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Althea’s Chimney Swifts—2014

The Story Continues        Chimney Swifts, con’t.   •   The Difference 3 Days Make   •   Gray Day at the Tower   •   Eye & Dots   •   Vote of Confidence   •   X Marks the Spot   •   Fully Feathered   •   Family Portrait   •    Today’s Challenges   •   Growing Up   •   Windy Day at the Tower   •   Fledged but Still Roosting

 

The Story ContinuesField Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: The Story Continues.

The Story Continues

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

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.

Photo: five nestlings in the Tower.

This 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.

Photo: a peek hole through the Tower's chimney.

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

Photo: three of the nestlings.

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.

Photo:

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.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 at 22:00 and is filed under Behavior, Bird, Commentary, Field Note, Location, Observation, Technique.

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Chimney Swifts, continuedField Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Chimney Swifts, continued.

Chimney Swifts, con’t.

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

The chicks seemed bigger this morning. They grow and feather very quickly. The smallest, least developed one is plumper though still mostly bald. It is on the right in this image.

As well as stills, we did a few minutes of video of the churning mass of chicks.

Just as Linda was getting ready to change the camera settings from the video settings we use back to still image settings, one of the adults flew in and wrapped its wings around the chicks.

Photo: swift nestlings next day.

Bob used the peep hole again. We took turns at the small observation window.

Photo: swift nestlings under parent's wings.

Trying not to breath and unable to change the settings or move the camera, she pressed the shutter cable release twice.

The right wing has a bit of motion blur but the chicks and the left wing are in sharp focus. The chicks stood up to be enclosed by the parent’s wings.

Its tail covered the back of the chick nearest the window. It was over in a moment and the adult went up the chimney and the chicks returned to their pile.

It was like a reassuring hug. The chicks did not beg as they usually do when an adult comes in. They accepted the hug and seemed content.

 

We were in the tower for awhile before Bob Anderson (of Decorah eagles fame) arrived to adjust the web cam. It was hoped that it would go live on the internet today. We have not heard whether it has.

After the camera was adjusted and people were dealing with the computer connections, we went back up for about 20 minutes.

We also brought our “pan pod” to use on the shelf/seat by the observation window today. The “pan pod” is a retired Revere frying pan with handle removed and a central bolt through the middle of the bottom on which a sturdy tripod ball head is attached.

It is good for ground level photography. In this case, using a 3 inch tall plastic box under it brought it to a useful height on the shelf. It makes a very stable small support.

We won’t be able to return for several days. We are eager to see more of their feathers and new behaviors.

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014 at 16:39 and is filed under Behavior, Bird, Commentary, Field Note, Location.

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Photo: swift nestlings.

The 100mm macro lens was the best of the three we used. It is the fastest of the three and easiest to focus in LiveView.

The tight conditions and the tendency of the short zooms to slide slightly because of the camera angles made focusing them more difficult.


The Difference Three Days MakeField Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: The Difference Three Days Make.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

The Chimney Swift babies have grown and are spilling around the edges of the nest. They are spending more time stacked side by side sitting straight up.

Usually one is across the bottom, sort of as a brace. This is the “little bald one” of previous posts. The pink stubby wings have acquired sheath enclosed flight feathers.

Photo:  swift nestlings after three days.

Photo: swift nestlings after three days.

While watching the web cam monitor, we saw a parent come in to feed one chick and then take a rest on the wall below the nest. While there it preened and seemed to drowse for about 10 minutes.

The chicks did not beg or complain while the parent rested. A little bit later, a parent came in and did the same thing.

The oldest chick must be about 13 days old. The eggs were seen on August 3. Within a few days, 3 chicks were seen. By the end of that week, it was thought there were four chicks.

On the 13th we photographed five chicks. Today, the 17th, we looked for eyes that might be opening. Chimney Swift chicks start to open their eyes at about 13 or 14 days of age – one eye at first and the other a bit later. We made several images looking for eye slits.

We had just packed up and were taking another peek in the observation window when the chick at the top right opened its right eye just part way.

There was a shiny black eye peeking under a crinkly half open eyelid. This image was the last one made before putting cameras in bags and gathering our gear. It was not ten minutes later that the eye opened.

It would have been nice to record the event but we will expect to see more eyes the next time we visit the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 17th, 2014 at 18:11 and is filed under Field Note. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Gray Day at the Tower—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Gray Day at the Tower.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

Today was very gray with little natural light making its way into the chimney in the Tower. It was very difficult to focus through the peek hole and observation window.

The youngsters feathers are starting to flake off their silvery sheaths which we could see floating about and sometimes sticking to the window.

