Sunday, June 24, 2007


Just returned from one of my 5 minute walks along the Thames (on a work break).
Today the rain has set in permanently it seems - not particularly heavy here in Reading, just a constant light rain.
I've never seen Swifts hunt so low as they are today.
Swifts are very reliable weather forecasters - flying higher and higher as pressure builds, and their insect prey flies higher and higher, and vice versa.
One can often tell what the weather will be like for the next day or so by looking at Swifts, and the height they are catching insects at...

Its fair to say that low pressure has well and truly encamped on the UK at present (or at least the southern part of Britain - and the channel was the worst hit in terms of heavy rain this morning), the flies are very low and so, therefore are the Swifts.

If they were flying any lower, they'd be flying under the surface of the river! As it is, they are only a few inches above it. I've also never physically witnessed a Swift catch a fly either - until a few minutes or so anyway. I've seen birds of prey kill and even a Great Crested Grebe actually catch a large Roach underwater (once in a lifetime thing that I think), but never a Swift catch one fly.

I was watching a Swift circle just over the river surface, spot a Mayfly 6' above the Thames and deft as you like, pluck it out of the air as though it didn't exist - continuing to circle as though it had done nothing at all. None of that "Wagtail business", where a Grey Wagtail will sit on the bank of the watercourse, wagging its tail, spot a fly, rush up into the air to grab it and return to the bank with the legs of the fly hanging out of its mouth - the Wagtail looking very pleased with itself!
The Swift is a hunting machine. Flying constantly, trapping many many insects in its gape, which over time are formed into an insect bolus (a "fly meatball" if you like), which it eventually swallows (hur hur!) or feeds to its young...

I do hope the Swifts get higher tomorrow (though I've heard the weather forecast, so am not holding my breath...)

NB. I write this on Tuesday morning (26/06/07), the tuesday after I originally wrote this post (on sunday), and also the day after the "wettest day in Britain for 50 years" (quote) - so wet, whole vast swathes of the UK were flooded and people actually died because of the weather.
There will be complaint after complaint I'm sure, directed both to the Met Office, and the Environment Agency.
"Why weren't we warned?" etc... etc...
The simple fact is - monday's weather was WELL predicted by the Met Office and the Environment Agency, (even the Sun newspaper ran their monday headline as "Today WILL be the wettest day for 50 years".
And if you didn't listen to the (plentiful) media-led warnings, the Swifts put up their own subtle warning for anyone observant enough to notice! I remarked on Sunday that "I'd never seen Swifts lower "(in 30 years), and on Monday we had the wettest day (for 50 years).
Another simple fact is that even when warned, there's pretty well bugger all anyone can do about weather like yesterday (Monday 25/06/07). Our antiquated Victorian sewage and drainage system, combined with massively increased floodplain residences and riverside recreation means that every time it rains like it did yesterday, the consequences will be magnified, ending, inevitably in some fatalities I'm afraid.

Keep your eyes on those Swifts, and go buy some sandbags!!!

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