Coun­try Di­ary

Sandy, Bed­ford­shire

The Guardian - - WEATHER - Derek Nie­mann Fol­low Coun­try di­ary @gdncoun­try­di­ary

Through these last weeks of sum­mer the au­tumn mi­gra­tion has played out in the skies, though it goes largely un­no­ticed by most be­low. A trickle of an ex­o­dus be­gan over the bank hol­i­day with three dark specks, way, way up in the blue. Specks, yes, but you could see, from the wings curved like taut bows, that they were un­mis­tak­ably swifts.

Hatched on north­ern ledges they had be­come cit­i­zens of heaven. They de­vi­ated on in­sect-chas­ing sal­lies in all di­rec­tions but were over­all track­ing south-west.

The swifts were al­most lost over the hori­zon when three more ma­te­ri­alised in the same spot as the first trio. And then, when those birds had nearly gone from sight, an­other clus­ter ap­peared, and then, when they too were at van­ish­ing point, yet an­other.

For half an hour I watched this loose but con­nected pro­ces­sion of trav­ellers travers­ing the sky. I re­gret­ted af­ter­wards that I had not stayed to see if the chain stretched over tens or hun­dreds of miles.

When­ever waves of hu­mid­ity roll in and the clouds bank up, the air is salted with the fren­zied chat­ter of house martins. Most peo­ple must hear them, but no one looks up. Maybe it is just back­ground noise.

I watched one of these pop-up flocks the other day, the birds cut­ting across each other against an omi­nous blue­black back­drop. All but two of the birds were pur­pose­ful in their “fast flap, glide” fly catch­ing, the old and the young milling to­gether in the cur­rents.

There was an er­rant pair in their midst. House martins are noted for their an­tag­o­nism to­wards ri­val birds close to the nest site, but it seemed these two had car­ried their dis­pute into the de­par­ture lounge. They broke from the crowd for a fierce beak-to-tail chase, trac­ing loops, bows and chi­canes, bod­ies flash­ing light-dark-light-dark as they turned.

A pas­sive ob­server, I nev­er­the­less felt the speed, ex­hil­a­ra­tion – and point­less­ness of the pur­suit. Why waste so much en­ergy in­stead of fu­elling for the jour­ney of their lives? It seemed that, for this pair, there was time enough to bicker.

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