Gwennol- A Swallows Song

“I am, I am, I am”

She cries,

As she skims over treetops and barns.

“I am

here,

After Six thousand miles,

At last!’

The staccato song of her travels,

A whirring, churring, chirping call

Traces her journey back

To these green pastures.

It tells of her flight,

From the arid scrub of South Africa,

Across shifting Namibian dunes.

Skirting the skeleton coast

She flew North.

She soared over the Zambizi,

Swept down to drink from the Congo’s water,

Twisted and flitted through crowded Brazzaville streets,

Then on,

Over Savannah

And dense rainforest,

Where Colobus calls echoed amongst the trees.

Before her the Sahara,

She crossed it,

in two hundred thousand wing beats,

To reach the Souks of Morroco.

The Straits of Gibraltar beckoned winged migrants on

To Europe.

A skipping flight through Spain and France,

She barrel rolled over the channel

To these familiar shores.

Along the way we called to her,

Pointing

At her tumbling, tearing flight.

We named her;

Inkonjani

Tififiliste

Hirondelle.

She is

Malenkama

Nyenga

Golondrina

Gwennol.

She is

Swallow

She is

All of these and none.

A Swallow’s Tale

The Swallows arrived here late this year, the first one being spotted at the end of May. They came in dribs and drabs, until the air around the farmyard was filled with their noisy chatter. 

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 Every barn has at least two mud and moss cups glued to the beams, perennial nests that lie empty all winter, waiting to be repaired and filled with chicks. There is even a nest directly above the desk in the farm office, and inevitably any papers left underneath soon end up splattered with droppings.

rsz_swallowOn sunny days the birds fly high, swooping and soaring with their distinctive forked tails backlit by the sun. Some alight on the weather vane, keeping lookout and alerting the others to the presence of the farm cat with a loud, indignant ‘Sifflit, Sifflit’ call.

DSC_0102__2___1471592634_36483When it is overcast they skim low over the fields and garden, long streamer tail feathers trailing as they snatch insects on the wing. As dusk draws in they perch along the telephone wires, excitedly twittering and whirring away. They are an everyday presence, as common to us as blue tits and sparrows, their song part of the soundtrack of my summer. It is easy to forget just how amazing they are.

This morning  I headed into one of the barns, in search of tools for a gardening job. A blur of feathers shot out of the door over my head. Startled by my unexpected arrival, the adult swallows had escaped buttwo juveniles were left flitting and fluttering around the barn. I stepped back from the doorway, leaving plenty of space for them to exit but they settled back up on a beam and looked down at me. They won’t be here for much longer, I thought. Soon it will be time for them to leave, and to start their long migration to the Sub Saharan wintering grounds.

DSC_0028__1471592387_25638The adults usually begin the southward journey in mid August, travelling in short bursts towards their destination. Some juveniles may have already set out on their very first trip. Before them lie many obstacles. First they must make it to the south coast of England, before heading across the channel and into France. Then they cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain. Heading ever southward, they cross the straight of Gibraltar and begin their venture over the vast continent of Africa. Most will skirt along the west coast, across the western edge of the Sahara and eventually arrive in South Africa.  Some may head east and travel down the nile. Others may brave the broad expanse of the Sahara itself. Starvation, exhaustion and storms will take their toll. Those who leave late may end up overwintering in Italy, southern France, Spain or North Africa.

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Migration of the Swallow – Map shows ringed bird recoveries (credit http://www.bto.org)

So the swallows that nest here on this little farm in South Wales may travel more than 8,000 miles, all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. A journey which, Google maps reliably informs me, will take 190 hours if I travelled by car. I imagine it would probably take a bit longer, taking into account border checks, passport control, ‘rest stops’ and breakdowns.

 Not only do these remarkable birds do it once, they will make that self same journey in reverse come Spring. This time it may take as little as 5 weeks to return, coming back to the same nest in the same barn that they used last year. It is hard to comprehend that something so small can travel such a long way, safely, under its own steam.

 

 

 

Day 10 – A clattering of Jackdaw

DSC_0592.JPGThis evening the sky above the farmhouse is peppered with Jackdaw. From my vantage point in the front garden  I estimate there to be over 100 individuals preparing to roost. I watch their black silhouettes wheeling and gliding over the Orchard before they finally settle in a stand of Sycamore.

There are 3 nest sites on the farmyard. Nest one, which has been used for the last 3 years, is in the eaves of the old Turkey Feathering Loft. This nest has chicks, although I don’t know how many. The adults are constantly popping through the gap under the tin roof to feed their hungry brood.

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I have tried sneaking a look inside the nest but to get close enough requires scaling a storage unit that was built decades ago, and I really don’t think it will hold my weight!

Nest two, used for the past 2 years is in a hollow in the trunk of an ancient sycamore by the front gate. This doesn’t have any chicks in, and I think it may only be used sporadically by last years chicks from nest one.

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Nest site 3 is new, and is located in another Sycamore tree hollow. It is exceptionally well camouflaged and virtually invisible from the ground. This nest too is full of hungry mouths, and an awful racket explodes from the tree at feeding time. This tends to draw the attention of other nearby Jackdaws, who subsequently flock to the tree.

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Jackdaw are probably my favourite member of the Corvidae, followed closely by Jays. They are the smallest of the Crow family and can be distinguished by their light blue eyes and silvery neck feathers. They strut when they walk, as if going along to the sound of their own personal Bee Gees soundtrack (Ah ah ah ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive). Being social birds they tend to roost together of an evening, often with crows or rooks, hence the large numbers gathering over our farm. The collective noun for a group of Jackdaw is either a ‘train’ or  a ‘clattering’. I much prefer the latter. It has a touch of onomatopoeia, conjuring up their harsh ‘jack-chak’ call .