December 2010 Barn Swallow News 201030 December Barn Swallows roost at Ifafa, KZN
I have just returned from a short vacation to Ifafa/Elysium along the South Coast with my in-laws and to my amazement, witnessed thousands of barn swallows coming home to roost several nights running, in a marsh area right by our accommodation.
There were other people that also made an effort to watch this fantastic sight so it may already be common knowledge to you. However, having read your update on the barn swallow web site, maybe they have moved along from their more traditional sights in the north by the airport.
Having a keen interest but limited knowledge of birding, it was a huge bonus to me to see this wonderful spectacle and it’s good to share it with you, in case it shows you that although they have moved on, they haven’t gone too far away. It’s difficult to know how many there were each night but I would presume the figure to be in the region of the tens of thousands.
The chorus they sang as they settled in the reeds will stay with me for a long time.
There are no swallows to be seen at the Mt Moreland Roost. Having provided swallow watchers with some wonderful displays since their arrival in October, there were many more swallows this season than last, at the Moreland Roost for the last couple of months, the swallows are suddenly gone. While some may have indeed left for more southern roosts already, and some as we have heard dispersed into other nearby small roosts, it appears that the bulk to have moved down to the reed-beds of Umdloti Estuary.There were hints, early in the season, that they were not entirely settled in Lake Victoria Roost as they disappeared, just before the Return of the Swallows event, into Froggy Swamp reed-bed on the north side of Mt Moreland. Previously know as the Annex which took only over-spill Froggy Swamp is in fact closer to the airport. However, much to everyone’s relief they were back in the Lake Victoria Roost within days ready to show off at the event on Sunday 7 November.

Following this they seemed to settle down and we had some wonderful displays, more swallows than we had ever seen in previous years. The only disruption being that when planes went over they veered away only to come together in their groups as soon as a plane had gone. They seemed to be adjusting. Then came two rainy days with considerably cooler temperatures. The numbers of swallows dropped. Then on the night of 17 December – the night of our Carols by Candlelight event – the majority of swallows again seemed to favour Froggy Swamp.

A couple of days passed and observation showed not only was there no swallow activity but very little activity of any sort in the Lake Victoria Reed-bed. Not a swallow to be seen, nor herons, or weavers, or bishop birds, or anything moving. Visiting swallow watchers were directed over to behind the Gazebo and for several nights we saw at least some swallows. Then by Christmas Eve there were virtually none in either reed-bed.

All of this was recorded by ACSA’s bird detect radar which shows a whole swathe of swallows now using the reedbeds in the Umdloti River estuary. Why this movement? Is it the aircraft arriving and departing on the flight path over the Mt Moreland roosts, not only the noise, but the vortex winds left by the planes as well. If so, why did the swallows take so long to move? There are other impacts that could be playing a role such as the denuding, due to the drought, of the cane fields around Lake Victoria resulting in less insect food; possible changes in both reed-beds to the quality and quantity of storm-water coming off the airfield and from the sewerage package plant; or the changeable weather conditions.
We are awaiting feed back from the experts.

As 2011 is about to begin, we do not know if the barn swallows will return to the Mt Moreland Roost – a roost they have used for decades. The telling month will be March when those that have already moved through the roost for roosts further south return on their way back to the northern hemisphere breeding grounds. Will they stop off in the Mt Moreland roost or head for the new alternative roosts?

We urge all swallow watchers to stay in touch through our website where we will post any updates. Obviously our sponsored ringing project and public ringing experiences are discontinued so we ask the public and any ringers to please contact the webmaster, Angie Wilken, directly with any reports of ringed swallows, or birds, from Mt Moreland so we can share the information both locally and internationally.  It is essential that the interest, enthusiasm and support for the swallows is maintained. By the swallows relocating locally they have demonstrated the importance of this area as a stopover point in their migration. We need to ensure as the area develops that they are protected and that all the relevant authorities are aware of the roost site changes and take due cognizance of the international concern and impacts of disturbing bird migration routes.  As highlighted by such agencies as BirdlifeSA and Birdlife International the disturbance of bird migration routes can seriously impact on bird population numbers. In turn this directly affects the biodiversity of life across our world as well as human activities such as agriculture and indeed our own health – by impacting on one life form we ultimately impact on ourselves.

For those who live in Mt Moreland, particularly those who have been so involved with the swallows, it is incredibly difficult to come to terms with fact the swallows have gone. We are deeply saddened at the loss of this amazing natural phenomenon and the joyous presence of these incredible little birds which have lived on our doorstep and with us for as long as any of us can remember.

Please keep in contact and report back on your barn swallow sightings so we may share your experiences with the all swallow watchers wherever they may be, from our invaluable contact, Risto, in Finland from where our first Mt Moreland record came, to those locally who record swallow activity. It is through sharing information that we learn and contribute to a better future .

To close, a number of people, in spite of the lack of swallows, have expressed interest in just coming to enjoy the sunset and have picnic in the country at the view-site. You are welcome. For your interest there is also a braai area at the Gazebo which, for a small hire charge, is also available to groups. You are welcome just give us a ring so we can open up for you or in the case of a braai make booking. Contact 031 568 1557.

