Sunday 7 June 2015

Swallowing an Old Wife's Tale

TL: House martin; TR: Swallow; BL: Swift; BR: Sand martin

On Springwatch this week, Martin Hughes-Games gave us a memorable lesson in how to tell a swift from a swallow and a house martin from a sand martin.

(I recall the latter being easy to differentiate by the fact that the former's song sounds uncannily like Caravan of Love while the latter sounds like Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?).

Along the way he dismissed the popular misconception about swifts having no legs. 

Swifts do have legs. They're just very, very short. (Even shorter than Ernie Wise's. Or mine for that matter).

So listening to this morning's quiz on Radio 4's Broadcasting House, I snorted as guest presenter Jonny Dymond said the following: 
So that's the sound of a swift - a bird that's always in flight. In fact, it doesn't even bother with having legs. Its feet are directly attached to its body.
That's one of those "in fact's" that doesn't quite live up to its billing really.

And it got worse. Much, much worse...

As I spend some time last week lazily watching Springwatch's live camera of a swift's nest, watching a pair of swifts lying down on their nest, preening each other, I spotted that swifts aren't always in flight. 

Yes, they can fly around without landing for a couple of years but when they're going into the family business they most definitely do take a break from flying - hence them loafing around on a nest on Springwatch this past week (rather like me), the lazy beggars.

What's to be done about this terrifying lapse in accuracy from BBC Radio 4 then?

Discussing the matter with my local sharia court, we've agreed that the appropriate punishment for poor Jonny is 100 pecks from a woodpecker.

Update: And for the sake of candour, I've just fallen foul of Skitt's Law here myself: The original version of this post had Martin Hughes-Games down as "Martin Games-Hughes".

My local sharia court has ruled that I should play 100 games of Monopoly with people called Hughes as punishment, one after the other, over the next week.

(The jokes on them though. I love Monopoly). 


  1. There are some great comments to that Telegraph link (including one about great comments). There's even one about the BBC and right wingers, but definitely not from a concerned citizen and not a factory just North of Islington.

    My personal favorite was: "The Grade School Effect

    - The more polite and thoughtful your defense of someone or something, the more certain you are of being attacked in the manner of a pre-adolescent homophobe."

    Usually with an accusation of racism thrown in too.

  2. As a Zoology graduate and keen-birdwatcher, I gave up watching Springwatch years ago in the days of the awful Bill Oddie and the ignorant Kate Humble. I switched off when she said that Willow Warblers nest in trees.
    So I tuned in to the first in this series as I am a fan of Chris Packham , Zoology graduate, and failed PhD badger student. ( And regular visitor to the mecca of bird-watches, Gambia ! ).
    To my horror it was all about the presenters with repulsive BBC "Muzak" and gimmicks. Are they all on cocaine?

  3. A more serious point is the paucity of any serious science programs on the BBC and what little there is tends to be dumbed down. Is this not in breach of the BBC charter ? There are exceptions, the series on the Periodic Table shown recently on BBC4 was a masterpiece and should be compulsory in all British schools but won't be.


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