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Monday, June 23, 2003  
Dark Knights Return

Best bird in town this season, fastest bird in the East, is the swift. They just dominate the clear blue sky with their dark, swarthy grace, their svelte speed, their supple swoops and arcs, and this is to understate the case, darting and weaving through the air, above streets and between houses, high-rise blocks, chimney stacks, and trees. Swifts are to inner cities what swallows are to open country: they announce the arrival of summer and so presage future events. Swallows are just gorgeous, and certainly rival swifts in terms of looks and moves, but if you are a fan of city summers, if you like sweating in the hot concrete jungle all though July and August, and if walking through the city is your idea of going on safari, then the swift is your bird. On the bus trundling through Stamford Hill this evening watching swifts slice and dance and cut through the air was stunning, dizzying. They feed on insects and their flight paths follow the patterns of insect flight, but because you can't see insects that far up you're left with an elegant dance, a dazzling display of aerial dynamics and split-second reflexes (watch out, they're like little ninjas!). There's also something slightly evil and demonic about them, something bat-like too (the way they move, their feeding habits - in some parts of Europe they do actually feed at night), an impression intensified by the shrill screams and swooping cries that echo through the summer air.

8:35 PM

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