November 2010
14 November

You wrote about your Danish Barn Swallows correspondence contact and how there in Denmark once all their swallows did not migrate.  I can tell you about the same kind of thing that happened in Finland.  An old farmer told me many times how once in Karelia (that part of former Finland now belongs to Russia) in the 1930´s where his parents had a farm, one Barn Swallow did not migrate at all but stayed for winter.  At that time cow houses in Finland were old-type buildings with lots of flies inside.  That is why the Barn swallow could survive in the warmth of the cow house.  In the spring when the other swallows returned from the south, the “winter swallow” died.  The old farmer said the swallow was so delighted of the other swallows´ return that it died of a heart attack.  Well, we cannot know the reason of death, it may have been a disease or – who knows – heart attack. 
Another story: a farmer some kilometers away from our farm told me that once a certain Barn Swallow pair had three broods in one summer.  He said the swallow pair arrived in April (unusually early) and having had three broods left halfway October (unusually late).  The secret may have been that the pair nested in the cow section of the cow house and enjoyed the warmth and flies in there.  Three broods is extremely rare in Finland.  I remember we had once second-brood swallow chicks in the nest still in the end of September and they made it, although the nest was in the barn without any heat source. 
 We have already got winter, there is 10 cm snow and frost almost all the time.  The ground is not yet frozen, nor the lake.  We are still expecting the snow to melt away sooner or later but time will tell.
 Have a nice time with swallows.
Regards Risto

10 November
Barn Swallows – Past, Present and future
The role played by the Mount Moreland Conservancy, Mt Moreland in the recognition, and more recently championing, of South Africa’s largest barn swallow roost – the Lake Victoria Roost – in the face of the development of the Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, 2.5 km north of the roost. The Airport opened on the 1 May 2010. This is the first season the swallows are experiencing planes in the flight path over the roost. With the overall change and division of management of the airfield site from the construction to operational phase there was, as far as the swallows and wetlands were concerned, considerable loss of continuity in communications with all role players. A concerted effort is now needed by all concerned to re-establish communication with, not only the reaction of the swallows to the planes being a priority, but the on-going monitoring of the wetlands, the effects of storm-water run-off on them and, in the case of Froggy Swamp, the effluent from the Airport’s sewerage package plant.The role-players that now need to reconvene and actively work together are, the Airport Company South Africa, ACSA, with its specially dedicated bird radar; BirdlifeSA who declared the site an I.B.A (Important Bird Area) in 2006: the Lake Victoria Conservancy, with its onsite “eyes and ears”, its public swallow watching and swallow ringing programmes; Tongaat Hulett, property owners of Lake Victoria wetland and its surrounds, and eThekwini Municipality’s Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department who are rezoning Mt Moreland and the wetland areas into the No 1 Umhlanga Town Planning Scheme.

Without renewed and committed co-operation of all parties the future of the migratory barn swallows and their roost, a worldwide concern, and the wetlands – a vital part of the natural functioning of the already threatened Umdloti River, estuary and sea – could be disastrous, and result in worldwide condemnation and costly intervention respectively

.7 November
The Return of the Swallows Festival Mount Moreland Conservancy and ACSA officials

We had a lovely and very successful day last Sunday at the Return of the Barn Swallows. We estimated over a thousand visitors attending and it was our most cosmopolitan gathering to date with representation of all SA cultures and a wide spectrum of people from other parts of the world. We were really able to show off with new and updated display and information boards, per kind favour of Angie’s photographic and design skills, showing all our achievements from the capture of the Finnish swallow to a new board declaring the Lake Victoria Swallow Roost as an I.B.A – an Important Bird Area. We are the only IBA in the Metro.

IBA’s represent areas of significance requiring conservation protection and that are monitored by BirdlifeSA and Birdlife International. The Lake Victoria Roost is categorized as an IBA as it hosts over 1% of the world’s barn swallows.  
Numerous media representatives were present. 50/50 filmed swallow ringing and various press journalists took photos and notes. Pav Johnnson, a Swedish journalist was also present having previously gathered information from us and written about the swallows in his home journal in Sweden. We also recently received film of the footage the Irish TV crew took last year and some taken by a Finnish film crew some years ago. We were also visited by a swallow ringer, Sean Clinning, who did a lot of ringing here back in the 1990’s. Birdlife Port Natal were represented as was the Bat Interest Group so it was a great gathering of the clans. And the swallows, after throwing a curved ball by disappearing during the week to Froggy Swamp, returned en force and gave us a grand display.
Thanks go to all concerned who contributed to the success of the day particularly Mount Moreland Conservancy committee members. We will keep you posted on this the first season where the swallows are experiencing the planes for the first time. Both the radar team, ourselves and other birders are monitoring the situation. While the swallows have not left they are definitely being affected by the planes, both outgoing and incoming. Only time will tell the degree of impact.

October 2010
 4 October

News from Denmark : October 04. 2010. Finally the last couple of Barn Swallows seem to have left our local area and started their migration to South Africa. The majority went away about 3 weeks ago. Our interest in Barn Swallows started 7 years ago when we bought an old farm. We found out that 12-20 birds every year built nests – or used the old ones – in our barn. 3 years ago when we build a shelter for our horses, some of the birds moved to the shelter. This year we have had 4 nests living in perfect harmony with the horses. The rest of the swallows still live in the barn.

This year we have had 8 couples to reproduce. They have made around 50 chicks.  It is a very special feeling when the first barn swallow appears. This year it happened early in the morning on the 24.of April. He flew in circles around the the main building whistling his happy song. Can´t wait to hear it again. Unfortunately we have to wait a long cold Danish winter until it happens.
Svend Jørgensen

