As I set out for my long run yesterday, a long ten mile run in silly heat with only a bottle of limeade Panda Pops for sustenance, I heard the screaming of swifts - a sound I’ve been trying to replicate myself in all manner of unsuccessful ways – and looked up to see their familiar sickle shape in the air above me.
Only it wasn’t familiar. It was the much stockier, stubbier shape of a flock of house martins.
When I was a child, house martins were almost the commonest bird you would see in summer. I saw my first one when I was at Oliver Quibell infants school and already interested in birds. They built their mud nest at the end of the “big kids” block – “big” meaning “seven” – and flew in and out until predictably some rough young chap brought the nest down with a tennis ball, revealing broken eggs and broken young on the rough tarmac of the playground.
Huge colonies used to live under the ornate eves of the main town centre buildings; the Natwest Bank would have twenty plus nests muddily plastered along the roof edge. It was rare to see a gable end of any house in town that didn’t have a nest there, with their black and white visitors dropping in and out.
But since then, the numbers of nest sites in town has declined hugely. Anti pigeon measures have probably been the cause of this in the town centre, whereas new build homes probably aren’t as attractive to the birds’ own new build developments. Numbers of house martins too have probably declined. The Mandarin Chinese restaurant was about the only place they seemed to be nesting.It was thus with great joy that I found this flock of house martins wheeling around by the Magnus School, the first I have seen this year, and noticed nesting going along under the eaves of the houses opposite. Here they have found a place to call home, or shrilly whistle home, at any rate.
Copyright Cream Crackered Nature 20.05.14