Rescued swift heads for Africa

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Take off for Africa via Dungeness and France

On Monday, November 16 a pallid swift, a rare visitor to the UK, set off from fields near Rye for its long journey south to central Africa, where it will spend the winter. A few weeks ago, during severe storms from the south, a few pallid swifts were swept from their breeding sites in Spain, and carried north as far as Poland.

This one was picked up exhausted in a garden in Weston-super-Mare, and taken to Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Highbridge, Somerset and was treated for dehydration and starvation, and fed for its long migration south.

But where to release it? Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation suggested Rye as thousands of common swifts, the only swift that breeds in the UK, head over Rye to Dungeness every year when returning to Africa. It is a nice short hop to France, and they can feed on flying insects over Romney Marsh on the way to the coast.

Our own Dr Barry Yates from Rye Harbour Nature Reserve selected the launch spot, and the pallid swift was driven there by Jamie Kingscott and Marie Densten of Secret World. The swift was released with Camber Castle in view and headed straight for Dungeness, so it knew where to go!

The miracle of migration was right in front of us. Birds have a magnetic compass in their brains and can probably “see” magnetic north. They can memorise star maps and have a photographic memory for locations, so they can foresee and to some extent avoid extreme weather conditions – a fantastic feat for a bird with a brain the size of a hazelnut. The photo shows this beautiful bird just released and heading off for Africa!

Image Credits: James Tomlinson .

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