1 October The Swallows Barn; Pictures from a swallow perspective, Barn Swallows in Finland

At last I am able to send you a picture of the barn, a general view of the landscape.  It was taken from the north, over the bio-energy field.  A glimpse of the house can be seen on the left.  The lake behind the buildings cannot be seen in the picture, because it is situated so much lower.  Another possible direction for the picture would have been from the lake, but my foot is not yet strong enough for handling the boat, and using the canoe would have been difficult because of the big waves due to strong winds recently.  Hopefully the picture was worth waiting.Barn Swallows in Finland
I am already used to being without swallows. I saw the last Barn Swallows 13 days ago, 5 to 6 migrating birds in the evening.  At first it felt very sad and I am still missing them.  The barn and the yard that were full of swallows and their calls and twitter, are now empty and silent.  At times there are, of course, other birds instead, but swallows delighted us with their presence all the time.  And swallows are something special.  On the other hand I am glad that the swallows will soon be in the warmth of South Africa and will, in turn, delight you.
Pictures from a swallow perspective: I took pictures of an aerial photo hanging on the wall.  I think the result is surprisingly good, well, at least if you do not enlarge the pictures too much.  In the pictures you can see almost the whole yard as the swallows see it.  In order to eliminate the flash reflection I had to take the pictures not straight ahead but from the side.  Another thing is that the picture was taken some 20 years ago and some things have changed since that.  For instance that big dirt heap between the cow house and the house no more exists (it was dug out from under the cow house floor when making major rearrangements in there: cows out, bulls in).  As you have seen from newer pictures the house is nowadays light yellow instead of brown and there are less trees around the house, which is good both for the people (more sunshine) and the swallows (more room to fly around).   What we call “the barn” is also no separate building but the highest yellow part of the cow house used for storing different things. 
The cow house was built in 1963 and it took some years before the first swallows appeared.  In the first years there were only a couple of pairs nesting but then their amount was little by little growing.  Now it seems that after the livestock was off, the amount of nesting swallows has diminished by a couple of pairs, but that does not necessarily have any effect on the amount of active nests.  It is more essential how many second-brood nests there are.
When we still had livestock, we used to store in the barn hay, grain for livestock, straw, farm implements and firewood.  Now as the cow house has soon been empty for 4 years, we no more need to store anything for livestock, and the swallows are the masters of the barn.
The weather has cooled down, the daytime temperatures have been below 10 deg and at night some degrees below zero.  Night-frost is usual at this time of the year.  This is the time for harvesting the garden and starting to clean tree leaves off the lawns.  That is a big job and I have got two yards to clean, the farm and the summer cottage.  Luckily, I no more have to do it much by hand, using a rake, but I just attach a leaf-collecting device to the lawnmower, sit down on the seat and “let it burn” as we say in Finland.  What is left I will finish by an air-blowing machine (I do not know how it is called in English).  The leaves will then be mixed with the soil of the garden to make it more fertile.
Have a nice spring with swallows and a lot of rain.
Regards Risto

5 October

At Last! Swallows arriving at Mt Moreland and Marion Pratt reports on the English swallow season

In view of our South African barn swallows seeming to arrive a little late the comment from Blackawton, Devon, UK I received from friends is somewhat contradictory. Maybe they dallied on their way knowing about our drought which seemed to affect a large area of the country and would, of course, have affected the insect food.
Marion Pratt reports on the English swallow season:-
Here is this year’s data on the birds.
18th April House martins start arriving all here about a week later.
21st April Swallows arrive
13th May Swifts arrive
End August Swifts left
1st week Sept swallows left
Mid Sept majority House Martins left. We still have a few late leavers. There is one pair in the village with unfledged chicks in the nest. This is very unusual.
The birds arrived a little late this year and most have left earlier than usual.
For Mt Moreland our previous date for arrival has been 20 September but this year they were decidedly late.  Interestingly having now had a little rain here, in Mt Moreland, last week and now again, yesterday and today, the swallows are finally beginning to appear in increasing numbers.  Quite a few flitting in the grey skies last night – 4 October. It is looking hopeful for the end of October swallow numbers become watchable and  our swallow season begins in earnest.
NB: We have to add that we do not know where the English flocks go to in South Africa so far in Mt Moreland we have recaptures leading us to Finland and Ukraine. It will be interesting to see if we a lucky enough to again net ringed swallows and find out their country origin.

September 2010 Barn Swallow News 2010
 21 September The first Barn Swallows are starting to arrive – no big flocks as yet – we are still waiting for our spring rain.

August 2010
2 August This week, beginning August 2, has seen a flurry of activity in the skies over Mt Moreland. And we are not talking aeroplanes coming in and out of the new King Shaka International Airport. We are talking birds, migrants. Mt Moreland residents Ted Vickers and Mike Hickman have both reported the arrival of migrants, the Yellow-billed kites and the Lesser-stripped Swallows. Spring is on its way although it is somewhat hard to realize after such an exceptionally long dry and dusty winter. However for those that care to listen you will hear the increase in the bird calls encouraging all to awake for a new cycle life.
Our big hope is that our ‘rain’ birds, our visitors from far off places, the Barn Swallows, arrive early and bring plenty of rain for the parched land, desperate gardeners and lovers of the bush-veld. From previous records September 20th is the due date for the arrival of the Barn Swallows but some predict with the changing climate that we will see them earlier.

July 2010 Barn Swallow News

July Heat in Finland 35C people suffer but Barn Swallows are noted as having best breeding season on record – By Risto Jäntti

 Yes, and UNFORTUNATELY, the hot weather is here again: the temperature has been almost 30 for several days now, for tomorrow is 33 to 35 deg C to be expected.  Those are almost killing temperatures for me especially because the air humidity is also high. I am tired and having headache and feeling dizzy because of the heat; I try to be indoors as much as possible, but at some point one has to go outdoors anyway. This torture will continue still a couple of days, on Friday it ought to be “just” 25 deg and after that below 20 deg.

