28 Mar 2006

Migrants continued!

106. Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Today I saw the first of the new year's migrants. A Sand Martin( Riparia Riparia) was flying over the Quoile in front of Castle Island Hide. I felt that spring had arrived; well not quite it was blowing a north westerly gale and it was only 7 degrees and felt very chilly out. I hope it survives the next week as the forecast is very poor with rain and much colder temperatures than normal.We are having the coldest March for twenty years.

Sand martins are the smallest European hirundines (martins and swallows), with dark brown upper parts and dark under wings contrasting with otherwise pale under parts divided by a distinctive dark chest bar. Agile fliers, feeding mainly over water, they will perch on overhead wires or branches. They are gregarious in the breeding season and winter. Over the past 50 years the European population has crashed on two occasions as a result of drought in the birds' African wintering grounds.Both males and females make a horizontal tunnel 45-90 cm long with a chamber at the end. Suitable sites may be used for years. New tunnels will be dug as the cliff collapses, or as old holes become too big (when they may be taken over by sparrows or starlings).

The white eggs, usually four or five, sometimes three to seven, are generally laid in late May or early June in a nest of feathers, grass and leaves. Incubation is by both parents once the last egg is laid, and lasts for about 14 days. All eggs hatch at the same time. The young are helpless and remain in the nest. They are bed by both parents and fledge when 19-24 days old. After fledging, they are dependent on the parents for about one week. Usually two broods are raised each summer.

The birds depart British Isles from late July to September. Most are thought to winter in the Sahel, the zone south of Sahara, where they feed in damp places that offer plentiful supplies of flying insects.

Eggs: 4-5
Incubation: 14-15 days
Fledging: 22 days
Maximum lifespan: 9 years
Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 26-29cm
Weight: 11-14g
UK breeding: 160,000 pairs
Source: Sand martin wildlife information leaflet (1998)

My favourite walking area Killard has a sandy bank where they nest each year and it is my intention to get some decent photos of them this year.

Blogging is definately not as easy as I thought. I started off with good intentions of doing this every day then my local exchange went out and now I realise I wont post every day unless something of interest comes up. At present I find birding a solitary experience and a good way to be on my own it definately isnt very family friendly. My children Jeremy and Charlie couldnt be less interested; even though on the way to a Ulster rugby match one of them noticed some tree creepers climbing a tree near the rugby ground before I did. I was pretty chuffed with them for noticing. Now Penny my wife is only interested in Horses definately not birds. I think I should have realised when I was on my honeymoon on the Mull of Kintyre when she asked me what the pheasant running across the track was!!! At the time(17 years ago) I thought have I made a big mistake, well seventeen years later it still annoys me that she isnt very interested in birds. C'est la vie.

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