There are some times I wish I could instantly transport myself from the torpor of 'up north' back to London just to savour the many aspects that make it such a compelling metropolis. But on this day of this year I wouldn't be any other place in the damn world. Mark the time and day well – 11.10am on Sunday the 15th April: because today saw the return of the first barn swallow of the year - all the way from...well, who knows where - Morocco, The Nile Valley, the Sahara...covering up to 200 miles a day. One day the swallows are absent from our lives and the next day they return and their antics and life-cycle enhance our lives.
This year I was the first to spot that graceful swoop of the first (male) swallow into the open window of our derelict barn. And within 15 seconds the swallow had zoomed out again and was soaring away…probably to find some tasty morsels after many days on the wing. I mean, if you’d just flown hundreds of miles to reach home after 7 months away, what would you do – of course, pop down the corner shop and get a pinta milk and some chocolate digestives. So, this first swallow probably dashed off for some water from the beck and a few tasty flies and bluebottles.
In 7 years of seeing these remarkable birds at close quarters it never fails to amaze me, so I’ve been really told, that swallows’ homing instincts are so precise that the previous year’s broods invariably return to their same barn year after year. Maybe this swallow was one of the youngsters who hatched just 10-11 months ago.
Meanwhile, each early morning is now a symphony of birdsong. This tends to start around 5 (yes, in the morning) with the avian alarm clock of a droning pigeon on or around our roof. By the time I make my way downstairs to my workroom for my ‘quiet’ hour before the rest of the house wakes I can look out of the kitchen window and see a bevy of frisky, communal sparrows flitting in and out of the ivy/Russian vine hedge and making a chirrupy cacophony. Yesterday I heard a gorgeous, solitary song thrush slowly and methodically cracking away at a snail’s shell for its breakfast – later I heard its stunning song as it sat on the wall. There are plenty of blackbirds as the day progresses overriding the sparrows’ twitterings - the male singing to the female and the female returning a complex melody. And occasionally I may wake in the night and hear the sound of an owl in a nearby high roof or the church cross. (In the next week or two the swifts will arrive and their screeching swoops will be the new early morning alarm clock) But for me the finest sound and sight is the happy chatter and playful swooping and interplay of the swallow.
Strewth! Never did I think that I would behave like a man whose gone ga-ga watching and listening to birds. I make no apology for saying that I'll be waxing ad nauseam about our barn swallows over the next 6 months. So it flies.