A New Monitoring Season Begins!

The previous year has literally flown by – and Saturday marks the beginning of Chimney Swift monitoring season for 2017! As previously blogged, we are going for an extra day at the beginning of the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP) and an extra day right at the end. This means we are monitoring roosts on:
  • May 20
  • May 24
  • May 28
  • June 1
  • June 5
  • June 9
Just in case you haven’t seen them yet, the instructions and monitoring forms can be downloaded below at:
​2017 swift monitoring already appears to have various people breathless​, with an impressive early build-up of numbers. Since last we blogged Crystal encountered a couple of returning swifts at her private home in St James on Sunday 14th, and Garry reported birds around the Brazier Street chimney on Tuesday the 16th.
The Selkirk birds are back with a bang as well. Winona has already recorded 2 swifts at the Merchants and on Monday 15th May, Robert Hempler counted 7 enter the large stack at the Mental Health Centre.
Chimney Swifts are also making themselves known in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Luc counting 4 on Sunday evening at the church.
Matt also continues to keep his eyes to the rim in Carman – a swift counted entering the Memorial Hall and another entered a private address.
In Dauphin, Ken counted another 25 swifts on Tuesday 17th entering the roost on Main Street.
Assiniboine School continues to amaze and confuddle. Barb and Rob counted 98 entering on Monday evening and David was back again on Tuesday, counting 91 entering. Interestingly both are now using videos to ensure accurate counting as the fast disappearing clumps are proving difficult to keep up with.
Good luck everyone on Saturday – we hope you enjoy this first night of the season. As you can tell, the season has begun quickly and there are plenty of swifts to hopefully share across as many sites as possible!

– Tim and the MCSI Team


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

They’re Back!

The good news is that we have swifts back in Manitoba. Long-term monitors at Assiniboine School, David Wiebe and Adolf Ens were uot last night (the 8th) and sent this report today:

Assiniboine School

“This evening Adolf and I thought we would once again monitor the Assiniboine chimney to see if we could secure another zero count. We arrived at 8:00 and were having some good conversation, not paying that close attention when to our surprise a small group of swifts flew in from the east over the chimney. Time was 8:23. It looked like approx 10 birds though they were gone before we could get a good look. Shortly after we saw them again, further away this time, and it looked like more than 10, maybe 15. Then a few minutes later we got a better look at the group and this time it looked more like 20. Then nothing until 8:55 when a group of 11 showed up and entered the chimney. Certainly there were more than 11 birds in that one group we had seen earlier, so some of them went somewhere else, unless they entered after 9:12 when we left.

Temperature was 14C with heavy cloud cover and a breeze 15kph from the ssw. Later there was drizzle as we ended up pretty wet, at least the side of us facing the breeze.”

Thanks David and Adolf for their sterling efforts. We should also thank them for braving the disappointment for a zero count by going out on Friday evening to check the school. On that note, Winona and Robert in Selkirk likewise monitored the large stack with no success and Tim, giving Ken and Jan a well deserved night off had zero in Dauphin.

Now the real fun begins….

Chimney Swifts in Minneapolis

It may not be long to wait before the first Chimney Swifts arrive in Manitoba for 2017. The latest eBird sightings have them in Minneapolis and southern Ontario. We will be keeping an eye on proceedings over the next couple of weeks and updating when we can. For now, enjoy the latest spring arrivals.

Migration Update

It has been a while since we gave a migration update and Chimney Swifts are closing in on the Canadian border. The closest birds are to be found in Wisconsin but see how they cluster around the border (I will avoid making any political comments at this point). Other northerly records have been entered in Portland (Maine), Rochester and Buffalo (New York) and Detroit (Michigan) as well as Wisconsin cities such as Milwaukee. Take a look at the map using this link to see the latest records – http://bit.ly/1SGKXYv

Quick update on monitoring ahead of the season. We are just about to update the annual methods and will post these on the website once this has happened. In the meantime, we are slowly building up a picture of monitoring for the season. We are still trying to make sure that we cover as many of the NRMP sites as possible and have all 30 of the additional sites monitored over the course of the season. Take a look at the maps and let us know if you are able to take on any of them. If you are already intending to monitor one of these sites, please let us know and we will change the maps.

New Swift Champion Plaques Awarded

Throughout the winter MCSI has been busy working behind the scenes reaching out to different groups and organisations extolling the virtues of an open chimney and its importance to a charismatic summer insect-eating machine. This winter we awarded a number of plaques to volunteers, landowners and businesses, promoting the cause of swift conservation here in Manitoba.

