As we shivered in the grip of another easterly beastie last week my thoughts strayed to the warmth of a sunny South Africa because at this time in the reed beds around Cape Town, our swallows, or barn swallows to give them their official name, are becoming restless as their inherent urge to migrate north kick in.

They will now begin their hazardous six thousand mile flight back to Britain and in fact that mileage is a minimum as they zig-zag between a range of countries from equatorial Africa, across the vast Sahara desert thence via the Mediterranean, Spain, France and eventually Britain.

The trip will take from five to six weeks dependant upon weather conditions and the males, now resplendent in fresh plumage are the first to reach landfall here, beginning to filter in during early April, while the females arrive about a week later.

To see those first swallows arrive is a magical spring moment. The phrase 'one swallow does not make a summer' is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and even in those far off days people rejoiced to welcome back their favourite bird.

The famous naturalist rev. Gilbert white, not knowing anything about migration suggested that swallows spent the winter months either in mud at the bottom of ponds or in caves, and even employed men to search for them!

The swallow is my favourite bird too and I look forward to welcoming them back in two months time to their nesting sites along Kingston riverside.