The weekend the swifts came

Swifts flying in the sky above a tree

Despite three years of a biology degree, everything I know about bird identification I learned from my husband. There was a time when birdsong came and went with ignorant appreciation. I enjoyed the symphony without being able to name a single instrument. That’s ok; there’s beauty enough in the simple wonder. But over the past few years – and particularly those with the vernacular of ‘lockdown’ unexpectedly inserted – I have been slowly, accidentally, picking up some of the nuances to be able to name the visitors to my view as I tap away on the keys. 

To the point where this year, it was me who pointed to the sky and said: “Is that the first swifts?”

Two sets of eyes scanned the skyline.

It was. 

Black arrows cut back and forth across blue. They’d likely travelled from the African continent to be here, and signalled this happy news: warmer weather was here. 

Later that same evening, I was reminded how much more there is to discover. I was crouched next to the yellow wallflowers, checking if their sheltered position required a trip to the water butt, when I registered a flutter of wings. A sensation of speckled metal landing just feet away on a hanging basket. I began to marvel – until the bird opened its beak and neatly snipped a leaf off our pink geraniums and flew off. Lacking clarity on how indignant I should be, I started to describe the interloper to Tim, who was ready with the answer: 

“It’s a starling”

Still learning. 

I would complain about the theft but it’s difficult to begrudge a leaf (though is it ever just the one?). And the truth is, we still consider every avian visitor to the garden as a bonus. The first October afternoon that we ever sat in this garden, we marvelled to see a red kite wheeling just above our heads. These birds of prey are a conservation success story. Their numbers in the UK decimated by habitat loss and egg collecting, red kites became the focus of the longest continuous conservation project in the world. Now, they are becoming a common sight again, often seen wheeling over motorways, drawn to the thermals created by the tarmac. To see them in a town, from the garden or study window, feels like an extravagance. 

Six months on, I have not tired of seeing these powerful birds up close during the working day. But we thought it was a trade off; the marvel of seeing these birds of prey seeming incompatible with the smaller birds they would dominate. 

But Spring brought with it more visitors. The swifts – five, six, seven at a time. The cheeky starling. But also great tits nipping to the guttering, sparrows keeping company with each other. A pair of birds glinting gold on a nearby rooftop. Too far to be clear, we guess at finches. Maybe they’ll come closer as we linger even longer outside through these sunny summer days. 

And I gently exercise this burgeoning knowledge. Still learning. But even more so, every sight is a delight.

Today’s soundtrack: Heard You Got Love // Jeremy Loops

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