Hirundine Diaries

Swallows gathering in a group for a gossip is new to me.  It makes me smile. 

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54a1cfc41fb2462530c2404f48c3ddc1--bird-silhouette-swallowSeptember has gone and with it go the swallows.  I last saw them on September 15th, strung along the telephone wires, motionless against the wind and the rain.  With windscreen wipers beating a steady rhythm under sullen skies, I drove beside chains of swallow-shaped silhouettes hung like cut-out paper dolls.

Three days later I laboured up the same hill, this time on foot and this time under cerulean skies scattered with scudding cotton wool clouds.  There was not a swallow to be seen.  The busy chittering which has been the background accompaniment to dry airy days is replaced by louder, harsher cries.  The wires are empty and the open skies behind the oak tree are filled not with a kaleidoscope of acrobats but a swathe of larger, darker shapes flying more slowly, more directly and to my eyes at least, with more purpose but less joy.  There is a buoyant intimacy to the hirundines’ behaviour which the corvids cannot match and each have their season: summer for the swallows and autumn for the crows.  The swallows are gone; the crows come again to the fore.  The seasons pass.

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Last night I read an extract from Melissa Harrison’s anthology: Autumn and my heart quickened as I scanned the familiar style of Gilbert White’s wonderful jottings.

This from 1792:

September 9th

As most of the second brood of Hirundines are now out, the young on fine days congregate in considerable numbers on the church and the tower: & it is remarkable that tho’ the generality sit on the battlements and the roof, yet many bang or cling for some time by their claws against the surface of the walls in a manner not practised at any other time of their remaining with us.  By far the greater number of these amusing birds are house-martins, not swallows, which congregate on trees.  A writer in the Gent. Mag. supposes that the chilly mornings & evenings, at this decline of the year, begin to influence the feelings of the young broods; & that they cluster thus in hot sunshine to prevent their blood from being benumbed, & themselves from being reduced to a state of untimely torpidity.

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I wish I could claim to make recordings of natural happenings as diligently and accurately as Gilbert White.  Mine are more whimsical, less informed and infrequent.  They happen only when something catches my fancy at a time when I have the inclination to record it.  But Gilbert’s percipience sent me searching through the few notes I’d made of my own observations in recent weeks.

This from 2017:

August 22nd

I have just watched the swallows – large numbers of them circling and settling on the south-facing roof tiles of our house.  I’ve not seen this before, in part no doubt because I’ve never been in the right place at the right time.  They settle in a group, chattering and chittering with animated clicks and squeaks and general hubbub.  Some birds waddle about within the group.  They make me think of house martins with their cumbersome gait, and for all the world it seems like they are having a good old chinwag.  Then as a body, at some invisible signal, off they go around the chimney and over the valley before returning once again to settle.  I watched this happen several times.  Swallows strung single-file along a wire is a familiar sight.  Swallows gathering in a group for a gossip is new to me.  It makes me smile.  I can’t help imagining they are talking about the long flight ahead of them.  Perhaps too, they are sunning themselves – a reminder of the warm sunshine that will be their reward when finally they reach those more clement climes.  It won’t be long now before they leave us.

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Below is neither swallow nor crow, but a buzzard soaring in endless empty skies as it would have done in the times of Gilbert White and every year since – just as the swallows gather and flutter and come and go with the passing of every year.

Watching a buzzard cruising the eddies never fails to remind me to slow, pause, and remember our small place on the earth.

There is a weight to the speed of modern life and the pace of change in the world.  Sometimes it is good to reflect on that which seems changeless.

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31 thoughts on “Hirundine Diaries”

  1. Beautifully written and evocative Sandra. I have not yet seen any swallows newly arrived here in South Africa this season. Your post has made me pause to think of them now, engaged in their long and perilous flight as they migrate south once again.

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    1. Thank you, Carol. The swallows’ journey takes about 6 weeks so it may be a while before they reach you. I’ve just read that a swallow can live for 16 years, making that journey twice a year. Amazing!

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  2. This is such a lovely piece of writing. And I love how it connects with blogging friends across the globe as Carol watches out for ‘our’ swallows arriving with her. Doubtless when they do, she’ll post about them in ‘Nature back in’. I love your last photo by the way. That buzzard, just owning that piece of sky.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret. And yes, I thought that too when I read Carol’s response. I’m thinking of ‘our’ swallows now; it will be a few more weeks before they reach Carol. So glad you understood the buzzard photo. Snapped one day on my phone looking up from the house. I love it for all that it says 🙂

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  3. One day last week I just realised that our swallows have gone, but today I saw several skeines of geese flying over our house, that always means the coming of winter weather to me.

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    1. Katrina, we have had no geese here yet this autumn that I’ve been aware of. I agree with you about them signalling the oncoming winter. I love to hear them in spring too – for the opposite reason! There’s something special about geese honking overhead as they pass.

