Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Swallows of Summer

This summer has been brutally hot and wickedly dry, and I won't be sorry to bid the season farewell officially in just a few weeks - even now, on rare evenings, we get the briefest breath of cool to savor before the heat returns. Birders who look around, however, know that the signs of the season's end are all around us, every day. Over the weekend, I saw those signs myself. Not only was an annual Labor Day festival being set up at one of my favorite birding locations, but the birds were out in force - but not the same birds I saw this spring.

Oh, the species were the same, but the birds themselves are scruffier and more daring - they're teenagers. Nests are abandoned now (though I did see one late nesting pair), and instead,  families are gathering on wires and in favorite roosts, stretching their wings and building muscles for the long migration that is poised to begin. In fact, many of my favorite summer birds - the male rufous hummingbirds and the black-headed grosbeaks most noticeably - have already flown to warmer climes, and other species will soon be following. On this bird walk, it was the barn swallows that were getting restless, and the juvenile birds were most notable with their muddled plumage, indistinct markings, and shorter tails.

It seems hard to realize that while I wish them well on their journey now, in just a few months I'll be eagerly waiting their return, and these same scruffy teens will be sleek adults finding mates of their own. Birds are fabulous for marking the turning of the seasons, and even with their familiarity they always remind us of each season's renewal and change. Fly well, swallows, and return safely!

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