Better late than never

The House Martins have returned to the UK, having spent the winter in the warmer climate of the African continent. Each year these birds return to the same nesting sites in a fantastic feat of navigation, travelling thousands of miles over land and sea.

Here in Aberystwyth, as in much of Britain, the arrival of the House Martins has been considerably later than last year, due to the late onset of spring. It was not until the end of May that the skies above the harbour were once again filled with their whirling flight staccato calls.

With lost time to make up for, the martins are now busying themselves with building their nests ready for breeding. They have established a nesting site on the rear of our terraced row of houses, their mud cupped nests contructive under the eaves.

Facing out East over the open water of the harbour, the area provides both a reliable a food source and endless supply of nesting material. As the tide retreats, the mud is revealed and it is this which the martins use to build their domed nests, collecting small pellets in their stubby beaks.

House martin with a beak packed with mud
Muddy beak
Collecting mud and algae

Vegetation is also sometimes collecting to provide extra strength to the nest walls.

House martin collecting vegetation

Photographing the martins in flight is no easy task, however capturing them as the descend to the ground is much easier. If you can find a patch of mud they are particularly keen on, and sit quietly, the birds will soon land nearby and begin scooping around in the mud, seemingly fearless by human presence.

It is a very rewarding experience, being so close to them as they go about their behaviour completely naturally and undisturbed.

Perhaps their speed and agility in the air boosts their confidence, knowing they can easily escape most threats they will encounter.

The flock at their favourite mud patch
The descent
Landing in the crowd

The trouble with so many birds in one place, is that it can be tricky knowing which bird to focus on to capture the mud collecting behaviour in action, however I am reasonably happy with the shots I achieved.

Busy birds
A pair of sleek, beautiful house martins
Heads down
Collecting the mud
Lone martin on the outskirts of the flock

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2018 ©

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