South Africa has many natural sightings that leave one in awe. One of them being the 3 to 5 million Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), that begin their arrival in small droves that magnify from thousands into millions, as they come home to roost in our reedbed in the Lake Victoria wetland area. For the duration of their stay, the indigenous Phragmities reeds is home and the warm skies their blanket.
Almost a hop, skip and a jump away from home, it was a very short, dusty and long trail over hillocks that our humble Kia traversed, Past the little brook and swaying red hot pokers, away from the birds of paradise, the regal strelitzias, we finally reached the assembly point which turned out to be a carpark, a huge carpet of green surrounded by protective trees and a boma. It was much later that we learned that this was a monthly meeting ground for entertainment and fetes. We ambled along to the viewpoint and absorbed the panoramic verdant view, paid our R20 per person entrance fee and collected our information booklets which were on sale at table that also sold mementos and hand crafted items, I purchased a tiny metal pin of a swallow in flight. It was but a small price to pay, kudos to the
Mount Moreland Conservancy to combine a love for nature and social entertainment.
We settled down on natural rock seats and prepared for the feast of flight that was to arrive. Alas, we came much too early, way before the required half an hour before sunset. The sun was warmly comforting and the rocks even more so, judging from the indolent looks from the lizards lounging about. Those moments were good family moments as my son exuberantly took photographs whilst we people watched, the husband putting his binoculars to good use. A crowd had gathered by then. Since food is not sold, visitors and residents are invited to being in their picnic baskets, blankets and chairs. The stillness was pierced by the excited cries of young ones who ran around barefoot, watched indulgently by grandparents and parents.
Eyes narrowed, we peered into the distance, over the hills and finally we were rewarded with the arrival of a small flock of birds who wing danced their way into the reeds. Excitement mounted as they were followed by more birds … and to my dismay, the steady roar of a jet plane. We had not taken into account the proximity of the neighbouring King Shaka International Airport.
We pondered out aloud. Would the arrival of the birds be affected or their numbers lessened? Had this been factored when the airport was considered? Turns out, we worried unnecessarily. Nothing swayed the birds from their mission. Africa it was for October and November and no thundering big bird was to sway them.
Our brown eyed Swallows boasts a metallic blue/black upper body and a dark red throat. Imagine travelling the world annually and that too for years in succession? Why? Their life spans a period to 2 to 13 years. Like us, they eat on the run or flight in their case, but on flying insects.
The swallows preferred habitat is wide open spaces, low vegetation and a lake of water. With the exception of the more urban barn swallow in Japan, other barn swallows avoid urban areas. Other popular roosting places are in Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago. They are partial to the sugar fields to protect themselves from predators.
The next time my international friends, you chance upon white half a dozen or so eggs on your property, look out for the reddish spots on soft grey. I smile because the nesting areas are sourced by the territorial male for their families although both are fiercely protective over the home. Did you know that like the mynahs, pairs breed for life and are known to sometimes indulge in “extra-pair” copulation? Having said that, despite their wandering, they actively guard their females to avoid being cuckholded. Hmmm.
Their incubation period is about 15 to 19 days and like humans, both parents nurse and feed their babies until they are ready for flight after 3 weeks. That would be a propitious sighting but not for South Africans, as the barn swallows do not breed in South Africa. Heartening to support an initiative like this given the eradication of some species due to our land grabbing, overpopulation and social circumstances.
The locals were happy to reveal that awareness of the of the barn swallows began in 1970 , which was followed by the formation of the Mount Moreland Conservancy. Land was identified, earmarked and leased. Landscaping and terracing began in earnest. Those terraces are symbolic of seated glimpses of nature’s flora, fauna and ornithological delights.
The viewing sight is open nightly (weather permitting). Remember your camping comforts, after sun lotion and mosquito cream. Forget the material rush of the world. get back to nature and allow yourselves to be seduced off the beaten track, in a world remarkably like ours yet wholly natural and wholesome.