Swifts, hobby and cuckoo

Swifts often surprise us. I have enjoyed one of the best swift watching mornings of the year in rather cool, cloudy conditions. The youngest non-breeders were flinging themselves at the walls, boxes and house martin nests between 9-11am. This provided me with a superb opportunity to really study swifts clinging to vertical surfaces. The views are usually very brief as they are often seized upon by following birds but as an artist there is a chance to try and capture the character of a swift through its facial expression. There is also an opportunity to see those sharp claws deployed as they grip the walls or nest box.

As a painter I am not trying to record each feather but the impression I have of the swift’s activity. On this sheet I have attempted to capture the chaos that comes with an intense prospecting session. There are some amazing photographs of swifts which I find fascinating to look at, but I am not drawn to use them as reference because most of them are images of swifts that the human eye cannot see- the action is simply too fast to take in every feather or facial detail. So I strive to capture movement and the impression of the shape of a swift and the make up of their flight formations.

On the left hand A3 page I have painted a few sky scenarios as seen this morning. The skies were leaden throughout so the swifts were very dark silhouettes most of the time. A hobby scythed its way across the village in an attempt to catch a house martin or swift, unsuccessful I think; it disappeared behind trees in pursuit of a house martin that dived towards the ground, outcome unknown.

A while later there was a second mass panic. At first I assumed another hobby, but to my surprise they were reacting to a high flying cuckoo which flew north to south. Swifts often get above and behind an aerial predator. They reacted in this way to the cuckoo and escorted it out of the colony airspace. Swifts with a cuckoo, a combination I could never have predicted.

All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022

Two A3 pages of my watercolour sketchbook- 21st July 2022 9-11am.

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