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about twenty nests of the martin. 'When in the town of Ballymoney, on the same day, I observed several swifts to fly under the thatch of a house similar to that described, while some inhabited nests of the martin appeared against it. On the 24th of June, 1834, the swift was remarked to have similar nesting-places in Lisburn and Banbridge. In all the above-mentioned localities, these birds were flying about in groups, screaming violently, the weather being delightfully warm, and the sky "purely, beautifully blue," not a cloud being visible. For a week after the former date the weather continued very warm and dry. Spirited horses that I have ridden, have occasionally been startled by the loud scream of the swift, as it swept closely past.
In Belfast, where houses such as those described are not to be met with, I have known the swift's nest to be placed under the window-sills of houses newly erected, to which the bird gained access by means of an aperture, about an inch in width, that the careless builder had neglected to close up. An ornithological friend has seen swifts fly under the eaves of low thatched cottages in the village of Magheralin (county Down), where they doubtless build.
Two swifts' nests manually examined by my informant in the summer of 1839, were placed on the wall-top of a two-story thatched house, and were like a sparrow's nest in a similar situation, but contained fewer feathers. In the one nest, were two eggs which had been long incubated, and therefore the full number; in the other, were three young birds. Swifts for some years previously had built at this house, inside of which the common swallow as regularly did so. From two nests in the same house, two and three eggs were severally taken, in 1848.
Swifts, like martins, frequent the basaltic precipices of the north coast of Ireland, from the southern extremity of the range at the Cave hill near Belfast, to their northern termination above the sand-hills of Magilligan. Their being always present about them during their sojourn, indicate that they have dwellings in the crevices.*
* White of Selborne mentions swifts "breeding in the sides of a deep chalk-pit at Odiham." At the end of June, 1835, I observed numbers of these birds about the high limestone ch'ffs which rise in picturesque beauty above the river Derwent, at Matlock in Derbyshire, where it was presumed they had nests.
In the fifth volume of the Mag. Nat. Hist., p. 736, Mr. Couch remarks: "It is not long that swifts have frequented stations convenient for my observation. At first they were about two pairs, but they have now increased to four or five; and it is singular, that according to my observation, there is always an odd bird." A similar circumstance was, for the first time, remarked by me in the summer of 1829, when three swifts resorted to Wolf-hill,* and took up their abode between the slates and window-frame of a loft not more than twenty feet in height. Here, where a shot was not permitted to be fired, and the odd bird could not have lost its parent by the fowling-piece, the circumstance was considered as "passing strange." During three months, the usual period of the swift's presence in this country, the three mature individuals only appeared. The following year, also, an odd number of these birds was observed at Wolf-hill, there being either five or seven. During those two summers, the houses there had, with respect to fallen plaster and the growth of lichens, mosses, &c, rather more of a picturesque appearance than is consistent with the most perfect order, but in the autumn of 1830 they were all repaired and roughcast, the swift's eyrie being carefully protected from the hands of the renovator: the species has not, however, since tenanted the place.
* This locality, situated about three miles from Belfast, and elevated 500 feet above the sea, was a favourite haunt of the Hirundinida. During the sojourn of the swift, this species, with the three others, might frequently have been seen at one view, the swallow, martin, and sand-martin, sweeping in company over the ponds, while the swift, though generally maintaining a superior altitude, occasionally broke through their ranks; the whole of the species, on such occasions, and indeed at all times, exhibiting the most perfect amity. The swift built under the eaves of an outhouse, the rafters of which displayed the nest of the swallow beneath them; under an adjoining roof, the "cradle" of the martin appeared, and not more than a furlong distant was the burrow of the sand-martin. It was extremely interesting to the lover of nature thus to behold at a glance all the species of these attractive summer wanderers that regularly visit the British Islands; and w^ere they do thus appear, there are generally some charming features of natural scenery.
I observed the four species when (accompanied by Mr. Selby and the Rev. Edw. Bigge), in July, 1839, at Kilrea, where the banks of the river Bann are picturesquely wooded, and the expansive stream is impeded in its progress from Lough Neagh to the ocean by low and scattered rocks rising occasionally above its surface, so as to change the smooth mirror into a scene of active and "lusty life," delightful to the angler's heart. Swifts to the number of not less than a hundred, kept almost on the same level with the others.
In Malta, on the 17th of April, 1841, the day being very fine and warm, our four Hirundinida were in like manner observed in company, flying low, wherever we walked about the island; all the species were in numbers similar to what they are in their most favoured haunts in the British Islands. This is a fortnight earlier than the swift generally appears in the north of Ireland.
Swifts generally keep at such an altitude, that the vicinity of water is not enlivened by their presence as it is by that of some of the Hirundines, yet they may occasionally be seen flying over Belfast bay (particularly about the time of high-water), as well as skimming the surface of ponds and rivers.
