Swift Reprise

They’ve made it again. Which means the globe’s…finest wildlife columnists are all desperately thinking of something new to say about them this year, rather than quoting Ted Hughes again. And I, casting around for a topic for this blog, couldn’t help but think of swifts since their cries have rung in my ear all day – whether literally or as a consoling echo, a resounding reminder that we once more find ourselves in their enigmatic company.

At least, I thought, I haven’t written about swifts before, even if everybody else working broadly in the nature writing genre has done so nearly annually for as long as I can remember. Wrong! How about this post from June 2012? So what else is there to say about swifts? These miraculous beings appear as if from nowhere, screaming like fireworks, weaving a smudge of grey-black through the clouds as they wheel and whir back to vanishing point.

It started out as a good year for me and swifts – thanks to a sojourn in Italy, I saw them earlier this year than I ever have before, and saw my earliest returnee in England too, on April the 18th. But then, in an echo of how I see them – or don’t – on an hourly or daily basis throughout the summer, nothing at all, for days. Swift-free skies. Until Tuesday of this week: a trio of twisting black darts above the meadow, shrieking as wildly as ever, and then nothing once more, diminishing as quickly as they came.

Just where exactly do they go, the rest of the time? Is it really possible that by night they sleep on the wing, skating the clouds’ silver linings in dream-land whilst we landlubbers snooze witlessly on below? It must be so, yet I can still hardly believe it. Foraging flights stretching into the hundreds of miles, following great clouds of aerial plankton? Biologically plausible, entirely credible but altogether astonishing.

As you have seen, I have nothing novel to say about swifts, but that’s almost the beauty of spring. Each time the cycle comes around the mystery is renewed. So whilst I’m not the first person, nor will I be the last, to publicly declare I’ve noticed that the swifts are back, isn’t it good to know nonetheless? The globe is still working, and ‘our summer’s still all to come’.*

*See, the reason it’s oft-quoted is that it’s a poem of unparalleled power. I can’t think of another bird that has been so accurately cast into words.

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Whilst I’m on the topic of repeating myself repeating myself, I linked to this song last time round too, but that version is now defunct. So do enjoy this freshly polished final take of “The Swift Song,” complete with smoother vocals, bass guitar and the odd cymbal splash. That’s my good friend Michael Whitall singing and playing guitar, cymbals and bass (he also wrote the song), with his wife Helen helping out on bass, plus you’ll hear me caterwauling away in the background on backing vocals and clarinet.

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