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Swifts and a hobby

May 17, 2013
Two Swifts (Apus apus) in flight.

Two Swifts (Apus apus) in flight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whilst making a hurdle in the barn yesterday, I became aware of the wonderful screeching of swifts; a sound I’ve been waiting to hear for a fortnight or so and probably missing since their disappearance last August. Sticking my head into the brilliant sunshine and looking straight up, there, at around 100 feet, were a gang of thirty swirling, churning, screaming swifts. I cheered! On my own in a field. With a broad grin, I watched them for a few minutes until my neck hurt and I feared I might fall over backwards; disappointed that there was nobody to share my joy at welcoming these beautiful, lithe fliers back to Gravenhurst.

Years ago when I worked with my good friend Ratty, we spent quite long periods chatting about important stuff and I recall deciding between us one spring lunchtime, that the house martin was the kind of bird that flew purely for the joy of it and sometimes might enter air races to impress the ladies. Swallows are more RAF pilots, sporting enormous moustaches and not taking their hugely skilful flying too seriously; probably drinking the odd glass of good ale after a hard day swooping. Swifts are different. They are the NASA test pilots of the bird world, flying at huge speed and great altitude, capable of amazing feats of endurance and indeed have developed the technology necessary to enable the air to be their home, returning to the ground, like seals or penguins from the ocean, only to lay eggs and raise their young. They look like they are having fun, but if you could see their faces you’d know the truth.

Returning to the willow, I continued listening to the swifts’ raucous calls until after a couple of minutes it stopped suddenly. Once again, I looked outside but this time there were no swifts. A magical disappearance. No time to ponder before the reason for their silence flew fast and silent over the barn; a hobby. This small falcon is famous for its ability to catch swifts in flight which must make them some of the most highly qualified pilots in the bird world. I believe they follow swifts as well as martins and swallows on migration and they must make distinctly uncomfortable fellow travellers.

I’m hoping the presence of a hobby won’t put our swifts off staying in the village. They usually hang out around one particular house in Shillington Road. I’ll keep an eye out down there this week.

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