6th International Swift Conference Segovia

By Birds, Conservation, Ecology

Swift lovers of the world unite! This was a highlight of my year. The aqueduct of Segovia is full of swifts, early morning and in the dusky evening the skies around this impressive structure are filled with the screams and flight of swifts. It is breathtaking. I loved being in Segovia, with its textured and decorated buildings. An unfamiliar Spain to the South I am used to. 

It was great to participate in this event. By participate I mean join in, listen, engage, meet people. I wasn’t giving a presentation. The first person I met, as I shly, awkwardly wondered how to speak to people during the first morning coffee break was Lyndon Kearsley, a swift expert whom I had actually been in touch with via email but never met. Lyndon had answered my call for help about the swifts in Vejer, he had also GPS tracked a swift which was spotted right over my house in the South of Spain. A more than happy coincidence which made me feel like I was in definately in the right place, and things just got better from there. I also met Dick Newell swift brick engineer extraordinaire and Edward Mayer who had both been very helpful and instrumental in guiding me through the swift colony crisis I had the previous year.

I listened to days of talks. I learned about swift behaviour, nest boxes, morphology, so many details and so much information. I connected with people who had the same concerns as me, the same interests, working to the same goal. It is so reassuring to find people who will freely, happily, generously share information or even tools with you because they have the same goal. Lynn Fomison and Tim Norriss of Hampshire Swifts kindly donated me swift calls with speakers to attract the swift to the nest boxes I am installing in the school in Vejer. 

More than swifts I saw the Choughs of Segovia. Elusive to me during my time in Cornwall this population of city dwelling Segovian choughs are noisy and very present in the city, circling the beautiful towers of the churches and being brawdy on the windows of the cathedral. Impressive. I also saw two tree creepers on a walk around the river, the only tree creepers I have ever seen other than the one that stinned itself on a glass window in the Sierra de Grazalema, which given the circumstances didn’t  feel very fair. Also crag martins, that was a beautiful experience. 

It was decided that the next swift conference will be in Trieste, Italy in 2024. There is no doubt that I will be there. With my swift friends.

Photo showing a crowd of seated people in a conference type room / gallery space.

Women in Science: Sociedad Gaditana de Historia Natural

By Birds, Conservation, Ecology

I was asked to give a talk about the swifts in Vejer by the Sociedad Gaditana de Historia Natural (SGHN). I don´t really talk in public. Even in those situations of a small group of 5 people when you´re asked to introduce yourself I feel really anxious. So generally I would never accept an invitation to speak in public. But speak in public I did. And in Spanish.

Sometimes what you have to say, what you have to share, is bigger than yourself, bigger than your own feelings of discomfort. This is a subject that is important to me and I had to get over myself. This turned out to be an interesting learning experience and I reflected a lot on my feelings of anxiety. Sometimes anxiety serves a purpose. I learned this from a therapist I once went to and it helped it to contextualise my anxiety.

Poster for a Women in science event for the Natural History Society in Spain.

When I was first faced with the destruction of the swift colony I felt anxious but at the same time I found peace in my resolve. I channelled my anxiety into action. I know that this isn´t always possible but I recount how this was possible for me because it is interesting to record it for myself. 

Firstly, I understood that this feeling of anxiety when faced with the destruction of the natural world is NORMAL. In fact I think it would be abnormal to not feel in response to the destruction of another species. The clarity which came with this realisation was helpful. Secondly, I decided to use the energy of my anxiety to ACT – to create, to move things, to communicate.

I recounted all of this, along with the story of what happened with the swift colony in Vejer to a crowd of people. I recounted how it was to feel alone and to find a network of support. I recounted how it feels to accept your own limits, to do what you can. I spoke out loud my gratitude to all those who have helped and guided me. It felt good. 


By Birds, Ecology

Summer 2021: my teenage daughter has a three month holiday and not a great deal to do. I have a house full of wild birds I am caring for. I am deeply concerned about a swift colony that I love and is going to be lost in my local town. There is a short film competition in our local town for under 18s. (I am also yelling at her to do something / anything other than use her mobile phone). The stars colide.

