Saturday, June 16, 2007

Riparia riparia

The name makes me think of the old song, Corinna, Corinna. And it's got this bit about birds (in Bob Dylan's version):
I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
I got a bird that whistles,
I got a bird that sings.
But I ain' a-got Corrina,
Life don't mean a thing.
But this isn't a story about a bird that whistles, or a bird that really sings. Riparia riparia is also known as the Bank Swallow or sand martin. I've been noticing a chittering swallow in the sky in the last day or so--leading me to think I'd forgotten what a tree swallow sounds like. Of course I hadn't. This was the bank swallow, as I discovered this morning.

This time of year in this place it's full daylight at 5:30 in the morning. So this morning I took advantage and headed out for a walk. As I approached the scrape (the area where topsoil is harvested) I noticed the air was full of some bird or other. Nearer, swallows. But what kind? As I rounded a berm and the recent topsoil pile came into view I noticed a great deal of activity on it. I walked over and realized that these were bank swallows, flying around, chittering, and excavating nesting holes in the newly piled topsoil (this is actually what you might call clean fill--very sandy, would be a big disappointment to a gardener).

Bank Swallows
Coming and going, digging and guarding.

Two faces of the pile are pretty nearly vertical, parts of the west and north sides, and these were being excavated by at least 10, maybe 20 pairs of swallows (it's very hard to count these quick, busy birds).

North side nesting holes--I count 13. West side, maybe 6.

I wasn't back there yesterday, but I could hear the equipment working away. And I could see that these nesting holes were being constructed this morning--some as I watched. I don't know what will happen Monday morning. Sometimes the sifted piles (which these appear to be) are left for a season, sometimes they're trucked out right away. I'm looking around this morning to see if there are any resources for preventing the destruction of nesting sites of these birds. If not...I guess I'll leave a note on the bulldozer sitting in front of the pile asking for consideration for them.

Bad enough when a single pair of birds is induced to nest in a hopeless spot as a result of human activity (if you build it they will come--then you can blow it up). Sickening to think of a whole colony getting their hopes dashed at once.


burning silo said...

It sure would be unfortunate if that pile is removed in the next few weeks. Perhaps the operator could be persuaded to leave it and take some other soil and then remove this pile after the swallows are fledged.... which really shouldn't be all that long.

Anonymous said...

keep us posted as to what happened to the nests.