A few weeks ago we had a family reunion barbecue at our home for the occasion of my grandson’s 3rd birthday. He was over here from Sydney. Family also came down from the mid north of South Australia for the get together.
Later in the afternoon we had a picnic at Sturt Reserve near the banks of the Murray River here in Murray Bridge. With four children under the age of 9 we thought it good for them to burn off some energy on the playground before they undertook the long journey home.
I took my young nephew on a walk along the river bank. At one point we stopped to watch the local Bunyip – the only specimen of this fearsome mythological creature in captivity. It’s well trained; on inserting a dollar coin in the slot it will rise up out of its watery bed and roar in a frightening way.
While we were watching the monster strut its stuff I was aware of some Welcome Swallows flying in and out of the cage. One swallow was not flying much and I realised it was a recently fledged bird. It posed obligingly for my camera, and watched me from about a metre away.
Bird photography doesn’t get any better than that.
Warning: Don’t get frightened as you scroll down through the photos below because there is a photo of the dreaded Bunyip.
While outside in the garden earlier today my attention was suddenly attracted by a small group of swallow like birds flying high above the house.
I didn’t have time to grab the binoculars or the camera, so I can’t be sure what they were. I’m guessing that they were either Fairy Martins or Tree Martins. Both species spend winter in northern Australia and start to appear in the southern regions about now.
Looking through my field guides I’m drawn to the conclusion that I probably saw Fairy Martins. While they are quite common in the area for most of the spring and summer, I don’t see them very often over our house, so it was a special treat. It is more common to see Welcome Swallows here as they are resident here all year round.
Click here to see a photo of a Fairy Martin taken by someone else.
Today I received an interesting question about swallows from a reader:
I have a few questions about swallows and I was wondering if you could help me. I live right on the beach, at Dolphin Sands, Swansea, Tasmania. With Freycinet National Park and the Great Oyster Bay sanctuary we have the perfect place for wildlife. I was told that swallows always appear on the first few days of Spring, or pretty close to it and that they migrate as far as Siberia. Is this true? Also I was told that a pair will always return to the same nesting spot they had the previous year and that they mate for life. Is any of this true? I’d like to find out much more about these lovely little birds. Can you offer any suggestions?
This is my answer to Bronwyn:
It depends on which species of swallow you are seeing.
There are six species of swallows and martins to be found in Australia.
Only two are generally present in Tasmania.
The Welcome Swallow is common throughout eastern and southern Australia, including Tasmania. They have a rusty brown throat and on the forehead. In flight the tail is deeply forked. They normally migrate north in autumn and winter to SE Queensland (wise birds). They return to breed in the spring and early summer. They make a bowl shaped mud nest about the size of a soup bowl, often under wharves, bridges, verandas, eaves and other made structures, including boats. (They often use house boats on the River Murray here in SA)
The other species found in Tasmania is the Tree Martin. They are smaller than the Welcome Swallow, with greyish wings and back and whitish underparts. The tail is only slightly forked. They tend to nest in tree hollows and sometimes holes in cliffs or even holes and ventilators in buildings. They migrate north in Feb-May and return July to October. They are found in Indonesia and PNG as well.
None of our swallows migrate to Siberia. On the other hand, many of our small wading birds do go to the Arctic Circle to breed during our winter. That’s a topic far too big for this article.
Welcome Swallows tend to be monogamous except there is some evidence in Tasmania that they may change partners from year to year (and even within one breeding season). Nest sites are often reused, being refurbished from one breeding attempt to the next. Pair bonding in Tree Martins is not known. In fact there are few detailed breeding studies of this species.
Other readers from Tasmania might care to add further comments. I’ve never been birding in Tasmania so I’ve had to rely entirely on my reference library for this information.
Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds volume 7, Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
Welcome Swallows are a common species throughout much of southern and eastern Australia. Here in Murray Bridge, South Australia they are the most common of our swallow species. Along the River Murray they can often be seen in loose flocks of hundreds. Even in the streets it is not unusual to see 50 – 100 resting on power lines.
Strangely, they are not all that common at our place, situated about 5 kilometres from the river. When we do have them around it is usually fleeting visits by no more than 2 – 6 at a time. In recent months, however, their visits are becoming a little more regular. Instead of once a fortnight on average, they appear to be around most days. They are probably more frequent visitors than I realise with me being stuck in my office with my writing for long hours most days.
Several days ago I was delighted to hear the soft ‘seep, seep, seep’ call and twittering quite close to the office. I left my computer to find two of them – dare I call them a “pair” (?) sitting on the storm water down pipe coming off the office roof (see photos) They could well have been calling to me to ask permission to visit!
One of them occasionally would fly off in tight circles around the nearby garden and through our new back veranda. Were they checking it out as a possible nesting site? I’m not sure, but they were very interested in the locality for about ten minutes before flying off.
My wife and I join a friend on a morning walk every weekday. On our way home we pass a small dam about half a kilometre from our home. This dam was constructed on a vacant block of land by our local council several years ago. It stores storm water from the nearby streets. Some areas near here have a flood mitigation problem only discovered about five years ago during an extremely heavy downpour one afternoon. The council workers pump water from this dam to use in watering street trees and to dampen road works where necessary.
I’ve kept an eye on this small reservoir ever since it first contained water. Generally all I see is a few Pacific Black Ducks, Straw-necked Ibis and a collection a Masked Lapwings (which have been seen breeding there). Welcome Swallows are also regular visitors, and I am sure the local population of White-winged Choughs use the wet mud on the edge of the water to construction their mud nests. One one occasion I also saw several Black-tailed Native-hens.
A few mornings ago I was surprised to see several Black Swans gracing the water. This species is not all that common around here, though I have seen several recently at the nearby Rocky Gully Wetlands, about three kilometres to the east.
One day I will get around to making a list of all the species I’ve seen in this dam.
And then I will need to find a way of encouraging the swans to fly over our land so I can count them on my garden list.