 I think swallows do not suffer much from the heat at this stage of the nesting because second brood chicks have not yet hatched.  But the chicks in those two nests falling between the first and second broods can be in real trouble because of the hot tin roof.  Well, there is nothing I can do about it.
 The amount of the swallow chicks that fledged from the first brood is 47 birds.  Now it seems there could be even 8 second brood nests if not even more, that would be one of the highest amounts ever.  In a nutshell one could say it seems this will be a good swallow year.

24 July Barn Swallow News from Texas – By Lucinda Hutcherson

21 July Almost all the first brood chicks are on the wing – By Risto Jäntti
 Just one nest is still having chicks and I think in a week they will be off the nest.  Then there are a couple of strange nests which are too late to be traditional first-brood nests and too early to be usual second-brood nests.  I have thought a lot about it and I think I have now found a possible explanation: they could be technically second-brood nests after the first brood has for some reason failed for instance due to predators, heat or falling down of the nest.  Maybe it could be called a “repeated nesting”, “compensation nesting” or something?  I think that is what happened at my aunt´s farm this summer: she was so sad because there was no sign of swallows there but then out of the blue a swallow pair appeared towards the end of June and started nesting.  Her summer was saved.  It seems in this case the swallow pair must have left the original nesting site and moved to another during the nesting season. So far I have noticed 5 possible second-brood nests, but that figure is just an estimation, because swallows may seem to be bustling around a certain nest although in reality they are not really nesting.  Anyway, I am expecting many pairs to nest twice.  An interesting thing is that at least two pairs have made a new nest for the second brood, that is not common, because there are so many old nests available that there are nesting seasons that all pairs use them and not a single new nest is made. Luckily, the hot weather has cooled down, no more 30 deg C but 20 to 25 deg.  That is bearable to me.  Unfortunately, at least one swallow pair lost the chicks because of the heat; that is less than I feared. 

June 2010
10 June Baby Barn Swallows Born – By Risto Jäntti
Not only did I find today eggshell’s on the barn floor under a certain swallow nest, but the residents of the nest seemed to feed their chicks: they kept flying in and out and after entering the nest they bent over it and “nodded” several times.  From the eggshell could be seen that they were quite certainly left after a hatching.  The swallows really surprised me, I could not have believed that there will already now be chicks when thinking of the coldness!  I took the eggshell’s and put them in a matchbox in case you are interested in them.  I could gather more of them for you if you want.  So far there have been no problems with predators but you never know. 

The weather has been cold: in the daytime 9 – 15 and at night -4 – 7 deg C, that is night frost in the coldest nights.  Lake Niinivesi warms up our micro-climate a bit so in our yard only on Tuesday night the temperature just shortly went under zero.  The strawberry farmers in the neighborhood have been sprinkling their strawberry fields with water at night to prevent the strawberry flowers from freezing and being destroyed.  It is not easy to understand but when water freezes on a plant, some warmth is released in the process, just enough not to allow the plant to get frozen.  The only thing is that you must continue spraying until the temperature is clearly over zero.  There are lots of strawberry farms in our area. 
Enjoy your warm winter (well, at least compared to our cold summer). 
  First swallow chicks ringed! 24-06-2010 
Barn Swallow News 2010
 Yesterday, on Wednesday, Janne came to us to ring barn swallow chicks.  This time we did not ring adults.  We went through all possibly active nests.  We found altogether 12 first brood nests, that is only half of the amount of nesting pairs in 2002, the super year of our swallows.  Three nests had still eggs, one nest carried newly-hatched chicks (too young to be ringed), three nests had 4 chicks, four nests 5 chicks and one nest as many as 6 chicks.  Altogether we were able to ring 38 chicks.  Beforehand we thought there will be maybe a couple of nests with chicks big enough, but we were surprised to find 7 such nests.  A barn swallow chick must be minimum 6 days old before it can be ringed, because a chick less than six days old has the ankles too thick for ringing due to very active metabolism.  
 Next time we will be ringing barn swallows in the beginning of July and then we will put up mist nets in the barn for the adult swallows.  I have already noticed that many adults seem to be ringed.  We are waiting for one of your swallows, the chances are not big, but one of your rings would be a real bomb, wouldn’t´t it! 
The temperature has been around 20 in the daytime, ideal for the swallows and me; neither too hot nor cold.

May 2010 Barn Swallow News 2010
20 May Barn Swallow News from Abroad – By Risto Jäntti
5-05-2010 Now it is sure that our first swallows have arrived: it was today the first time that I saw two barn swallows inside the barn and they were also twittering always near certain nests, not where ever. It is possible that those two birds which I saw on Monday are the ones that were today in the barn, but no one can be sure about that. Yesterday there were no signs of swallows whatsoever, because it was so cold. Today the temperature reached the “shocking” 8 deg C, and tomorrow, with luck, it can be as high as 11 deg C. Anyway, the swallows must be able to find food, otherwise they wouldn’t´t be here.
I´ll keep you informed about the swallows.

9-05-2010 Already three consecutive days without any signs of swallows. They have had to retreat towards the south due to bad weather. First it was cold and windy, then yesterday it rained cats and dogs, today it was already quite warm, 9 deg C, but nevertheless no swallows. In a few days the weather will get warmer, by the end of the week we ought to have even summer temperatures, over 20 deg C. Well, summer is almost around the corner, statistically in a couple of weeks it ought to be here! The main swallow migration is expected to happen in the middle of May, that is starting next week. At least the weather will be favourable and I am expecting a real swallow rush.
I still haven´t got the heart to stop feeding birds. It has been so cold and so many birds still come to eat that I have let that happen. Maybe next week I´ll finish it

11-05-2010 The weather is slowly getting warmer: today, although cloudy, the temperature was over 11 deg C. In the evening, when working in the yard, I heard a lot of swallow twitter that was coming nearer and nearer. And then about 10 barn swallows appeared and after flying some rounds above the yard they slipped into the barn and immediately started a joyful singing concert. I tried to count them but it was impossible because they were so excited and flew around the barn. Suddenly the barn and the yard are full of swallow calls and twitter. By the end of the week the temperature is expected to rise over 20 deg C and I think more and more swallows will come. Also several House Martins came today, the first time this year and slipped into the artificial nests which I have got 15 nests altogether. It´s so great to have swallows back (well, for some time). I´ll again do my best to take care of them, it´s a matter of honor to me.

