They were arriving high above me, too high to be seen with the naked eye, and had I not been scanning with binoculars I would have missed them. They were spaced out and came in pulses, the largest group being 50 strong. A few of the birds dropped lower and resolved themselves to be mostly House Martins with a few Swallows as company. Being at elevation, standing on the mound that overlooks The Watercolours pits at Holmethorpe, I had a good 360 degree view. The hirundines continued to arrive and head off east, but they still mostly kept high. Had I not known they were up there they would have carried on with their remarkable journeys unobserved by human eye. A journey that many of them would be making for the first time, born of instinct and need. After only 45 minutes the procession dried up, leaving me wanting more, but my notebook told me that 700 House Martins and 300 Swallow had moved through.
I stepped out into the garden at 18.05hrs to have three Swallows zip inches over my head, slaloming between walls and trees, manoevering with an ease that defied any need of effort on their part. Above them were more, much lower than this morning, many within touching distance. Silently they sped through, arrows of desire, the pull of African savannahs too strong to ignore. They appeared out of nowhere, to the left of me, the right of me and above me. Surrounded by blue and peach, streamers and points, grace and power. I stood still and within ten minutes 250 (all of them Swallows) had moved on westward. Awesome is a word that is overused by birders, normally given to something because it is rare - but it is the correct word to describe such primal and raw migration.
Throughout the south-east hirundines have been recorded in good numbers, no more so than Sandwich Bay where 120,000 House Martins were logged. Given the choice between seeing the American Redstart or that spectacular movement, the hirundines would win every time. I was lucky enough to witness a movement of 90,000 at Dungeness some 28 Septembers ago. It lives long in my memory. In fact, I would go as far to claim that such movements are the purest expression of avian migration that we can count ourselves lucky enough to witness.
I just hope that it will continue tomorrow.