The only acceptable images were made using flash. The silvery feather sheaths serve at highlights in most images.

The adults came in several times when we were up in the tower. They stayed well below the nest and left without getting in range of our lenses.

The children did buzz when the adult left. We did get several recordings of their vocalizations.

 

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

They have grown considerably since Sunday and are filling the nest to overflowing. A few more eyes were partly open.

They continue to preen and the large one in the top image would lean back while hanging on and flap both wings vigorously.

They seem to be more accustomed to our presence and usually did not start buzzing when we climbed the stairs after taking breaks between photo attempts.

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

We used several different lenses and lighting strategies.

Here a ring flash was used and the left side third of this image needed to be cropped because the flash on the glass produced a hazy effect, probably from dust on the glass reflecting back through at particular angles.

The barbs on the tails used in bracing on the walls are beginning to show.

Sometimes people worry about using flash. From what we have read there is no scientific reason to worry as eyes are not damaged by the very brief flash durations of 1/12,000 second.

Animals rarely seem to notice flash unless they see a shadow that startles them. Today these chicks mostly kept their backs to us and did not change places often so we did not see much difference in most of our images.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 at 22:04 and is filed under Bird, Field Note, Flash, Location. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

It must get warm in the bunch. Here heads were thrown back while they were buzzing.

It is sometimes hard to tell which head or wing or tail goes with which bird.


Eye and Dots—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Eye and Dots.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

This morning while taking another look at culled images from yesterday, an eye in one of the ring flash images appeared worth a crop and a document.

Another thing we noticed inside the lower mandible of both chicks with open beaks are rows of little black dots. These seem to correspond with the little feathers protruding from the undersides of their beaks.

We have not found any descriptions of these dots so far. The pink tissue seems very thin and translucent. Perhaps the dots are the bases of the feather follicles as seen from the inside of their beaks.

Though the feathers appear bristly at the moment, they are not rictal bristles. Some insect-eating birds have stiff bristles around their beaks that are believed to protect the eyes when eating large insects. Chimney Swifts do not have them.

The Althea R. Sherman Swifts’ Tower has a webcam. The angle of view is not intimate but quite wide-angle in the ‘chimney’ awaiting the time when the chicks leave the nest and cling to the walls for several days while exercising their wings.

They will then fly about in the chimney for several days and then at about 28-29 days leave to adventure in the wide world outside.

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

This must be the chick whose right eye was half open on Sunday. It is the largest and most feathered. Its eye is quite dark already.

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 21st, 2014 at 09:00 and is filed under Bird, Detail, Field Note, Observation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Vote of Confidence—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Vote of Confidence.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

The chicks are growing and maturing quickly. The youngest one is often still at the bottom of the pile underneath the rest.

Photographing through glass presents challenges for clarity and sharpness. That is one of the reasons that we do not use UV filters on our lens, except sometimes when we are photographing with sea spray coming toward us.

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

There are five in this image. The youngest one is peeking between the middle one and the one on the right.

Photo: swift parent in the Tower.

This is a crop of a frame extracted from the video. The depth of field was shallow, the ISO very high and the window was in the way.

However, we are so pleased the parent is starting to consider us part of the scenery, though still a bit strange.

We had a vote of confidence today.

When we went back up after a lunch break to try some video, one of the adults came in and fed the chick at the top and then stayed for several minutes peeking at the camera over the pile of chicks.

The lighting for the video was our newest LED flashlight. We have several smaller ones that work well for putting light in dark areas. This one has more lumens so we thought it would work better.

Well, when we tried it several days ago, it made the birds and any dark areas a weird blue-purple color.

To human eyes it looked like a nice white light. To our cameras it looked like the lighting for a horror film. Some LED lights produce a much bluer light than human brains see.

So we practiced at home making some light filters of colored tissue paper and photographing small items in dark corners.

Most color wheels show the opposite of blue and purple to be yellow and orange. A light orange piece of tissue paper secured to the flashlight with a rubber band was an acceptable color correction filter.

It is even more neutral lighting than the small diffused flash use in the top photo.

 

 

The still images are much sharper than the videos we made today. The eye that is visible in this image must have opened recently. It is still a cloudy silver color.

We noticed that eyes were darker at some angles and more silver at others. There must be differences in how they reflect light.

We wonder what new thing we will learn the next time we go to the Tower.

 

This entry was posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014 at 20:00 and is filed under Bird, Field Note, Flash, Light, Observation, Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 

 

Photo: swift nestlings in the Tower.

Here is the pile as photographed through the knot hole using ambient light and a long shutter speed when they were very still.


