December 16, 2018

Swallows safely on their way

The long, hot and lazy days of summer are not without a little tension and anguish down at the Waterworks Reserve where I monitor the seasons, and the birds arriving and departing.

Over the years I have developed a one-sided relationship with a family of welcome swallows and each year I wait for them to arrive and then go through the trials and tribulations of parenthood with them.

I regard the swallows visiting the reserve, well at least one pair and their successive generations, as family.

It’s not known where our swallows go to in winter to find food. I used to believe they travelled, like other popular migrants, the silvereyes, along the east coast of the mainland to warmer climes, but there is a suggestion that the swallows might turn left at Melbourne, follow the Victorian coast and then head north to the west of the Great Dividing Range.

When they return to the Waterworks, I share their anxiety in the first days of spring when snow still clings to kunanyi/Mt Wellington and insect food is in short supply to replenish energy after the long migratory journey. Then in drought I worry that they might not find the moist soil to build their mud-cup nests and later, with young in the nest or newly on the wing, I fear for their safety when the currawongs and ravens come to call.

The swallows, of course, are obvious to my interest in their wellbeing, but I like to think that they appreciate my presence when danger threatens, especially when the most feared predator of all, the brown goshawk, is on the wing.

And so it went this spring and summer.  I always approached the Waterworks and the swallows’ nest site in one of the BBQ huts with trepidation that all might not be well.

The swallows always arrive in the first weekend of September, although they  were a little late this year,  and just before they were due I checked the hut and saw that the previous year’s nest had been swept aside by council workers giving the hut a spruce up.

Within days of the swallows’ return, however, I noticed layers of mud piling up on the hut’s wooden roof beam, and within just a few days the nest had taken shape, the mud saucer about nine centimetres high.  A layer of feathers from white feral geese resident on the Waterworks reservoirs added a flourish to the construction.

Soon the female was incubating the eggs and after about 20 days, the male and female were bringing food for a growing brood. Another 20 days and I returned to find the three young happily demanding food from a perch on a wire fence.

The parents, with chittering calls, twisted and turned, wings flickering, as they chased insect food over the still waters, suddenly freezing in flight, stalling, floating and snatching gnats and mosquitos.

Another summer, another brood, and after the anguish of the breeding season, I’ll feel a pang of sadness when at the start of autumn the air is not  filled with the sound of excited swallow chatter.

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