Friday, 13 May 2016

Swiftly Does It

Just over a week ago, for the first time this year, we heard a sound we've come to love more than almost any other - the screaming call of returning Swifts. Just a couple of birds to start with, twisting and turning in the skies above, but within a few days more had arrived, as gradually they began to re-familiarise themselves with their surroundings and the rooftop nesting spots they've used for generations.

On Wednesday evening, Mrs S & I noticed a variant of the Swift's call with which we weren't familiar. Instead of the usual joyous passing screams from above, we heard an odd, panic stricken call from below. A pair of Starlings had blocked a lone Swift's high speed path into it's nesting space beneath the roof tiles, forced it to the ground and were viciously pecking away at it. A downed Swift is as good as dead without speedy assistance, particularly when it's on the receiving end of such an attack, they spend virtually their whole lives in flight and have no means of becoming airborne from the ground. We ran down to the garden, scooped the shocked bird into a small box and took it to the highest point of the house, our bedroom, to release it. Holding it on an outstretched flat palm, we let it feel the breeze and sure enough, it soon took flight. What we didn't realise was that the Starlings were still waiting on the rooftop and immediately appeared from nowhere to forcibly bring the Swift crashing to earth again. Mrs S and I raced down the stairs and into the garden once more, to rescue our prone, plucky pal from the lethal beaks of the Starlings. This time we decided to wait awhile, to allow the starlings to disperse and let our battered Swift calm itself.

A little later, with the coast apparently clear, we once again climbed to the top floor to release the Swift. This time, it was understandably initially reluctant to take flight, though eventually swooped from Mrs S's outstretched hand and off around the house. To our absolute horror, the Starlings reappeared from out of the blue and were onto it like a shot. We once again heard that awful terrified scream as it was forced out of the sky and out of our view, somewhere further down the lane. We feared the worst. A grounded Swift stands little chance of survival, but this one had now been brought crashing to Earth on three separate occasions. We ran along the lane and miraculously spotted the Swift on the ground in a neighbour's front garden. Amazingly it was still alive, but had clearly endured enough for one day. We carefully placed it back in the cardboard box and took it home. It gratefully slurped some water offered from a pipette, then we left the shell-shocked little mite to chill-out, hoping it would make it through the night.

To our great relief, the Swift not only made it through the night, but looked quite perky when we carefully opened the lid of the box on Thursday morning. What we couldn't know of course, was if any serious damage had been caused either by the Starling attacks or the repeated collisions with the ground, not to mention the extreme stress involved in all these events. This time Mrs S & I resolved to release our beleaguered chum elsewhere, somewhere safer. The photo at the top of this blog was taken from our bedroom window, where we had unsuccessfully released the Swift on the previous two occasions. Squint and you'll be able to see the steeple of the church in town, across the marsh. Beneath that steeple is a large, lofty old graveyard, overlooking the marsh in our direction. We took the Swift to that quiet, bright and breezy location, held it aloft and within seconds it took flight. Looking none the worse for its multiple ordeals the previous evening, it circled us twice before climbing, up and away.

As I watched it soar, I considered the thousands of miles that little Swift had already travelled and, with a fair wind, the thousands more miles it might yet have left in its wings. And I don't mind telling you, my heart soared too.


'Ond Yn Dawel Daw y Dydd' (translates as 'But Quietly Comes a Day') is by Huw M. His beautiful music is my current obsession and I will definitely return to it in more detail soon.


Rol said...

What a lovely story. Well done.
Bloody starlings.

Anonymous said...

What a gripping and beautifully written story, Mr. S. Thanks so much for sharing it. I hope that brave little Swift has completely recovered from its ordeal.

(Please check your email - the one which you use to respond to mine. If there's a problem, just let me know?)

Old Pa's Corner said...

Yes well done TS. Even over here in Spain it is always a welcome sight to see the swifts. Love that pic by the way.The track is not too shabby either. Must chech out further. Overt to you Spotify.

Brian said...

Post of the year. Was sitting on the edge of my seat. This also gives me the opportunity to say again what I had on the previous post after catching your link on the sidebar. That Huw M is something special.

Walter said...

Brilliant piece of writing. That's what I call close to nature.

Charity Chic said...


The Swede said...

Thanks all. We've heard no further untoward commotions, so hopefully Stewart (we don't actually know its sex, but thought that it looked like a Stewart) is still airborne/safely in the nesting space, whichever is appropriate.

Africa Gomez said...

Lovely story and great to hear the swift made it through.

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