March 23rd – Pushing The Envelope

Food for Tree Swallows is in short supply when it’s cold and rainy. At these times they tend to fly low over the river searching for emerging midges.

The Rotary Club Trail runs from the outskirts of Caledonia (starting at the little park at the base of McClung Road) to the village of York. It’s a really nice 6-km walk along the river. It’s also a pretty good route to see birds. I did the route On Sunday (maintaining 6 feet of separation between myself and the few other hikers I came across). I wasn’t seeing much out of the ordinary until about half a kilometer downriver from the park I saw a small flock (13) of birds swirling over the river. My binoculars quickly turned them into Tree Swallows! At first they were low over the water and then climbed to take advantage (presumably) of small swarms of midges in the lee of some trees on the far side.

Hunkered down out of the wind and, maybe, getting a drink or hoping for an insect.

Feathers puffed out to maintain warmth, this swallow is conserving some energy by not flying in search of insects.

These hardy birds return early – much too early for my comfort level. It’s not unusual to get strings of bad weather in March….and April too. These birds are mainly insectivores and insects are in short supply when it’s cold and snowing. But these birds take the chance. Returning early can have its advantages: commandeering good territories and nest sites and starting to nest early. But it’s a gamble. And there’s been a good number of times when we’ve found Tree Swallows dead on their nests, emaciated with starvation. But it’s a chance that they are prepared to make. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages and if it nests successfully, maybe even twice, then it’s worth the chance.

Keep your eyes open! Tree Swallows will soon be checking out your boxes.

[Note: the above photos were taken by other people – I’ve lost their names. If you recognize that one is yours – my apologies.]

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