• Claire Stott

Nature’s architects: Part 2

Today my plan was to capture some close up shots as the house martins gather nesting materials down on the ground. Each year I eagerly await the arrival of these birds and these opportunity to improve on last years photographs.

House martins return to the patch here in Aberystwyth each year, after a long migration from their winter homes in Africa. Despite their exhausting journey, there is no time to rest for these birds once they arrive. They immediately begin constructing their nests,  using the same nesting sites year on year, building their mud cup nests beneath the eaves of the houses facing out over the harbour.

Adult house martin

Sitting a few meters from the water’s edge this morning, I watched as the high tide slowly retreated, revealing the house martins’ favourite mud patch. With the mud now within the birds’ reach it wasn’t long until a small flock appeared in the skies above, eager to collect the moist material before it dried out under the hot sun.

The mud just visible on the tide line as water levels drop

After several sweeping circuits one bird alighted on the ground, this signalled to the other that is was safe to do so, and soon the whole flock descended onto the sticky earth.

This allowed me to capture some landing shots, although unfortunately most birds were facing out towards the water so all I got were several glossy blue backs!

I did however eventually get the shot I was hoping for as this house martin touched down. I used a high shutter speed of 1/2000sec to freeze the motion of these speedy, agile birds.

Once on the ground the martins lose the elegance they demonstrate in the air, shuffling along with a rather amusing, waddling walk on their short legs. Here they begin scooping up pellets of mud in their beaks to take back to the nest sites.

House martin nests are constructed from as many as a thousand tiny mud pellets. With such tiny beaks the house martins have to make numerous trips down to the mud over several weeks.

Once the main domed construction is made, leaves, grass and vegetation are used to line the nest and provide insulation.

So absorbed are they in this task, that they will often allow you to get remarkably close, provided you keep quiet and don’t suddenly startle them.

Uncropped images (at 300mm zoom) showing just how close you can get to these birds!

The house martin is a very beautiful bird, with bright white underparts and glossy blue head and wings covering a body that is streamlined to perfection.

At such close quarters I could see that some of the martins had not migrated alone and had brought with them hitchhikers, in the form of louse-fly parasites!

These feed on the blood of the bird and a particularly heavy infestation can weaken them even to the point of death. Thankfully these particular birds still appeared to be in good health and will hopefully be fit enough to survive the tough months ahead.

— All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2019 © www.greyfeatherphotography.com

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#birdwatching #aberystwyth #nesting #summer #housemartins #birds #ornithology #birdbehaviour #birdphotography #hirundines

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