River College and had two entries at the revamped chimney.’

 Diann and Cam in Lac du Bonnet still had a pair at the physio but not at the inn. There is still an extra pair in town to sleuth and Diann also had a swift in Pinawa. Maybe a chimney to find there. Margaret and Millie had 4 entries in the Orange Block on June 1st in Brandon but dropped down to 1 on June 5th. In St Francois Xavier, Mike and Michele had a very active evening as a pair of swifts were actively nest building. They asked if this was good news – oh yes it was!

On June 6th Valerie and Bob had a very active roosting hour with multiple entries and exits from their active swifts

 Thanks you everyone who participated in the NRMP. Again it would be great to get as many folk out for the final formal MCSI roost count of 2017. We also have the Assiniboine School Swift Watch on June 13th at 8:30pm

 Happy swifting!


June is busting out all over…

2017 is certainly turning into a very interesting year for Chimney Swifts. With just a couple of days to go before the cut-off for successful breeding (according to MCSI data from St Adolphe), we saw a huge swelling in roosting numbers at Assiniboine School – 195 in total. Last nights third NRMP was certainly full of mystery as we will see in the coming round-up.

The place to begin is probably with the most dramatic swift monitoring of the night – not at Assiniboine School – but at Otterburne where Frank arrived to monitor with fire truck and the RCMP actively putting out a blaze in a residential building at Providence College. Unfortunately the building could not be saved but obviously most importantly no one was hurt. Frank’s report included:

‘There was a fire in a dormitory at Providence College last night. When I arrived, there was a lot of smoke (drifting toward the river), fire trucks, gawkers, etc. The actual fire was in a building west of our chimneys, but there was lots of human activity near chimney 552 (trucks parking in the lance below our “skinny” chimney. . Smoke did not seem especially dense or acrid, and was almost imperceptible by 22:00. I did see five CHSW circling high above the campus at 20:32, but I only saw two CHSW enter chimneys later (and much later than usual).’

In Winnipeg, Rob and Barb had a rather uninteresting evening out at U of M, no birds. They had also visited the church at La Salle during the week with little luck. On a positive note, Barb has the following report from her St Adolphe sites:

‘three pairs are busy nest building: Main St, plus the NE and SE Club Amical! I am shocked the Church pair which roosted on MCSI-1 night May 20 is not underway; there is a lot of daily activity at the demolition site due north and plumes of dirt/dust are nearly constant…this may be the reason; will keep checking diligently until the June 3 “deadline”. Brodeur Bros. is not being used during the daytime and no roosting swifts were onsite when I checked by video May 20.’

Since this was sent, Barb has confirmed that the church pair are starting to build their nest.

Lauren saw 5 swifts overhead at the West End Commons but no one decided to take the plunge. Richard took on Academy and counted 2 entries. John had also lost a swift at the McDermott site with only 1 entering at 8:54. leaving again at 9:44 and returning a couple of minutes later – who knows what happened there! In Osborne Village Hannah, Marie-Eve and Tim retained their vigil on three apartments. At least 12 swifts were patrolling the skies above throughout the evening, although it is likely more were present across the wider area. Hannah had 4 entries and an exit on the The Village Apartments and Tim saw 2 enter a new site further east on Stradbrook. Marie-Eve for the third time saw no entries on her chimney. Earlier in the week, Tim also struck gold, watching 2 swifts entering a chimney opposite the Nature Manitoba office at lunchtime. Rudolf visited his Kildonan sites and noted 2 enter the 1010 Brazier chimney but nothing in his other two. 4 further swifts were noted in the area beforehand.

David’s report from St James went as follows:

‘We had a quite a few observers on Thursday. Adolf and Anna and their granddaughter Zoe as well as Jake and Don. I arrived a bit late. First entries occurred at 9:38 and visual count was 51 but video seems to suggest more like 58. At 9:50 another 44 entered, no video for this group. At 9:57 visual count was 50, but video seems to say closer to 60. I am vague on the video count here because there seems to be a point where a couple of swifts entered and then immediately exited and even with video which focuses and unfocusses because the swifts are moving, it is difficult to tell. Last entry occurred at 10:02. Visual count was 178 in total, however if I use the count from the videos I add 17 more and we have 195. Weather was wonderful, warm, mostly clear and a bit breezy. We also had 2 entries at the Carillon, 1 at 9:11 and 1 at 9:17. Also 1 entry at the Kings at 9:17.

​Jenny, also in St James also recorded her first swifts entering the chimney at the Hampton Church, 2 entering the easternmost one.

