Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Flying Visit!

Up bright and early yesterday morning as a certain dog needed to go to the bathroom. Imagine my pleasant surprise when a small group of Swallows passed overhead, heading south at a fast pace. On the wing in the right conditions the Swallow can travel at around 50 mph. A few odd individuals are known to overwinter every year in southern and western Europe. Sometimes as far north as Britain and Ireland in very mild years.

However three or four days will see the little group over central France where they will pause for a few days and feed before drifting down to southern Spain where they will pause once again. Then across the straits of Gibraltar into northern Africa. Come Christmas our Swallows will be enjoying life in the wonderful warm climate in the west, central and south of Africa. 

The Swallow has become an integral part of our way of life. Most people will remember reading Ransoms Swallows and Amazons. These days if a Swallow nests under our eaves we regard it as a privilege. One which is well worth clearing up from time to time the inevitable build up of poo as a couple or more broods are raised each summer. According to legend, the Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers. 

The Swallow is a welcome summer visitor that most people can recognise from the large "V" forked tail. The Swallow as even entered into our folklore. A remark taken from an observation made by Aristotle Greek philosopher and a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote "One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day. Similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy." In a way Aristotle was quite right as today's Swallows were heralding the onset of winter. And we have had a few better days than this. 

However on another point Aristotle was very wrong when he said the lack of Swallows during the winter months was down to hibernation. Most people are aware that the Swallow migrates and flies south for the winter, making the return journey in the late spring. Migration of Swallows between Britain and South Africa was first established in 1912 when a bird that had been ringed at a nest in Staffordshire, was found in Natal South Africa. 

Because the Swallows in the UK are such long-distance migrants. Juvenile dispersals begins in late July and early August. The full autumn migration from the UK begins in mid-September and continues into the first half of October. Return migration north begins in February, with the full spring movement occurring in mid-March to late April. Early birds begin to arrive in the UK in second half of March with the main arrivals  in mid-April to mid-May

The Swallow that is most predominant in Northern Europe is the Barn Swallow and gets its name from its favoured habitat. Swallows have enormous range that they cover, particularly the Barn Swallow, which breeds over most of the Northern Hemisphere and winters over most of the Southern Hemisphere. I am sure it will be a while now, before we see the Swallows once again.


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