They may be small, but Swal­lows and mar­tins are per­fectly-formed birds

Bird Watching (UK) - - April Id Challenge -

THE DAY WAS dull, grey and windy. Not much of a day for bird­watch­ing, I thought (wrongly). The lane opened on to stub­ble fields, where Swal­lows were swoop­ing, me­te­ors of sloe-blue, ter­ra­cotta and ivory, feed­ing up be­fore the long mi­gra­tion to Africa. House Mar­tins min­gled with them, white-rumped, float­ing and tum­bling and twist­ing, dis­tinc­tive from their com­pan­ions the Swal­lows, whose flight flut­tered, dived and flick­ered. I walked across the wet land to the edge of the wood, and look­ing up through a lat­tice of Ash leaves saw, against the light, a Spar­rowhawk high over the field. See­ing me, it flew into a tree. Above the bri­dle­way lead­ing into the woods, a cloud of House Mar­tins was swirling and cir­cling, chirp­ing and vol­ley­ing on neat wings, glossy, blue-black­backed, white rumps flash­ing above forked tails, torquing on the wind. Their home­made homes are mir­a­cles of en­gi­neer­ing, nests that take 10 days to make, us­ing more than a thou­sand beak-size pel­lets of mud and lined with feath­ers gath­ered in the air. They are in­dus­tri­ous par­ents: dur­ing the first three weeks of life, they feed their brood with up to 40,000 in­sects. But House Mar­tins are fast dis­ap­pear­ing (as are the in­sects from pes­ti­cide); their num­bers down by an alarm­ing per­cent­age. I was re­minded of a trip to wild Mace­do­nia where I had watched House Mar­tins swarm­ing like gnats around a mas­sive con­crete dam across the River Treska. They’d made their nests un­der its rim and were fly­ing in and out to perch there, tails down, show­ing the beau­ti­ful blue of the back and the daz­zle of the white rump, the flit­ting flight, the flut­ter of the wings and torque of the tail. Above them, around rock faces of the Matka gorge that tow­ers above the river, their close rel­a­tives Crag Mar­tins were cir­cling and swirling, de­scend­ing and skim­ming along the sur­face, wa­ter-ski­ing, sand-brown-backed and chunky.

Their home­made homes are mir­a­cles of en­gi­neer­ing, nests that take 10 days to make, us­ing more than a thou­sand pel­lets of mud, and lined with feath­ers gath­ered in the air

I watched them swoop­ing along the river, feed­ing on in­sects caught in flight, while frogs sounded off from the bank. A hand­some bird the Crag Martin, big­ger than the House Martin, with dark armpits and flash of black and white on the tail – and a pow­er­ful per­sona all of its own. I re­called watch­ing Sand Mar­tins at the sandy cliff at Mins­mere as they ar­rived back from win­ter mi­gra­tion, chat­ter­ing to each other as they ap­peared to check that last year’s nest-holes were still in or­der, land­ing sand-coloured on to the sand wall with folded wings, skit­ter­ing off again, cir­cling above the holes be­fore hav­ing an­other look, and chat­ter­ing some more.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.