The return of old friends

Swallows make an epic 10,000 mile journey to Scotland every summer.
Swallows make an epic 10,000 mile journey to Scotland every summer.

My wee feathered friends are back for the summer.

They say “one swallow doesn’t make a summer” so it’s just as well that they do arrive in their thousands to spend the summer months here in the Scotland.

Swallows are small sleek birds with dark glossy blue backs, red throats, pale under parts and long deeply forked tail feathers. They are around 18 cm in length with a wingspan of 33cm. Sociable birds, their call is a distinct warble of trills and twitters. They are extremely agile in flight and spend most of their time on the wing except when they return to the nest to feed their young.

From old records in the local press, the first swallow seen returning to Kirrie in 1921 was recorded on April 5 and 10 years later the first seen back was reported in the Kirrie Free Press on April 5 when the news was that a Cuckoo was heard on April 19. The first swallow back in 1991 was very late, on May 7.

My first sighting back in 1997 was on April 30 and in that year a flock of over 70 left from the farm again in September 1997.

Significant mortality is regularly recorded during and after bad weather, during both breeding and migration. On the other hand, hot and dry weather can result in mortality through dehydration and heat stress. Independent of weather-related fluctuations, there are believed to have been widespread declines in Europe since 1970.

My own records show that the first two swallows were seen on April 16, 2009 and many left again in mid September, but there was no real ‘gathering’ in 2009 as it was the wettest summer on record.

The last hatch was still flying high over Kirrie on September 24, 2009 when the first skein of nine geese was seen. The geese usually replace the swallow, they never really overlap. This year, the first two swallows from the 150 that gathered at the end of 2014 were seen back here on April 16 and prompted this article.

They’re one of the UK’s commonest and most familiar wild birds, visiting to breed before flying thousands of miles back to their other home.

In September the flow of Swallows and Martins back to Senegal in Africa begins. The first sign of this is when you see them gather together in huge numbers on telephone lines. Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, mainly during daylight, at speeds of 17-22 miles per hour at a maximum flight speed of 35 mph. Last year was a particularly large gathering, so I am hopeful for many to return this year

I will look forward to seeing how many breed again and I will be sad to see them fly off again in September.

Yours aye,

THE ORRAMAN