Monday, 26 July 2010

Swifts have flown the nest

The swifts nesting next door have left the nest. First thing in the morning they scream around the houses, performing their normal low level flight and acrobatic skills 
My best guess has been 15 in the flock. I have guessed there to be 4 pairs nesting because of there being 8 swifts that have flown together since then. My wife said she saw swifts flying into the eaves in a house down the road, so maybe they join up before flying off to feed. I have only definately seen 3 pairs enter the eaves nest door, but they are very quick and it would be easy to miss it.
Swifts fly late into the evening, after sunset

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ant mating flight

Ants are one of the most fascinating insects you may find in your garden. Today was a humid evening, ideal flying conditions for the ant mating flight. For some time now, winged queens and males have been present in the underground nests of the black ant. The worker ants have been preventing them from leaving, waiting for the right conditions.
                                  Entrance to the underground nest

The queens are released first, which often climb up to the highest points, a wall, gate post, vegetation, before launching themselves into the air.

Winged queen

Then the smaller males are released. The goal being to catch and mate with a female and in theory only the strongest males catch up and mate with a queen.
Queen and smaller male mating

After the mating flight the queen comes back to the ground and discards her wings, as they will no longer be needed.
She will quickly seek out a suitable place to dig a tunnel and start a new colony. Once the tunnel has been completed a queen will block the entrance and retreat to the bottom. The queen ant then digs out a small chamber, this will serve as the founding chamber of the new colony. Generally a queen will begin to lay eggs immediately after the construction of the chamber, the eggs will hatch after 8-10 weeks.

Of course not all the queens will mate and start new colonies. Many will be eaten by predators such as birds and spiders, becoming trapped in their webs.
                                                     Winged queen ants in spider webs
The males that survive will die a few days after the mating flight having performed their role.

Mating flights usually attract a lot of attention from gulls and other birds who pluck them out of the air or catch them on the ground before they fly. This year, few birds were attracted by the flight. All except this herring gull picking them up up off the road and eating them.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Bats return

This is the first evening I have seen the bats hunting in the track since the track was cleared by the council and the vegetation decimated back on the Saturday 19th June. I have kept an eye out for them on many occasions since and I have been lucky if I have had a quick glimpse of a bat flying past.

Yesterday evening the bats were back, as least three I counted in one go. First observed at 9.45pm and they weer active until about 10.15pm when they must have moved onto another area. They circled the larger trees and bushes flying back and forth along the track and as before circling above my head as they returned back down the track.
Trying to get a decent photograph is proving to be a challenge as the flash refuses to work when they are seen again the sky. Occasionally one would fly out of the track and across the road, returning a couple of minutes later.

This evening they were there again, I went outside at about 10.00pm. I managed to get this picture as it flew past the flint wall. You can see the shadow of the wings on the wall behind.
A cropped version

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Aerobatic Swifts

I have been enjoying my own personal aerobatic display every day as the swifts fly past their nest site next door. As our bungalow is on higher ground than our neighbour they screech across our garden our garden at some where between knee and head height.
I stand by the bush at the front corner of our garden, adjacent to our neighbours and they zoom by so close I can sometimes feel the draft created by their wing beats. Its also a good place to watch them fly up under the eaves to their nests.

As they say, a picture paints a thousand words, so here are some of my favourite shots.
They really are spectacular birds. Its always like greeting old friends when they return each year. I am going to miss them once they leave for Africa later in the year.

This ones a blackbird flying up onto our roof. A vintage plane to the swifts supersonic jets but equally spectacular in its own rights.