X Marks the Spot—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: X Marks the Spot.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

The Chimney Swift chicks left their nest sometime late Friday. We checked the webcam late in the evening and only the formerly “little bald one” was clinging to the nest.

By Saturday morning all were huddled together on the wall.

They have moved below the nest and that means that we need to use a lower peek hole through the south wall of the “chimney” to see them on the north wall.

Linda no longer needs the small stool to use the viewfinder on the camera.

They mostly stayed huddled together even when one or the other parent came in. Sometimes one would step away slightly but always returned to the huddle.

On our next visit we expect to see them more scattered.

Photo: swift juvenils

We like diagonal lines in photographs and other art and today the swifts provided all sorts of X lines with wings crisscrossed and overlapping.

Photo: juvenile swifts in the Tower.

From the observation window four of the five appear to be in a row with one tucked below under the tails of the rest.

Their eyes are darkening but at some angles still appear a bit silvery. The camera needs to be more angled down to see the chicks.

This sometimes makes reflections of the open shutter on the window, especially at slower shutter speeds.

The truly special events of the day were when each parent came in and did not panic at our presence. Of course, we hardly breathed when they were in and did not make camera adjustments.

The other important observations today were the changes in the chicks vocalizations when a parent was present.

They did buzz as they have all along. Sometimes the buzz would quiet and their vocalizations would be similar to an adult’s twitter interspersed with short buzzes.

They must be learning to “talk”. We were afraid to move to get the recorder so did not get audio files of this behavior. Perhaps next time.

 

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 24th, 2014 at 18:52 and is filed under Behavior, Bird, Commentary, Field Note, Observation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 

 

Photo: a swift parent in the Tower.

Here is the parent with the lighter epaulettes just after feeding the nearest chick. This adult stayed for much longer than the other one who landed on the left side of the chicks.

This one eyed the camera lens that was just on the other side of the observation window but did not seem particularly concerned.

The glare in the lower corners is from the edges of the peek hole.


Fully Feathered—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Fully Feathered.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

It is just two weeks since we photographed those funny looking little pink birds with a few bristles that would become feathers. Today they appear fully feathered with wings that will soon be adult size.

Looking down below the nest to youngsters is awkward through the little slanted glass window. It requires a little bit of gymnastics while holding a small flash.

Photo: Swift Junveniles in the Tower.

We are not sure whether the silvery look in the most visible eye is the bird or the glass in between. Their eyes are darkening more each time we visit.

Photo: Swift Junveniles in the Tower.

This image shows how much their wings have grown.

One of the times we had the lens against the knot peek hole one of the group had moved a bit to one side. Most of the time they stayed close together.

The parents did not come very often, even when we were watching on the monitor during breaks. One came in when we first arrived and did not flush but left when it was ready.

We are using rubber lens hoods to seal out stray light that may enter at the knot hole sides. Rubber lens hoods are also useful when photographing at an aquarium.

We use them on our zoom lenses when traveling because they take up less room in our backpacks than rigid plastic ones. Lens hoods are important photographic accessories.

Tonight on the webcam we saw one flap and let go for a few seconds but immediately returned to the group. These birds certainly do not require much personal space.

 

 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 at 19:37 and is filed under Bird, Commentary, Equipment, Field Note. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 

 

Photo: Swift Junveniles in the Tower.

Here is a closer view of the huddle.


Family Portrait—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Family Portrait.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

As Linda peered through the peek hole into the dark chimney, she counted six Chimney Swifts on the north wall. Then she counted again.

Yes, a parent had joined the group while we were getting our gear ready. They stayed put while she put the camera and tripod against the hole, put the LED flashlights up to the top peek hole and made a couple of images.

Then she changed settings to video, put the light back up to the hole and hoped for a few seconds of video. The parent stayed for 30 seconds more and was filmed as it took off. The children complained that it left but did not move for quite awhile.

When the chicks later dispersed around the chimney Bob was able to make several portraits. The angled window and the flash reflections made them a bit hazy. However we saw more detail than we expected.

Photo: Swift family in the Tower.

The adult is the third from the left.

Photo: Swift juvenile in the Tower.

This one flew to the west wall and showed off its strong feet and toe nails for this image.

In spite of their scientific name, swifts have powerful feet. They just can’t perch on them but must cling to vertical surfaces.

They are impressive and are probably the reason that some chicks object to another clinging to their backs.

This chick occasionally spoke in a more adult voice. Some people call this “chittering” though when we hear swifts in our neighborhood we have long said that they are twittering.

Probably should change to chittering in light of the current usage. We wondered if it was trying to convince those on the other side to join it.

