Sunday, November 4, 2012

Swallow this one?

This year - 2012, has been a bit of a dry one. In fact, since April we have had just 4 days with any rain, and two of those were so light that it was more like talking to an old person than actual rain. However, the most recent shower obviously penetrated the ground to some extent, because the 'flying ants' hatched. These are not actually ants, but flying termites, though every kid in Zim calls them 'ants', and they are a source of protein for the local Shona folk - tasting somewhat like peanut butter when fried.

They have an amazing survival strategy, and basically overwhelm the predators (mostly birds and Ververt monkeys) by sheer volume. Once the rains start here properly, there will be a couple of days when there are so many emerging from their burrows in streams and flying off, that there are literally clouds of them. The recent rain was enough to trigger a slight hatch, and as with the start of any glut, the birds came in droves (or should that be flocks?).

The main burrow seemed to open on my front lawn, and one afternoon there were at least 80 birds perched in the trees around us, hopping about on the grass, and swooping through the air. There were bulbuls, sunbirds, flycatchers, and, most spectacularly, the swallows, who would fly over us at enormous speed, and as they hit the termites in the air, there would be a sharp tuk sound from their beaks.

It was fantastic to watch.

There is, however, a curious fact about swallows that was highlighted for me by a recent Guest. The birds that live here are the European (or Barn) Swallows, and they actually nest at La Rochelle. They have created a large mud metropolis under the eaves of the Lounge roof - from which their gentle, bubbling, chirruping can be heard throughout the early evening going on into the night, and for part of the year they disappear - to where I am not sure. In the late afternoons there are often squadrons of them wheeling in the skies above the Tower, and they fly so quickly that is it hard to follow them with binoculars. The amazing thing is that the Guest, who came from Europe, claims that they have a bird which looks very similar to ours - called  the African Swallow. Isn't it amazing that such similar-looking birds have evolved on different continents?

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