I’m sure many local folks would have noticed the recent gatherings of ‘swallows’ around bridges and culverts. These places are favoured nesting haunts of three local species – Welcome Swallows, Tree Martins and Fairy Martins. A few days back I discovered a small colony of Fairy Martins Petrochelidon ariel under a bridge near the Muckleford Railway Station.
Fairy Martins are sometimes known as ‘bottle swallows’ on account of their unique nests, magnificent constructions assembled from hundreds of tiny pellets of mud and involving many days of toil. They nest in small colonies, usually less than fifty nests at any one site. A close relative, the Tree Martin is also found locally but makes a much less fancy nest and tend to favour natural sites such as tree hollows and rock crevices.
Both species of martin are similar in size and shape but look out for the rufous head and pure white rump on the Fairy Martin. Tree Martins have a glossy blue-black head and off-white rump.