Northern Rough-Winged Swallow: Spring Is Here!
You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full screen image.
The spring equinox occurs each year on about the 21st of March. That’s when we have about equal amounts of daylight and darkness. Most people think of the 21st as the commencement of spring.
But, from the standpoint of weather, that’s actually an arbitrary date. There are parts of the country that will continue to receive snow and ice well into April. I well remember living in New Jersey as a young man and experiencing miserable weather for a good three weeks after the official commencement of spring. In southern Arizona we often see daytime highs well into the 80s or even higher by March 21st. It’s meaningless to call that date the beginning of spring when plants and animals have made the transition to warm weather weeks previously.
I’ve decided that spring begins here when we begin to see the return of migratory birds, species that spend their winters in points south. I had guessed that I would see some of the returning species as soon as next week and I had a couple of raptors in mind as candidates for first arrivals.
But, I was wrong. Something else showed up and it was unexpected.
Ft. Lowell Park is an urban park about a five-minute drive from our home. The park is almost entirely given over to soccer fields, a baseball diamond, and a tennis complex, and at first glance would hardly seem to be a place for spotting and photographing wildlife. But, it does have a very small pond at its center that is ringed by large, mature mesquite trees, and that constitutes a pretty attractive habitat for several interesting bird species.
I drove over to the park yesterday afternoon just to see what was going on. As I parked my car I could see dozens of small birds swooping and diving over the park’s pond. These were newcomers. They hadn’t been there on my last visit to the park, two days previously.
The birds were Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
These little birds have a hyper charged lifestyle. They are insectivores that specialize in chasing down their prey and capturing it in flight. They are extraordinarily gifted fliers, capable of almost incredible maneuvers in the air, diving and rolling with reckless abandon.
They are also migratory. They spend their winters in points south of southern Arizona, down in Mexico or even further to the south. The fact that they were at the park yesterday meant that they had returned from their winter migration. As far as the swallows were concerned spring has sprung. That’s good enough for me.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1000.