28-05-2010 found today a dead barn swallow on the barn floor. It was still a bit warm so it had died a short time before I found it. Although I didn’t´t see what happened, I´m quite sure that the unfortunate bird had a fight with another swallow. The bird can also have flown against a roof beam in the heat of a chase with the deadly outcome. If a predator had attacked the swallow, the predator would have taken the bird away from the barn. The fact that the bird had no visible injuries also speaks against predators.
The bird was ringed, but unfortunately the ring was not South African. Janne said he´s sure it´s one
of his ringings, but because he´s not at home at the moment, where his ringing notes are, he couldn’t´t say anything more precise. I put the bird in the freezer and will offer it to an animal stuffer to whom I´ve given lots of dead birds.
The weather has continued cold and rainy, but next week it should be a bit warmer.

1-06-2010 I have now got more detailed information about the dead swallow. Janne called me that the bird was ringed in July 2008 at our farm as a nesting female. As you know, nesting birds have a certain area in their bellies without feathers to allow a direct body warmth contact with the eggs for more effective incubation. With swallows that featherless area is more clear on females. After nesting feathers grow back in that area. By the way, how is that featherless area called in English? The tail length of the swallow was 54 mm in 2008 and 56 mm when found dead. It´s a pity that the bird died and especially regrettable that the swallow was a female, because it means less chicks. Hopefully no more deaths will occur.
I may have found possible explanations for the aggressiveness of our swallows. Maybe there are so many swallows in the barn that they would need more room for nesting. Another reason might be that if there are more males than females, the pairless males may try to get themselves females at any cost. As a whole there has been only one especially aggressive swallow through several nesting seasons. I named the bird “Screech throat”. The most unbelievable thing was that the bird used to follow me in the yard and even made attacks with alarm calls towards me! For some reason the swallow clearly didn’t´t like me…

4 May Dr Tibor Szép of Hungary has reported that one third of their Barn Swallows have returned to date

3 May Notification of the first ever recapture of a barn swallow from Mt Moreland, KZN South Africa has just been received

Barn Swallows News:
Notification of the first ever recapture of a barn swallow from Mt Moreland, KZN South Africa has just been received. Today, 3 May, 2010, the Mount Moreland Conservancy’s sponsored ringer, Andrew Pickles, received an email from SAFRING, South Africa’s national bird ringing data centre, that a barn swallow ringed by him at the Mt Moreland Roost, ring number AM94463, on Friday 12 December 2008 has been found dead in Ukraine. It was found on 1 May 2010 by a Ukrainian teacher, Victor, at a town called Kirovograd just south of Chenobyl. This is a distance 8691 kilometers from Mt Moreland. It is 505 days since it was ringed in 2008 when it was logged as a juvenile male weighing 20grams. This means in all likelihood that it has revisited Mt Moreland since it was ringed and was in the process of returning home to breed.

This recapture is exciting in many ways. Not only is swallow, AM94463, the first swallow from the Mt Moreland Roost to be recaptured but records show it was ringed only the day before the Pickles  team caught  the very first ringed swallow ever captured at Mt Moreland. That swallow 136952V was captured on Saturday 13 December, 2008 – the same weekend.  It was 6 month old, weighed 17grams and came 10 327 kilometers  from  Nilsia in Finland. Thanks to Birdlife International it made news around the World.

These two records give rise to an interesting question…was this latest swallow, AM94463, actually from the Ukraine or was it on its way to Finland?  It is the migration season and Finland still awaits its swallows so the answer could be either.

Yet a further ‘date’ coincidence is that swallow AM94463 was found on the day, May 1st, that Durban’s new greenfields King Shaka International Airport, only 2.6 kilometers north of the Mt Moreland Roost, opened. Airports Company South Africa has, working with the Lake Victoria Conservancy and BirdlifeSA, put in various safeguards to protect the millions of barn swallows when they return to their roost in October 2010. It is hoped these work and the swallows will continue to use the Mt Moreland Roost, the largest in South Africa, throughout the coming season from October 2010 to April 2011.3 MayRisto has just reported that the first Barn Swallows are arriving in Finland

2 May Barn Swallow, Mount Moreland story on Carte Blanche, view on link below

1 May King Shaka International Airport opens

April 2010 Barn Swallow News 2010

29 April First flight at King Shaka International Airport, an A340 airbus arrived with 330 passengers on board

First plane to land at KSIA26 April

Almost all of the Barn Swallows have now migrated from Mount Moreland  March 2010 24 March Bird arrivals, departures a priority at new airport in Africa -By Leon Marshall
Natgeo News watch
In total darkness I felt my way through the sugarcane. I had come to watch with my own eyes what I had observed the previous day on a radar screen: millions of swallows taking off from a wetland reed bed wedged between the cane plantations………

22 March Mt Moreland – a haven for Frog Biodiversity – By Jeanne Tarrant
Amphibians are currently the most threatened group of animals on Earth, with at least one third (32%) of all known species (approximately 6300) threatened with extinction and 43% of species experiencing population declines. In comparison, 12% of birds and 23% of mammals are threatened. This is the biggest extinction event since that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The causes of amphibian declines are many and varied – from obvious threats such as habitat destruction and pollution, to the more obscure threats of climate change and emerging infectious diseases, which together are creating the ‘perfect storm’ for extinction, with species disappearing even in relatively pristine habitats. In southern Africa, 15% of our 160 frog species fall into the top three Threatened categories (i.e. Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable).

