The swallows are back!
The swallows were first seen flitting around the big shed on Thursday. Ok, it’s time to move the car out! A decision which proved to be perfect timing as they bedded down for the night and declared the car port “home” once more. Or at least until September.
I love these little birds.
Why wouldn’t I? They split their time between South Africa and Scotland every year. Birds after my own heart. It is fairly common knowledge that they will return to the same place each year – generally using the same nest. Their offspring too will settle pretty close to where they were born. If they didn’t then you would have to wonder how a new family would happen to know there is a des res with stunning views over the Braes of Glenlivet up for grabs wouldn’t you? I mean it’s not as if there is an estate agent for birds. We have had swallows nesting here for at least eight years now. I like to think they are the same couple, or their children or grandchildren, keeping the family home alive. I get pretty attached to them – can you tell?
Despite the mess they make and occasionally taking up residence in the kennels (now that totally complicates matters). They signal the arrival of spring. And we are connected through two countries I love too.
So that’s the swallows in residence. Then lo and behold the cuckoo, not to be outdone, announces his return yesterday as well. Hey you, I’m back too! I always remember the old boy across the road telling us “you will know it’s spring when you hear the first cuckoo”. The McEwans used to set their season clock by 1st May. It’s 27th April and they are early. The cuckoos, too, have travelled from Africa. Did they fly the same route as my swallows? How many stopovers do they need?
The cuckoo’s modus operandi
..is somewhat different to that of the swallow of course. Imitating a bird of prey to scare the you know what out of some expectant meadow pipit or dunnock so they flee their home. Hmm, the master (or mistress) of disguises. Then, while the residents are out, the cuckoo drops her own sprog into the nursery. She then takes off for a life of leisure while someone else brings up the baby. Genius! And when the real new borns arrive the, now hatched, cuckoo boots them straight out of the home. Egg or chick, he doesn’t care. It’s all about me now. You can only imagine the conversation in that nest as Daddy Dunnock looks at Mummy and then looks up at the somewhat larger baby cuckoo and says “are you really trying to tell me he’s mine?”
Back to the swallows
Meanwhile the swallows are hard at work feeding up their brood. Well if you came here for insects then you are in the right place. Scotland has them in abundance from May onwards. Seriously – fill your boots! When they are strong enough to fly they will go away for a few hours, sometimes it can be days. You are convinced they have gone. Then a quick check during the final dog pee of the night will reveal four or five bundles of feather, squeezed back into a bed which is now way too small for all those bodies. Their breath making their wee bodies rise and fall. Tired and ready for a rest after their test flight. I often wonder how far do they go. Do they do circuits? Do they take a short haul flight just to see?
And then what happens when Mum and Dad decide to try for another baby? Do the first brood kids move out? I think that’s what ours do as they don’t seem to stick around to see the new arrivals. I just think of it as them going off to Uni to learn life skills for a few months before the whole family comes back together ready for their long haul flight to South Africa in September. We do know swallows group up with others before the flight. But where do they meet? How do they plan their strategy. Do they have a big 3D model of their route with plastic swallows? Does the leader have one of those pushy stick things to move the model birds around, showing everyone where they need to be? Flying in formation over France, by Spain, crossing the Sahara and the Congo before arriving at their final destination.
Now you see it, now you don’t
I confess I never really notice when the cuckoo goes. Despite loving the sound of the cuckoo on a sunny spring day, it just stops, as quickly as it started. But I do notice when the swallows have flown. I watch as they congregate on the power lines or on the ridge of the house. I secretly hope they are still test flying and will stay one more day. Could you hold autumn off a little longer? But then one day they just won’t come back. Gone for some winter sun. Who can blame them.
And as always I will call “Stay safe. See you next spring. And if I see you in Africa will you find a way to say ‘Hey! It’s us. We have a timeshare at the Gallowhill'”.