To (no longer) absent friends

Morning all,

Over the weekend of 2‒3 May, we receive via WhatsApp a photo from a friend who works at a local wildlife rehabilitation centre. A familiar sight, but one I haven’t seen for many months now; a familiar shape in a box lined with paper, head tilted up to the camera. A Common Swift.

I reply, ‘Poor thing’. And say that she must be tired. But no. Our friend assures us that she’s in good shape, has the ‘right weight, and even put on two grams during her 24 hours in care, before she was successfully released back into the wild.

Late on Sunday, I check local sightings. There are reasonable numbers being posted at lower altitudes (and the swift in the photo came from the lakeside), but up here in the hills sightings are few and far between. In one village not far from here, where an acquaintance of ours has 250 nesting boxes, the oldest sighting is from one week ago. One, lone bird.

On Monday morning, I’m out on the terraced area on the south side of the house, examining Wisteria, and wondering how this year’s growth will work out as we try to extend the framework a little. And I hear two, second-long shrill whistles. It takes a moment to recognise that sound, but they help me out by whistling by once more. Two swifts flying across the south side of the house, and over my head.

And over the course of the morning, we go from one pair whistling by to six birds, twelve, twenty. To three hundred or more. Out in the valley, over the river, the air is alive with them, and they’re joined by local Crag Martins (who probably wonder where the big ones have been, as they’ve been around for a while now (just yesterday we watched them seeing off a Sparrowhawk)), by Barn Swallows, and by Sand Martins.

The swifts spin around the church clock tower and race up to the house calling. I call back: ‘Welcome home!’ (It's a big place, and the neighbours can't hear me.) Given the circumstances, it seems they’ve opted for tiny face-masks, but to call better and louder they’ve pulled them down over their chins—little pale patches. We’ve had the garden, especially certain trees, cut back a little to give them the run of the place, and they race up to us from the village, then back, and across the front of the house, calling and calling.

Nobody has told them, these '*** heads', these 'flying rats' (as one poster so charmingly described them last year), that they're simple automatons; merely bundles of basic biological imperatives. They seem to think that flying is fun. And that it's more fun if you throw in some screaming. Of the communal variety if at all possible.

And this morning, at 10:02, I see the first attempt to get under the roof tiles. Failed. But at 10:03, we have two adults in their nest, and from under the tiles they call out to the dozens of birds occupied in a spectacular fly-by. They've noticed the new nesting boxes we've put up: 'Come on in, the boxes are lovely!'

So, whatever we’re all going through right now (and good luck to you all), I’d like to (I think I’m obliged to) let everyone know that, in the greater scheme of things, everything’s going to be alright: the swifts are back. And they've said as much.

All the best from the sunny Jura -


  • Very welcome news Dave, thank you for brightening my day!


     2013 photos & vids here

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  • You've a great way with words, Dave. I felt I was there up in the hills, hearing the screams from these tiny birds and watching their dark scimitar shapes flashing across the sky. Whatever we are going through nature carries on regardless.



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  • In reply to WendyBartter:

    WendyBartter said:
    thank you for brightening my day!

    My pleasure Wendy. Think how bright mine is: I've got all those swifts!

  • In reply to TeeJay:

    TeeJay said:
    I felt I was there up in the hills

    Thank you Tony. It was nice to have you over, even only virtually.

    TeeJay said:
    nature carries on regardless

    Exactly. And personally, I find that very, very reassuring.

  • Hi Dave, pleasure to read you again, seems so long since we've had those joyous turns of phrase you're so adept at. Hope you and yours are keeping well. Not seen any news about Switzerland and the current pandemic. Are you back or was this a brief foray into the madness?
    Keep safe
  • In reply to PimperneBloke:

    PimperneBloke said:
    seems so long since

    Morning PB. Nice to see that you're still here.

    We're all well, thank you. And you?

    The Swiss government is easing containment measures in various phases. Mrs DaveCH has been able to open her doors again; I've been busy since my clients settled in to telecommuting, and all found that they had time to finish various papers and publications that had probably, previously, been low priority.

    We've been watching birds from home a lot. With some quite remarkable results. And last week we did our first round of the nesting boxes we check as volunteers. Heard a pair of Wrynecks, It was nice to see the Cirl Buntings (they don't get up this high), and bucketfuls of Linnets. And we had a male Red-Footed Falcon passing through (it's that time of year; the same for Montagu's Harriers), which was something of a turn-up.

    I think I'll be back here in a few weeks' time (once our endoscope has arrived and we've learned to use it!)

    All the best -


  • You have lifted my spirits today, thank you.

  • Brilliant news.

    It reminds me of the Norfolk Sand Martin issues last year, where nets were placed over the nesting sites.


    Flickr Peak Rambler

  • In reply to Nev:

    Nev said:
    You have lifted my spirits

    Very glad to hear that Nev. But, really, it must have been the birds (they do have a habit of doing that). I'll let them know.

    This morning, four tried to get into a nest at the same time, and one fell from the roof and landed (if you can call it that with swifts) in a Sea Buckthorn, which was the only thing that saved it from landing on my shoulder.

    I gave it a sympathetic, if somewhat stern, look, and it made off through the pots.

    I hope they get their act together. Some of us have work to do.

  • In reply to Mike B:

    Michael B said:

    Mike. I don't think I'm going to ask about that. Doesn't sound like there's a happy ending in there.

    We found a House Martin colony destroyed close to our previous place, and after a great struggle, and thanks to superb support from BirdLife Switzerland, managed to get a prosecution going. Yes, it's a crime, of course.

    Still waiting to hear the result. But it's only been almost three years...