If ever there was a bird which defined joy – and was defined by it – it is the swift, with its easy and enjoyed mastery of its environment; its life permanently airborne; its communal displays of skill. No braggart, though; just a natural exuberance. Aerial ecstasy.
It seems to me, though – and it is only a sense, a feeling that something has changed subtly… – that Tysoe’s swifts are preparing to leave for their southern wintering areas in Africa: a little earlier than last year, I think; but then, the fledglings have been exhibiting independence for a while, along with their parents’ effortless command of the air; and the youngsters’ numbers have noticeably filled out the ritualized evening ascent of the flock to their high-altitude on-the-wing roosting – spiralling and spiralling, the group shepherding and shrieking at the strays; then breaking stochastically (“we haven’t finished our suppers, yet!”); before spiralling again; breaking again; and finally rising out of sight… – as the sky darkens, joined by adults who no longer have to nurture or babysit; and joining the drifting, fading orange-tinged cirrus clouds and contrails.
The birds seem to have grown more gregarious as the summer has warmed, over the last couple of months, despite the breeding season now being well passed – and I hope that the good weather we’re currently experiencing will keep them with us a little while longer… – bunching together, this afternoon (as I sat out in the garden, reading), to bombard a feckless kestrel, overhead, that had strayed into their airspace, disturbing their aerobatic late lunching. The poor thing hurried off, ducking, twisting and spiralling out of the way of the perfectly-judged near-misses – each swift seemingly waiting its turn to dive – heading towards the fields in the west: probably regretting its diversion above the village!
Soon, they will be gone, though; and I will miss their squeaky-toy cheeps; and screaming challenges; their bluff, cheeky dogfighting; and periodic grouping and ungrouping (their celebrant patterns much less obvious than the famed massing of starlings: modern ballet to their ballroom ensembles…). The sky – and my world – will then be a sadder place; their absence a lessening of happiness.
This Nest, Swift Passerine [excerpt]
But how find how as it flew onward
& the mountains gave back the sound
to say what I mean the call of the bird
& the echoe after to say I’ve seen?
Raven hungers and calls and the mountain
Hungers back and calls
The whole range of peaks in the bird’s beak.
Raven lonely and the mountain rings
Loneliness & the echoe after we could see
him no longer
The echo after we could see Light in echo the eye
also through the ear a double infinity