They Objected To My Presence

by davidbunch - Date: 2010-07-23 - Word Count: 447 Share This!

They objected to my presence in the loft near the nest, the swallows fluttering rapidly about and uttering a sharp, scolding note. I noticed that father had the same experience with barn swallows in the barn at Woodchuck Lodge, and he translated this scolding note as "Sleet", "Sleet." Even when I sat down in a far corner, remaining motionless, they saw me instantly. They were so unlike a wood thrush for instance, which will become tame with continued and careful treatment. The swallows remained both fearsome of the camera and annoyed by my presence to the very end of their housekeeping. One cannot but admire White, he is so gentle and painstaking, so thoughtful in all his observations.

A paragraph in his book on swallows, 'Selborne', that especially impresses me, and one that father marked, concerned the feeding of the young swallows says: "Not that Scopoli is so circumstantial and attentive to the life and conversation of his birds as I would wish: lie advances some false facts; as when he says of the Hirundo urbica that it does not feed its young after it leaves the nest; 'pullos extrn tiidun non nutrit.' This assertion I know to be wrong from repeated observation this summer; (Sept. 14, 1770) for house martins do feed their young flying, though it must be acknowledged not so commonly as the house swallow; and the feat is done in so quick a manner as not to be perceptible to indifferent observers."

And all this is just what I found to be the case with my swallows. As the young grew and came near in development to the time when they would leave the nest, their parents fed them with incredible speed. Although I was entirely hidden in the room below, photographing by remote control, I had to keep my thumb on the flash switch to press it the instant I saw the flash of their wings. The slightest hesitation on my part and they were gone. An exposure of one/fiftieth of a second was just a blur. Even when I speeded the shutter up to one two-hundredths of a second, the picture showed movement.

White was certainly an accurate observer. Out of the dark and superstitious days of the beginning of natural history came the belief that swallow hibernated in the mud. Although I had always thought that Pliny said this, I find that, in Riverby, father quotes Dr. Johnson as saying that swallows sleep all winter in the bed of a river or pond, "conglobulated into a ball." So, even in White's day, this idea did persist, and he cannot rid himself of the idea that swallows do hibernate, somehow, somewhere.

Related Tags: scolding note, swallows fluttering, barn swallows, young swallows, swallows remained, swallows sleep

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