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    1. I’m the same, Simon. But we get to keep the buzzards – and yesterday I listened to the beautiful song of a robin (sitting above the coast in a yucca bush). The swallows will be back before we know it!

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  4. How lovely to hear from you again! I have been so busy these last two weeks, I haven’t even noticed the swallows leaving and the leaves turning read and gold. Luckily, I had a friend over to visit and we went for a walk in a park on Sunday. This is the kind of healthy change we need to stop and look at – it’s nourishing to the senses.

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    1. Yes, I’ve been rather quiet for a while, Marina Sofia, but hopefully I’ll be posting more frequently again now. (And I’ve been following along with your news even if I’ve not been commenting. A lot of change – hopefully heralding several new chapters in life for you 🙂 )

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  5. One autumn my husband and I gathered with several other people to watch hundreds of swifts circle and then disappear down an old abandoned large chimney. Birds flying together are always wonderful to behold. I also like to watch the solitary predator circling high above.

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    1. Aren’t they wonderful to watch, Elizabeth. I have long wanted to witness a murmuration – a truly large one. This is the right time of year for it though not the best part of the country. But I’m hoping I’ll be lucky one day.

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  6. A brooding post that spans in the skies spanning centuries, rubbing wings with the twitters and swallows. The frolic of the swallows and the antics of the crows are mere interludes in the sedate perspective of the buzzards.

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    1. Uma, thank you – you’ve captured an essence here of what I feel but couldn’t quite bring to the fore. There is a link between the three birds, and it is the buzzard which forms the axis around which the others revolve.

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  7. You’re so right about the marvellous, changeless nature of these things that ground us. I remember seeing a total eclipse of the sun (Salzburg, 1999) and feeling completely at peace, although inconsequential. It’s reassuring to know that there are some things that we haven’t managed to mess up, and hopefully never will!

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    1. Ah yes, Helen, I remember that eclipse though I watched from our back garden – nothing quite so glamorous as Salzburg! I was exchanging reminiscences with an american friend after the recent eclipse there. Her reactions had been just as mine were in 1999. I was struck by the universal qualities of some human experiences. The departure of the swallows (and the sounds of geese overhead) seem to tap into the collective unconscious. As you say, these are the things that ground us.

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  8. Lovely, Sandra- so good to have you and your exquisite and sensitive observations back. Changelessness in a season of changes-how comfortingly true, if only we took the time to stand and stare.
    Here in N Oxon, our summer season is measured by swifts- black, raucus acrobats. They time the season in and out. When they leave, I notice the dips and dives of house martins, and am but briefly aware of the chittering lines of swallows on the wires. I’m more aware of the churring and chattering of the wrens in the hedges, and see their bobbing shapes among seeds and leaves in the morning.Their gentle sound introduces the end of summer to me.
    I love your lonely buzzard-so right somehow for this time of year, with it’s plaintive mewling.
    We have watched a pair all summer, wheeling and dancing together- gone now, of course, although I must look out for the singleton.
    We are left , of course, with red kites- beautiful, fearless, prolific. We take them for granted, but these introduced beauties somehow lack the wild, free joyousness of the natural raptor.
    We are grateful for all things beautiful, and for the amazing language which joins us and allows us to share this .

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    1. Oh, how I agree with you on the joys of language, Pat, as you know well!

      I remember the swifts of course. They were always more evident down your end of the village it seemed to me; the older buildings being more to their taste, I suspect. And the wonderful red kites – which are slowly spreading this way I believe. I think of them as a re-introduction though: a bird that was once natural to our skies? I love your description of the wrens. Ours were highly evident through the spring and summer, but have retired from view now. Fascinating to compare the differences in our natural environments.

      x

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      1. You’re right about the re introduction of kites, Sandra, but they’re so prolific here, so fearless of man that they almost seem domesticated , whereas the buzzard is the epitome of wildness.We’re lucky to see both.

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  9. J > Worth the waiting for. I was myself this morning thinking of Gilbert White. I was remarking to Denise how remarkable it now seems that, as a boy, I developed my literary sensibilities with the likes of Defoe’s journals, Cobbett, Smiles, Gilbert White, Francis Kilvert. Both writers and readers had more time, and paid attention to details.

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  10. Such a good point, Jonathan. I’m slightly envious of you having that literary introduction: my development as an avid young reader was, shall we say, slightly more low-brow! But it’s never too late to appreciate these wonderful old writers and their works. Better late than never!

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  11. Your post reminds me that I should slow down and pay more attention. I haven’t seen the herons lately–where have they gone? And the kingfishers. But the Canada geese are arriving. And I saw a bald eagle yesterday. I don’t know if these birds come and go with the seasons–I’m just always happy to see them.

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    1. Kerry, the heron is another bird that makes me stop and pause. It’s a bird of such stillness and even its flight is languid. I’m envious of your kingfishers and eagles – downright jealous in fact! You’ve had a lot going on in life lately. It’s at such times that we most need to slow down and pay attention – and they are precisely the times when it’s most difficult to do so.

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