We have only a few days left in which to enjoy swifts and to see acrobatic dark shapes that wheel above us and then scream, literally, between the chimney pots. No wonder this bird was, many years ago, viewed with mystic admiration. By August 7 the swifts of Stoney Road will be gone; the air surrounding the chimney pots will be silent save for the chattering of sparrows. The ghostly, scything shapes will not reappear in our skies until May of next year. I, for one, will miss them but it has been a good year for the Stoney Road colony. Only a few days ago I tried to count them as they came screaming across the road; round and round they went, the screaming getting louder and louder. Suddenly, they would change course and come over me at a different angle, a few stragglers (probably newly fledged youngsters) getting caught out and having to play catch-up. I tried to count them as there were far more than last year – forty, fifty? Impossible, chimney pots and telephone wires got in the way. Luckily, a friend who had noticed me wagging my digit in the air and cursing because the swifts were too quick for me, simply took a few photographs when the birds were in open space, so we were able to count them. Ignoring the Apache helicopter in the background and something else quite inexplicable at the time which looked like a flying chicken (and later turned out to be a birthday balloon), we counted 63 swifts. I found that number remarkable.
I remember many years ago reading what was known then as the ‘swift bible’, a book by Dr David Lack entitled Swifts in an Oxford Tower. As far as I am aware, it was probably one of the first comprehensive studies of apus apus and from that moment on the swift has been one of my favourite birds. I still find them mysterious and truly wondrous. Local bird groups are doing their utmost to protect swifts, another declining species, by encouraging people to attach nest boxes under the eaves of their house. We must not lose these birds and signs are encouraging this year, especially if the Stoney Road lot is anything of a marker (it certainly looked like a flying chicken on the photograph too.)
Richard Stewart passed me a note to say that on 23 July he and his wife Marie clocked up 14 different species of butterfly in our Park. I will list them: large, small and green-veined white, peacock, red admiral, small and Essex skipper, speckled wood, small copper, brown Argus, purple hairstreak, meadow brown, ringlet and gate-keeper. This was their highest total recording in one day in our Park. I am indebted to Richard and Marie for this information and it is always good news to know that records are being accumulated of the wildlife in Christchurch Park. I saw a TV programme last week about painted-lady butterflies. It is being suggested that this year will be a bumper one for this beautiful migratory species. I have already mentioned that I came across a painted lady or two at Butley recently. Come on Richard, find one or a dozen in our Park. Some years ago whilst slowly cycling between Culpho and Tuddenham, I found myself in a cloud of about 300 painted ladies. Many had been flattened by traffic. Actually ‘blizzard’ describes them better than ‘cloud’, a blizzard of orange black and white.
I have noticed several local roundabouts have been sown with a wild flower mix. What a change from formal settings and deep tyre ruts. A friend who lives close by decided that his lawn should become a wild meadow. He has never seen so many butterflies on his patch and now I am also getting meadow browns, ringlets and gatekeepers in my garden.