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New Species

Alpine Swift (Apus Melba)

I.K. Morgan

As is normally usual on a Sunday at c. 1255 p.m. on 26th April 1998 1 was taking my son Thomas, to my parents for Sunday lunch. Approaching the roundabout at the immediate western end of Sandy Bridge I became aware of a bird wheeling around in the sky above and in front of me. Looking up, I focused on the bird (remember I was driving at the time and about to negotiate a roundabout). Within a few seconds, my thoughts changed from House Martin (which actually nest in the adjacent street), which was prompted by the contrasting black’ and white pattern to Hobby as the bird became nearer and banked, showing its back and scimitar-shaped wings However, by the end of this few second period. I was in no doubt that this was an Alpine Swift.

Surprisingly calmly, given the circumstances, I drove to my parents’ house in the nearby Denham Avenue and dropped off my son. As John Ellis also lives in Denham Avenue, it was logical to call on John - as a convenient second witness to view the bird. I fully expected the bird to be rapidly moving on so it was perhaps vital to get another local birder to see the bird (even though the identification was straightforward). However, John had left home only a few minutes before to drive to Cardiff Airport to pick up the County Bird Recorder. Rob Hunt who was just returning from one of his foreign holidays! As John was apparently calling at Rob’s parents’ house en route, a phone message was left there. Another local birdwatcher - Clive Jones - lives in nearby Furnace so he was phoned. Clive was at home, but initially thought it was one of my practical jokes, butt persuaded him otherwise.

I now returned to the Sandy Road area, but on the way I immediately relocated the Alpine Swift as it powerfully hawked insects presumably being blown from the adjacent Sandy Water Park. It was flying - often close - over Sandy Road and Iscoed and was giving excellent and prolonged views. By this time John Ellis’ children Rhian, David and Bronwen arrived, followed quickly by a rather agitated Clive Jones asking, - "where is it —where is it". As it was still in view, he again immediately saw the bird, grinned widely and kissed me on the cheek!! (I think there’s something foreign about Clive, but to be extra careful, please do not show this article, with its confessions of dangerous driving and public kissing to the police!).

By this time, John Ellis had (luckily) got the message and he too arrived, followed by one or two other local birders. Soon the message got around and several others managed to see the bird as it flew around Iscoed and over Sandy Water Park in the rather mixed

sunny/blustery/squally April weather Gary Harper later told me that he was eating his Sunday lunch when he casually switched on his pager, and his eyes popped out in amazement when he saw details of the bird about 5 minutes drive from his house! Again (unlike some later arrivals), he was fortunate to see the bird.

Obviously, the record was pleasing for me - my first new county record after some 30 years of (rather casual) Carmarthenshire birdwatching.

The large size, whitish underparts with a breast band and the powerful swift-shape morphology clearly seen by all present.

As a factual aside, it is estimated that this unmistakable swift covers at least 350 miles each day and sometimes 600 miles or so, making it relatively easy for this individual to return to its Southern European breeding range.