It is with much joy that I can report my favourite bird of all is back in our skies for three short months again this summer.
As I sat hunched in front of the computer, busy with little owl photographs, my darling wife Anna spotted a swift high above our house at dusk last night. As soon as I confirmed her ID, the computer was off and I spent the rest of the dwindling light in the garden watching THREE swifts hunt high above our house.
The day the swifts return is the best day of the year for me - bar none!
The last day I saw a swift in 2011 was September 5th - high over our house, heading south - by far the latest I've ever seen one (normally I don't see them in the UK after the middle of August).
Almost invariably I first see them back again around or just after St.George's Day (see table below). This year, however, the weather has been so atrocious during the last couple of weeks of April that any sky watching recently has meant eyes-full of rain and the high winds have meant that any insects rising in the still warm air (for the swifts to feed on) have been few and far between - meaning the small numbers of swifts that have made it over here pre-May have been feeding in very small numbers over bodies of water (or over the continent where the weather is marginally better at present).
|2007||25th April (nesting in our first floor flat)|
|2008||27th April (nesting in our rented two story flat)|
|2009||25th April (nesting in our rented ancient house, "Swift Half")|
|2010||23rd April (nesting again in "Swift Half")|
|2011||23rd April (nesting again in "Swift half")|
|2012||27th April (although back at "Swift Half" on 24th I hear)|
Coupled to all that, this is the first year in six years that I've been living in Berkshire and NOT had swifts nesting in our house. Anna and I have moved from Reading 6 months ago, to a post-war-built town a few miles away and its fair to say that swifts will not have found many nesting spots in our town ever.
I do hear my old "Swift Half" swifts (which I filmed, webcast and documented for the past two years - full rundown with videos HERE) are back in situ, which gives me as much pleasure as it does frustrate me I guess. I miss our swifts terribly - much more than I thought I would when we moved.
Some readers of this blog might know I've spent the winter designing and constructing a "swift palace" in our attic (I can now that I actually OWN a property rather than rent one), which does have an HD camera feed and a suitable entrance /exit from the outside wall.
But.... as I've said before, swifts will never have nested in this part of our town before (if indeed anywhere in the town) so I've got my work cut out for me to get them nesting with us. If someone put a gun to my head and demanded to know how long it would take for me to attract a breeding pair to our attic, I'd say 5 years.
But.... if I didn't attempt to attract them to our attic this year (by belting out CD of breeding swift calls from the roof), that five years would just be delayed a year.... so started I have.
I will play the CD (if the neighbours don't mind) most of May (our original female didn't show up in the UK until May 18th last year) and then again in July (when most of the breeding is done and birds are looking for suitable nest sites for next year).
I am determined to get them breeding in our attic as I am completely bewitched by these birds - in my opinion they make all our other birds (be they eagles, kingfishers, hawks, birds of paradise, peacocks)... ALL other birds appear completely unimpressive.
Why do I say that? I'll write an explanatory blog soon enough (maybe tomorrow if this miserable weather continues all weekend).
I'm ardly reknowned for being into pappy juvenile romanticism but I've always liked this little story from a girl called Abbie Hart, first published on Edward Mayer's excellent "Swift Conservation" website:
SWIFTS by Abbie Hart aged 6 years and 1 month
"Once there was 2 poorly swifts and then my Mum saved them and made them better.
She let them go, but one of them couldn't fly.
And then she made it better and she let it go.
They ate lots of insects and waxworms.
They were happy.
They played with their friends in the sky and they flew past every day, so we knew they were better.
But they went to Africa for the winter where it was warm.
All the time they were thinking about us.
They wished they could have more waxworms.
They were too happy now.
They will come back in April or May.
We will be happy when we see them again.
And, if they come back in May on my Mum's birthday, they might be happy.
And, they are good at flying now - they used to not be.
And it's good to fly, because everyone wants to fly.
They fly even when they are asleep and eat little bugs in the air.
I love the Swifts so much, they will come back soon because it's nearly Spring.
It's good when it's Spring.
The Swifts are always happy, they love it.
They just love drinking and they are black.
They love us and my Dad is making a nest box for them.
My Mum says that they are her favourite bird, but they're just my second favourite.
My favourites are Long-Tailed Tits and Sparrows and the beautiful Swifts".
Well.... I'll explain what I find so enthralling about swifts soon enough, but for now I'll leave you with one of the poorest photographs I've taken - of the first swift of 2012 that I've seen - first spotted and pointed out by my my beautiful (eagle-eyed) wife as she gazed out of the window (on a swift watch) whilst I sat in front of the computer, downloading little owl photographs...
Thanks honey....now if you can only attract them into the attic!