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It was a devil to catch

Posted on 15th November, 2022

So I told my wife on arriving home at 7pm. Earlier, on my way home from a ringing session (that had started at 4am), I had received a call to rescue, what seems now to be, the annual swift trapped in East Farleigh church! Previously, it’s been quickly done and dusted with a net held aloft in the nave.


On this occasion, however, the bird stubbornly remained within a few feet of the nave ceiling throughout. After a break for lunch and a much needed shower from 4 to 5pm - half time score: Morris 0 - Swift 3 (times in the net and escaped) - the combination of the bird’s inexperience and Gary’s practised use of gaffer tape to extend the net poles resolved the stand-off at just after 6pm.


This year’s bird was newly fledged, probably hatched in the roof of the church itself. It was duly measured, weighed and fitted with a numbered ring so it can be registered on an international swift database and digitally preserved for posterity.


As swifts have never been accused of being harmful in any way to humans, their old name of Devil Bird seems inappropriate, especially for species so closely associated with churches. Perhaps devil was used in the sense of an impish child refusing to behave? This one certainly was a little devil - evading three humans trying to catch it! The third was Sheila, who cleans the church. Was it devilish behaviour when the bird let loose a well-aimed dropping at her from the rafters? The fact it missed her by a whisker must surely have been Divine intervention!


We have long celebrated the sheer enjoyment of their summer presence and marvelled at their aerial displays. Their breath-taking acrobatic manoeuvres above the hayfields were aptly described by poet Edward Thomas: ‘As if the bow had flown off with the arrow’.

Most of us still experience a spiritual uplift at the sight of soaring swifts - something we three weary swift-rescuers remarked upon as we stood in the graveyard and watched this thirty-five-gram scrap of life take off to spend its life flying (almost) totally non-stop between East Farleigh and Southern Africa!


One can understand how those who worship in this church might link the departure of a loved one with the swift rising to the heavens. The much-needed comfort of religious – or simply human – spirit to be found in nature, perhaps?


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