A priceless experience that costs absolutely nothing

Swift in flight. CREDIT: Mark Thomas

Swift in flight. CREDIT: Mark Thomas - Credit: Mark Thomas (rspb-images.com)

If you want to share in one of the year’s most joyous experiences go outside, stand still, look skywards and listen, writes Sheena Grant as she continues her thrifty mission.

If you’re very lucky you’ll be rewarded with a sound and sight that costs nothing and yet stirs the heart more than any luxury money could buy. At least, that’s how I feel about the return to our shores of the greatest aerial acrobat you’ll ever see, the ultimate symbol of wildness whose piercing screams as they chase one another across the skies seem to convey something of the sheer joy such mastery of flight must bring.

I’m talking about the arrival from Africa of our swifts, an event which heralds the start of summer and which, like that short season, must be made the most of - swifts only stay with us for three months of the year. By late July most will be gone again - even those that fledged just weeks before - on an odyssey across thousands of perilous miles of land, sea and desert to winter in sub-Saharan Africa.

I heard my first swifts of the year last Friday morning when, bleary-eyed and jaded after staying up too late the night before to learn who would rule us for the next five years, I ventured outside to hang out a load of washing.

To say my spirits were low would be an understatement. They were entombed. But then I heard that sound, that primordial, untamed screech, so long-missed since last summer and I felt an instant rush of energy. I looked up and saw several familiar shapes silhouetted against the blue sky, like a collection of little boomerangs being hurled across the firmament as a gift from some mighty, unseen hand.

For me the return of the swifts is both life-affirming and humbling. This little bird spends almost its entire life on the wing, feeding and even sleeping whilst airborne. It only lands in order to nest. When the young fledge they will spend the next four years in flight, landing only when they are ready to breed for the first time.

For all those reasons I am moved beyond measure by swifts. Their presence is always a free, powerful tonic, even on the morning after that night before.

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With that sight, with that sound, at that moment, it seemed that maybe, after all, things could only get better.

Email Sheena or tweet using #ThriftyLiving.