My family of house martins left three days ago. The last night that I saw them in their mud nests under the eaves was Sunday night. That's really late for them. they normally leave at the end of August. It's due to the much better summer this year that they stayed and produced a second brood. The first brood left with older siblings from previous years at the normal time but Paw & Maw took the chance to have a second brood which they have not done in about 10 years. Anyway, there were 4 fledglings and I counted the last one out hanging by his toenails for long minutes before finally taking that heart rending plunge loose off the earth. How must they feel when their wings expand fully that first time as they enter their true element? So only four short weeks to bulk up on flies etc then head south for Africa. Where are they all now? I saw them grouping and gearing up for departure on Monday lunchtime. I felt the same dread I feel every year of that sense of loss; of being left behind. It's silly but it always makes me cry. It looked like Maw & Paw were shouting instructions and giving pep talks to the little ones, psyching them up for that great bold leap into the unknown world. And now its all quiet, the shouts are ended, they are off on that great race around half the world, some fated never to return. They could be over France by now or possibly Spain, if the winds have been kind. This time last year I was climbing in southern Spain and watched the birds' steady migration south towards Africa. Could these even have been MY birds? Who knows.. Amazingly no-one knows yet exactly where in Africa they all end up. It is a big place but what sights my little ones must see. All I know is that the old place seems so quiet, forsaken even, without them. I miss their aerial aerobics and song. I miss the whisper of the nestlings under the eaves, as they settle for the night. How do they know their way back home, from Africa across all of Europe, thousands of miles, to this little speck? All I know is that I will think of you all, my little ones, this long cold winter, imagine you flying in hot, purple African skies, over the roars of lions and elephants, (no wonder you ignored my dog barking this summer) on the edge of your known world. Stay safe my courageous and indomitable little travellers of the earth. And know too that someone will be watching our rain laden April skies, in hope of glimpsing your safe return, when my heart too will soar. God speed, all my pretty ones, 'til then, God speed.