Amphibians play a key role as both predator and prey in the ecosystem and their disappearance will thus have far-reaching consequences for all other life on Earth. Furthermore, amphibians are important bio-indicators of the health of the environment, and the observed declines are a sure sign that something is fundamentally wrong with the global environment.

Mt Moreland’s frogs 

Conservation of habitat is the first step toward preserving frog biodiversity. The wetlands at Mt Moreland provide very important frog habitat, which hosts a wide variety of species, and is probably a refuge for many species that were historically widespread in the Durban area. At least 21 species are known from the area and three of these are listed as Threatened species according to the Atlas and Red Data Book of Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Preserving and maintaining the area in its current state is of crucial importance for the long-term survival of the frog community at Mt Moreland. The construction of the new La Mercy airport and associated infrastructure may pose a real threat to Mt Moreland’s frog population – especially at “Froggy Swamp” which is going to be the dumping ground for effluent from the airport site. Although the effluent will be treated prior to being released into the wetland it will still be introducing harmful contaminants from sewage, fuel and other pollution into the wetland. Frogs in general are very sensitive due to their semi-permeable skins to changes in the environment and contamination may affect egg and tadpole development and cause deformities and may make frogs more susceptible to disease. There is also the risk of untreated effluent being released in the event of power failures or if capacity is exceeded – both probable scenarios.

Other threats from the airport include direct deaths of frogs caused by increased traffic in the area, loss of habitat as a result of both the airport itself and any concomitant construction and disruption of calling during the breeding season due to air traffic noise. Although the long-term goal is the re-zone both Lake Victoria and Froggy Swamp as a conservation area it is still very likely that these habitats will face detrimental changes as a result of the airport being in the vicinity.

The three Threatened species at Mount Moreland are the Pickergill’s Reed Frog (Endangered), the Natal Leaf-Folding Frog and the Spotted Shovel-nosed Frog (both Vulnerable). Pickersgill’s Reed Frog is particularly important as it occurs only at 10 isolated sites along the KZN coastline between St Lucia and Kingsburgh, with Mt Moreland hosting one of the biggest known populations of this species. This small frog favours dense reed beds and, even if present, is difficult to find and little is known about its life history. A student from North-West University will be monitoring this species at Mt Moreland over the next year, both to learn more about the species and to note any changes in population size that may be a result of negative impacts from the airport.

The Natal Leaf-Folding Frog is comprised of two sub-species, A. s. spinifrons, which occurs at low altitudes of the Eastern Cape coast and A. s. intermedius, which occurs at altitudes above 1000m in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Within this range populations are fragmented and numbers appear to be in decline. Populations of A. spinifrons have been reduced as a result of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and the introduction of alien plants. At Mt Moreland the coastal subspecies occurs at various sites within the area. The Spotted Shovel-nosed Frog is distributed along the northern Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline as well as at a few inland points in southern Mpumalanga. Its fossoria l(underground) life style makes this an interesting species, but also very difficult to find. It has been heard calling at various locations around Mt Moreland. Its habitat is also being subjected to high levels of urbanization and agricultural activities, especially on the coast.

It is thus essential that Mt Moreland is recognized for its importance in the Durban area as a sanctuary for a vast array of animal life, least of which are the frogs, and that all is done to preserve this natural heritage.

20 March An Exceptional Barn Swallow weekend
South Africa’s premiere investigative television programme, Carte Blanche, requested to come and find out about the swallows at Mount Moreland, our work with them and, of course, their future safety in face of the new King Shaka Airport……The weekend of 19/20 March was an outstanding weekend. South Africa’s premiere investigative television programme, Carte Blanche, requested to come and find out about the swallows at Mount Moreland, our work with them and, of course, their future safety in face of the new King Shaka Airport.The Carte Blanche team  arrived Thursday evening, following a busy day’s filming at the new airport. They went straight down to the bottom of the Mount Moreland view site with our ‘creative’ Angie for some great shots of the swallows arriving home to the reedbed. On Friday morning Derek Watts, Carte Blanche’ s best known host, fired questions and more questions at us – all in front of the camera, of course. After a short respite, while the CB team went off to film the swallow detect radar, it was down to the reedbeds for filming the setting up of the nets for catching the swallows and interviewing ringer, Andrew Pickles. Of course, the piece de resistance was back at the Gazebo for the processing and ringing of the swallows which had everyone ‘ohing’ and ‘ahing’ at the opportunity to get up close up and personal with these tiny miraculous flying machines, the barn swallows.While there is assuredly enough footage for a full length movie we shall be lucky if we, and the swallows, get a few minutes on Carte Blanche – maybe on this Easter Sunday or Sunday12 March – the Editor holds sway. It must surely be before the  King Shaka International Airport opens on 1 May 2010.

And the facts and figures for the weekend were

·          63 and 43 (106) swallows ringed – bringing our total to over a thousand for the season;

·          93 + 125 ( 218) Mount Moreland view site swallow watchers – some from Scotland, England, New Zealand

·          15 swallow ringing visitors;

·          two birthdays and a reunion.