Hotel Owner Dean Peterson

Merchant’s Hotel Selkirk
Possibly the only place on Earth where you might find Whoopi Goldberg sharing a place with breeding Chimney Swifts, the Merchant’s Hotel, or ‘The Merch’ to local people is part of Selkirk folklore. Over many years it has been used as a venue for filmmakers and is now a rock music venue, proving that Chimney Swifts prefer eclectic tastes in music. Dean Peterson, the new owner of the hotel was absolutely delighted to receive a plaque from MCSI. The hotel has 2 chimneys, one which was blocked by fallen masonry and a bees nest in the past but was repaired thanks to grant moneys from Environment Canada. We are delighted that The Merch are committed to retaining this important habitat for swifts and it really is fantastic to see the enthusiasm that swifts engender in Manitoba’s communities. Check out the Selkirk Record page 5 at http://selkirkrecord.ca/split_document.aspx?doc=SelkirkRecord040617.pdf

Selkirk Birdwatching Club

The Selkirk Birdwatching Club monitors a large group of chimneys in the Selkirk area on behalf of MCSI. Gerald Machnee and before him Ruby Tekauz have organised this group of star volunteers to monitor a total of 7 Selkirk chimneys. Each year they even seem to succeed in unearthing another new site for the database. What is astounding about this group is that they continue to monitor swifts all through the season from May until the last individuals eventually leave the city in August. This group are well deserved to receive the title of ‘Swift Champions’.


St Avila Principal Cheryl Chuckry

St Avila School
Late last year, MCSI gave a short presentation on Chimney Swifts to the children at St Avila. This followed the discovery of a nest in the chimney during an inspection in summer 2016. This site was previously occupied by swifts but after a few years the sightings dried up. We have now discovered that the chimney was capped for health and safety reasons and that the cap had to be removed last summer with the swifts taking occupancy during that period when the cap was off. Good for us! This is the first record in Manitoba of an capped chimney becoming reoccupied following the removal of the cap. The chimney will continue to be inspected to ensure that it remains safe for the children but for now the Pembina Trails School Division have agreed to keep the cap from the chimney.

Good News Fellowship Church
Summer 2016 saw members of the Good News Fellowship Church on St Mary’s Road in Winnipeg become part of the Chimney Swift Initiative led by church member Justin Schell. Later in the summer, the church chimney was inspected and fixed by the church caretaker. MCSI also paid to have a pan installed around the rim to stabilise it. An inspection of the cleanout revealed that the chimney had been used over a number of years by swifts with multiple nests and a whole heap of guano blocking the access to the main part of the chimney. This is obviously a champion chimney for a champion church!


Adolf Ens and David Wiebe

Adolf Ens and David Wiebe
Two of the original volunteers for MCSI, Adolf and David have worked tirelessly monitoring a number of chimneys in the St James area. The focus of their efforts originally began around the King’s Theatre and local apartments with occasional watches at the chimney on the Assiniboine School which was never quite as consistent a site as the others. In 2014 something strange and exciting occurred in the area as around sundown the numbers of swifts in the air appeared to be greater than in previous years. It was then that they realised that for reasons unknown, the Assiniboine School had suddenly become the largest roost site in Manitoba. Throughout the years, David and Adolf have been very important to the work of MCSI but from 2014 they have put in even greater hours throughout the season counting the swifts at the school looking for that all important zero where the chimney is no longer in use.


Master Mason Ed Loewen

Ed Loewen
Ed is a local Winnipeg mason who has become a valuable source of advice on the technical side of buildings, chimney and furnace regulations and masonry in general. Ed has repaired a number of chimneys on behalf as MCSI and is also a bit of a birder at heart. We are keen to link with people in the industry just as we are keen to bring landowners into the fold with MCSI, and Ed is the first of these. Making these links might be key to restoring Chimney Swift habitat in the future.

And last but certainly not least::

Rob and Barb Stewart receive their award

MCSI Saint Adolphe monitors and steering committee members Barb and Rob Stewart were recently given the Ralph Bird Award by Nature Manitoba in recognition of their huge contribution to our understanding of Manitoba’s Chimney Swifts. See http://www.naturemanitoba.ca/news-articles/2017-nm-award-recipients. Congratulations both!

MCSI Spring 2017 Update

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things…” (Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter)

…but to roll out the 2017 MCSI season, we are going to talk of many swift related things!

Our Chimney Swifts are migrating north from their wintering grounds in South America. The latest eBird map shows that our intrepid swifts are fast moving up the eastern coast of the USA, recently being seen as far north at Maryland and New Jersey. As an aside, it is interesting to see how few winter sightings there were in North America, just one near Bogota and one cut from this map in Peru.

With the swift’s impending arrival in Manitoba, mid- to late-May, it is time to SAVE DATES for the spring monitoring programs. The 2017 National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP) dates are May 24, May 28, June 1, and June 5. The national organizers in Quebec use a recipe to choose dates each year: the first monitoring night occurs on the Wednesday preceding the last Sunday in May. Still with us? As a result of using this recipe, sometimes peak counts can occur before monitoring gets underway. This has happened in Ontario and in Manitoba, our later arriving swifts can be more abundant at roosts well after the NRMP finishes.

