My summer with Swifts, Swallows and Martins

Ferring Conservation Group were delighted to once again welcome Paul Stevens into their midst, this time in a new role as an Ecological Consultant after leaving his post as manager at the WWT Arundel.

Paul has a passion for Swifts, Swallows and Martins and began by explaining the distinctive differences between these beautiful little birds. The Swallow has a forked tail with long tapered feathers and a black head with a red chin strap. Swifts have shorter, forked, tails but confusingly they look quite similar to Martins. However, they are dark brown all over while House Martins have white bellies and rumps. Swifts are the high-fliers and spend their lives in the air sleeping, mating and drinking on the wing and avoid coming anywhere near the ground. Swifts enter their nests via little slots leading into cavities within roofs, buildings or cliffs. These noisy birds can be seen swooping or gliding at high altitude and they are particularly noisy and active around nesting colonies.

Swallows dart and glide, often low to the ground and tweet and chirp from perches. They are fond of barns and other outbuildings. They look for a ledge or a beam among roof timbers and they then build a cup-shaped nest of mud that’s difficult for predators to spot. They can be spotted flying low to the ground over lowland fields and meadows but especially near lakes and rivers where there are lots of insects – they also make good use of wet mud for nest building.

House Martins have shorter wings than Swallows or Swifts and are more active in the mornings and evenings usually in flocks, fluttering in and out of house eaves, chirruping softly. Like Swallows they collect mud to build cup-shaped nests but mostly go for outside eaves rather than inside beams. Wetlands and lakeshores are popular with House Martins who like to prey on flying insects such as midges, mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies.

To support his enthusiasm for these fascinating birds Paul has crafted artificial nests which he has secured to false eaves on his house near Bury, West Sussex – these nests are available for the public to buy and can be purchased directly from Paul to encourage these important migrants.

Paul showed several videos of chicks in the nest all taken from cameras sited at his house including a stunning photograph of a Swallow at sunset.

After a break for tea Ed Miller took to the floor and a short AGM took place with all existing committee members re-elected unopposed, with the exception of Tricia Hall who sadly had to resign due to ill health.

The Nature Notes slot was taken by Graham Tuppen who gave news of local bird sightings such as Wheatears, White Throats, Willow and Reed Warblers. A Great Skewer, White-tailed Eagle and White Stork had all been spotted in the vicinity as well as eight or so ducklings on the Rife. Two seals had been seen at Goring and David Bettiss had discovered a hedgehog in his garden. Sadly a Smoothhound Shark member had been washed up on Ferring Beach. A walk to view the Bluebells in Patching Woods was led by Graham earlier in the week and had proved a great success, with masses of Bluebells evident as well as Wood Anemones and Early Purple Orchids.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with the alarming news that a possible five new housing estates had plans either already submitted or in the throes of being so – Chatsmore Farm (which had gone forward for a Judicial Review), Roundstone Farm (gone to appeal) and Rustington Golf Centre (new plan reduced to 126 properties). There were applications expected imminently for Highdown Vineyard (112 houses) and for Lansdowne Nursery (72 houses).