Michele flew solo out in St Francois Xavier and was rewarded with a bonus two extra swifts, 4 roosting for the night. In Nearby Portage, Cal had 3 swifts in the church but 13 in the air early on in the evening. and Gord watched 1 lonely swift make its way into the chimney on the Correctional Facility. The numbers in Portage have notably picked up in the last couple of days. Further west, Margaret and Millie also had 4 swifts enter the Orange Block in Brandon.

David in La Broquerie sent a report after a frustrating evening out (if having four swifts enter the chimneys can be described in such a way):

‘For most of the time I was there, there were 4 swifts, clearly 2 pairs, but at one time I counted 7 as they flew over me.  Later, after 4 had gone down for the night I saw another 4 in the air and though I waited til 10pm they never went down.  There were a few fly-bys or look-sees after the first 4 had gone down, but no entries.  So where did the other 4 go?’

David has a couple of places to check including his own artificial tower, so we await his news in the next couple of days. In another odd development, the Dauphin roost dropped to only 2 birds overnight, although up to 7 were spotted in the air. Breeding has not as far as I aware been recorded in Dauphin so maybe we are going to see something new occurring in 2017. Ken and Jan will no doubt have their work cur out.

Onto the next evening which is on Monday 5th June, the final NRMP (but not monitoring night) of 2017. We are also excited about the SwiftWatch at Assiniboine School on the 13th. Over the next evening count, you should start to detect more entry and exit cycles as birds continue to build their nests, so keep a good eye out for rapid changeovers.

Happy Swifting everyone!

– The MCSI Team

NRMP 2 – The Night the Swifts Didn’t Show and What it Really Meant

Thank you to everyone who went out on a cold, windy, damp and not especially pleasant Sunday evening to count swifts. The good news is that we have reports from 21 chimneys, a phenomenal effort given the conditions. The bad news if that only 5, yes 5, of the monitored chimneys reported an entry by Chimney Swifts. This raises the question question, is this bad news for the swifts or merely a temporary blip? We shall look into this in the coming blog.

We start our round of activities in the west and Brandon. Margaret and Millie recorded a pair entering their usual chimney and also saw a third bird in the air. New volunteer David took on a new site on Princess Street but after 3 visits has still to see activity. Further north, John Hays dropped in at the Riding Mountain Visitor Centre earlier in the week, recording entries by 2 swifts and also noted a second pair in the area. Still further north, Ken in Dauphin experienced the rare jolt of zero entries.

In Portage, Gord and co were left disappointed, zero birds in the air and no entries at the United Church and Correctional Facility. Janice had recorded entries by 5 swifts on May 15th at the church. There were also no swifts in Southport on May 27th. Mike and Michele had been experiencing much success in St Francois-Xavier this year. That is until bleak Sunday and there were no swifts around the church during the roosting hour.

In Selkirk, 7 swifts were counted entering the large stack by Gerald and Robert (hurrah). The other chimneys in the Mental Health Centre were empty. 4 swifts were noted later in the evening around the large stack but didn’t enter. Cam and Diann had seen swifts in Lac du Bonnet but again were hit by a zero count on Sunday. David in La Broquerie saw no sign of swifts, although he did count 3 swifts enter the Steinbach chimney on Friday evening.

In South Winnipeg, Blaire has monitored the church and the behavioural foundation in St Norbert with no entries, however she is seeing swifts in the evening. Frank and Jacquie did see 4  entries in 2 chimneys on Sunday evening at Providence College.

In Winnipeg there were also mixed results. Lauren trying the West End Commons site, not previously monitored for swifts saw nothing, as did John up at McDermot, Barb and Rob at the University of Manitoba and Kelly-Anne on Academy. Tim, Patricia and Marie-Eve watched  swifts appear as if from nowhere in Osborne Village around 8:46 but then trail off in a line, presumably to take up residence in a communal roost somewhere nearby. At least one of the chimneys being monitored that evening had previously had roosting swifts this year. David at Assiniboine School wrote:

I arrived at the chimney at 8:16 and immediately saw a group of 7 swifts fly over the chimney and then enter. A minute later another 7 appeared and then entered. So 14 had entered by 8:17. Shortly after at 8:20 a group I estimated at 30 began circling the school yard and it grew to about 50 but didn’t enter until 8:35 much to my consternation. I was trying to video them since I knew they would be hard to count and so I kept lifting my iPad and lowering it when they didn’t enter. When they did finally enter it was one bunch of 26 in 7 seconds and one bunch of 25 in 3 seconds. As soon as I stopped the video 3 more entered. By 8:53 104 swifts in total had entered. The last 2 entered at 9:05. Grand total 106. I mention the 104 by 8:53 because the “normal roosting hour” with sunset at 9:23, would begin at 8:53 and these birds all entered before that.’ 

