Archive for the 'Chimney Swift' Category

Last Visit

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

On Tuesday we went to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower to collect our tripod, the panpod and other supplies that helped us in the tower while we photographed this year’s family. The whole family spends most of the day flying with occasional rests in the tower.

On our previous visit last week we spent 1 1/2 hours waiting for at least one to return. When we finally decided to leave and descended the tower to the outside door, a swift flew past. Barbara Boyle happened to be watching her video feed and reported that a swift came down the false chimney right after we left the tower.

On Tuesday, Bob went in while Linda focused her camera on the top of the tower. When he reached the top of the stairs, a swift flew out and much to her surprise and pleasure she did make 2 files where the swift was visible. It had seemed to duck behind the chimney. Since she had the shutter set for multiple images, when it came out behind the chimney it appeared in two images. It flew northwest over the nearby trees and seemed to be saying goodbye.

In mid-September, the swifts will gather to begin thinking about heading south to their winter quarters in the upper Amazon River area of Peru, Brazil and Ecuador. They will return in late April having made a 6000 mile round trip.

We hope to welcome them back to this tower.

Night Visitors

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Since the young Chimney Swifts are now air-borne, our visits to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower will soon end for another year. Monday night we visited the tower just before dark in hopes to find them and their parents at home.

With the light outside fading, the tower was much darker than our daytime visits. It was much harder focusing in the dark.

The swifts did not startle when we entered the tower. They did chipper and vocalize a few “rah, rah, rahs” as we got to the top of the stairs. Then they moved up the chimney but did not leave. It was still light enough so if the had left, we would have also.  It was just light enough so that they could make safe returns if they had left. We were happy that they did not leave.

They soon returned to below the nest where they congregate day and night. First one came and then another until we thought 5 were in the cluster and the second parent was higher in the tower. Four chicks overlap with the parent at the lower left. They did not appear to be distressed by our small flashlights for focusing and behaved much as they do during the day.

The photo below was made as the group was coming together. The chick with wing extended was just landing next the group. The parent’s white chin is apparent.

Often there is one chick who repeats a sound rather like a metronome that seems to calm everyone. We heard it begin as the group settled for the night. As soon as the singer began we closed all the viewing covers and used flashlights with red filters to put away our gear and descend the stairs.

We find we whisper even when we get back to our vehicle. It is a magical experience to be in the presence of these gifts of nature.

First Group Flight

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Yesterday when we unlocked the door to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower, we heard the family chippering. The chicks have matured into adult voices instead of the stick-in-fan chorus that sometimes greeted us. Before we stepped in, there was a flurry of wings as everyone left the tower. It was silent as we went up the steps to the viewing area.

Linda went down to see if any were flying in the area and did not take her camera. She saw one plummet into the false chimney. Bob was still setting up when the one came back down to perch on the door wall. It left again before he had his camera on the panpod. We need to move so slowly and carefully so that they do not startle but they sometimes do. Bob made a few images of the empty nest since there were no birds on the walls.

After returning to get her camera, Linda scanned the skies for the youngsters. She saw three fly by and then several singles. Mike Boyle came to download video and bird watch. He and Linda saw the 4 (above) fly over the barn. A bit later Barbara Boyle, the director of the Althea R. Sherman Project, arrived to watch the sky.

Sometimes a Barn Swallow or a Kingbird would fly over. At one point we saw all 6 Chimney Swifts – the whole family. They were flying in wide circles, much as they do when capturing insects. The youngsters may be supplementing their parents feeding them.

When we left, Mike and Barbara were settled in to enjoy the afternoon waiting for the youngsters and their parents to come back into the chimney to rest. In the mean time, the ever changing cloud formations would be interesting.

Rainy Day

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

It looked like rain when we arrived at the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower. We were not surprised when the short-lived downpour began.

The juvenile swifts still stay close to one another but did not clump as tightly today. One of the chicks went to the door wall again today. After a short while it returned to the nest wall.

As the rain came down, two of the chicks took a short nap while one kept an eye on the little window and camera lens. We wonder if they see their reflections on the window or if the light circle in the center of the lens captures their attention. The fourth chick is hidden by the nest.