Sometimes your children surprise you. Sometimes they just completely floor you. My 16 year old daughter made this beautiful sensitive film about the swift colony I was working to try and help in Vejer. I had no idea how she had approached the subject or told the story until I saw her first version shortly before enetering the film into the local film festival. She had never edited a film before. She was using an open source editing software that drove her crazy. She did this all by herself. The narration shows such a sensitive maturity and sweetness, and tells the story in a way that helps people to connect.

This film did so much to help the swifts in Vejer, by telling their story.

I am her mother

Avenida Andalucia

By Birds, Ecology, Education

In July 2021 one of my worst fears came true.

There is a beautiful colony of swifts in Vejer that I have watched and documented for years. They return each year to breed in an abandoned building on Avenida Andalucia. It is a thing of astounding beauty, hundreds of swifts fly together at dusk and dawn, it is incredibly moving to stand still as they screech past lightening fast.

I had always had an anxiety that the building would be developed at some point. This is why I documented it in photos and videos each year. This is what happened in July, one day as I was passing I saw that building works had begun, right in middle of the breeding season when the swifts were nesting. A strange thing happened to me, like a cross between a panic attack and deep calm strength of conviction. I breathed and vowed to turn my anxiety into action, to do everything I could for the swifts.

The first thing I did was to call Seprona (the environmental police), I knew it was illegal for building works to happen when swifts are nesting as they are a protected species. The builders were told the work would have to stop until the swifts had migrated. This was a short relief but the start of a whole project to try and make sure measures were introduced to ensure the continuance of the colony. What I learned is that whilst it is illegal to carry out the works whilst the birds are present, there is no legal obligation to provide an alternative.

I resolved to do all I could to do create something positive faced with what seemed like a bleak outcome for the swifts.

It was the start of a journey in which I found I a support network, a whole community of people working to help swifts. To feel small and reach out and find you have people willing to help you is a very special thing. I am grateful to so many people and organisations who helped me on this path. Fernando Gómez Tineo my colleague from the Assocation Ecoágora is very special person who has always guided me with great patience. Edward Myer and Swift Conservation UK were also a great help, a great resource and Edward put me in touch with a lot of other swift people. Dick Newell from Action for Swifts another UK organisation, was also very helpful in providing information on specially designed swift bricks.

Locally, I also had the support of the Sociedad Gatitana de Historia Natural, I was taking part in their swift project, adopting grounded swifts when this happened with the colony in Vejer. The problem facing swifts was glaringly obvious, what is the use of caring for a grounded swift (or 10 in my case) if a colony of 100´s can be <legally> destroyed? I am especially grateful to Iñigo Sanchez and Alvaro Pérez Gómez of the SGNH.

I am also grateful to Beatriz Sanchez, head of biodiversity for the SEO (Sociedad Española de Ornitologia) who got in touch with me and supported me throughout the process of attempting to offer solutions.

My source of inspiration and guidance came from the Colegio Esclavas in Jerez, they have an amazing educational conservation project in which the children learn about swifts by observing them and carrying out census of the swifts that nest in their school each year. Ignacio Quevedo and Jose Nietos, teachers from this school offered me guidance and support but more than anything INSPIRATION that it is possible to do something positive, this was the greatest guide during difficult circumstances.

I also have to openly thank Joaquin Nuñez, the developer of the building, who listened to me. We exchanged a sensible and educated dialog and Joaquin made his own commitment to the protecting the natural world by investing in artificial nest boxes. It is because of Joaquin that 20 artificial nest boxes were made and I was able to start an educational project in Colegio Los Molinos and IES La Janda in Vejer.


2021: 28 Birds

By Birds, Conservation, Ecology

The summer of 28 birds. Suddently it seems birds just fall from the sky. The summer of 2021, I took in 28 wild birds, 4 died, 24 survived:

1 Sardinian Warbler
2 Blackbirds
9 Swifts
11 House Martins
5 Sparrows



Swift Speaking

By Birds, Ecology, Education, Swift

Talking about swifts to a group of children in the Granja Escuela Buenavista with other members of the “Proyecto Vencejo” of the SGHN (Sociedad Gaditana de Historia Natural). We made simple paper swifts and my friends 8 year old daughter talked to the other children of her experiences caring for swifts.

