Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Come swiftly…

One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.
– Aristotle

With apologies to the great philosopher and teacher (although I always preferred his master, Plato), a few days ago, there was a lone swift, performing its typical fly-catching acrobatics, over the fields between Tysoe and Oxhill. That day felt like a nascent summer: it was warm; but there was still a hint of spring rain in the cooling breeze. Yesterday, though – when we suffered cold winds, heavy rainstorms, and some absolutely glorious, mountainous cloud formations – the swifts were back in number: dogfighting and shrieking (like Goa’uld death gliders) with joy above Tysoe, as they reunited with their life-partners; or, for the youngsters, attempted to form new bonds, and agree on – and maybe fight for – suitable nesting sites.

They must have known – somehow – that the weather was about to change: as the waxing moon that accompanied their return, grew to full, tonight, and brought with it a temporary hint of the season to come: with rising temperatures and easing, warm, westerly breezes.

Where I used to live, in Wiltshire, it was the re-emergence of water-birds in the brook that flowed through my back garden – swans with their cygnets; mallards with their fluffy custard and ermine-specked brown ducklings; or even the occasional, lost little egret – that defined the phase-change; along with skylarks ascending and burbling on the ancient hill-fort, high on the chalk downs above the village where I lived: their invisible nests disturbed even by careful ramblers. Swifts and swallows were rare visitors; although housemartins – now mingling with the swifts above Tysoe – seemed to love the eaves of the local flint-and-brick barns.

When I was a small child, though, it was the chattering of tree-sparrows with their young, that I most remember: lured from their park- and woodland retreats by the tasty morsels my mum would routinely leave on the bird-table: bravely defending their young against rapacious starlings. However, it is a long time since I saw one, with its distinctive brown cap, Edwardian sideburns and moustache (resembling many of the retired railway and mill workers of my grandfather’s generation) – although house-sparrows and dunnocks are a constant soundtrack, here: often hiding in the hedges as you walk by, on Main Street; or scurrying away through the grass verges, as you drive by.

It’s so very good to have the swifts back. It means that – in a world where climate change is blurring the seasons together – summer is definitely around the corner!

PS: Bye-bye, Stephen Sutton – a short life packed with intense meaning, humanity and courage.

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