Look up to the skies as these beautiful birds are now making their winter migration flight
For the birds that have to fly south in autumn, timing is everything. Long-haul migration flights test their reserves of strength and determination, and having to battle against bad weather lengthens each bird’s odds of success.
Most of the visitors that check out in autumn are fairly low-key – small songbirds such as the garden warbler and the whitethroat. We don’t tend to notice when they up and go. But others are far more noticeable, such as the swallow. They get together in ever-growing flocks as departure time approaches, often perched together on phone lines.
Swallows like company for their flight ahead. As they move south, flocks meet and join up, growing as they get nearer to the coast. Sometimes tens of thousands get together, joined by smaller numbers of house martins. They’ll all roost together at favoured locations along England’s south coast before starting out for the continent.
If, like me, you follow the fortunes of nesting swallows through the summer you can get quite attached to ‘your’ youngsters. Ours start life in nests in the roof of our garage and come back to spend nights up on the roof beams until they’re ready to attempt their first migratory flight.
I often feel that it would be good if we could share bad weather warnings with them. Although, instinct probably gives a swallow a better feel for a coming storm than the Met Office’s computers provide!
But by the end of September it can seem as though they’ve mistimed departure. However, looking at old diaries, in previous years our young swallows here in Pembrokeshire have still been with us in the last week of September, and even as late as early October. The benefits of enjoying Indian summer days can outweigh the problem of sitting out wet, stormy days in the relative shelter of a roost. With lots of insects still around it offers an opportunity to get into peak condition before the big test. When they do go, the birds can cover big distances fast. The majority of UK swallows travel over western France and through eastern Spain before crossing the Sahara Desert to their winter home: southern Africa.
Swallows may hang around to feed if the weather is good