Sunday, 23 August 2015

That was rather a large number of Swifts

Since I've lived in Orkney, 6 years, I've seen Swifts about seven or eight times, quite often single birds but once or twice three together. Today I counted 666 from 09:15 until 14:20 (with an hour missing when I had to come home briefly) on the Birsay patch. An amazing experience as they buzzed past my ears in the strengthening easterly wind. Here's the account I posted on Orkbird2.

Went for a walk On The Links (Birsay) this morning, not all that early 9:15 or so. Just out of the car and three Swifts went by, nice, and we walked on. Went around the shore and into the village and all of a sudden there were quite a few Swifts about, 41. Swifts with us all the way up past the Tea Rooms and when we were near the cemetery I scanned and counted all I could see, 167. Down the road and I had another count, 220, that was at about 10:40. Had to go back to Harray but an hour later I was again by the cemetery, there were 28 Swifts but then they were gone and there were no more. I'd noticed a good flock of Golden Plover over at Northside so I headed over there, parked up near Skiba Geo and there were Swifts again, 31. I started to head towards Point of Buckquoy (Brough car park), counting Swifts as I went, that seemed to be the direction they were coming from, I wanted to work out if they were just the same birds flying around or fresh birds coming through. At the car park I saw very few Swifts, just 5 distantly to the west of The Brough and far out to sea, moving south. After a bit I headed back towards Northside and had not gone far when I was into a large flock of at least 50 all around me. I kept walking towards Skiba Geo until I got a good vantage point. It was then possible to see that birds were dropping from high altitude down onto the coast and then heading east. I stayed counting them until 14:00 when they stopped, a group of 20, a group of 15, a 3, then none. I waited a bit and headed back to the car, at 14:20 two more Swifts went through, and I left.

The Swifts were very difficult to count as they passed me to either side and I was scanning to try to see where they were coming in from. My total count was 666 (strangely enough, is that an omen?). bearing in mind I was absent for what was likely a busy hour, and that my counts were conservative I suspect that a good number more than 700 probably went through. Here are the counts, the birds were generally in loose groups.

3, 41, 220 (the 167 included in these), 28, 31, 11, 26, 21, 28, 2, 7, 5, 50, 4, 18, 22, 12, 9, 24, 31, 18, 14, 21, 15, 3 and 2.

Part of the loose flock of 220 Swifts

A large number of these photographs were taken with the camera set to around 28 to 35mm, that gives an idea how close they were.

Here's a thing I didn't know before, juvvy Swifts have a white forehead (thanks TC). I'd noticed that the birds had looked more white around the head than I expected, the photos show the white forehead on all where it can be discerned, so it looks like this movement was made up mostly, or perhaps exclusively, of juvs.

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