But the Ink Spots don’t sing about Gerlach
You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the celebrated swallows of Capistrano. Specifically, they’re a healthy flock of cliff swallows that returns every year from its annual winter retreat in Argentina (!) on the same day, March 19th. The town has long cashed in on this noteworthy event, holding festivals and such to honor their famous avian residents (and to bring in los turistas).
All this well-worn hoopla surrounding the flock of Capistrano might convey the notion that this phenomenon is somehow extraordinary or unique. It’s anything but.
I have access to an eccentric little house in the high desert of Nevada, located way the heck out in the middle of that vast sagebrush ocean between Gerlach and Cedarville. It’s a pleasant place to visit in the warm months, a comfy spot where one can read, think, and sleep in a place of no pollution whatsoever. No air pollution, no water pollution, no light pollution, and no wire pollution. The swallow poop that spackles the front porch during the summer, however, is considerable.
Because the place is indeed a breeding place for swallows. These birds are the familiar barn swallows, and I’ll dare to put forth the proposition that their story is no less compelling that than of their more famous Capistranian cousins. I’m not sure exactly where these barnies winter, but I know it’s considerably south of Mexico. Meaning that these winged bug-scarfers, each weighing less than an ounce, manage to complete a one-way trip of 3,000 to 5,000 miles twice a year. Which means we would be foolish to question either their resourcefulness or toughness.
These swallows faithfully return to the high desert house in the last days of every April, and do so with a precision that is almost as impressive as that of their mission-loving California kin. Some years, they roll in on April 23rd, some years it’s April 25th. In the world of precision swallow migrations, that’s close enough to be pretty darn cool.
They’ve already returned this year for another season of breed and feed. A small and resilient bunch of 15 to 20, settling back into their previously constructed abodes of dried mudstraw. The upside of having resident swallows? No deerflies and no mosquitoes. Those bloodthirsty bastards are ancient history. A fair trade, I’d say, for having to occasionally hose off swallovian deck splatterings. And the aerial display these little hot dogs perform every sunset is, I’ve come to appreciate, top notch. Darting about in a grand weave of swooping, diving, flashing, and chasing above and around the house, these antics result in a rather dazzling and at times even thrilling exhibition. I sit outside, a proper distance away, glass in hand, and soak it all in. It’s showtime in the desert!