Updated: May 7, 2020
The swallows arrived back in our stables last Wednesday. They would have left South Africa, some 10 days before arriving in our stable traversing Botswana, the Equator, Timbuktu, the Sahara, Morocco, Spain, the Pyrenees and France. They migrate by day at low altitudes, picking bugs out of the air on the wing, covering 200 miles a day at a speed of 20 odd miles per hour.
Now I clearly can’t know exactly where they go, but I thought I’d use my intuition, and Google maps, and pick a place at random in that vicinity. I alighted on Great Fish Point Lighthouse, a little along the coast from East London. It looks a likely enough suspect, surely with nooks or crannies enough to house my little friends. Maybe they use the light, shining out to 32 nautical miles from land, to guide them in. And I like to picture a hearty lighthouse keeper and partner, maybe even a little family, waving them off on their journey that little while ago.
But in seriousness, I do find it amazing that there is a bond, made by swallows, between my family here at Manor Bottom, and someone living all that distance away, near a different beach, a different sea (with Great White sharks!), and with entirely different trees. I hope the smiles on the faces of our swallow cousins are as broad as mine when I see the swallows returning safely from their mammoth migration.
Nature binds humans together in many unnoticed ways like this. From the Painted Lady butterfly, that a child in Essaouira may have admired flying by, that now crosses my path. Even a regular Robin may have migrated to my garden from Scandinavia, flying over, perhaps, a newlywed couple on Bornholm. The Redwing may have flown over Iceland’s Blue Lagoon to visit us.
I love our swallows, they certainly cheer me up on their arrival, and they always take the same spot in the stable, right under the gable, above Kwaver’s stable. Last year they had two sets of chicks, the latter batch just in time. They literally had a week or so to learn to fly before their great migration. Swallow song sounds so euphoric and they seem a bird full of joy generally. Despite many local experts doubting it, I was sure they were swooping down to dip in the pool just for the sheer fun of the splash. I found in Birds and Men (sure the title would be more inclusive these days!) this backed up, E. M.Nicholson having seen them ‘warbling with pleasure as they plunged towards a clear pool and dipped themselves in the water flying, so that they made a great splash’.
Even in midwinter, I sometimes think about them. Now I will always imagine them swooping through a crack in the walls of Great Fish Point Lighthouse to their cosy nest in the eaves. Perhaps also they are dreaming of their summer pad on the Isle of Wight.