Big thank you from

Swallows enjoy the good life in Mallorca

by Paul Cormacain

THE swallow scorns to have departed our shores at last.

Even with the weather being changeable, the bird seemed to hang on at least as long as usual, perhaps even longer. Geraldine and Max offered us the opportunity of seeing swallows on the island of Mallorca, they gave us the key to their home and told us to enjoy it. We did.

Even on the way there we saw swallows travelling from the airport. But the weather was warm, and the short sleeved shirt and shorts were not changed till evening.

The sun shone every day, but it did rain one night. We know, for the ground was wet the next morning. So the swallows did not leave.

Well, they were closer to their winter quarters, for a start, and it would be a lot easier flying to Africa from there.

They only had to fly over part of the Mediterranean Sea to reach Africa. Our birds have to fly the length of Ireland, then travel over Europe before they even reach the Mediterranean.

So swallows were still living in Mallorca during the second half of October. I would not doubt that they were also living all over Spain, or at least over the southern part of the country. As long as the swallows were there, everyone knew that it was safe to wear shorts, and most folk were wearing them.

We went to Puerto Pollenca, in the north east of the island, and saw swallows. We went to nearby sea cliffs, and there were swallows there as well. In the distance we could see birds flying to and from cliffs from time to time. We could not positively identify them, they may have been swallows, sand martins, or crag martins, and in the distance these birds can sometimes look reasonably similar.

In the vicinity, we saw other birds that looked like martins, or swallows, or swifts, but were much larger.

These birds fly like hirundines, and they also like hirundines.... to eat. They were hobbies, and I had to go to Spain to see them. (Just like I had to go to Spain to see the swallows.)

They were in this open country just a few kilometres from Puerto Pollenca. At times there would be none of them in the sky, at other times there might be two birds almost playing together. Once or twice we saw three birds at one time, and on one memorable occasion there were four hobbies in the air, interacting, then dispersing, then coming together again as if in play. An unforgettable experience!

The books all say the hobby is a swift and agile hunter. The bird will frequently chase and catch and eat large flying insects like dragonflies. It tends to catch an insect with one claw, then transfer the insect to the mouth without a change in speed or direction. Nice snack!

The hobby displays its skills to the greatest effect when chasing, and catching, swallows. And you know how fast and agile the swallow can fly. Martins can also be its prey, and they are no mean fliers either. The screaming swifts of our cities, now they have swift and agile flight, yet the hobby can catch a swift. Some flier!

The books say that the hobby heads south, just like the swallows, in September. The books must be talking about the hobbies who visit the south of Wales and England. For the birds who visit Mallorca don't know about these books, and it was in the latter half of October that we saw them.

They will move south in the near future, but will be back again in the following spring to harass the dragonflies and hirundines. Max and Geraldine have told us that we can check out these birds next year, so we look forward to seeing these next year. Perhaps we might meet you then!

Coming Events

Saturday 13th November - Wildlife Trust H e d g e I a y i n g Competition. Phone Victoria Meredith, on 4483 0282, for more info. Open day on RSPB reserve on Lough Foyle, call 9049 1547 for more details.

Tuesday 16th November - At Lagan Valley Island Arts Centre, 7.30, 'Playing With The Elements', phone Catherine on 9038 3152 for details.

Saturday 30th October - The RSPB initiate a bird feeding frenzy in Feed the Birds Day. Talk to the RSPB on 9049 1547.

The Lisburn RSPB is having an outing to Strangford Lough and Castle Espie, sounds great, details from David on 4062 6125.

Sunday 31st October - Wildlife Trust is organising a Halloween Festival, details from Emma Crawford on 2566 4400.

Monday 22nd November - Hear Jim Wells on Irish raptors in Friends' Meeting House, Lisburn, at 7.30, more from 9266 1982.

Ulster Star