Hirundines and other incomers

As spring finally takes hold (unseasonal snow and giant hail aside) we are seeing a whole range of different birds across the British countryside.

Just last Friday I saw my first Swallow of the year, but since then I’ve seen one every day. While in Cumbria they were on the telephone wires constantly, and even though I only had the compact camera (and if you missed the owl debacle, you can catch up HERE), they posed fairly obligingly.

IMG_1168 IMG_1167

It wasn’t just Swallows. Down by the River Eden the Sand Martins were also present and already busily making themselves at home, as you can see in this shaky video.

Swallows and Sand Martins, and House Martins, are all from the same family of birds; the hirundines. They are a widespread group, and watching their aerial dexterity is always a treat in Spring and Summer.

They mainly eat insects, taking them in flight whether high in the air or low across meadows, rivers, or any other insect rich habitat. Golfers and cricketers know the group well as they tend to disturb small insects in the grass, and a confident swallow will happily swoop round your feet while you are fielding at deep mid-wicket!

My first sighting of a swallow in 2015 was 18th April, so we’re four days later this year. I’m yet to see a House Martin or a Swift (similar, often bracketed with the swallows, but unrelated) this year, but I’m sure that will change in the next couple of weeks.

It will be a shock though, coming from North Africa for the summer and being confronted by this:

Let it snow

Let it snow

It wasn’t just the hirundines. There were Wheatears all across the North Pennines and into North Cumbria, including at Hadrian’s Wall.

Hadrian's Wall.  Nesting birds to the left, not distinguishable in photo!

Hadrian’s Wall.
Nesting birds to the left, not distinguishable in photo!

Along the Eden there were also Sandpiper and Goosander, with the latter now moving from their winter family groups towards breeding harems.

Goosander Male stretching his wings. Females unimpressed.

Male stretching his wings. Females unimpressed.

So, a sense of moving between seasons, but a hark back to a season we never really got the first time round. The joys of ever-changing seasonality!

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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