One Swallow may not make a summer but it certainly cheers you up when you see the first of the year! In the Blackwater Valley Swallows usually appear at first in April, a few at a time and then in early May they appear in waves and can be seen almost anywhere, often over water and where there are suitable nesting places. Iíve seen them throughout the Valley but not always in high numbers.
The Swallow, now more strictly called the Barn Swallow, migrates from Africa, south of the Equator. There is plenty of food there in the summer, but the plentiful supply here in Britain and most of Europe means it can find all it needs here with more nest sites available. Swallows can be reported from mid-March, but these are unusual sightings, possibly even of wintering birds that are known to stay in tiny numbers in Britain. They feed on insects so the food supplies are short until our spring and summer arrives.
Spring passage involves sorting them out from their near relatives, the Sand Martin, an earlier migrant, and the House Martin, which appears at much the same time as the Swallow. Sand Martins are brown birds with a band across their chests and House Martins are blue but have a conspicuous white rump to help you sort them out. Swallows have long tail streamers and a glossy metallic blue-back which reflects the sun beautifully and if you can see one closely, maybe when perched on a telephone wire, the wonderful red throat adds another rich colour to admire. All three of these migrants are more likely to be seen in the air, sometimes together, rather than perched during May.