I know you have seen a Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Not necessarily this year, but you have seen one and you know what they look and sound like. They epitomise the marvel that is migration –from their use in fixing the odds in Greek gambling or them over-wintering in the mud of ponds there are many stories around the magic of this bird. Each year the return of a pair to the Stables in Whickham seems a fine balance over the availability of food, so far they have not returned. But they have returned to the farm south of tetrad a, and their lively chatter on a warm evening makes it feel like they are pleased to be back, instantly grabbing attention.
Swallows returning to Britain have spent their winter in South Africa. Some will have travelled across the Sahara and others up the West coast of Africa; across Morocco; up the eastern side of Spain; across the Pyrenees; and up through the West of France. 200 miles every day, about 10 hours per day, travelling in daylight they feed on the wing, as they put on little weight before they set off. So pushing into a strong NE wind. Or sitting on a barbed wire fence in the pouring rain as they were this morning, is not what they need to be greeted with.
It is difficult to imagine swallows without humans. Where they nest; where they roost; where they feed are all influenced by us. Each afternoon a few birds would catch a quick drink in our Hotel pool in Sorrento before continuing none stop out to Capri, Sicily and then North Africa. Perhaps because of this connection they are part of our DNA and why thy bring us so much joy when they return. I can imagine where House Martins nested before man – I have seen their nests on cliff faces, but Britain is not full of dark caves that predate the sheds and barns swallows need for nesting. They need areas containing large numbers of insects to feed on. It is still exciting, when you are close enough you can hear and electric snap as the beak shuts on their flying prey. An excuse to sit in a summer meadow, if you needed one. They do better where there are livestock farms and best where these livestock farms are organic. So you can buy more Swallows when you next buy your organic dairy products.
There are a lot of swallow migration facts gathered in one place by the BTO. You can play for hours in this website but you still won’t find the best Swallow story I have seen this year. It was posted by @miguelmcminn and relates to the American race -Hirindo rustica erythrogaster. Much like in Eurpoe it nests in the North and winters in the Southern Hemisphere. The big difference being when you overshoot your wintering area in South America you finish up in Antarctica. That can’t be good for an insect eating bird.