Saturday 19 April 2014

First swallows

It was another gorgeous day yesterday: not too hot, mostly sunny. We were able to get some grass mowed and made some progress on getting a clear space to plant potatoes.  It's a bit of a jungle outside the polytunnel but O'Manch worked manfully to clear two raised beds that I constructed several years ago from concrete blocks. They are an orderly complement to the long bed in which he planted out the strawberry runners the day before. It's looking quite protestant. Last night as the evening fell I was sitting on the bench outside the living-room window talking to my mother on the telephone when I noticed the first couple of swallows Hirundo rustica of 2014 weaving and jinking about the yard.

Although Aristotle recognised that some birds migrate annually, he believed that swallows were rather inclined to hibernate through the Winter.  Any half astute natural historian will know that in Europe swallows subsist entirely on insects on the wing - you just have to swat one down and analyse its stomach contents.  The same h.a.n.h will know that there are very few insects on the wing in Winter, so it would be hard for swallows to make a living at that time of year and  . . .  swallows are conspicuous in their absence.  It wasn't until Thomas Bewick's beautiful and authoritative A History of British Birds (1797) that it was generally accepted that Aristotle's hypothesis could be rejected: swallows go South rather than go into hiding.

It always gives me a lift when the swallows arrive - if our farmlet is deemed habitable by these long-distance travelers, it must be a fit place for us to live.  We have kept desultory records of these events over the 17 years we've lived on the side of the mountain:
01 May
21 Apr
28 Apr
24 Apr
02 May
27 Apr
13 May
18 Apr
2014 is thus the earliest we've seen these harbingers of Summer, but I'm not going to predict how much hay we'll win from this information.  One day at a time: it was another gorgeous day yesterday.

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