Every year I wait impatiently for the arrival of the swifts. Always around May 9th, suddenly the air is filled with their screaming, their scimitar shapes arcing through the sky after their long journey north from Africa. I always think of that line from Paul Simon's Hearts and Bones: 'the arc of a love affair'... how do they find their way home? Is it like a love affair? Something deep inside them urging them on, a deep certainty that they will know when they've arrived?
At last, then, they are here. I waited outside long after the light began to fade yesterday, hoping to see their familiar shapes against the silhouettes of the trees, but there was nothing except the bat flitting back and forth and the hooting of owls. Early this morning, though, I just knew it. I fumbled to open the back door. I searched against the bright sunlight. Sure enough, there they were, two of them, quite low in the still of the morning, looking for insects. Twelve hours late, but still. They have a long way to come.
They come to breed, hardly stopping their flight to build a loose nest and raise a brood of chicks, high up somewhere under eaves or abandoned towers, and they will be gone by the first week of August, (this Observer's Book of Birds is about seventy five years out of date), but for three wonderful months, they are the magical sight and sound of high summer.