Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Tale of Two "Swallows": (a) Welcome Swallow

       Before spring becomes just a distant memory, I'll relate a couple of encounters with two of our migrant birds. The first is an event that I've often watched, usually from afar, and in recent times made attempts at photographing them, which requires a close approach. The species in the first attempt was the Welcome Swallow, a common enough species in Tasmania during the warmer months, with a few managing to eke out an existence during our winters. I say "eke" out, because these swallows feed almost exclusively on insects, usually caught in flight, and there are precious few insects about in the colder months.
         The venue was the car park of the popular scenic spot, at Goat Bluff, near South Arm. I had intended to wander through the nearby heath, but the car park was near full with the cars of surfers, the western side of the bluff being a popular surfing spot under certain conditions. I was about to drive back out when I spotted swallows coming to a muddy puddle close to the cars and stopped to investigate. I correctly guessed they were collecting material for nest building--they nest in crevices on the nearby cliffs, a far cry from their usual choice of buildings and road culverts.
          They were seemingly oblivious of the comings and goings of cars, the slamming of doors, the loud music and the banter of the surfers as they donned their wetsuits. It seemed a possible photo opp..
           As I mentioned earlier, I had photographed them here before, but the results were far from satisfying. These are birds with very short legs not 'designed' for walking and from my previous attempts a low angle was the "go". I sat down beside one of the large boulders dividing the car park into sections, probably no more than 6 or 7 metres from the small puddle that they were using and waited. At first I thought I may be too close and was about to back off when the first swallows returned. They flew over me, twittering, and after a few flybys decided I was non threatening and alighted at the far end of the puddle and gathered material. I'm guessing that their drive to breed and the opportunity of gathering nesting material from a source rapidly drying up (the sole puddle in the car park) is a strong motivation.
            I sat there for perhaps 20 minutes, punctuated by their visits and the frequent arrival and departure of numerous vehicles passing only metres away from me. A 'kindly' surfer came over to tell me that he had recently been bitten by a jack jumper at the very spot I was sitting. That put me in a slight dilemma! The bite from a jack jumper (an ant c.2cm long) is extremely painful. However, I had unwittingly elected to sit in a slight depression that was wet from an overnight shower and this had permeated my clothing through to my skin--I had a very wet backside. I decided that no self respecting jack jumper would come close--I thanked him for his concern.
           Individual pairs arrived together, always doing a flyby first and both birds collected material at the puddle, both dry grass and mud, sometimes one or the other, other times both. For a bird only weighing around 10 grams, they seemed able to fly with a considerable load of mud and grass.


Carole M. said...

...aren't they fascinating to watch gathering mud; I can't help but think "Rome wasn't built in a day" when I see them doing that

Unknown said...

I chance to see four at Auston Ferry as i stopped waited i ended up with some great photos.