Tuesday 12 May 2009

Air on G's Tring

Out of the wind, it is a pleasant, warm evening. Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid the cold blasts of a chilly Easterly, but a walk in the fresh air has been prescribed. Our route takes us beside a patch of scrub that has designs on being open woodland. The wind swirls through the young trees, whose branches and leaves whip to and fro with each gust.

Suddenly a flock of hirundines swoop down, feeding on insects that have been thrown into the air. We stand and stare as Swallows, House Martins and Swifts expertly use the buffeting breeze to catch an easy meal. These birds are so agile on the wing and they are using their aeronautical abilities to good effect.

I must confess that I do miss living in a home that is not shared with House Martins (for once, I will forego the musical reference). We have often stayed in a cottage in Shropshire, where their mud nests are tucked under the eaves above the bedroom window. I find it most relaxing to listen to their neighbourly chatter of twitters and chirps. Perhaps this is why I feel that the House Martin is often unfairly overshadowed by the flashy Swallow with its red mask and long, forked tail. In comparison, much like the Hawker Hurricane always played second fiddle to the Supermarine Spitfire. Just as successful and hard working and deserving of praise, but not so cemented in the national psyche.

Following the analogy, I guess the Swift is the larger but equally manoeuvrable stablemate to the Spitfire, the de Havilland Mosquito, designed around the concept that it was so fast it didn't need armament.

This reminds me of an incident two years ago, when we were on a birding trip to Tring reservoirs. The weather deteriorated during the day, so that by the time we reached the dam head of Wilstone reservoir, we were caught in a thunderstorm. In retrospect, probably not the best of places to be. Soaked to the skin, but glad to be alive, we watched the storm clouds roll away. Then, without warning, we found ourselves in the middle of a flock of swifts, feeding off the insects driven into the air by the strong wind as it hit the dam head. I had never experienced such a large gathering of these birds, never mind at such low altitude and close quarters. As they scythed through the air around us, catching their prey, we could even hear the snap of their beaks. A dark, streamlined, looming death. Predictably, this proved difficult to record with a camera, this being my... er... best shot.

I was just so glad that the initial concept was "no armament"!

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