I heard a sound to gladden the heart yesterday – screaming. No, it wasn’t me finding a spider (I have to confess that the long-legged ones make my skin crawl, excuse the pun) but it meant that the swifts have made it back to Stroud for another year. For me, that signals the start of summer despite the grey clouds and cool wind. During my younger years when I lived in the outskirts of York, I never heard this evocative sound as there weren’t any swifts at all. There were oodles of house martins nesting under the eaves of houses all around us, and swallows zipped to and fro, but it wasn’t until I moved to Stroud that I heard this unmistakable sound. This call has given them the nick-name of Jackie Screamers – if anyone knows why ‘jackie’ is used, I’d be interested to know.
Swifts are the last of the ‘hirondelles’ (the name used to describe the swallows, martins and swifts) to arrive and the first to leave at the end of July. They raise their young in a staggeringly short time of 3 months and apart from landing on their nest to feed their young, they stay in the air. Yep, they even mate whilst flying (don’t ask). A swift has been recorded flying at 69.3 mph (111.6km/h), making it the fastest bird to fly horizontally (peregrines fly faster but that’s downwards when they’re hunting prey). Numbers of swifts seem to be declining and it’s thought that loss of nest sites due to building and development is one of the causes, but there seems to be something happening to them whilst in Africa but ecologists aren’t sure what.
Swift-waching is the perfect way to watch wildlife in comfort and possibly top up your tan at the same time. At this time of year, the birds fly around at high speed in groups, screaming, as part of courtship and mating. So, when it’s a sunny evening, get out your comfy deckchair, grab a glass of wine, and settle back to enjoy the aerial acrobatics and enjoy the sound whilst they’re still here.
When to visit: swifts are here until end of July, but only fly around in their ‘screaming parties’ until probably the end of May.
Location: best seen from your backgarden!
How much time to allow: as long as you like!
Terrain: whatever your garden is like (and depends upon how many glasses of wine you’ve imbibed)
Facilities: probably the best you’ll ever experience when wildlife-watching!
Directions: First, make a beeline for the fridge and grab your favourite tipple, then head out of the back-door and orientate yourself towards the shed. After finding the deckchair, do a U-turn onto the main road through the garden and carry straight on until reaching the best vantage point for swift-watching and then park. It’s important to ensure that the traffic-flow between garden and fridge is not impeded.