The first big UK swift influx

It’s not exactly breaking news! Social media is awash with first swift sightings and perhaps more significantly multiple swift sightings at different locations. There are early swifts from mid April but they tend to be quiet, often without the company of their own kind. A thrill to see yes, but not in the same league as swifts fired up by the urge to breed and reinforce their colony.

This is the beginning of the first influx of breeding swifts. Many more will surely follow, but standing in the sun at 9am this morning in Helmsley I could watch swifts flying in formation, circling over nest sites and listen to their calls. It is often called ‘screaming’, but I think it defies description really. I was struck on hearing them this morning that it really does mean summer, the longest days of the year are here.

Having enjoyed them over Helmsley I headed home. As I walked out of the back door towards the studio a swift missed me by a few feet and flew into box 3 without hesitation. The wonders of motion camera technology can prove that this was its first visit this year, in fact our first swift back this year- one of a pair of first time breeders last year returning to its rather extraordinary feathery nest. This nest has so many wildfowl feathers which were collected in such a short time that I feel it was impossible they were all collected in the air. As the nest was late and built in June when wildfowl are moulting I strongly suspect that some of these feathers were gathered from the surface of a lake. 

Our first swift sheltered in the nest box for about half an hour before heading out to feed accompanied by the so far paltry arrival of local house martins. I made some swift charcoal sketches from the camera footage, happy to be drawing that round head with big, deep inset eyes and small pointed beak. The day remained warm, perfect for our swift to regain some of the energy lost on migration.

They have kept us waiting this year, held back by a strong northerly airflow over France, ironically quite nice warm weather, just with the wind in the ‘wrong’ direction for our swifts. But today there has been a synchronised arrival across the UK. The next few days promise a huge increase. Enjoy them!


A2 sheet of charcoal sketches in the first half hour of our swift’s arrival.

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