Over the past couple of springs and summers I have spent a lot of time watching the tiny sand martins which have travelled the long journey from Africa to nest in the banks of the River Wharfe near where we live. Sand martins (taxonomic name Riparia riparia) are the smallest European members of the swallow family and the first to arrive in the spring. They are sociable, nest together and seem to chatter and sing as they fly, a seemingly ceaseless flight which appears to be at once both random and purposeful. This video is from our stretch of the river, with Beamsley our dog equally mesmerised…
Part of the compulsion to watch them comes from the sense that they will soon be gone on their long journey back to Africa in the autumn. Standing and observing their exuberance is bitter sweet with the awareness of its transience.
A neighbour, Mark Overfield (@ilkleywildlife), who takes sensitive and beautiful images of wildlife around Ilkley, shared some photos of the local sand martins mid-flight. He said that the way they fly reminded him of our mobiles.
Using feather shapes based on those of the sand martin, we have made a small series of mobiles in response to the sense of time and loss which these birds evoke. The awareness of their brief presence at the river and the anticipation of their departure contrasts with their seemingly never-ending, flickering, flight.
It is impossible for the human eye to see an individual sand martin as they fly and dart, and the photographs quietly still what is indiscernible into a lasting moment in time. At present there are three mobiles in this series (photographs of two, one is sold).
Images of the mobiles by David Lindsay
Video below of sand martins a bit further up the Wharfe near Barden and the bank where they nest.