3 May 2017

Waiting on a swift return

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

I’ve asked this question a lot recently: are the spring blossoms looking more lovely than ever? Or am I just getting sentimental in my old age?

As people have been quick to point out: it is not necessarily an either/or – both of those statements could well be true.

What is definitely true is that my calendar is now more marked by the seasonal blooming of snowdrops, celandine, bluebells and the like than it is by party invitations and rock concert dates.

One special date I never fail to notice is the day the swifts return.

They have been making their summer homes in the eaves of the old Apothecary’s Hall for longer than I can remember. Their arrival is always announced by a joyous screaming as they career across the sky in what appear to be celebratory squadrons.

They are late this year. And I am missing them. And blaming the Maltese. Possibly erroneously. Maybe we should ask Chris Packham.

The swift is an enigma. I thought for years they were jet black. It is how they appear as they scythe their way through the air, around rooftops and often high enough to be out of sight. Turns out they are sooty brown. Turns out, too, these noisy, restless, busy birds sleep on the wing.

Close cousins (and I like to think: friends) of the swift, the house martins and swallows are already here. The swallows provide hours of entertainment as they swoop down and shatter the silent, serene surface of the Mirror Pool  – either drinking or snatching hatching insects from the water, I’m never really sure.

The manic martins are busy building their strange dirt nests; painstakingly, mouthful by muddy wet mouthful.

But where are the swifts?

I am missing them and their excited screaming which heralds the warmer days of summer. I can’t think I’ve heard a more joyful noise. Although some disagree. One former curator here pronounced it “the most dreadfully mournful noise known to man”.

Takes all types, I guess.