Blackbird Rubbish

By Birds, Ecology

I got a call from a friend to say he had found two blackbird chicks in a bin. In a bin, thrown away like rubbish, alive, nest and all. I felt an anxious urgency and deep sickness on hearing this. I had children to gather and deliver before I was able to go and pick the birds up but then I ran, as if arriving early would make a difference to the cruel fact that someone devalued life so much that they threw it in the bin.

It turns out blackbirds are very resilient. The will to live was fierce. They are noisy and hungry and demanding. And they never seemed to get full. Blackbirds are omnivores, they primarily eat insects but forage fruits and seeds. I fed them meal worms, when they got bigger I sometimes gave them an insect paste which has fruits and oats in it too.

I am always conscious in caring for wild birds to minimize my contact with them to avoid imprinting. Part of me wants to gaze them, fascinating as they are or hold them but I know it is not best for them so I keep interaction to a minimum. Hard with blackbirds I found, they are proactive in their demands.

As they got bigger and grew feathers (remarkably quickly, they sprouted and grew in front of my eyes!) I kept them outside during the day on a platform we built for my daughter in a wild olive tree. There they would hear the other bird sounds and were out there experiencing the elements. Of course they would be missing the parental education in blackbird behaviour. And for all my care I know that this is disadvantages to them in the wild. But I do the best I can to give them a natural upbringing. My best attempt at what rehabilitators of wild birds call hacking.

I read that blackbird young can survive alone from a very early stage in their development. It is a survival mechanism, a trait to protect against predator attacks. Blackbirds often nest low to the ground so can be an easy target for predators. Before it can fly a young blackbird will leave the nest and hop between low branches and will forage for its own food whilst continuing to be fed by its parents.

Unfortunately one of these birds had to be put down. After tending to it for a week it became obvious it was not developing as it should. Its legs didn’t work although they hadn’t initially appeared to be broken. It used its wings to maneuver which seemed ok at first and I hoped it would develop but it didn’t get any better. It was then soiling inside the nest unable to move itself. Blackbirds spend a lot of their time foraging on the floor, a blackbird without legs stands no chance of surviving in the wild. It was a difficult decision to make.

The other blackbird grew big and strong. These were the first blackbirds I had cared for. I am used to swifts and house martins that once they can fly just want to leave. This blackbird did not seem to want to leave. It spent three nights sleeping in the top of the tree but would fly down to me for food when I came. It foraged for food and also ate what I left for it below. I did not anticipate how tame it would become with me as provider, I began to despair that despite my best efforts I had ruined its chances of survival. Then just like that it flew away.

La Janda

La Janda

By Birds, Ecology

We are on the look out for a short eared owl that has been seen recently in the area. We see lots of storks, cranes, spoonbills, glossy ibis, grey herons. A peregrine falcon, marsh harrier and black winged kite. We do not see the short eared owl. We follow tracks in the mud near the river which are perhaps fox? perhaps mongoose?

The most beautiful thing is the enthusiasm of the children, following the line of green bushes to the electricity post, to the left then down a bit to find the cranes amongst the storks with the binoculars.

Then in the dusk as we head home we see a fox. We all see it, in the grasses by the water channel, a bushy tailed and healthy adult fox, then it disappears into the darkness.

Paper Swifts

By Art, Birds, Paper

Paper swifts made from recycled scrap papers to celebrate World Swift Day. Made using a very helpful PDF template provided by Action for Swifts to make a swift mobile, which you can find here.

Martha and the Swift

By Birds, Ecology, Education, Swift

Sometimes when you fall in love you want to tell everyone about it. Sometimes with love there is also a need to be careful, to tenderly nuture. When I fell in love with swifts I wanted to SHOUT all about it. These birds are increible, amazing and I have said so often otherwordly. Their realm is the air and they really are like creatures from another realm. I felt this when I cared for them.

Swifts are special. I felt it in my first close encounter with them and I knew it when I learned about them. It becomes the kind of information you just have to pass on. So with colleagues from my association dedicated to environmental education Ecoágora, we made a book for children, all about swifts. We made this as a freely downloadable PDF. You can read it here IN ENGLISH or EN ESPAÑOL.