The regular reader(s?!) of this blog by now, I'm sure, will know that I am besotted by swifts.
Infatuated with them.
Addicted to them.
Last year, here they returned to the skies above our house on 9th May - and spent a late Spring and early Summer prospecting and dry-running in the walls of the school opposite.
Trouble is, the school opposite was due to replace its roofs, during swift breeding season.
I contacted all parties (the school site manager and bursar, the contractors, the ecologist surveyors (who unbelievably had missed the swifts) and the council) and asked them to stop any building work until mid August at the earliest (which would give the swifts the time they needed to do what they needed to do (dry-run) and set off back to the Congo).
Work did stop thankfully - but only until August 1st - on that day the scaffolding went up around one of the buildings due to be re-roofed.
Luckily for the council and contractors (among others) the swifts had left a few days before.
Unfortunately then, we think the roofers discovered asbestos (we assume) in the school hall roof, so work stopped before it even began.
That said the scaffolding that went up around the school hall, stayed in place (even though no work was taking place) for a full EIGHT MONTHS!!!!
We also assume the council was paying the scaffolding firm for every day/week that the scaffolding was up.
What an incredible waste of money (and time) if so.
It gets worse.
A fortnight or so before the swifts were due to return (eight or nine months after they had left, like I say) re-roofing work recommenced at the school!
Let me be clear here. The roofers/council/school (we assume because of asbestos concerns... we could be wrong) took the ENTIRE time the swifts were away and out of the picture (9 months) to start work on the roof of the school.
I mean.... you couldn't make it up, could you?
Sadly, this sort of thing epitomises the English way of doing things. At snail-racing speed while soaked in incompetence and wilful ignorance.
Well... on 17th May here, 8 days later than last year, after a miserably cool and wet Spring so far, the squadrons of my favourite birds of all, the best birds of all of course, returned in numbers over the house and school and were met by one of their school buildings having no roof at all other than an industrial tarp over scaffolding surrounding it.
At their arrival back with us each year I play the song below...
This year is no different.
Please do play the video below, listen to it with your eyes closed and then get outside and gaze at the lucky swifts, (if you're lucky enough to see them).
An old work/rugby friend of mine contacted me the other day to let me know that his sister and brother-in-law (Gill and Simon Fenton) had a very close encounter with one of the best birds of all the other day.
In Gill's own words:
"This afternoon, this little guy got knocked out of the sky by a magpie and landed on our lawn. It lay there for hours, protected by us. We assumed it was a starling until it clung to the wall and we noticed 2 swifts flying overhead. So I spoke to my RSPCA friend and attempted the launch manoeuvre! At first, it flew straight onto Simon’s shirt and refused to budge! Eventually, it soared off, high into the sunset, joined by the others. I am an emotional wreck!"
What a lovely story, what fantastic photos (from Gill I presume) and what a particularly lucky swift to be knocked out of the sky in a garden that belonged to two people who cared enough to get it back into the air again!
Back to "our" school swifts.
I have now witnessed 3 (yes THREE) swifts entering the old pipe overflow hole on the side of the school building that as yet is not being roofed.
Swifts may be social birds, but in breeding season it is strictly two birds per nest - and fights between established pairs and interlopers (wannabes) regularly happen. Occasionally swifts can die as a result of these fights.
What I'm now certain of is that the school opposite currently have NESTING swifts.
And also a nesting pair with an interloper involved too.
A real avian soap opera, by the look of last night anyway... when two swifts entered the hole in the wall - then the third (after screaming at the hole on a few fly-bys) entered too.
I can only imagine a BIG fight happened at the school last night. In the roof.
Time to get serious now.
Swifts which are schedule 1 birds, protected by law in and around their roost and nest sites, by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
No... the roofers are not currently working on the building that these protected birds have returned to - but I understand from the old school site controller that the building the swifts are now nesting in WAS (IS?) due to have its roof replaced as part of the works.
You can imagine, grapple fans, I am ALL OVER THIS.
I have once again written to the school and contractors.
I have yet to have a reply. I expect better. MUCH better.
I'll wait until this week and then contact the head of the school directly (I'm not going anywhere - my eldest goes to the school in question and my youngest is about to) and the council AND also, most importantly of all, Natural England (plus the BTO and BBOWT) too, as well as my friends at Swift Conservation and the press.
We simply cannot have these protected birds disturbed in their breeding season.
There was never any need to do so (the work didn't start for the entire time (9 months) that the birds were out of the country - but it should have started AND ended in that time).
I can only hope that the school ARE already aware that their schedule 1 swifts are back and have already made plans to ensure that they don't break the law and the birds access to their nesting site is not compromised and therefore they aren't intentionally nor (and this is important) recklessly disturbed).
I hope that, but I am not going to assume that.
We'll wait and see if anyone gets back to me this week.
I hope they do, as I am of course hooked up to the authorities already (my job has its uses sometimes!).
Watch this space for more news soon, I'm sure...
on the (particularly) lucky ones...