The Big Chiswick Swift Count Takes Off!

The project to survey the local swift population spreads its wings

image of rooftop and swift overhead

Swift above a Chiswick rooftop, image by Jon Perry


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A group of Chiswick residents is now in action in an effort to find out how many swifts we still have in Chiswick. This iconic summer species, with an amazing lifestyle spent almost entirely on the wing, used to be a familiar sight in most W4 streets, but now they are Amber-listed in the UK as Birds of Conservation Concern.

Following our last article about the launch of the Big Chiswick Swift Count, local resident and RSPB SE England Swift Volunteer, Catherine Day, welcomed fifteen Chiswick residents to an enthusiastic, sociable and very constructive ‘Chiswick swift meeting’ on 22 May at the George IV on Chiswick High Road to find out how to take part.

Watching and counting swifts definitely doesn’t involve sitting on a chair and keeping quiet! It actually means going out for a few very pleasant rambles round your local streets on lovely, warm summer evenings, on days and at times to suit you, and keeping a note of any swifts you see – or recording a nil result if you don’t see any. As Catherine explains, “As in all science, observations of absence are just as important as positive sightings when we want to determine the size and distribution of a species’ population”.

Since the meeting, the Big Chiswick Swift Count has spread its wings and 30 people are now taking part. Catherine, who runs the Chiswick Swift Project with RSPB advice and support, said, “This is a wonderful start to researching the decline in our W4 swift population and finding out what we can do to help this unique species survive, and hopefully recover and thrive here. With such an enthusiastic show of support from people all over Chiswick, we already have enough volunteers doing swift-walks in little patches that add up to coverage of about half of W4.”

“It would be fantastic if we could cover the whole of Chiswick – that is our big aim. But, we still have some big gaps.” She said that these are:
- all of the Acton Green area;
- the western-most part of W4 immediately to the east and south of Chiswick Roundabout;
- the area between Heathfield Terrace and the Great West Rd;
- the streets to the west and south of Chiswick House,
- the Corney Reach riverside area;
- Grove Park between Chiswick Station and Hartington Rd;
- the triangle of streets between Bath Rd and Flanders Rd,
- the group of streets east of Turnham Green Terrace,
- the streets between Devonshire Rd and Chiswick Lane;
- the streets to the north and east of Homefields Recreation Ground.

If you would like to do a few ‘swift walks’ on a few warm evenings anywhere in W4, but especially in these areas (assuming that summer will shortly return!), email Catherine at, or visit the RSPB & Chiswick Swift Project stand at Green Days at the Bedford Park Festival this Sunday (all day, 11 June) on the green opposite Turnham Green tube station.

Catherine says, “We will have a map of Chiswick where you can choose a swift-walk street or two (or simply come along and see what we’re doing). You can pick up instructions on how to spot swifts and record your sightings (easy – no previous bird-watching experience required!), see new photos of Chiswick swifts this year by local photographer Jon Perry, pick up information leaflets on swifts and see real swift nest boxes. There will also be a Chiswick Swift Project raffle with a beautifully-made RSPB swift nest box as the top prize, and two other prizes of an RSPB powder-coated steel fat-ball feeder, and a big, sturdy RSPB tree-hook for easy-hanging of bird feeders.”

Catherine says that the RSPB’s work is, of course, about giving all of nature a home right round the globe, so this year she will also have a display about the RSPB’s Save the Albatross campaign, with a fund-raising ‘Guess the Name of the Albatross’ game. A correct guess will win lovely albatross soft toy.

However, it is our swifts who need our help right here and now. They have been here for a month (our article on May 6, 2017), and will be off to Africa before the end of July. A short stay, but a vital one. A long journey simply to come home for long enough to raise their chicks before the whole family sets off on its nine months constantly in the air again. Catherine would like to invite everyone to “please help the RSPB’s ‘Birds Without Borders’ campaign by joining in the Big Chiswick Swift Count. It’s definitely something that anyone can do, whether bird-watcher or beginner, and it’s also a fun summer thing to do as a family, or as a quiet evening stroll. It is also possible to watch for swifts at other times, especially in the mornings.”

June 10, 2017

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