Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Swarm!

My most enjoyable natural history events of the past five years continue:

7. Hirundines at Canons Farm
The evening of September 20th 2017 saw me standing in the back garden when a group of Swallows powered through at head height, followed by another group a few minutes later. Over the next hour several hundred had done likewise, and as the daylight faded I resolved to be out in the field the following morning to see if this was the start of a meaningful hirundine push.

Arriving at Canons Farm at 07.15hrs I was pleased to see that there were already a few hirundines on the move. I settled down at my favourite observation point and waited. My wait was not a long one, as within half-an-hour 1200 Swallow and 70 House Martin had moved through, at a modest elevation and seemingly taking two well defined routes. House Martins then came to the fore, as in the next 30 minutes they numbered a further 730 birds, with Swallows mustering 600. The passage then abruptly stopped.

I was more than happy with what I had seen and took myself off for a wander round the farm, but with one eye to the skies in case the hirundines started up again. At 11.00hrs, they did. The next couple of hours proved to be memorable. House Martins started to barrel in, in wide open flocks, up to 700 in 15 minutes and then a great pulse of 1800 in just 10 minutes that included a group of 400 birds. Geoff Barter then joined me. He had timed it well.

Then an enormous swarm arrived from the north. We stood transfixed. We were surrounded by a minimum of 2,000 birds, in all directions, like gnats on a summers day. As far as we could tell they all seemed to be House Martins. Those that had been at height suddenly dropped down and the majority of the flock started to feed in a frenzy over the adjacent fields. It was manic. At this point you stop being a mere observer and become a participant - a grounded participant maybe, but one immersed in, and a part of, the action.

As soon as great knots of hirundines moved off south they were quickly replaced by fresh arrivals. A few more Swallows started to appear as the House Martin stream finally started to slow. By 12.45hrs it had quietened down and the spectacle had virtually stopped by 13.15hrs. The final totals were 6710 House Martin (a county record) and 4000 Swallow. And strangely enough, this passage was not replicated elsewhere locally.

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