There were about 300 in total and as you can see, when this video was taken (at about 11:00) they were mostly feeding low over the River Avon with some skimming low over the fields - traditional grazed pastures favoured by swallows. By the afternoon and evening, their feeding behaviour had changed - they were flying higher and were not following the river; instead they were moving more widely over the fields, occasionally shifting en masse as a loose flock, presumably following the patterns of movement of their insect prey.
Filming these birds with their rapid, darting flight isn't too difficult (as long as it's just a broad view that you want), but photography is another matter - group shots aren't too tricky, but focusing on individuals is another matter, hence the blurriness, though it is possible to pick out the blue head and the white flashes on the underside of the tail.
|Swallows feeding over the River Avon, Downton, Wiltshire|
|Swallows performing close aerial passes...|
|Among the chaos of the swallow flock, one of the three sand martins seen - and the best photo I could manage!|
It's long been known that annual weather fluctuations affect swallow populations - a cold, wet breeding season reduces insect numbers and hence chicks starve - but there are longer-term trends with populations having fallen across Europe since around 1970. Although the precise causes are uncertain, there are a number of likely reasons for this:
- The effects of climate change on swallows' African wintering grounds and migration routes. Certainly, swallows are returning to their breeding grounds in poorer condition and laying fewer eggs than was previously the case. One factor seems likely to be the expansion of the Sahara desert, making this already major barrier increasingly difficult to cross.
- The effects of climate change in Europe. Cold springs (including late frosts) reduce insect numbers. Similarly, very hot, dry summers cause pools to dry out, also reducing insect numbers, and as well as the risk of starvation, chicks die from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
- Land use changes across Europe may be reducing the numbers of nest sites and flying insects. Swallows tend to forage over grazed pastures (as seen at Downton), and the loss of cattle grazing has impacted on swallows in some areas.
- Make a small opening (minimum 50 mm high & 70 mm wide), under the eaves or simply leave a window or door open if security is not an issue
- Attach a nest platform where you would like them to be - high up, out of the reach of cats. Use flat pieces of wood to make an open-fronted box (the front should be tilted slightly upwards or have a low lip to stop the nest falling out - robin nest-box designs are sometimes used), or if you are feeling more creative, attach a sawdust-and-cement or papier-mache cup to a wooden backing plate. Block off places where you don't want the birds to nest.
- Put a plastic bag below the nest to catch droppings
- If the weather is very hot, put an old carpet or blanket on the outside of the roof above the nest and soak it regularly with water. A couple of buckets of bathwater on such material takes several hours to dry and helps keep the temperature down inside the outbuilding.
|Even swallows have to rest sometimes..|