We heard the parents come in the chimney when the rain started but did not see them. The rain leaked in along the little window wall so our session was cut short to protect that camera. One of the juveniles flew to another wall where we could not see it. We did see the four back together on the video feed when we got home.

The oldest youngster is now 25 days old. All are looking more like adult swifts. Their wings are lengthening so their parents will probably take them out to practice flying outside within the next week.

The rainy day probably contributed to not seeing much different than our last visit. Maybe next time.

New Observations

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

The light sprinkles quit as we arrived at the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower this morning. The chicks were in the usual clump but very quickly split into two pair; one pair below the other. Shortly after we arrived, one flew to the door wall and the remaining three coalesced back into a clump.

Twice, an adult came in to feed while we were there. The second time Bob was able to photograph this adult’s face with parts of the insect protruding out each side of its beak. The adult landed near the nest and after a short while went down to feed one of the chicks.

When the adult moved down beside the chicks, the one at the top quickly clamped its beak around the parent’s head to take the large insect. Adults “chipper” to tell the chicks when they are coming close to feed. How they can do that with a beak bull of insects is amazing and puzzling.

Now that the chicks are out of the nest, the ladder on the south wall is presenting challenges in getting light on them is some of the places they choose to hang. The deep shadow (above) is caused by one of the ladder steps blocking the flash at a knot hole.

The wandering chick first landed on the door on the west wall. Linda, the tripod and the camera contorted to photograph through the knot hole make this photo. The flash through the second knot hole only really lit the chick’s head and the door behind it. A little light scattered elsewhere.

She was moving the camera, trying to do it quietly, when it was exercising its wings. Barbara Boyle uses “wingerizing” to describe these vigorous flaps. Maybe next time it will let photos be made.

The chick later moved to the corner on the nest wall where Bob was able to see it as it joined a chorus with the other three. It stayed there while the adult fed the selected chick. This chick is starting to look quite mature.

The person using the little window where Miss Sherman made her observations has more latitude in aiming the camera and using the built-in flash effectively.

This year, on most of our visits we have been staying several hours each time. This may be the reason that the family is allowing us to see more of their behaviors. They check on us but seem to realize that we are now part of their habitat, so get on with their lives.

Up Against the Wall

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

The chicks in the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower have moved to the wall since we were last there on Thursday. They were in a tightly packed group all the while we did some photos and video this morning. Barbara Boyle reported seeing them move around on the wall yesterday.

The one underneath the others finally poked its head out. It looked as if it was quite uncomfortable in this position. As we have noted last year and the year before, Chimney Swift chicks do not like much personal space. They were crowded as they grew in the nest and will take several days getting used to separating.

Above the chicks is one of the brace sticks at the bottom of the nest. This nest is the sturdiest of the three built in each of the last three years.

Now that they are out of the nest, the egg is not there. We do not know when it was finally rolled out of the nest. It must be in the fecal pile in the rain pan. We did not open the door to check because we do not was to startle the chicks into fledging much too soon.

We heard a parent enter the chimney and the chicks started their Stick-in-Fan chorus. The lower chick had to bow back quite far to join in with wide open mouth.

When we look into the chicks’ mouths we can see little flaps that seem to be attached on the roofs of their mouths. They seem to draw their tongues far back into their mouths when chorusing. Their tongues do not grow much as they mature. Notice how small their beaks are while their mouths are very large.

We hope they pose separately when next we visit.

Pile of Chicks

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

When we entered the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower this morning, we could see only three chicks in the outgrown nest. We opened the door to check all the walls and the rain pan. The fourth chick was no where to be seen. We were there for at least a half hour when the fourth one appeared from under the pile when they launched into the Stick-in-Fan chorus for the second time since our arrival.

There seemed to be a few tail feathers sticking out the bottom of the pile but we were not certain. It must have been uncomfortable being covered by 3 big chicks.

Since the 3 chicks did not seem to mind the door opening to check the walls and rain pan, we thought we would try a side view after the fourth emerged from the bottom of the pile. The door was opened just wide enough for the camera lens and on camera flash to point at the nest. An LED flashlight was used to focus and one image was made before closing the door.  Their eyes all seem to be able to open wide in this photo, though they are often half open or closed.

The parents came in several times while we were there but stayed high in the chimney so we did not see them from our viewing angles.

