He Who Must Be Obeyed was rather perturbed on Valentine's Day to get an
invitation from his brazen wife to join her for a mysterious trip into
the countryside. His eyes widened in horror as a few select items were
packed into the car boot !!
Two deck chairs, a picnic basket, A BLANKET !! Good heavens what indeed was this little excursion all about !!
We headed off up the Old Esigodini Road, turned right at an old Mine turn off and carried on down that road for quite a way. It was getting towards six p.m. The countryside was sodden with the recent rains and the sky was darkening prematurely with the heavy cloud cover. He Who Must Be Obeyed was most relieved when we got to the Mine Gate where his little wife did not drag him off into the soaking wet grass for a Valentine's romp, but instead directed him into the How Mine compound.
Setting the deck chairs up in a romantic little spot between the mine store and the mine butcher shop, accompanied by the sweet whispers of a horde of little bedraggled children looking for sweets, He Who Must Be Obeyed refused categorically to lie on the blanket but sat in his chair and accepted gratefully an ice cold beer.
The scene had been set, not for anything more than a secret valentine day visit to the grove of trees where the European Swallows were massing in their millions for their impending migration to the northern hemisphere. !!
It was an absolutely amazing experience something we will both never forget.
One of Bulawayo's best kept secrets but something that should be shared by all folk who respect nature and its incredible mysteries. The European Swallow is a diminutive little bird measuring in length about 18 cm. It's reddish throat bordered by a broad dark band distinguishes this species from all other swallows. The European Swallow breeds in Europe but it migrates south to India and Africa. According to bird fundi Wally Lacey these incredible little birds used to mass in the Sauerstown Area, but since 1996 they have moved to a tiny grove of gum trees near a dam in the Mine Compound.
The locals know exactly where the gum tree grove is, they look askance at the motley collection of strange bird enthusiasts who gather at dusk to observe this amazing sight as millions upon millions of the swallows gather at this time of the year to join forces for their annual migration.
The first arrivals from Europe arrive in Southern Africa after their 12 and a half thousand km journey, in early September. During the period October to March swallows are fairly common in Zimbabwe while winter record are rare. Birds ringed in Southern Africa have been recovered from as far afield as Ireland and Siberia.
The fastest recorded flight is a Johannesburg ringed bird recovered after 34 days later 12000 kms away !! The longest recorded distance was 12480 km and the oldest age 70 months.
Now the blanket was going to be used for the innocent purpose of lying on our backs while watching the swallows come in to roost, to save one from getting a stiff neck ! It was an awesome sight, the sky was literally considerably darkened with the layer upon layer of the swallows. They seemed to come into roost in a most orderly fashion. I am not lying when I say there were millions. The layers seemed to go up into an incredibly high altitude where one had to squint to see as swarm after warm, layer after layer, flew in with the speed of light, to land in this little grove of trees.
As more and more birds arrived, the noise level increased considerably as the birds squabbled and twittered their way into finding an available empty space on each bird littered branch.
The noise was so loud that it could be likened to the noise made by the Victoria Falls, as millions of tiny birds gather for safety in these giant gums which must literally have been groaning under the weight of the birds.
What was also amazing were the amount of raptors that has gathered to feast amongst this the dense gathering of swooping, swarming swallows. We saw no less that five peregrine falcons darting, swooping, stooping and creating havoc amongst the masses. Wally tells of sightings of Wahlbergs Eagles, Bataleurs, and the Western Red-Footed Kestrel all on the hunt during this amazing black seething incredible mass of nature.
As the dusk gathered a raptor which we could not identify swooped into the grove of trees, his chances of grabbing a tasty meal very high indeed, and the little ginger cat that lives in the butchery roof was having a wonderful time, hoisting itself up the trees and causing havoc with the swallows.
According to the experts the birds usually leave on their incredible journey to their northern summer feeding grounds sometime around the middle of February, so you may not be lucky enough to see them this year, but hopefully they will be be back next year and you too can invite your Man for a valentines tryst with a difference !!