The Story Continues…

Ninety nine years ago, Althea Sherman had a Tower built so she could study Chimney Swifts. The Chimney Swift Tower has a history that is documented on The Althea R. Sherman Project web site and at the Iowa State Historical Society and by people and organizations interested in these fascinating birds. The restoration of the Tower on its new location, owned by the Cedar County Historical Society,  was completed in 2013 and stood ready for a pair of Chimney Swifts to call it home. To the astonishment and delight of the people who supported and labored over the project, an active nest appeared this summer.

Today we were privileged to sit quietly in the warm tower using Miss Sherman’s peek hole and observation port that face the nest and its 5 occupants. We enjoyed the time in the tower observing and making a few images. The parents are nesting late in the season and are much more skittish than Miss Sherman found them to be, so we did not stay longer. Miss Sherman had many visitors to the Tower when she was observing her birds.

The parents have differing patterns on their shoulders. One has dark epaulettes and the other lighter ones. We do not know which is the mother and which is the father. One of the chicks is smaller than the other four and is just getting a few feathers.

There have been news releases and stories. Retired IPTV videographer, Chris Gourley, visited the Tower shortly after the eggs hatched and produced this video –  Birds of an Iowa Dooryard. It is a delight to watch.

The top image was made through the observation port which is covered with angled glass. Even while sleeping the nestlings heavy breathing blurred images at  low shutter speeds. We resorted to flash for a few images. There are 5 heads in this delicate half cup of nest. The saliva that holds it together is very shiny.

Here is the peek hole where one of our cameras was pressed atop its tripod.

And here is an image of the nest in the ambient light. The wood reflected warm light back and forth. The peek hole made its own vignette, some of which was cropped for this image.

For several images with the camera at the peek hole we used a small off-camera flash on a flash cable held near the side observation port. In fact it was two flash cables linked together to reach from one side the “chimney” to the adjacent side.

The zoom was widened and the camera raised a bit for this composite of two images so the bottom of the nest was visible.  The flash was pointed at the birds for the first image and directed at the far wall for the second. The light bounced back to light the underside of the nest while the wall below the nest remained in shadow.  We wanted to show the nest construction even though there are shadows we could not control.

The chicks fussed when we first arrived, much as they do when their parents arrive.  After we set up, they did not seem stressed by our presence or the occasional use of flash. Sometimes if we made an accidental noise they would fuss briefly and then settle to wait for the next delivery of food. They did chatter like a fan with something stuck in it when a parent came in or flew above the tower twittering. We could hear the parents when they were near.

Field of Dreams made the saying “Build it and they will come” part of the culture. Sometimes it can also be “Restore it and they will come.”

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