In and since 1842,I have remarked, that the borders of the bay are very frequently visited by great numbers of swifts, during the period of their stay, although they have no contiguous breedingplaces. Their favourite haunt on the Down side is about Richmond Lodge, where trees—backed at some little distance by a high terraced bank—bound one side of the road; between which, and the sea, at the opposite side, is a narrow belt of pasture, perhaps 300 yards in breadth. They are often as numerous here as swallows about an advantageous locality;—150 to 200 being seen together. During the last few years when swallows were so scarce, their place here has been entirely monopolized by swifts. These birds visit the opposite side of the bay about Fort William, &c, in similar numbers, and seem to be particularly fond of feeding above pasture-fields. I have no doubt that these large bodies move about as flocks to feed in company. Indeed, that such is the swift's habit may be inferred from the circumstance, of my having observed numbers feeding about the mountain-tops on one or two successive evenings, where on the following, though similar as to weather, not an individual would be seen. Over the town of Belfast, they were more numerous in 1842 than I had before known:—about forty individuals would occasionally appear careering together.
Swifts have continued very numerous to this year, 1848, inclusive, and often frequent in great numbers the Richmond Lodge "beat." Here, on the 12th of July, 1846,I considered there might be 150, while above the road at Westbrook, less than a mile distant, similarly open to the bay at one side and bounded by trees on the other, not less than 120 were seen. Of the Hirundines, a very few house-martins only, mingled with them at the former locality, and at the latter, not an individual of any other species. Both places were favourite haunts of the swallow until the preceding few years, when it became so scarce. It is very singular thus to observe the swift occupy its place, as the sand-martin has done elsewhere, both these species having had entirely different beats, when the swallow appeared in ordinary numbers.
Once only have I witnessed these birds keeping regularly at a lower elevation than swallows. This was on the 3rd of July, 1838, a beautiful sun-bright day, when numbers of them appeared flying over Strangford Lough, near Portaferry, at from twenty to forty yards above the surface of the sea, while, in the higher stratum of air, swallows were abundant. I have observed the swift flying over low islets of this lough, remote from any breeding-place.
Bewick remarks (vol. i. p. 267, ed. of 1821) that swifts "are said to avoid heat, and for this reason pass the middle of the day in their holes [and that] in the morning and evening they go out in quest of provision." Mr. Macgillivray, too, observes, that "in dry and sunny weather [the swift] generally rests in the middle of the day." This has, I conceive, been assumed from the circumstance that swifts are not seen about their breeding haunts throughout the day, like the swallow and martin. Instead, however, of lying concealed at such times, they are ranging far abroad. During the very warmest and brightest days I have commonly seen them sweeping in great numbers over mountain heaths and around the summit of Devis, the highest mountain in our neighbourhood,* and near to which they have not any nesting-places: —in warm days, too, without sunshine, they may be seen feeding here, when skimming merely above the top of the heath. Towards evening,—often about an hour before retiring to roost,—they return from these comparatively distant nights, and are then seen near their accustomed haunts for some time previous to retiring for the night, having thus led persons to believe that the evening is one of their favourite times for stirring out. Swifts may likewise be occasionally seen on wing in the vicinity of their nests throughout the very finest weather. The remark that the swift "in high windy days, will remain for hours in its retreat, motionless, and in the dark," * I consider equally erroneous with that just commented on. At such times, and during storms, as I have frequently observed, they wander abroad to feed in congregated numbers; on account of their prey then keeping low, they are generally to be seen in sheltered localities.
* 1575 feet above the sea. When here on the 15th of May, 1836 (a remarkably fine day), to witness the eclipse of the sun, I saw fully as many swifts as had ever appeared when the season was farther advanced.
I observed them in like manner on the 6th of May, 1841, about the lofty mountain-tops, and there only, in the island of Syra, one of the group of the Cyclades. Captain Cook, in his Sketches in Spain, thus mentions a similar propensity of the alpine swift:—" I have heard they were not uncommon in Catalonia, but I never met with them, probably from their habit of going to feed at vast heights and distances in the daytime, which prevents their being seen." (Vol. ii. p. 276.)
The following note was made on swifts as observed at Dunluce Castle, near the Giants' Causeway. On the 12th of June, 1842, I was attracted by, and remained for some time watching, a number of these birds, which, although the day was beautifully bright and warm, kept flying low, within a very few yards of my head. They occasionally, I thought,—but could not be certain, owing to the rapidity of their flight and the presence of house-martins,— uttered a short pleasing note, lower than that of the Alpine swift; but their loud shrill cry was stilled. The last place I had paused to observe Cypseli was in the island of Sphacteria, where the C. rnelba was the attraction, consequently the C. murarius was today brought into direct comparison with that species, on which remarks will elsewhere be found. It was highly interesting to .witness their motions as they flew noiselessly—with the occasional exceptions already noticed—a few yards above my head. The tail would at one moment be drawn to a point, the next, appear square at the end; would then present a "tender fork," and the next instant, its full furcation: again, it would be expanded to the uttermost, with the feathers simply touching at their margins, and the whole tail appearing so membranous that the light shone
* Yarrell, B. B. vol. ii. p. 262. 2nd edit.