Not Hard to Swallow

The first thing that struck me here in Kwazulu-Natal is how hard people work. Commuter traffic is roaring from extremely early in the morning. And thousands of Africans on foot, almost exclusively of Zulu origin and many of them women, swarm past the compound from pre-dawn on their way to work.

But working hard to support the family is not the exclusive domain of humans. There is an abundance of bird life here on the hilly ridge where I am staying in Durban. They are also diligently ever-responsible home owners.

Just outside my door is an avenue of palms that are home to what appears to be swallows. From very early I see them flitting to and from branch to branch, twigs and grass in their mouths, building their nests. They never sleep in, and they never take a day off.swallows:

I recognise the nests from my stay in Belgium. At least I think I do. And I seem to recognise their distinctive swooping style of flight, and the way they construct their nests early in the mornings, entering the intriguingly shaped globular nest from a hole in its base.

I saw European swallows (Hirundo spilodera) building their nests in the eves of the Chateau where I was staying. And here, these South African Swallows (Hirundo rustica) are nesting in the palms. If you look carefully in the picture above, you’ll see some hanging underneath their nests, off loading their building materials momentarily before flitting off at frenetic pace.

The African variety of swallows differ from their European counterpart in that they do not have the distinctive forked rear plumage. Correct me, anyone out there ornithologically inclined.

This leads me seamlessly to share this nonsense from the past. Gosh, my mind wanders ever so. Talk about a flow of consciousness!

The Swallows, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(The film begins. Out of a dense fog trots Arthur, accompanied on two empty coconut halves by his trusty servant, Patsy. They approach a castle. Suddenly a guard appears atop a high rampart.)Guard: Halt! Who goes there?
Arthur: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!
Guard: Who’s the other one?
Arthur: This is my trusty servant Patsy. We have ridden the length and breadth of the land in search of knights who will join me in my court at Camelot. I must speak with your lord and master.
Guard: What, ridden on a horse?
Arthur: Yes.
Guard: You’re using coconuts!
Arthur: What?
Guard: You’ve got two empty ‘alves of coconuts and you’re bangin’ ’em together!
Arthur: So? We have ridden since the snows of winter covered this land. Through the kingdom of Mercia, through…
Guard: Where’d you get the coconuts?
Arthur: (somewhat taken aback) We found them.
Guard: Found them? In Mercia? The coconut’s tropical!
Arthur: What do you mean?
Guard: This is a temperate zone!
Arthur: The swallow may fly south with the sun, or the house marten or the plummer may seek warmer climes in winter, but these are not strangers to our land!
Guard: Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?
Arthur: Not at all! They could be carried.
Guard: (incredulous) What, a swallow, carrying a coconut?
Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!
Guard: It’s not a question of where ‘e grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five-ounce bird could not carry a one-pound coconut!
Arthur: (exasperated) Well it doesn’t matter! Will you go and tell your master that from the court of Camelot is here!(pause)Guard: Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?
{Kurma notes: Actually, this is wrong. By comparing the European Swallow with bird species of similar body mass, we can estimate that the swallow beats its wings 18 times a second with an amplitude of 18 cm. Even the tiny Zebra Finch flaps its wings no more than 27 times a second while cruising.}

Arthur: Please!
Guard: (patiently) Am I right.
Arthur: I’m not interested!( A second guard appears on the rampart. )Guard 2: It could be carried by an African swallow!
Guard 1: Oh, yeah, an African swallow, maybe, but not a European swallow, that’s my point.
Guard 2: Oh, yeah, I agree with that.
Arthur: (extremely exasperated) Will you ask your master if he wants to join my court at Camelot!!(pause)Guard 1: But then of course, African swallows are non-migratory.
Guard 2: Oh yeah…
(Arthur and Patsy give up and trot away)

Posted by Kurma on 28/7/06; 6:58:21 AM

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