- Scientists monitoring at South Africa's Mount Moreland - recently saved from destruction by airport builders - have captured their first overseas ringed barn swallow from a festively snowy location.
The young barn swallow had flown all the way from Finland – a total of 11,000 km. "This is an amazing Christmas gift," said Hilary Vickers of the Lake Victoria Conservancy.
"We were carefully fitting the swallows with rings so we can monitor their movements when we spotted a bird already carrying one," said Mount Moreland bird-ringer Andrew Pickles. "A magnifying glass provided the words Helsinki - Finland!"
The barn swallow undertakes one of the world's most remarkable migrations, with many individuals flying thousands of miles in spring to breed in Europe and then repeating the feat in the autumn, to spend the boreal winter in Southern Africa.
The Finnish barn swallow is the first record of an overseas ringed bird being caught at Mount Moreland. However, it is likely that swallows travel from a number of European countries to the site.
The Mount Moreland team is now awaiting details from the Finnish bird ringing data centre. This will give the exact location of where and when the bird was ringed. What is already known is that the swallow is an immature bird visiting South Africa for the first time. "It probably hatched in Finland in June so would be about six months old," said Lauri Hänninen from BirdLife Finland.
Mount Moreland is part of the Lake Victoria Wetlands, and is the biggest roost site for barn swallows in South Africa. The first swallows arrived at Mount Moreland this year on 29 September. The numbers have now reached their peak and it is now possible to witness up to 3 million birds during an evening from a special viewing area on site.
"The swallows gather together about half an hour before sunset, and provide a soul-stirring sight as they fly in their vast numbers over the Lake Victoria Wetlands," commented Mark Anderson, Director of BirdLife South Africa. "As dusk falls, the swallows suddenly drop into the reed-beds and are all gone."
The Mount Moreland roost recently hit the news when it was threatened by a proposal to build La Mercy Airport next to the site. In response, BirdLife South Africa led a successful campaign – alongside partner organisations in Europe - to agree a number of key mitigation actions designed to protect the internationally important barn swallow roost.
"Following our campaign, the Airports Company of South Africa [the organisation behind La Mercy] realised the importance of the site as a reedbed of international significance," said Neil Smith, Conservation Manager at BirdLife South Africa.
La Mercy Airport is now 40 percent complete and the Airports Company of South Africa is using a number of measures to ensure that the roost and airport can coexist. These include employing environmental management staff to make sure that suitable management of the reedbed continues. "The Airports Company have also purchased a bird detection radar … swallow monitoring is expected to start in early 2009," noted Mr Smith.
Impacts on the reedbed caused by the airport's construction are being monitored and managed by an environmental monitoring partnership which consists of several stakeholders including, the Airports Company of South Africa, BirdLife South Africa, the Mount Moreland Conservancy, Tongaat Hulett Developments, the environmental consultants and governmental conservation organisations.
"The environmental monitoring partnership ensures that all stakeholders have input into the conservation of the reedbed - not just the developer," added Mr Smith.
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