You’ve heard MCSI extol the value of “0” data-points. Those beautiful zeroes, which are so frustrating for bird enthusiasts to score, are so very important to establish true arrival dates. In order to get our Manitoba counts bounded by an observation before the Chimney Swifts arrive and to better inform seasonal peak counts, MCSI is adding two additional monitoring dates – one on either side of the NRMP dates. We would appreciate observation data for May 20 and June 9. Even if early arriving or lingering roosting birds are on-site, we can be confident to have captured seasonal maxima if NRMP counts are higher than our first and last night counts.

Now we have to capture you for monitoring at specific sites. In 2017, the steering committee asks for your help with three high priority activities. We recognize that this may result in a shake-up for some of our long-term supporters. Prioritizing monitoring sites may involve heading to a new site or accepting the helping eyes of additional monitors at your site.

First, we have 30 chimneys which need one additional record of use e.g., entries or exits, to make the site eligible to be registered as critical habitat. To help you locate these new chimneys, we have come up with a rather splendid looking map. If you are limited to NRMP monitoring, please consider selecting one of these sites to focus your efforts on this year. We will keep this map updated – those sites in blue require a new volunteer to check them and those in pink have a dedicated volunteer(s) already. We need to submit observations to Environment Canada asap to have sites listed in the registry. Tim will coordinate monitors, so please contact him if you are interested in a special assignment.

Second, we would like to continue tracking the 17 sites which have qualified previously as roost sites for the NRMP; these chimneys have housed 4 or more Chimney Swifts for overnight rest. Those chimneys can be found on the map below. Some of these 17 chimneys have dedicated monitors while, for other sites, new volunteers need to be assigned. Chimneys which have dedicated volunteers have purple pointers and those which do not have red pointers. We will update the map as people come forward to cover new sites. If you are willing and able to take on one of these sites please email Tim Poole at mbchimneyswift@gmail.com.

The third high priority action item is for season-long coverage of our 3 Big Roosts –Dauphin (213 Main St.), Selkirk (Large Stack), and at Assiniboine School in Winnipeg. MCSI is collating data on the dynamics of roost sites relative to nest sites. With counts for 2017, we will be able to publish an analysis of arrival times, dispersal, and put the non-breeding vs breeding portions of the Manitoba Chimney Swift population into perspective. After the NRMP and special MCSI monitoring night of June 9, we would appreciate receiving any roosting counts for the 3 Big Roosts over the remainder of the season. More is always better, so weekly visits would be ideal while checking in once every 10-14 days would still be helpful. Tim will be coordinating with the team leaders for each of these roosts and help steer supporters to the chimney rims as required.

Your monitoring results do make a difference. Rob Stewart, and co-authors Tim Poole, Christian Artuso, and Barb Stewart, recently submitted a manuscript “Loss and preservation of Chimney Swift habitat in Manitoba, 2007-2016” to Blue Jay (we hope to be published in the summer or fall edition). Data analysed in the paper represent ten years of observations made by our cadre of dedicated citizen scientists. Beyond informing the general public, the publication should be used by the Chimney Swift recovery strategy team. The authors cannot stress too much that the monitoring data, including the zeroes, were essential to this analysis, which we think is the first ever quantification of habitat loss in Canada. So, thank you all for engaging in the process of supporting this species at risk!

Spreading the word about Chimney Swifts is taking on a new look in St Adolphe. Organizers of the revitalization project for Main St. have proposed two exciting visual displays featuring swifts. Stay tuned as the rollout starts this summer…

We always enjoy gatherings to marvel at the aerial wonders of Chimney Swifts. Join us for A Swift Night Out which is being organized for Assiniboine School on Tuesday June 13, with a rain date of Wednesday June 14. There will be more to follow on this.

Now that we have monitoring and outreach issues covered, here is an update on habitat stewardship goals for 2017. Funding continues from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program. We are currently looking to complete two chimney repairs in 2017. We are applying for more funding and we will keep you posted on any new developments.

To finish off, we are pleased to direct you to our new website at: https://www.mbchimneyswift.com/  Our webmaster, Frank Machovec, has harmonized the old MCSI website ( http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/ ) and old Blog site     ( https://mbchimneyswift.wordpress.com/ ). Bookmark this one-stop destination for all of your made-in-Manitoba Chimney Swift news!

Everyone at MCSI is looking forward to another exciting year of swift watching. Let’s keep in touch as the season spreads its wings…

— Tim Poole, MCSI Coordinator; Frank Machovec, webmaster; Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, Rob Stewart, and Barb Stewart, Steering Committee Members.