Swifts have become the birds of relief. They excite a sigh of gratitude: phew, look, a party of swifts, must be at least a dozen of them flying over the common, well, that’s OK then, things might be very much worse, we haven’t buggered it all up quite yet. I had just such moment, sitting out there with Eddie on a day of big winds.
Ted Hughes was the first to understand the newly-formed relief element in the nature of the swift:
They’ve made it again
Which means the globe is still working…
Poor swifts… I worry about them, the immense journeys, the all-aerial life-style, the scarcity of insects in the atmosphere, the safety of feeding-places along the migration route, the quality of the wintering grounds, and most worrying all, the quality of the places where they spend their brief summers, late to arrive and always first to leave, gone, heading back south in the first week of August.
Is such a lifestyle sustainable in the 21st century? Now they’ve made it again – some of them — the relief is a deep, rich, sighing thing.
There are degrees of relief. There is the relief you feel when you get home after a hard day’s work or a long journey, and there’s the relief you feel at a positive diagnosis or an escape from a situation of danger.
A few years back the annual reappearance of the swift was of the first kind: back to a warm house, the arms of your beloved and a glass of something from a Highland bottle. But now it’s more like the second: you feel slightly sick because you hadn’t realised that the outcome was in doubt.
Still, the greatest fliers on the planet are certainly back, if not quite in last year’s numbers, and the great creaking, wobbling, jury-rigged, dilapidated, Heath-Robinson device of a planetary ecosystem is still working.
Please excuse me. Moments of gloom are an inescapable part of loving the wild things of the world. Besides, I’m entitled to the occasional moment of self-indulgence: after all, I’ve paid my subs to my county wildlife trust. If you too have a swiftian moment in the course of this Wild June, please remember to pay yours. After all, they’re worth it.