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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Swallow Watch

March 9, 2010, 1:10 p.m.

I'm on swallow watch today as I have been the past few days in early March. March is swallow month, and they always appear in the Valley before the month exits like a lamb. It has been a mild winter here and an early spring. Swallow time, anytime, any day. And today I see my first pair of violet-greens at ten minutes after one p.m. They appear, as always, high in the SW sky, re-entering the Valleysphere for the first time this year. The saying goes: "One swallow does not make a spring." That may be so, but one swallow will last me until the lilacs bloom.

The violet-greens (Tachycineta thalassina)appear first. A month or so later tree swallows( Tachycineta bicolor)make their entrance. Last on the scene are the forked-tailed barn swallows (Hirondu rustica). In the fall the three species leave the Valley in reverse order.

The violet-greens' yearly debut usually occurs on a a foggy morning which this time of year presages a clear and sunny day. When the fog lifts I look for them in the SW sky. They appear as specks, swooping, gliding, flitting upwards. Their flight is unique and to me best described as "gleeful." At least that's the emotion I feel when I watch their carefree aerial antics. This year they, as the spring, are early. But in 2008 I saw them March 4 (12:55 a.m.). In '06 on March 12 (10:32 a.m.); March 24 in 2007 (12:55 a.m.); March 8 in 2005 (10:05 a.m.); and March 21, 2009 (11:10). This year is my first afternoon sighting, perhaps because I was not on morning watch--and the day is cloudy. I will not see these little sky darters again for a week, maybe two, but come the next sighting, I know they are here for the summer.

A week and a half ago I left my walk to talk to Tony Broer who was reweaving the blackberries alongside his house. I took that opportunity to ask him questions about the old family farmhouse down the road. He interrupted me, pointed south over Gramma Snow's house, and said, "Swallows!" And swallows they appeared to be. I congratulated him on the first spring sighting, disappointed that I could not claim the glory for myself. But the sighting proved false. I resumed my walk and observed the "swallows" to be starlings that were swooping and diving around the trees in Gramma's yard. From a distance their flight appeared swallow-like. Up close--definitely starlings. No mistaking those bold black bullies. On my return I broke the news to Tony, told him I had to discredit his sighting.

Not to gloat, but I made a phone call this evening. Tony Broer answered the phone, and I broke the news. Of course he asked for confirmation which I could not grant, but in the end he took my word and did concede. After all, what farmer would deny spring! Print this post

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