Friday, May 05, 2006

Magic in the Air

I love May Day! (No, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the communist party...) May first is the day the chimney swifts return. These 'cigars with wings' are my own Swallows of Capistrano: I could almost set the calendar by their Spring return.

Every year, starting a few days before the first of May, I start watching the sky over my house. Weather permitting, I'll first see my little friends on the first of the month. They were 5 days late this year, but I imagine the delay was caused by a rather unusual three-day rain event bucking the usual trend and coming in off the Atlantic from the East. It rained pretty much all day Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday was beautifully warm and clear. I knew it would be only a matter of hours. Sure enough, when I went out to get the paper this morning, I saw my first swift of the year streaking high overhead. A little later, with sun streaming through the bathroom skylight as I showered, I was thrilled to see a group of three shoot by.

Like tree swallows, these birds are fun to watch as they move through the air with apparent glee. I have a recurring flying dream, but even on my best nights, I can never soar with such confidence and ease. Where tree swallows look a bit like playful kids, swifts seem almost military as they zoom in tight formations high over my deck, chattering orders as they go. I sometimes imagine they are little jets flying combat air patrol over my roof.

I do wonder, though. There is a trend these days for people to install chimney caps to keep rain, squirrels, birds and other foreign matter out of the flue. I often think I should put one on our chimney. In the past I have seen swifts tumble from the air into chimneys on the houses on both sides of ours, and both these chimneys are now capped. Like the bluebirds who declined when wood fence posts became obsolete, could the swifts suffer from good house-keeping?

But for now, my swifts are back, and their regular- if not constant- chipping and chattering will be background music on the soundtrack of my summer. Then, just as suddenly as they arrive on May first, the door will close on September first. They disappear with a predictability and totality that is truly amazing, leaving behind only fond memories of warm days and blue skies.

Other friends also return at almost exactly the same time. Every year, catbirds nest in a huge clump of forsythia that dominates a good chunk of the yard near the deck, and I spotted the first one just a day before the arrival of the swifts. These are handsome birds with their trim gray coats and stylish black caps. They seem particularly intelligent and friendly, pausing in their nest-building to look at me and mew as I have my morning coffee on the deck. I can't help but wonder if these are the same individuals who were here last year and if those were offspring of previous generations, like salmon, returning to the exact spot of their birth.

I am a man of simple pleasures. While I take great joy from the companionship of common birds like my swifts and catbirds, the enjoyment I get from robins in the Spring is almost primordial. In all likelihood, the robin was the first bird I could identify as a small child. Their happy caroling in April as the earthworms begin to arise from the warming moist soil has always been a sign of re-birth. They have always signaled swelling tree buds and children laughing outside after a long winter.

A pair of robins have been bobbing around the back lawn for a week or two now. I assumed they were nesting in the area, and that made me happy because it's been a few years since we've had a nest. Like the catbirds, these robins make we wonder if this DNA has been here before. Like our last resident robins, this pair has built their nest on top of one of my bird houses. One of the first things I did when we moved here nearly 20 years ago was put up nesting boxes. We live in a classic established suburban neighborhood, and I hoped I could enjoy the company of house wrens. While I sometimes hear house wrens, and often hear the over-sized songs of Carolina wrens, I've never had anything but false nests in my boxes. At least the robins are willing to accept my hospitality, and I'm delighted to have them. Maybe I should put up nesting shelves instead.

So, even with all the troubles in our world today, life struggles on. I find it truly miraculous that these small creatures can navigate hundreds and even thousands of miles every year to return to my small back yard. Even though I hope to spend an hour or two up on Moose Hill this weekend searching for more exotic birds, it's my everyday friends that really tell me that Spring is really here.

Labels: , , ,


At 3:28 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

We have similar experiences with our hummingbirds, black-headed grosbeaks, and tree swallows. We eagerly await them, and they arrive right on time. Our lives are infinitely richer, because they show up and accept our simple offerings of sugar water and black sunflower seeds.

Thank you for stopping by the Dharma Bums and leaving comments. We appreciate them very much.


Post a Comment

<< Home