The welcome swallows have vanished, after the slow fade of summer. One minute the swallows are fluttering, swooping and gliding through Hobart’s parks and then they are gone, virtually overnight.
During the summer months I grow so used to seeing them that they become part of the motion and fabric of the city. And then too quickly as autumn arrived they were no more, and something vital appeared to be missing.
It’s not that I actually record the date of their departure, as I do their arrival. It is something that gradually dawns on me. One swallow-free day, and another might not be unusual but then all of a sudden I miss their friendly twitter across the lawns and glades. And a melancholy sets in.
This summer I paid more attention to the swallows than usual, because I put myself in a position to be a part of their world on virtually a daily basis. By coincidence, just at the swallows were arriving in Hobart – always on the first weekend of September in my observations – I joined the gym at the Hobart Aquatic Centre as part of a weight-loss and keep-fit program.
Although I have been a keen sportsman in the past, I’ve never considered the gym as a friendly environment, I’m not at home in a habitat of dumbbells, weights and running machines. I came close to quitting after a week until I discovered that the placement of the stationary bikes gave a vantage point over the Domain and the adjoining Rose Gardens, along with a marvellous view of Mt Wellington in all its changing moods.
So a new checklist of birds spotted was born. A gym one to go with the list for my garden.
The swallows were the stand-out feature because I soon discovered that a family were intending nest somewhere in the vicinity of the aquatic centre grounds, if not in the grounds itself, although I have to say that I never found the nest.
I watched the elegant courtship displays over the Rose Garden and between the oak trees fringing the road that divides these and the grounds of the swimming pool. I saw an exchange of a gift of an insect between the male and female, cementing their union, and in coming months saw the swallows frantically hunting insects day-long to feed their young after the female had incubated the eggs.
Both the males and females feed the young and, between my cycle program and a reluctant visit to the weights section of the gym, I looked eagerly for the first sight of young birds.
It came early one morning when I saw three fledglings sitting on a thin branch of a cyprus right outside the gym window. The youngsters, with Donald Duck-like yellow beaks, were demanding food, and the eager parents obliged with beaks full of flying insects.
Soon the young were joining their parents in mad flights around the entrance to the aquatic centre, to be joined by other families nesting the neighbourhood. The north-eastern side of the swimming pool, at the base of a steep embankment, was clearly a natural trap for insects and the swallows made full use of it.
The swallows might have been the show stoppers but there were other birds to watch over the summer. A party of endemic yellow wattlebirds found a food source among the cyprusses and silver birches around the centre, no doubt feeding on insects to supplement their mainly pollen and nectar diet with protein.
Masked lapwings raised young of their own in the pool grounds and during the summer declared war on a pair of sulphur-crested cockatoos. I couldn’t understand why the lapwings insisted on flying at the cockies noisily and driving them off until I realised that they were mistaking the cockatoos for a white goshawk I had seen previously patrolling the Domain. In flight a white goshawk can look deceptively similar to a cockatoo, which is the about the same size.
The war continued, long after the swallows had departed for the mainland.