·          And thanks to a article by environmental journalist Leon Marshall our website was linked with Nat Geo’s website

17 March
Lake Victoria Conservancy Report

Herewith report from the Mount Moreland Conservancy on barn swallows activity at the Lake Victoria Roost, Mount Moreland.
A grey sky evening with the threat of rain, but what a display of barn swallows. For the first time in a long time we saw them massing from our house along the Umdloti River. It looked so amazing that I decided to go to the view site which earlier I had decided to ignore due to wind and the threat of rain. Well, it was spectacular they came in from all sides moving up, and forward, across the reedbed. And were they talking to each other! They just kept on coming. Then down across the reedbed, back and forth, settling then up again and down. As the skies darkened more and more poured into the reeds in front of us. Two large dark patches appeared on the reeds in the centre back and to the left of a crescent area inhabited earlier in the season by Queleas, small seed eating birds. Never after 3 years of observation have I seen such density on the reeds. And who was there to share this wonder – Granpa1 and his wife.. that was their car registration – and what fascinating birders they were to talk to. They had witnessed the migration route of so many species through Israel. There was also another couple, obviously also birders,  who ventured to the bottom of our view site and were awe struck by density of swallows arriving into the roost. What a privilege. It just goes to show that you never can tell with nature when is the best time.
We hope the numbers stay around for a day or two resting as we have Carte Blanche a local television programme that challenges a variety of controversial issues coming to see what we, the Mount Moreland Conservancy, custodians of the swallows,  have been up to in the face of the new King Shaka International Airport that is due to open on 1 May 2010. For those that live in Durban, or are visitors, come and celebrate these last few days of the Barn Swallows with us as they return to Europe.  When they return in October our skies will be filled with aeroplanes and the experience will never be quite the same. We sincerely hope the swallows will stay using the roost as the Conservancy has worked long and hard with the Airport Company South Africa and other role players such as Tongaat Hulett, the property owners, and the local eThekwini Municipality to protect the wetland roost which is an I.B.A, an Important Bird Area, declared by Birdlife International as it hosts over 1% of the world’s Barn Swallows.

15 March A little bit of Snow-News from Finland -By Risto Jäntti
A few days ago I said to my home folks why don´t we have our afternoon coffee in the backyard, at the garden table

10 March Latest Mount Moreland News to date
The Barn Swallow, previously known as, the European Swallow, is a widespread and common summer visitor to Southern Africa. It is regarded as the announcer of spring/summer in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It is one of the best known migrants in the world.

In South Africa the best place to see barn swallows en mass is at the Mt Moreland Roost in the Lake Victoria Wetland.  Mt Moreland is a small settlement situated on two hills approximately 40 metres above sea-level. It lies 34 kilometres north of Durban on South Africa’s east coast and 5 kilometres inland from the coastal town of Umdloti. The Swallow view-site co-ordinates are: –  29 38.548 S/031 055.12 E

The wetland, Lake Victoria, is 35.5 hectares. It is 15 metres above sea-level at the foot of Mount Moreland village, on the south west side, in the Umdloti River valley. Lake Victoria wetland hosts South Africa’s largest Barn Swallow roost. At the height of the swallow season an estimated 3 million tiny Barn Swallows can be seen swirling over the wetland roost before diving into bed on the reeds below. This amazing phenomenon can be witnessed from October until the middle of April against backdrops varying from brilliant sunsets to dramatic storm clouds. Visit the swallow view-site and witness the awe inspiring sight for yourselves.

The public view-site, overlooking the wetland roost, is run by the Mount Moreland Conservancy, a group made up of environmentally minded Mt Moreland residents. The Conservancy was registered with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Province’s main wildlife agency, in 1995. However, the view-site only came into being four seasons ago, in 2006. Its sole purpose is to highlight the plight of the swallows and their wetland roost in face of the development of the new King Shaka International Airport. Setting themselves up as custodians of the Barn Swallows founder members of the Conservancy, Angie Wilken and Ted Vickers, and current Chairperson, Hilary Vickers had consistent input into the year long Environmental Impact Assessment for this greenfields airport development. All three are still very much involved. The King Shaka International Airport opens on 1 May 2010 and replaces Durban’s current international airport. ACSA’s , (Airport Company South Africa), Swallow and Wetlands Forum will continue into the operational phase and the three Conservancy representatives will continue to represent the Barn Swallows and their Roost as well as Mt Moreland’s two precious wetlands, Lake Victoria and Froggy Swamp..

Ted Vickers was the first Mount Moreland resident to record the Barn Swallow movements. Over the last 15 years he has been recording the arrival and departure dates of the swallows, something that has, to our knowledge, never been done on a regular basis anywhere before in southern Africa. Long before the current ringing programme was set in place he encouraged ringers to visit and ring swallows from the Mt Moreland Roost. Ted’s data has been incorporated into a scientific paper, Migration, moult and climate change in barn swallows – Hirundo rustica in South Africa by A.P. Moller, R.Nuttall, S.E. Piper, T. Szep, E. J.(Ted) Vickers.

Angie, graphic artist/photographer and computer whiz and Hilary, ex museum educator and media and events co-coordinator have been at the heart of establishing a view-site overlooking the swallow wetland and organizing a ringing programme.  The reasoning behind this was to:-

  • highlight the plight of the barn swallows in face of the airport and
  • to contribute through observation to our knowledge of them at this site.

It has already been noted these two ‘swallow custodians’, along with Ted’s technical input, also carried the load of administrative work involved in representing the Swallows and the Wetlands in the E.I.A and at subsequent meetings with the main role players – ACSA, the developer; Tongaat Hulett Property, the property owners; eThekwini, the Durban Metro council; and other government departments. Both Angie and Hilary, also man the swallow view-site from October to April where they sell information booklets; CD swallow jigsaws and other swallow memorabilia that they have created. All promotional/educational talks, fliers, media releases and fundraising are also undertaken by them. What drives them? Passion, and something that has grown into a

life changing adventure and challenge.

