Every year I wait for their return. As the days pass my longing for their return grows stronger. With their impending arrival comes the promise of summer and those warm barmy evenings that feel as though they’ll last for ever.
And then the sightings start popping up on social media. Swifts have made it back to the mainland. Slowly they move like a wave northwards across the country, sweeping back to the places that they have returned for countless summers. And then they’re here; the date marked in the diary.
My connection with these tiny and amazing birds seems to get stronger every year. That longing for theses charismatic dare devils of the sky is linked to the passing of time. I feel that I notice them more and more as though the ticking of my biological clock is intrinsically linked to their arrival.
Their return home gives me that deep sense of hope that the turning of the natural world is ok. The seasons pass and the swifts come and go. I know that nature is under pressure like never before but these little symbols of summer (like butterflies) bring joy to everyone who notices and watches them.
Watching the swifts is one of those simple pleasures in life. I can guarantee that they’ll be more drama watching swifts for half an hour than tuning into the latest turns and twists of Eastenders. The aerial gymnastics of these tiny birds is astonishing as they rise and fall out of the sky, as they weave in and out of buildings.
Standing in my back garden I can just watch them. Individuals flapping furiously as they look to join a gang, taking those extra risks to join in. Or groups of swifts flittering through the air at high speed, buzzing just above ground level and then climbing high into the sky until they’re just little dots.
For me nature is a tonic. I love spending time wandering or watching wildlife. And the show that swifts put on year after year is one of the highlights of nature’s calendar.
Perhaps seven is THE lucky number; well for nature at least. After six fairly ordinary and often awful summers 2013 finally gave us the return of the Great British Summer. This was a godsend for wildlife that had suffered at the hands of wet and windy summer months as the seasons seemed to merge into a state of confusion.
The balance sheet for nature in 2013 was a pretty healthy one – with more winners than losers. Yes the big challenges remain around the loss of habitat, the impact of climate change and the unpredictability that is extreme weather – but we need to celebrate the positives aswell as the negatives.
For me the overall winner of the last year was that symbol of summer – the good old butterfly. I can’t remember a better year for them. On a local walk into the countryside just outside Bath to a stream at the bottom of a valley we counted twelve species fluttering gently on a warm sunny day in a matter of minutes. Yes the long term trend for butterflies is challenging but 2013 gave us and them a welcome respite: helping to lift the spirits and nourishing the soul.
The seasons of change – spring and autumn – seemed to defy logic in their length. Bluebells just about made it into June in some places and autumn colour crept into December – the burnt orange leaves of a local oak tree clung on raging against the windswept autumn days.
Apples bounced back after a pretty torrid 2012, wasps returned to bother summer picnics and after the boom year for slugs last year it was a case of bust for them in 2013. Fungi was a real winner as were most warmth loving insects.
At the bookends of the year we had heavy snow last winter – a challenge for over-wintering birds looking for food and the snowdrop season was late and long as a result – and the arrival of storms and torrential weather conditions causing flooding in the final quarter of 2013.
2013 must give us hope about the resilience of nature and its ability to bounce back. We all need to do our bit to help encourage and support nature in our back gardens, local green spaces and through the work of the nature conservation movement.
Nature provides a welcome tonic to the challenges and routine of everyday life and by opening our senses to the world around us it can help to give us the refreshment that we need for body and mind.