Although the World Conservation Union in its wisdom has good reason for putting them on the Least Concern species list, in this household at least concern for the well being of last year’s little family of house martins has known no bounds. We have kept both our fears and our hopes well under control and entirely unspoken, lest the least whisper nourish either and all be lost. Yet we have longed for their return, knowing full well that there is every reason why they might be prevented from so doing. Last October we pondered on their dramatic departure, and the burial of the last clutch of young, thrown from the nest by the parent who recognised she must sacrifice them, or sacrifice herself to the shortening days and worsening weather if she delayed her departure in order to raise them. As if we saw a premonition of the difficult winter we faced without them – to what fate they were abandoning us – the Sunday that she left the nest silent at last was a bereavement: the loss seemed almost intolerable; their fragile flight unimaginable, across terrain we will never see, thousands of miles from here over hostile territory, where dangers natural and man-made would assail them. Six months have since passed; six months in which we hoped they had enjoyed life on the wing, consuming thousands of insects, shone in the warmth of a southern sun, while we here endured a melancholic mourning. Theirs has been a dark, depressing absence. When we saw the sand martins in the dunes last week, our spirits rejoiced and a tiny hope arose like a dot of light on the horizon; would our house martins survive and, if so, would they choose to return to us as May got going and the days warmed up? We did not dwell on the response.
But, this morning, as we entered the study there they were, chattering away unmistakably in the nest just outside the window, newly arrived overnight and as loquacious as any holiday-maker who has reached his destination. As I ponder now they are busily warbling away as they tuck themselves in, having spent today on the wing above our rooftops, gathering strength by feeding and, in between, returning to clean out the nest. Now, as the sea mist intensifies, they have settled, and we can, too. It is a mysterious peace they bring.
Truly it can be said: that these little creatures, so perfect and so peerless, have negotiated life’s vicissitudes and safely found their way to us again is a wonder more blessed and staggering than all the black holes and dark stars and whatever else in our extraordinary universe, so enthralling to so many. Little chirruping thing: ‘thy life’s a miracle’. You honour us with your presence.