While the early bird may get the worm, the early arriving Chimney Swifts get counted by the dedicated volunteers who head to the chimney sides as the season starts. Thanks to the big effort by the “three big roost” teams and nest site monitors, we have a really great beginning to the 2017 data set.
On Friday, May 5th, eyes were scanning the sky in Dauphin (Tim), Selkirk (large stack; Robert and Winona), and Assiniboine School (Winnipeg; David and Adolf). It was a perfect night. No swifts were seen. Those lovely zeroes established that the Chimney Swifts had not arrived in Manitoba. As Rob says, “you can’t tell when they arrive unless you know when they haven’t been here”.
Moving on to Monday, May 8th, the conditions were ripe for our first arrivals – temperatures were increasing as were the diversity and abundance of airborne insects. Suzanne, in St Adolphe, saw a swift over the Red River during the day. In the evening at Assiniboine School, David and Adolf got soaked while watching up to 20 swifts in the area; 11 roosted for the night.
On Tuesday, May 9th, Adolf and Jake endured the deep chill as a group of 11 swifts circled the Assiniboine School roost; 8 roosted. Matt in Carman seemed to be the guy with the most swifts on Tuesday. He reported that ‘swifts appeared in Carman this week on Tuesday morning, May 9th At about 0725 hrs while getting the car ready to drive to Winnipeg, I heard Swifts calling overhead. There were about 12 or more Swifts, flying in pairs, and in threes, perhaps foraging low over the Boyne River and Elementary School. I estimated there were at least six such groups. I did not have time to attempt an accurate count but had the impression that the birds may have been passing through town. I saw a similar flight some years ago flying overhead.’
On Wednesday, May 10th Adolf, this time joined by Don Harms, eventually counted 5 swifts in the chimney.
The incredible St James crew were back out in numbers on Thursday, David, Adolf, Jake, Don and Annie all in place, counting 10-20 in the air at times and coming up with a total of 18 entries.
Matt in Carman was also monitoring the Memorial Hall Thursday evening. Braving the cold, he noted at 2050 and again at 2110 hrs pairs of swifts leaving the chimney. However at 2140 two swifts returned, coming in fast and entering the chimney without calling. So at least 4 around but only 2 staying in the Memorial Hall. There were no swifts observed Friday evening.
Moving along to Friday night, May 12th, Rob and Barb went back to Assiniboine School. We also faced challenging cold winds but the flock of swifts which descended was warming to watch…arriving ~8:25 PM, a low and slow flying group moved in from the west. For ½ hour, swifts moved around the area. Close to sunset, ~9:03 PM, the action started. Clumps of Chimney Swifts entered – 11, 15, 11 more – and towards the end of the roosting hour, smaller numbers dropped in. In all, we counted 83 roosting for the night. Amazing. When you are used to seeing 2 adults enter a nest site, anything more is a bonus, but to be in high, double digit territory is giddy viewing for us!
Also on Friday night, David saw 1 entry at his La Broquerie church chimney. Partners do not always arrive simultaneously at a nest site. This chimney has been used over many years, so the hope for a successful nesting season is with us.
Even security at Selkirk Mental Health Centre got in on the act earlier that same evening, reporting 5 around the big stack around supper time. Those birds were not seen later that evening. There were still 3 in the area the following evening reported by Gerald and Winona.
Back up to Dauphin for Saturday, May 13th, when Ken & Jan had their first arrivals of the season. Starting ~1/2 hour before sunset, Chimney Swifts kept arriving and circling the roost in growing numbers. Pushing curfew, entry was triggered “Finally in almost complete dark, in one dive all but 3 went down and these went down by 9:53. Due to darkness, I can only estimate that there were about 23 swifts here.”
Gord Ogilvie reported his first 4 Portage la Prairie Chimney Swifts that same evening, all flying close to the Trinity United Church.
Winona saw 5 flying around the Merchant’s Hotel in Selkirk as well with 2 entering and exiting and as of 2122 only 1 staying in the chimney.
Craig in St Boniface also reported seeing 15 around the chimney on St Josephs.
Not to be outdone, David, Adolf and Don kept up an incredible rate of monitoring and counted a flock of 45 over Assiniboine School. A grand total of 83 matching Friday evenings total.
Sunday May 14th, David, Adolf, Don and Jake returned to Assiniboine School and counted 63 birds, evidence of some sort of roost dispersal perhaps. They also noted a swift disappear into the new site discovered in 2016 – so called ‘hidden chimney’.
Beyond dedicated monitoring sessions, opportunistic observations can be useful too. On Wednesday evening, Barb heard a pounding on the outside of the house…it was a good thing to pay attention to husband Rob after sooooo many decades. Coming outside, Barb saw Rob point to the sky over the pond as he was yelling “Chimney Swift!”. The swift fed for about an hour between 6:00 – 7:00 PM. The only time swifts have been overhead at the property (1/2 way between St Adolphe and St Norbert) was during the passing of an intense storm front years ago – the swift was tucked into a group of Purple Martins that was racing by at the interface of two fronts. Saturday morning, a second home-based viewing session took place – this time a pair was feeding just over the tree tops and pond for about an hour between 9:30-10:30 AM.
The head count in St Adolphe on Saturday and Sunday was 4; no entries into chimneys have been seen. There has always been roosting swifts at night when flying swifts have been seen during the day. So, at least 1 and probably 2 chimneys have been claimed as nest sites. Daytime counts will be continued to monitor the local group size and use of the five nest chimneys. Then in late May/early June, the St Adolphe monitoring team will assemble for a multi-site, extended roosting hour session to get a head count of all the breeding adults in the community.
If your curiosity is piqued by all the early season action, and time is available, we would appreciate hearing about any swift sightings you make before the start of the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP).
We are closing in our official monitoring dates of May 20 (MCSI extra night-1), the NRMP nights May 24, May 28, June 1, June 5, and June 9 (MCSI extra night-2). Just a note for May 20th: it is the Saturday of the May long weekend, so everyone is very busy. If it is more convenient to check on a chimney Thursday, May 18th or Friday, May 19th that would be just fine…it is an MCSI designated night to help us better understand Manitoba arrival times and peak counts. We use data collected at ANY time of the year.
Enjoy the chimney sides in 2017!
— Tim and Barb for the MCSI Team