Guest blog by Catriona Grant, RSPB NI fundraising assistant.

I’m a fundraising assistant for RSPB NI and for the past few months my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night has been work and it doesn’t stop at weekends either, or bank holidays, every day, morning and night my thoughts turn to work.

Now, you may think that sounds like a nightmare! But not in this case, you see RSPB are currently working on a Swift Cities project with Belfast being the UK's first swift city and I just so happen to live right opposite the largest swift colony in Northern Ireland so they’re the first thing I hear in the mornings and the last thing I hear at night.

All I have to do is wake up and listen, open my bedroom window, look out and there they are. I don’t live in the middle of the countryside, or even in a town surrounded by forests and greenery as you might expect, I live right in the city centre of Belfast.

At human eye-level Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre is host to a world of creative and fascinating arts, theatre pieces, short films, documentary showings, with activities for all ages to enjoy throughout the year. What you may not know is that they also run a little hotel for sky dwellers, particularly swifts. If you look towards the top of the building you’ll notice the “swift bricks” installed to encourage these beautiful birds to nest and breed right in the city centre. It gives a brand new meaning to the whole ‘air b'n'b’ idea, doesn’t it?

View across Belfast from Crescent Arts Centre
View across Belfast from Crescent Arts Centre rooftop. Yellow swift brick visible on the right.

This spring and summer I’ve had the privilege of experiencing each stage of these wonderful birds’ flying visit to Northern Ireland. Each morning the sun rises and the screeches begin. They’ve been my natural alarm clock each morning as if they are calling me to get up and get to work. I can’t express how wonderful it feels to have proof of RSPB’s amazing work right outside my front door. A constant reminder that the work I'm doing every day is making a difference - you can’t ask for better Monday motivation than that!

 The Crescent Arts Centre hosts a range of dance classes and I think the swifts must have picked up a few tips and tricks on how to put on a stunning performance. Now that the young have fledged, each morning I look to the skies and I’m greeted with the most amazing visual treat. So rhythmic in their movements, every flutter choreographed to perfectly synchronize with their brothers and sisters in flight. One, two, three, squawk, swoop, swirl, twisting and turning in huge teams (must be hundreds by now). These month old little babies take to the skies to show of their new wings in a beautiful speckled blanket of black against the blue morning sky.

Swifts in flight in an urban area

Down below, on street level, there’s the everyday hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives, in a hurry to get to work, that important meeting, that interview that they’ve worked so hard for, those with a coffee in hand, eyes not open wide enough to pay attention to anything except taking those same routine steps they take every day to make it to work on time. I’ve noticed the odd looks, while I saunter past, head to the sky, stopping, turning with the swifts, following their pattern. The feeling you get when you realise there’s so much more to the world than just what is visible at eye level is incomparable to any other.

No matter how many times I’ve heard their screaming call (or how early they’ve woken me up) I never tire of them. Each time I look to the skies to catch a glimpse of them I know I only have a limited time with my feathered neighbours. Soon they’ll be moving swiftly onwards, beginning their life on the wing and leaving these shores to embark on winter adventures in Africa.

As only a fledgling myself, in the world of birding, I’m still finding my wings but one thing I’ve learnt is to always keep your head up and ears open - you never know what wonderful surprises might be waiting right outside your front door!

Words: The girl with her head in the clouds!