An alpine influx

The past couple of weeks has seen an unprecedented influx of alpine swifts to Britain and Ireland. These birds migrate from sub-Saharan Africa to southern Europe at this time of year, but – perhaps due to the specific weather systems of the last few weeks – many more have been seen here than is usual. In most years we get perhaps three or four records at most. This month there have been at least 50 or 60 birds, seen all over the country!

Our regular swift (apus apus) is basically an all dark bird and they normally arrive in the UK later than most other migrants, usually no earlier than May. So keep an eye on the skies around where you are and if you see a swift in the next few days it is almost undoubtedly an alpine swift! These swifts are larger than common swifts and have white on the belly and chin, but this can be difficult to see at a distance, or against the sky.

alpine swift – not a great photo but the best I’ve managed to get so far! (photo taken 2015, Spain)

I headed over to Cromer this morning, where there have been sightings of several alpine swifts, and was rewarded with relatively good views of two of them, whizzing about near the lighthouse. They were too distant for a photo, but maybe I’ll get there again in the next few days and get closer views. I have only ever seen these birds in southern Europe, most notably a flock of about 50 wheeling around the Pont du Gard in France in 2017, but these were the first I had seen in the UK, and brought my lifetime UK bird list up to 291, and my UK 2023 year list to 148.

Cromer lighthouse today, with two alpine swifts flying around somewhere above it…

Brenda writes: “Today I was taking a funeral at Burnham Thorpe. This is a very historic village and its chief claim to fame is that Admiral Lord Nelson was born there and his father was the parish priest. After the burial I noticed that there was a patch of green alkanet in the churchyard which has now come into flower. A member of the borage family it has large fleshy leaves and a cluster of bright blue flowers at the top of each stalk. It’s a flower I always love to see.

green alkanet

Closer to the church, where the grass is kept short, there was a veritable carpet of yellow – lesser celandine, which opens its flowers to the sun and closes them if it is gloomy.”

A carpet of lesser celandine in Burnham Thorpe churchyard

New species for March 24th:
Birds: alpine swift
Flowers: green alkanet

Birds = 148
Moths = 13
Wildflowers = 30