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.
Galls on leaves, both as yet unidentified!
They say* that it’s been a mild winter so far, warm even. And whilst I suppose I can’t dispute that, it hasn’t been quite consistently warm enough to prevent the necessity of scraping the car in the frozen murk of 7am on a Monday morning. When I can’t feel my fingers and there is a fragile smear of ice crystals even on the inside of the windscreen, I almost sympathise with those scientific illiterates who are ready to dismiss the notion of global ‘warming’ at the first whiff of snow. “Mild winter?!”, I exclaim, shivering. “What mild winter?!”
Presuming that they lack the capacity even for unreasoned thought, the insects know better than I. For whilst the weather is, with some notable flood-related exceptions, for the most part a matter of inconvenience for us, for our invertebrate friends it is the difference between thriving and annihilation. This year they seem to be tending toward the former, provided most have been able to ride out the floods. In Reading, at least, even a few bumblebee colonies, grateful for the exotic winter blooms laid on for them by the university grounds staff, are keeping busy, even through the darkest months. The first speckled wood of spring was seen days ago, and I daresay other butterflies are emerging from their slumber in good numbers. Every passing moment of warm sunlight is snatched upon by small delicate flies, which leap out to join the jostling ranks of rival males in midwinter leks.
Even though it’s not been that much of an unusually mild autumn, this morning’s first frost took me by surprise. I glanced out the window at a bright, fresh day and at first hardly noticed that the rooftops opposite were dusted matte white, that the outline of each blade of grass in our front garden had a new, contrasting glassiness, or that a number of our neighbours were having to scrape frantically away at their car windscreens before setting off for work.
Then, it hit me. It’s November! Cold nights are here! Frost inevitably follows.
It can’t have been long since I was chasing the tail end of summer’s insects or wildflowers – warm afternoons amid blooming ivy and late umbellifers – yet suddenly we are cantering towards the end of the year and the depths of winter, full climatological speed ahead.