It may be April showers that bring forth May flowers, but it is the April sun that brings the swallows. Catching first sight of these is a country pursuit, but usually you hear them first. That chuckle last heard when ‘mists & mellow fruitfulness’ were around, lifts your spirits and deep down, you know that they know, winter is now over.
In town, you have the swifts screeching around the church towers. Out of town, you have the house martins and swallows- their difference from a distance is their tails. The swallow being forked and close up has a darker breast, whereas the martin nests under the eaves of old farm houses. The swallow prefers sheds & barns on ledges. They build their nests with mud & straw, the swallows being open to the top, the martin being accessed through a small hole. In a wet Spring, they can be found waddling in muddy gateways; in a dry Spring around cow pats. Who do you think had invented wattle and daub? They then bed their new home with malting cow hair & feathers- mad dogs & Englishmen don’t compare to these hard workers, for they are soon nesting and perhaps raising two broods of four chicks over the season; such effort requires nutrient. They paint the sky with aerobatic manoeuvres, catching insects on upward draughts, harvesting their ‘aerial plankton’, but what a mess they make under their nests, a mess that is the secret elixir of top gardeners; our very own local guano.
Summer weather can be predicted, by the way they hunt; skimming low over the ground means rain and high in the clouds means fine weather. It is all to do with atmospheric pressure affecting insect activity.
If you are wondering, what the swallows did before buildings were erected around Oswestry, well they could be found at LLanymynech rocks or cliffs now quarried away by our history’s demand for stone, by its masons.
During September, they prepare to migrate to South Africa, by lining up on telegraph wires; a sight of success, a perilous journey over land and sea awaits. Mediterranean sport and tradition decimates their number, but when they reach their winter quarters, they just rest and feed ready for the next year’s cycle of life.
It is not all that long ago (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1823), we used to think that swallows in the autumn hibernated in rocks and mud under pools!