Posted by: atowhee | August 2, 2017


We have swifts, though in reality, not parables but
Bolts in the world’s need: swift
Swifts, not in punishment not in ecstasy, simply
Sleepers over oceans in the mill of the world’s breathing.
The grace to say they live in another firmament.
A way to say the miracle will not occur,
And watch the miracle. –Anne Stevenson

I could find only two collective nouns for swifts: “flock” and “scream.” “Flock” is too prosaic for such a bird. Flock is for chickens or perhaps Herring Gulls. “Scream” works if you live in Paris and the large Common Swifts go shrieking past your fifth floor window every evening, their harsh cries echoing off buildings all along the block. It would even work if you stand on the old Roman bridge in Merida, Spain, and watch three species of swifts hunting over the river below, crying aloud. Here you can see Common, Alpine and Pallid all in one stand. Our soft-spoken little Vaux’s Swifts deserve better than scream. Surely in this age of literacy before ignorance eclipses science we can do better. Swirl? Cyclone? Swizzle of swifts? Chimney-full? Cascade? Flutter of swifts? Fandango? Dance? Sky-dance? Heavenly host of swifts? Symphony? (That one belongs in the thrasher family, methinks.)
One reader, Wayne Hoffmann, suggests “vortex.” Not bad.
At any rate the swirl of swifts were about our house again today, when they weren’t hiding from the heat in our chimney and sounding off. Tweeting and twittering in a manner that predates the Internet by eons. Yesterday one died on our sidewalk. Today I saw a swift myth dispelled. We have eight foot high curtains on the west end of our patio roof, to keep out the late afternoon sun in summer. The curtains are translucent white. There’s plenty of light, just no direct sun and no direct solar heat. I looked out to see a swift trying to get past the curtains. Three times it flew up and into the curtains then fluttered to the ground. A breeze lifted up the curtain enough to leave the swift on the ground but free of the curtain. It beat the ground very hard with its wings, lifting off a couple inches and then straight up it went in full flight. So much for the myth that swifts cannot take off from the ground.
For a month blueberries have been ripe enough for my morning granola for a month. Yet it is only in the past few days that the birds have been sharing the blueberries from our garden. Do birds require sweeter fruit than even a primate? So far I have caught scrub-jay, robin, collared-dove, chickadee and house finch in the blueberry patch. They are welcome to their share. Our freezer already has a sufficient supply for my January breakfasts.
I think our local Red-breasted Nuthatches are raising another clutch of young. As I ate lunch on the patio nuthatch(es?) came and went. There seemed to be two separate flight paths. One birds always went due west over a low spot in the conifer hedge and across the street to what I suppose was a nest site in a large ponderosa. That bird returned the same way. Another nuthatch took off and went south across the fence and hedge in that direction. They used different sources for their sunflower chips but their favorite is a small round ceramic one with a top on it. Safer. When they eat themselves they take the chip up to a nearby limb and make it into smaller chips to fit their throat and gullet. That they mostly flew across the street with each new chip indicated to me they were feeding young.

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