Guest Blog – A Poem for Swifts by Steve Halton

By Keta (Detail of Apus_apus_flock_flying.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Keta (Detail of Apus_apus_flock_flying.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not interested in being the first to see them,
Or seeing them on the earliest date;
That’s not important…
And I’m happy with that…
I could go chasing them (I know where they are)
But I won’t, I’ll wait
They judge it’s time
To show themselves
To me
In my little village (of only 700 people)
A church and a pub,
Not far,
From the River Great Ouse.

My animal familiars,
My shaman-birds,
My swifts
Shape-changers, shape-shifters,
Bringing summer
On black-bladed scimitar wings.
Not of this earth
Climbing, flickering
Into summer’s blue.
Under boiling anvils
Dizzying heights
Screams tearing
The thin veil
Of sky

And to celebrate
This summer long
Every day when I see
Or hear swifts
I’m going to write
A sentence
But it won’t be on paper,
As befits these birds
I will write in the sky
On the ether (high overhead),
To celebrate their mystery,
Their beauty
Their magic
Their just ‘being’
And doing what they do.

And over the summer,
It will build
Into a poem,
A hymn to these angels
That haunt my mind,
The villages and Victorian houses
On summer dusks
And that I am privileged
To share
This planet with.

The words will build into
A towering Cumulus
An aerial sky-poem
A season-long (but too brief)
Eulogy (to be torn tattered)
On Autumn’s winds
But after they have left us,
It will remain
Into sky


CPRE LCA 2012 2 115Steve Halton writes: Nature is my life, my passion and is what drives me. From the age of about six I have always known what I wanted to do and that it would be something to do with Nature and Wildlife… I am now 53 and have spent my life doing just that…

I have worked for the Dyfed Wildlife Trust (Assistant Warden on Skokholm), the RSPB, the NT and several other wildlife conservation organisations.

I now work for Central Bedfordshire Council in Countryside Access where my job involves advising on ecological issues and working with community and site-based environmental volunteers and projects.

As well as doing an Ecology degree I also did a Fine Art degree in Wildlife Illustration. So I am a (maybe) unusual mix of science and art – which actually works really well and gives me a unique perspective on the natural world. I am currently writing (both prose and poems) and drawing more and more about wildlife and how I engage with it on various levels.

I live in a small village in Bedfordshire and write a monthly wildlife column for two village magazines with my partner, Eve, who is a ceramic artist and our dog, Shirley.

The words for the poem dripped into my head in the early hours last week – I had to keep getting up to write them down in my notebook before I lost them and in the morning I sat down and assembled them into some kind of sense…


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16 Replies to “Guest Blog – A Poem for Swifts by Steve Halton”

  1. Lovely! Saw (and heard) my first this season just yesterday, over my own small Perthshire village of 1,800 people. Later than usual, but hey, ho, who's counting?
    Welcome back, urban wild things.

  2. Sadly less and less of them find nest holes in our buildings. Through my MP I have challenged the government to ad 'Swift Bricks' [nest sites] to new buildings. Lord de Mauley from DEFRA came back and claimed that we did not know enough about the birds to know the problems. I sent the response to Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation who sent it to Peter Crush who had actually done the researcher for DEFRA in Northern Ireland. All this was sent back to Lord de Mauley and we wait for his response!! Amazing what you can do just writing children's books like 'Screamer the Swift' from Langford Press.
    Great poem.


    Please read and watch the video.

  4. Wonderful to have them back, have so missed the screaming. One thing tho', they're really upsetting the sparrows who are nesting where the swifts like to be. I can't see any reason why they can't cohabit, (it's under a roof) but does any one know for sure, think the sparrows are very close to fledging.

    1. Linda. In our old house in Reading we had swifts & sparrows use the same entrance / exit hole under the gable tiles to nest. The sparras went in and turned left whereas the swifts turned right under the roof. I filmed the swifts successfully raise their brood and just watched the sparras succeed also.
      Not really cohabiting but certainly using the same "front door".

  5. Love it Steve. Especially the references to the built environment (Victorian houses) and the summer skies and towering cumulus clouds - very appropriate for yesterday evening! Presumably you know of the Ted Hughes poem 'Swifts'? Enjoy your swift watching this summer, I know I will.

    I live in Biggleswade and there is quite a good colony in the older housing in the town. They seem to be back in reasonable for early in the season numbers. I've not seen any house martins at all this year though, and a friend in Reading says the same. Rather worrying. Does anyone know is there a particular problem with house martins this year?

    1. Thank you MK for your comments 🙂 I've found house martins in short supply too... I do know Ted Hughes and he's a bit of a hero of mine! I live in Cople, by the way...
      Best wishes

    2. Don't know about a particular problem with HMs this year, but they were back and taking up residence in last year's nests in the Suffolk farmhouse B&B I stayed at last week.

      Screaming parties of swifts whizzing around and through Bodmin Parkway station on Monday - magnificent!

      1. Thanks both - I saw my first HMs of the year mixed in with a few swifts about half an hour after posting this comment, and just for good measure a red kite flew over the house at the same time - a first for me. Double sod's law/curse of Mark's blog working in a good way! 🙂

  6. A truly beautiful poem, thank you Steve. You have a lovely way of bringing together your observations of the swifts and what their arrival really means to you, really fine writing. I also love the way that the experience will be prolonged for you with your praise and hymn to the birds and sky. Some people may call it a spiritual experience, but others don't like such interpretation and prefer the scientific view. I would love more contributions from you on Mark's blog. I must go out and look, now.

    1. Hi Barry
      Many thanks for your lovely comments - much appreciated. I find a lot of what I do and see in Nature is spiritual and it moves me to write things like this. It is yet another way of expressing our part of being in the natural world and is something I love you do 🙂
      Would love to publish more stuff - our wildlife needs it!
      Best wishes

  7. A beautiful poem, thanks Steve. We have between 4 & 6 nests each year and we celebrate they come back, and mourn the day they leave. I rescued the pair that nest in the chimney when they got themselves trapped earlier this week. Holding these amazing creatures is a transcendent experience; the one sat on my hand for about 15 minutes before launching himself off into the ether once more and wheeling into the darkening Shropshire sky.


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