Soar­ing swal­lows

Look up to the skies as th­ese beau­ti­ful birds are now mak­ing their win­ter mi­gra­tion flight

Garden News (UK) - - About Now -

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

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