We were able to make several Stick-in-Fan chorus video sequences and will be adding one to our presentation about photographing in the tower. If you are interested, come to Coralville Public Library at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, September 18. The Althea R. Sherman Project is sponsoring a public showing of our presentation: Restore It & They Will Come: The Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower – stories & photographs of the 3 Chimney Swift families that occupied the tower in 2014, 2015 & 2016.

In the Dark

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

The Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower is very dimly lit by light coming down the chimney. Therefore we often use LiveView or small LED flashlights to focus and small flashes to make most images. When the on-camera flash is up, LiveView will expose the subject enough to focus. Sometimes we let the cameras use long shutter speeds in AV mode when photographing nests and eggs and when the birds are sitting very still.

This image was an accident but an interesting one, even though a bit spooky. After focusing with LiveView, Linda did not aim the flash into one of the peek holes before she pressed the shutter cable. The chimney was dark. She thought it would be deleted after download. It is a crop because the rest of the file was black and very underexposed.

The swift was on the wall below the nest looking up with its white throat pointing to catch the light coming down the chimney. This is the only part of the file that was artfully exposed. The beak is sharp against the white fluffed-out throat feathers. It was made in Manual mode at 1/125 second, f/16 aperture and ISO 1600.

One of the things we have learned while photographing in a dark false chimney is to increase the ISO much higher than we prefer. That way we can use f/11 and f/16 apertures and higher shutter speeds in Manual mode. If the flash is pointed at the subject and a minus 1 flash compensation is used, the subject will be well lit. Sometimes we point the flash at one of the false chimney walls to get light bounced onto the birds.

Photography is always a compromise among shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Increasing Confidence

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Today in the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower was another opportunity to see the changes which have occurred since the chicks started hatching on July 17. The oldest is just 16 days old and its eyes started to open Sunday afternoon.  One had its eyes open most of the time today. Two opened them some of the time and the fourth did not open its eyes while we were there. Their eyes are still steel gray and do not seem to focus well.

Their back and wing feathers are getting softer and fluffier. The prominent chick (above) has a ruff of soft feathers and down under its chin. Its head is tipped back and its beak is the little dark line. All of their heads still look like pin cushions. They are very crowded.

Barbara Boyle saw something Sunday night that is unusual. One of the chicks left the nest for a short while and then climbed back in over the front of the nest. Most researchers say that once a chick leaves the nest, it stays on the wall and does not return. All of the chicks stayed in the nest today.

The parents are continuing to come into the tower while we are there. Both were in the tower for most of the time today. To our surprise and pleasure, they even stayed in the false chimney while we packed up and left. Another first!

The most significant developmental change that Bob observed was when Linda was closing and putting her tripod on the floor outside the door to the false chimney as she does each time we leave. The chicks all turned their heads toward the sound of the tripod as it was put down. They have not turned their heads to focus on any sound that we have noticed until today. They sometimes sing the Stick-in-Fan chorus when there are unfamiliar noises (or their parents come in) but this is the first time they turned toward a noise.

Today Linda was finally able to show an adult’s long wings relative to body length through the knot hole. She used a short zoom and had the tripod and camera well back from the knot hole. They are very small birds – about 5 to almost 6 inches (12-15 cm) in length. Their wingspan is about 11 to 12 inches (27-30 cm).  And they weigh only 0.6 to 1.1 ounce (17-30 g).

Until next time.

Article in The Gazette

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Last week Orlan Love and Jim Slosiarek of The Gazette newspaper here in Cedar Rapids came to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower to talk with Barbara Boyle, Mike Boyle and us about what has happened in the tower since its restoration in 2013. We sat under the trees near the tower and talked about Miss Sherman, the Chimney Swifts, historical buildings and events, Bob Anderson’s donation of video equipment (of peregrine and Decorah eagle fame) , the efforts to put the swifts on the www and our photography in the tower.

Telecommunications bandwidth in many parts of rural America is not sufficient for business, science, history or art.  Until this is improved communities and people will not be able to fulfill their potentials.

This morning the article was on the front page of The Gazette. You may read it here.

To see all the posts about the Chimney Swifts over the last three years, look in the right hand column to click on Chimney Swift Archive.