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Crane Spotter – November 2016 – Remember Remember the Bonfire birds

(Pictured Above: A House Martin feeding its young)

I was sawing off a few more branches to donate to this year’s Cranleigh bonfire when I looked up and saw them.

Just above tree height over the garden was a constant stream of small birds heading determinedly south.

Migration was underway full pelt. There must have been thousands of them involved in this exodus in late September and early last month.

Perhaps millions of these ‘hirundines’ went through over the whole of Surrey at that time in what was a spectacular show to rival anything you see on Guy Fawkes Night. The birds were House Martins. Swirling like confetti over the marriage of summer and autumn.

They are a familiar sight around Cranleigh, nesting often colonially in little mud cups they make under the eaves of houses and other buildings.

You can see scores of these apparently black and white birds flitting around the village throughout the summer – especially around the High Street, Cranleigh Leisure Centre, Cranleigh School and Cranleigh Preparatory School.

Get near enough and you will hear their distinctive call. I liken it to the ‘zit’ type of noise made by one of those electric insect zappers they were selling cheap at Little Manor Service Station a few months back.

And if you get closer still, or have good binoculars, you will discover the bird’s black cap and back has a glossy hue of blue. The rump and underparts are white while the small-forked tail is black.

Some people don’t like them too close and, as can be seen from wire mesh under the apex of certain High Street rooves, they have gone to a lot of trouble to keep them away. The birds can make a mess but many home owners find that is a small price to pay for the entertainment they get from having these cheery buzzers around.

House Martin
(Delichon urbicum) fact file:
A declining breeder in Cranleigh Generally arrives a little later than the Swallow
Earliest reported Cranleigh arrival: 6 April 2000 and 2007

Latest reported Cranleigh sighting: 3 December (!) 1986
(only a handful of Surrey December records)
Scores sometimes roost locally in trees on migration

Largest single flock in Cranleigh: 600+, 24 September 1970

So, as I was saying, there they were en masse heading over the garden. Caught up with them were Swallows too.

These were not Cranleigh birds – they had come from much farther north – but it got me thinking about 5th November and the population that come from Africa to raise a family in this village.

For they can truly be called the ‘bonfire birds’. Each spring they hawk low over the fields looking for nesting material. And Cranleigh Common is their target. There they find what they are hunting for. Mud. The House Martins benefit from a wonderful patch of the stuff, thanks to the Cranleigh and District Lion’s Club bonfire.

Who would have thought that as we clean out our hedgerows, gardens and houses to help fuel the bonfire each year we are directly enabling other families enjoy their own homes five months later.

They will pay us back – just think of the flies we would have to cope with if House Martins were not our natural, energetic insect zappers.

Twitter – @Crane_Spotter

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