The Cameronstrano Swallows

From John, July 26th, 2012
#1 K Clone Drive

#1 K Clone DriveK Clone Drive

Many years ago Carmen and Enrique stopped at our winery in Dundee looking for a place to live.  In return they promised to rid the premises of mosquitos and other flying insects.  Sensing a deal that we could not refuse, they were offered habitation beneath the tiles overhanging our front porch. Carmen and Enrique prospered, raised a family and then one day in late July of that year they suddenly disappeared, all of them.  Life went on and we more or less forgot about our feathered friends until the following March when they suddenly reappeared together with family seeking habitation in their old quarters.  But where they were once two, now they were 4 and additional housing was necessary.  An A-frame house was hung from a sheltered side of the winery and the young couple moved in.  Again they graced our presence for the next 4 months and then just as suddenly as they had reappeared in March, they disappeared in July.  Since they never considered a simple postcard, we were forced to do some sleuthing (in the era before internet which meant going to the library and checking out books).  We soon discovered that Carmen, Enrique and family were of the clan Violet-Green and, as such, they make their winter home in Central America and in their case, Costa Rica.  That’s a distance of 4300 miles and while we can get there in approximately 7 hours when traveling at 500 mph on a commercial jet, Carmen, Enrique and family fly at around 20-25 mph with stops for rest and sustenance along the way.  Over the years we have built a number of houses for our Central American guests and they are now considered “family”.  In early March of each year in anticipation of their arrival, we clean out the houses and ready them for the big arrival.  Generally within a day or 2 of the Spring Equinox the entire extended family shows up, making several victory laps around the winery while announcing their arrival.  For many weeks they dine on whatever is available and generally hang out, but at a certain point in May pairing up and nest building begins in earnest.  And that’s when the fun begins and where humans can lend a hand.  Since the geese at this point are shedding their winter down, plenty of nesting material is suddenly available for the swallows.  Thus if one picks up the discarded down and tosses it into the air, chances are pretty good that the swallows will soon discover the game and begin swooping down and picking the feathers out of the air.  The down then finds its way into the many nesting houses hosted by the vineyard.  By early July the rapidly-growing young swallows are pretty much driving their parents existence, the latter snapping up insects and returning to the nest to feed them to the incessantly chirping babies. But at some point, usually around mid-July, the parents start teasing the youngsters, returning more slowly, flying around in front of the nest before coming in and generally coaxing the babies to stick their heads out and check it out.  On the big day, the greater community of swallows might be seen flying around in front of the nest calling to the babies.  I have only seen them jump out of the nesting box twice but what a sight it was:  a long way down to the ground (with Guido in the area just in case of a screw up) and the youngster finally launching himself out of the box, flapping wildly, pausing and dropping like a rock, flapping wildly again  and finally getting the hang of it all.  Once all of the new flock are launched, the clan gathers together and one day they are gone.  And so it was this past week, the last week of July, and how quiet it is all of a sudden.  Our pals are gone, not to return until next Spring.

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