Storm riders

Last week a huge storm brewed over the garden and the sky was black with towering clouds. A wall of warm air swept over us and riding the tumult, the unmistakable black scimitar of returning swifts. Twenty four birds were blown in screaming and screeling in the high clouds above us with an outriding guard of buzzards and kites to usher them in.
Swifts ( martinet noir) are always the last hirundine migrant to return to our area. First come the house martins ( hirondelle de fenetre) with their stumpy white tails, then the swallows (hirondelle) trailing their beautiful tail streamers and finally the largest of all: the swifts.
One swallow may not make a summer, but a swift really does and their arrival has marked the start of summer after such a fickle spring that veered between bright sunshine and devastating frost and snow.
Swifts and swallows will make their nests in the eves of houses, but despite putting up the right sort of bird boxes they have unfortunately never chosen our house. I fear the reason is that there are just too few of them and like so much of our wildlife their numbers are in decline.
The LPO (French equivalent of RSPB) has a nationwide survey of house martins this month and we are going to walk every lane and street of our village looking for signs of nests, to enable ecologists to get a real picture of numbers. I was very heartened last week to sit in a friend’s garden where a cloud of house martins swooped between the houses catching insects. Many of them are obviously nesting close by on new buildings and as long as their hosts don’t mind a little mess, the martins can raise their young in peace and raise our spirts with their freedom and beauty.

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