The Conservancy also runs the Gazebo, the community meeting place on the village green opposite the view-site. In return the Conservancy uses it to raise funds to cover the maintenance of the building, the village green and the view-site. It is hired out to groups for events – from corporate meetings to children’s parties. Two gardeners are employed by the Conservancy to keep the area clean and free of rubbish while Conservancy volunteers assist with the specific maintenance of the buildings, furniture and signage. A recycling project has also recently been established.

Achievements resulting from the swallow ringing are best described by Andrew:-

My father and I have been doing regular monthly ringing sessions at the (Lake Victoria Roost) site to try and find out where the birds migrate to in the northern hemisphere. Recently I have also been studying the recapture data of the Barn Swallows from the SAFRING database at the Avian Demographic Unit  (University of Capetown). This has shown some very interesting movements of the birds in Southern Africa 

This last season (Oct 2007 – April 2008) we caught and ringed 331 swallows during seven weekends at the Mt Moreland Roost, over a 6 month period. Unfortunately the bad weather during the season played havoc with our sessions and during many weekends only one ringing session took place instead of the planned two.  

However, there was great excitement on 13 December 2008 when our ringing efforts were repaid tenfold. It happened at 22h30 when we were back at the Vickers house finishing processing that evening’s 105 swallow catch. We were about half way through the birds when Ted passed my father the ‘holding bag’ with the next bird in it. My father removed the bird carefully and then, looking at it rounded on Ted. 

    “Hey, this bird has a ring on it. What are you doing man, you have taken it from the ringed group of bird bags – the ones we have already done. Give me one from the unringed bags.” 

     “Hang on, Dad,” I interrupted, “Check the ring.” 

     “Oh, yes, it has something ‘…land’ on it. England, I think.” 

     “Let me look,” I said taking the bird from him. I checked, looking carefully. It’s Finland! Helsinki, Finland.” 

What a moment! As ringers it was our first recapture of a foreign bird and, as importantly, the very first recapture of a foreign bird from the Mt Moreland Roost. Needless to say in the absence of champagne a few celebratory cold beers were cracked open that night.  

Through the services of SAFRING we knew within a few days that the bird, number 136952V, was ringed as a nestling bird on a farm near Nilsia in Finland. The farm owner had ringed it while still in the nest on 23 July 2008. At about 3 months of age it had flown a straight line distance of more than 10 300 kilometers to reach Mt Moreland.  

Since this has been written the swallows have been back to Europe and returned yet again to South Africa with the very first arrival being logged by Ted in late September 2009. This is the last swallow season without aeroplanes thundering overhead. The 1 May 2010, when The King Shaka International Airport opens, creeps ever closer. The runway is only 2.6 kilometers north of the roost and the flight path skims across the lower end of the Roost. Although there are concerns for the many bird species that use the coastal corridor on which the airport is situated, the main threat identified as far as the Barn Swallows are concerned will come from low incoming planes in the evenings at the same time as the swallows return to roost.

Resulting from the E.I.A process and representations made by the Lake Victoria Conservancy and BirdlifeSA various management schemes have been put in place to benefit and protect the swallows. This includes a specially designed radar imported from the USA to detect swallow flocks. It will give early warning should any flocks of swallows move into the flight path. If necessary the pilot will be able to follow an avoidance procedure. As mentioned the danger of this happening is really only in the sunset and sunrise when swallows swarm and display around Mt Moreland. With the swallows moving in dense flocks this is when the most damage could be done. There are, thank goodness, mitigating circumstances. The main one is that the airport and runway are 300 feet higher than the reedbeds, Lake Victoria and Froggy Swamp which is on the north side of Mt Moreland, even closer to the airport. While the birds fly over both wetlands before going down to roost they do not often fly very high. As a result it is hoped the Barn Swallows will not often move into the incoming flight path.

The other main contribution made by ACSA to the preservation of the wetlands and Roost has been the management of storm-water runoff. In certain places they have adjusted drainage and, in others, built attenuation dams to prevent damage to the wetlands and the Roost. Substantial increase in water run-off from the tarmac and roofing during storm events is anticipated. Needless to say ACSA has also put in various monitoring systems particularly with regard to pollution spills of aviation fuel, chemicals and sewerage. According to the Record of Decision, a legal obligation, ACSA has to maintain the Roost as suitable for the Barn Swallows.

The world famous Barn Swallow site and Roost has extra protection in that it is being watched internationally. BirdlifeSA, through Birdlife International, have had it declared an I.B.A – Important Bird Area – as it holds over 1% of the World’s Barn Swallow population. As such, and as a transition roost as well as hosting a permanent number of swallows throughout the season, it warrants special protection. A disaster to the Barn Swallow population here could impact severely on the breeding numbers right across Europe.

In spite of the steps taken the question remains –

Will this Natural Wonder, National Treasure and shared Global Asset of over 3 million Barn Swallows be safe? 

It remains to be seen if enough has been done to save the Barn Swallows, their Roost and the two wetlands, Lake Victoria and Froggy Swamp, at Mt Moreland. Although the King Shaka International Airport opens on the 1st May 2010 the degree of the impact on the swallows will only be apparent when they return from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere in October 2010.

During the interval the Lake Victoria Conservancy hopes to move forward with even further protection of the wetlands and Barn Swallows.  We thank all those thousands of people – we have not reached the ‘millions’ like the swallows yet – from around South Africa and across the World who have been to see the Barn Swallows at Mt Moreland  and who have given us support.

We invite everyone to keep watching through our website and support our ongoing quest to protect the Barn Swallows and the rich diversity of all life in the wetlands of Mt Moreland.

For every living species we harm we are ultimately harming ourselves.

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