So Assiniboine School had increased from 77 swifts on the 24th to 106 on the 28th. However this is well below the season peak of 210 on May 18th. Another interesting thing happened yesterday at the zoo. Tim and Patricia were giving Chimney Swift presentations to students at Assiniboine School on Monday (we’ll post photos later this week). At lunchtime, on arriving back from a quick bite to eat, there were large numbers of swifts swirling around the chimney. At 12:04, 3 swifts entered the chimney. Within a couple of minutes, around 66 had entered. So what is going on?

Firstly, this is not a new behaviour, and has been noted in Manitoba before. Ken Wainwright in Dauphin writes that:

‘A few years back, we were at a gas bar that used to be 1/2 block from the Dauphin roost in the early afternoon, weather was overcast, maybe rain in area (it was a few years back now) and we heard and then saw swifts going down the roost chimney.’

Lewis Cocks has also noted that:

‘In previous years, I’ve witnessed Chimney Swifts on several occasions flying fast and low over water at Fort Whyte Alive during “miserable” cold very windy days when some insects were emerging from the ponds.  They were accompanied by many Swallows and a few Night Hawks. It was amazing to watch them flying and especially amazing to watch them flying into the strong north wind with apparent ease.’

Barb Stewart also added some very valuable thoughts

The literature does speak to swifts withdrawing in prolonged bouts of inclement weather to roost and go into torpor. It is an energy saving mechanism. It does not surprise me at all that the swifts would try to feed today then “decide” to roost up when the lack of insects became an issue; as a reference, the City of Winnipeg uses 12 C as a threshold for spraying insecticide. 


‘In my experience, I have seen one “early” daytime entry event that was weather related. An August premigratory group in St Adolphe started grouping up in advance of a fast moving, nasty t-storm which was setting up. I made it down in time to see ~19 swifts dive into the Church. After about an hour the electricity stopped, the rain backed off, and the swifts came out.’

Finally, Rob Stewart adds this:

‘It is probably a truism, that the more you look at something the more complicated it gets. The short answer is as Barb said: it was likely too miserable to be out. But what does miserable mean?

Too cold for bugs to be flying?

Zammuto and Franks 1981 say

Weather conditions seemed to affect reentry into the roost. On cold or rainy mornings, over 90% of the swifts that left a chimney reentered it within 30 min. On these mornings, some were reentering while others were leaving. A shortage of insects in the air may also cause reentry. The number of insects in flight was likely very high at daybreak but probably declined sharply after sunrise (McClure 1938; Glick 1939, 1957). Reduced aerial prey may have caused the swifts to reenter the roost-site at sunrise (on the average of 11 min after departure) where they remained until later in the morning.

At some stage it is also likely that, bugs or no, the birds themselves can’t stay warm. Zammuto and Franks also said that some cold mornings more birds ‘returned’ than left and figured they were coming from other smaller roosts to get a better heat source (more birds).

So I don’t know the details but it makes perfect sense for the birds to go home when it is more advantageous to do so than to continue flying and a negative energy balance is the avenue for making that decision.’

It therefore appears likely that the swifts on Monday were resting due to either a lack of food, or the need to conserve energy, or both. The same explanation might explain why many of you saw few or no birds on Sunday. The likelihood is that this was indeed a blip and Thursday evening we will see a return to normality if the improved weather holds. The key may well be Assiniboine School. If numbers here drop-off markedly from Sunday then this would suggest a redistribution by many swifts to their nesting chimneys – swifts which as the paper quoted by Rob above suggests, were coming to the large roost to retain warmth. It is also very likely that for many of you, your swifts were already tucked up in their chimney for the evening and hoping for better the following day.

We will send out details of NRMP evening 3 after June 1 – for now thank you for your continued efforts on behalf of MCSI.


A Gentle Reminder

Tomorrow, Sunday May 28, is the next designated monitoring night in the National Roost Monitoring Program.

Just in case you need a reminder, watch your chimney for one hour before sunset to 1/2 hour after sunset; record the time of every entry or exit event; note the number of swifts seen during the entry and exit events.  Sunset will be 9:23 PM in Winnipeg.

The remaining observation nights are June 1, June 5, and June 9.

Happy chimney-gazing!