COLUMN: Swallows a sign of the changing seasons


Our latest guest column comes from Chris Andrews, visitor services officer at RSPB Frampton Marsh...

September is a time of changes. Of (even more) variable weather, when the days start to become noticeably shorter and the kids go back to school. And so it is in the natural world too.

One of the most obvious signs is in the swallows. Together with their cousins, the martins, they can be found perched up on telephone wires all around Boston.

To them, the colder months ahead are not a matter just of discomfort, but of impending doom. Swallows eat flying insects, which disappear during the winter.

So they have to move to somewhere a bit warmer. Namely, South Africa.

These small birds will leave our Lincolnshire countryside and head southwards. Flying over Europe, the Mediterranean, the Sahara and right over the vast continent of Africa until they get to South Africa. And then, in the spring they’ll fly all the way back.

Of course, such a journey can’t be done all at once. It takes preparation. Particularly for this year’s chicks, about to depart on their first big adventure.

So they take the time to practice their flying skills, and to stock up on food. Gobbling down all the flying insects they can to lay on stores of fat that will see them on their way.

Ponds, rivers, marshes, any wet area will have an abundance of swallow food, and hence hundreds of birds. This is definitely true at Frampton Marsh, where you can see them circling over the reedbed.

While some birds disappear, others arrive. Making their nests up in the high Arctic, knots are small dumpy wading birds.

In the summer they have bright red fronts, but by the autumn this is fading to their delicate grey winter colours. Now, the Arctic in winter is a really tough place to be. So now is the time when they too migrate southwards, down to the mudflats of The Wash.

A big high tide will then push them onto the lagoon at Freiston Shore, where you can see them up close from the hide (a wooden hut used to view wildlife without the wildlife seeing you).

Sometimes they can number hundreds, even thousands of birds, plus all the other wading birds like oystercatchers in their striking black and white.

Tiny sanderlings, elegant godwits, bustling dunlins. All to be seen a stone’s throw from Boston town centre. Plus all the geese. But that is a story for another time...