 

This one stayed down below the nest on the north wall while we were there today. The others all practiced flying.

The east wall was the usual landing place – out of view of our cameras. We watched them on that wall on the local webcam monitor when we took our lunch break.

The acute angles from lens to bird through the glass using flash produces a greenish cast at the bottom of some files. Localized color correction was tried so we could make this post but we still ended up with greenish casts at the bottoms of these two jpgs.

Were we to print these two images, that green color cast will need more work.

We did get a few seconds of video when they flew. After being quiet and unmoving for a number of minutes, one of the chicks raised its wings and started to flap.

This disturbed the rest. Two went to the west wall and a few seconds later two went to the east wall leaving the chick in this bottom image. One from the west wall then joined the two that were moving around on the east wall.

We expect to see more flying next time we visit and hope we can photograph some of it.

 

 

This entry was posted on Friday, August 29th, 2014 at 19:45 and is filed under Bird, Commentary, Field Note. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Photo: Swift juvenile in the Tower.

The tiny bill and wide gape and intelligent, inquiring eye are seen in this image.


Today’s Challenges—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Today’s Challenges.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

Early this morning we saw on the webcam that the Chimney Swift juveniles were flapping and flying so we thought there might be opportunities to get some images with raised wings.

Just before we started for the Tower, they were resting in a clump. Being optimists we thought they would be active again at midday.

What we found was that they were on the wall in a position that made making images very difficult. The camera at the peek hole needed to be pointed right and down—sort of round a corner.

The camera at the observation window needed to be pointed almost straight down. We think that the ladder on the south wall of the “chimney” made shadows in strange places.

 

Photo: juvenile swift in the Tower.

The chick above moved up for a short time and was partially lit by the flashlight. The camera was more level for this image. The chick is looking more like an adult.

Photo: juvenile swifts in the Tower.

Here two are seen napping while one is curious about the contortions the camera and photographer were making in order to point the lens down to the chicks.

The early morning flight practice must have been tiring. Closed eyelids are a silvery gray color.

Our presence does not seem to bother them. However, we have seen more preening on the monitor than when we are present.

Certain sounds seem to get them yelling, such as a creaking floor board or a lawn tractor mowing around the tower or a call from an adult. They do not often respond to accidental bumps against walls.

The light from the flash bounced around differently with each image. Setting the white point in Lightroom was not consistent from image to image even with similar light temperatures. We prefer the cooler look but realize that many people like warmer images.

We hope they cling higher in the chimney when next we visit. They are much easier to photograph when the cameras do not have to practice yoga.

 

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 31th, 2014 at 18:52 and is filed under Behavior, Bird, Field Note, Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 


Growing Up—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Growing Up.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

Today the Chimney Swift juveniles were very quiet except for one brief outburst of buzzing. They occasionally spoke quietly in adult-like chittering and small chirps.

They should soon be flying outside the chimney. They seem to do most of their flapping and practice flying inside the chimney during the night.

There was only one brief flight when four scattered in a flurry of wings. They quickly returned to the tight grouping we mostly see. The huddle moved up and down a few inches, usually when one was trying to push in toward the middle of the group.

 

Photo: juvenile swifts in the Tower.

This one (above) felt the need to stretch while the others napped.

Photo: swift juveniles in the Tower.

We think that the youngest chick usually gets the preferred spot in the middle underneath everyone else.

Photo: swift juveniles in the Tower.

The tail on the top chick shows the special tail feathers that swifts have. The spines are very tough and are used to help them cling to vertical surfaces.

When clustered their wings often overlap, reminiscent of the hug we saw a parent give them when they were still pink and bristly.

Photo: juvenile swifts in the Tower.

Their wide gapes go almost to the corners of their eyes.

The fifth one is underneath these juveniles. The top one is squinting through what look like a bit of insect. A parent came in one time to feed the top chick in the group while we were taking a break. This must be the one.

We had hoped to see the parents encouraging the eldest on its first flight out of the chimney today. Perhaps next time.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 at 20:20 and is filed under Behavior, Bird, Field Note. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 


Windy Day at Chimney Swift’s Tower—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Windy Day at Chimney Swift‘s Tower.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

The wind from the south was blowing very loudly when we climbed the steps up to the observation area this afternoon. We had hoped to record the pretty chittering language that the juveniles now speak. We heard no infantile buzzing today.

The wind was so noisy around the tower and in the neighboring trees that even with a muff on the recorder’s stereo internal microphones, the swifts’ faint voices were mostly inaudible against the wind sounds.

