Saturday Evening Post #73: Riders of the Storm

Apologies to Jim Morrison-et al-, for changing “Riders on the Storm”.

EE and I were out and about along the local beach, with a storm offering just on the horizon.  The question of course, was how long?

We were enjoying the antics of a few beach birds, the usual suspects, Silver Gulls, a couple of loafing Pacific Gulls, and some noisy hungry young Greater Crested Terns.

Suddenly, as in literally out of nowhere, a flock of fast moving birds, swallow-like appeared, and I have to say that was my first reaction, and I looked back at the terns. Then the first of the flock approached, must too bulky for swallows, and those long narrow knife-like wings took me back to my youth, and I called, “Swifts”, because in those days, that is what we called them.

There was little light, but still, it was an opportunity.

These days they are called ‘White-throated Needletails”. And as they sped past, the white throat and inner tail marks were obvious. First it was only one or two, but they kept coming and in the end, boyscout count, there was around 40-50 fly by. Just that  little too high up for detail, and they didn’t make any variation in their travel line.

As kids on the open Mallee plains, we would often see them flitting about ahead of an impending weather event.  A fancy name for wind, rain, and thunder.  The air could be electric.
So it was no surprise they had been riding on the edge of the incoming squall.

On checking my Morecombe Fieldguide, they are described as:

Largest swift in Australia, … one of the fastest of all birds, …often gathers over headlands in humid unsettled weather preceding thunderstorms.

That sounds about right to me.  Simpson and Day add:

Wings swept back curved, anchor-like, tips pointed.

And by the time we had checked to see if there were any more, the first ones no doubt were approaching Footscray!

We took the hint and went back to the carpark, arriving just as the first few spots of rain came down, and the road was awash on the way out.

“Into this world we’re thrown…
An actor out on loan
 Riders on the storm.”



6 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #73: Riders of the Storm

    1. Hi David, they are not a bird I normally see or photograph, usually much too high up. In my youth, they seemed to frequent along the irrigation channels, perhaps because of insects.


  1. Wonderful shot of it. At my Field Nats meeting last Wednesday evening, people were reporting seeing flocks of White-throated Needletails also – over the eastern suburbs, and also one person who had been up near Wodonga saw a huge flock of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Eleanor, thanks for stopping by, I’ve only seen the one flock, although I guess most times they are much higher up, and I don’t look. Interesting to learn that there are good numbers on the move.


  2. What a wonderful experience David. This elusive bird is one I am still yet to see. I have friends that tell me they have seen them, and how fast and high they fly and how hard they are to photograph. Thanks for the info on them and the great shot of one. Yes that song was a unique sound and it rings in my head as I read the last line of your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ashley, yes, tis not a bird that I have much experience with. The speed, and direct line, of this flock was a bit of a surprise, unlike Swallows that dart and flit about, these dudes were on a mission.
      The song has a pretty interesting history I believe, but that haunting riff of the touch of rain is probably the most memorable, most couldn’t recall the words I expect.

      Liked by 1 person

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