11 May, 2014 Swallowing my pride
I heard an unusual racket coming from the underside of a bridge in downtown Richmond earlier this week. I looked up and there were dozens of swallows flying around dozens of mud nests. My buddy and I were watching trains downtown and we’ve been at the same spot week in and week out for years – and there’s never been a swallow or anything else nesting on that bridge. This was a treat:
Here are a few together:
I’ll get more next week. There were maybe nearly a hundred nests. Very, very exciting. When I first saw them I assumed they were Barn Swallows, since that was the only swallow I was familiar with. Barn swallows flew alongside the tractor every evening at camp during the summer. I was sure I would have noticed the white spot on the forehead though, so I was surprised to see that and looked them up. I learned that these were in fact Cliff Swallows. I may have mentioned (I hope I’ve mentioned) a bird ID site called Birds of North America. I’ve subscribed to it (it is quite reasonable) and am learning a great deal about birds. Here’s a great quote from the introduction to the section about Cliff Swallows:
Doubtless the Lord—to paraphrase Lincoln’s aphorism—must love the Cliff Swallows, else he would not have made so many of them.
William C. Dawson (1923)
And I’ve been hanging around outdoors for fifty-two years and never even heard of them. Crazy. Glad I know what to look for now. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression (the song title) “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” – those are Cliff Swallows! Also I’ll bet they kill way more mosquitoes than any backyard bug zapper. And their noise is much more pleasant. Speaking of pleasant noises. I didn’t know this – I admit my ignorance – until I wrote this post. Not even until the final edit! I just learned this – this minute. That “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” is (among other things) the name of a 1940 single by The Ink Spots. Quite fun.
Speaking of spring animals. I was hiking at PP a few mornings ago and this guy was swimming in a puddle (these guys will also eat mosquitoes):
Soon to be a frog. I also took the time at PP to do a fun selfie. This is from far away:
Same selfie, zoomed in:
I had another birding experience recently that’s not quite as pleasant as discovering Cliff Swallows for the first time. I ride my bike at West Creek a great deal and there are two large lakes. There are herons and egrets and mallards but there is always – always – a large flock of Canada Geese. I’ve been seeing them for years – for decades now – and I often notice at least one with an unusual looking upturned wing. I finally googled it and learned it’s called “Angel wing.” I’ve read a lot of different articles about it and their hypotheses differ. But the consensus is it’s a nutrition problem of some sort. Crazy. This is a cell phone picture, I’ll get a better one with my real camera:
I have for most of my adult life not been the world’s biggest fan of Canada Geese. But I’ve lately been reading (as I mentioned last week) Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and it’s heightened my sensitivity about a number of subjects. Canada Geese among them. Here’s a healthy young Canada Goose building up its muscles as it works against the current of the James River:
I’m learning (that’s my goal) as I write more regularly that sometimes the well runs dry. But it’s spring and no wells are running dry in central Virginia any time soon. I misjudged my timing and didn’t quite get to write as much on this blog entry as I’d hoped. I am, however, sticking to my “publishing” schedule and getting a blog post up for the sixth consecutive Sunday. My mom is away today – on Mother’s Day! – and so is my favorite editor, Evie. So all errors (as always) are my responsibility alone. Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll see you next week,
PS Here’s a song for my mom, but you may enjoy it too: Mexico