Giving Swifts a Little Help

It was Swift Awareness Week last week. Work was a bit busy then but, a week later, I have finally put up two swift nestboxes that I was prevented from putting in place earlier in the year.

Swift nestbox.

By doing a little research, I found that swifts are more likely to use a box if the interior is dark, so I painted the insides of my two new boxes black.

The effect of painting the interior.

It did not seem right to expect swifts to lay eggs on a perfectly flat surface, so I created a nest concave for each box. The simplest way that I could think of to do this was to cut a set of circles of decreasing size in pieces of card and glue these together. I also thought the birds might prefer a box that looks a little lived-in, so I glued a few feathers, from our budgerigars, into the concave.

Nest concave.

The main way to increase the probability that the boxes will be used is to play the calls of swifts to attract them to the boxes. To do this, I bought a couple of small speakers, or tweeters, and a small, cheap amplifier unit. the tweeters are attached to the boxes and the amplifier is in the house. This set-up plays swift calls from an SD card and is turned on and off using a timer plug.


Finally, I placed the boxes below the eaves of the house.

Swift boxes (left) and house sparrow boxes (right).

I have missed this year’s breeding season but I hope that some swifts will have a look at the boxes before they return to Africa for the winter.

Moth trapping in Hemsworth

I  did some moth-trapping in Pembrokeshire last week and a poplar hawk (Laothoe populi) moth turned up in the trap. When I returned to Hemsworth, I found that the same species is on the wing in my garden. This is said to be our commonest hawk moth. Last night, I also caught this scalloped oak (Crocallis elinguaria) – another common species – and it has been photographed on a piece of elm. Channels left by elm bark beetles are visible on the left of the picture.

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk moth in the hand for scale

scalloped oak moth

scalloped oak moth

Harlequin ladybirds awakening

Several people have asked me about ladybirds in the past week because harlequin ladybirds that found shelter in buildings in the autumn have been brought out of hibernation by the recent warm weather. I found these harlequins in their natural habitat, on a mature tree. They were clustering beneath a loose piece of bark on a sycamore.

Harlequin ladybirds

The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) is also known as the multi-coloured Asian ladybird and the Halloween ladybird. It has a very variable appearance, which can make it difficult to tell apart from our native ladybirds. For more information go to and you can log your ladybird sightings at

Brockodale: Stinking Helibore

On a walk around Brockodale YWT reserve today, Colin Booker came across this fine example of stinking helibore (Helleborus foetidus), a local speciality plant which gets it’s name from the unpleasant odour given off when its leaves are crushed. Colin has supplied a really nice shot of the rare flower taken from a lovely low viewpoint to give us a good view of the typically drooped flower heads. He also noted 4 corn buntings at the reserve, now very scarce in the Wakefield district.

stinking helibore (Helleborus foetidus)

Stinking helibore (Helleborus foetidus) at Brockodale

Another member, Francis Hickenbottom, sent in a field record of green helibore on a railway embankment in Hemsworth though this species is most definitely a garden escape