In fact, it was so windy no birds were not flying. There are usually swallows kiting about the tower, plus robins, sparrows and black birds nearby. No one appeared.

We also did not see the adult Chimney Swifts and could only sometimes see four of the juveniles through the observation window and peek holes. Usually we could find one, two or three at a time as they moved about.

 

Photo: a swift juvenile and the nest in the Tower.

The one above spent a little time near the nest and then moved to a side wall.

The camera was peeking through the top hole and the small LED flash light was at the middle hole shining slightly upward. This made an interesting silhouette of the bird’s head on the wall.

Usually soft shadows are desired. In the dark chimney light is needed to keep the shutter speed fast enough to minimize blurs. This light angle also showed some of the open weaving of the nest. The dots of light are shining through the nest.

Photo: two juvenile swifts in the Tower.

These two stayed closest together even when the other two were near. They are probably the youngest.

The youngsters now look like adults, more so than just two days ago when we last there.

We hope there are still five juveniles in the chimney. If one took flight this morning before the hot wind picked up, we hope it found a safe roost.

As the youngsters leave the tower, our visits will come to an end. We hope for several more opportunities to observe and document this very special family in their historic tower.

 

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 at 18:59 and is filed under Bird, Commentary, Field Note, Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 


Fledged but Still Roosting—Field Guide

The Scarth’s blog Field Notes about the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift nest: Fledged but Still Roosting.

About the Tower's 2014 Chimney Swift Nest

By Linda & Robert Scarth, Field Guide

We made what was our last visit to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower for this nesting season yesterday afternoon.

At home we had watched the webcam and were quite certain the last juvenile had fledged either on the weekend or late that morning. To be certain we drove over in the afternoon.

 

Photo: the Swifts’ Tower.

We had hoped that several might be resting in the chimney for a few more images. First we watched the webcam monitor and saw no one and then entered the tower.

Photo: the stairs of the Tower.

After creeping up the stairs as usual, we waited a moment at the top.

There was no sound in the “chimney”; not even the flutter of wings of someone practicing flight.

After checking all the peek holes, cracks between boards, and the observation windows, we slowly opened the door to the chimney.

Still no sounds and a look inside found only the empty chimney with the catch pan at the bottom badly in need of cleaning. That will be done after the family no longer comes to roost.

 

A bright sky was visible through the top of the chimney. The opening is quite large to invite Chimney Swifts to both nest and roost in it.

The old ladder is still attached to the wall to enable someone to cover the hole for the winter and open it in the spring.

Last evening, this morning and again this evening the family is back roosting in the tower. They are late risers with the last juvenile leaving around midday for life on the wing until evening.

They may stay about for several weeks before starting their migration to South America.

 

Photo: looking up the Tower's chimney.

The webcam is anchored to have a good view of the area below.

Photo: Robert Scarth and the camera on the panpod.

The side view images were made with the camera on the panpod we mentioned in an earlier post.

We photographed from two locations these last several weeks. The panpod was on a small box on the narrow seat/shelf where Althea spent many hours.

A tripod ballhead is attached to the pan enabling the camera to be still while shooting in the dark.

A small flash on a flash cable was held next to the lens in the narrow observation window. An LED flashlight was used to focus.

Sometimes Live View was used instead of the viewfinder. And of course, a shutter release cable also reduced camera shake. These observation windows are on the east wall.

The peek holes are in the wall that is opposite of this year’s nest on the north wall. When using the middle hole, a flash on a cable or an LED flash light were pointed through the top hole.

The bottom hole is too small for photography but is a useful way to check the bottom of the opposite wall. There is a peek hole along the stairway for checking the bottom area on the west wall.

As we were leaving, we think we saw several swifts. The swallows seem to have left the nearby barn so we hope it was the youngsters practicing their newly developed skill.

We are very grateful to the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower Project, the Johnson County Songbird Project and the Cedar County Historical Society for this amazing experience. With a special thanks to the Tower Project Director, Barbara Boyle.

 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at 19:44 and is filed under Bird, Commentary, Equipment, Field Note, Technique, Thank You. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 

Photo: camera on the tripod set to shoot through on the the peepholes in the chimney.

When using the top or middle peek holes through the south wall, a rubber lens hood was useful. It sealed out light from the two windows and protected the front of the lens.

The lens on the panpod camera also had a rubber lens hood.

 

Photo: portrait of Althea R. Sherman

Althea Rosina Sherman

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updated       05.30.15
Grafic: pen and ink drawing of Sherma’s Chimney Swifts’ Tower by William J. Wagner, AIA

Sherman’s Chimney Swifts' Tower

© William J. Wagner, FAIA (1965)