I went for a long walk this morning. Up the hill and down the hill and through the park and back again.
I saw ducks and geese and starlings; gulls and tits and a great crested grebe; an excitable family of treecreepers chasing each other through the branches and a mistle thrush patiently singing its soft-toned song from the very top of a tree.
But mostly I looked up, scanning, searching, hoping.
Why it’s so important, this day, I’m not quite sure. They’re not the only migrants to make the long journey from Africa. Every year the avian population of the country is boosted by dozens of species, fresh (kind of) from south of the equator: warblers and waders and flycatchers and birds of prey and nightingales and cuckoos and terns and doves and nightjars and swallows and martins and more.
But the day the swifts arrive is the one I anticipate the most, the red-letter day of early summer.
It’s the speed of them, for one thing; speed and agility and mesmerising brilliance. An aerobatic miracle, a ballet of the skies, here for a three-month run at no cost to the consumer. Other birds stop – not swifts. They’re built for flight. Perhaps that’s their appeal – they represent in its purest form what it means to be a bird, what it is to fly, that freedom for which we yearn but for which we are so emphatically not designed.
You can set your calendar by them – they’re a day earlier this year than last – but each year I wonder if they’ll make it. And each year, even though I fret and worry like the anxious parent of a partying teenager, back they come, the same birds returning to the same nesting sites year on year, oblivious to our love and devotion, oblivious to the pleasure and pain they give us, just following their genetic imperative. Fly, breed, fly again.
As I trudged wearily back towards the house, I saw a movement, higher than high, and there was the tiny fluttering sickle above our house, and then another, and another, barely visible against the clouds.
Barely visible, but there. You won’t see them in this video I took, but trust me, they’re back.
Hello swifts. Stay a while, why don’t you?
If you’re here for the Twitter Birdsong Project, look no further.
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