20 February 2009

It happens every spring...

By the title of this post you may be thinking that I am going to be writing about baseball after the old 1949 movie of the same name starring Ray Milland, Paul Douglas, and Jean Peters. No, what I am talking about is the return of the swallows to Iraputo, Guanajuato where I live. “Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “Aren't the swallows supposed to return to Capistrano?”. Yes, but those are cliff swallows (Hirundo pyrrhonota) and I am talking about barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Actually both species follow the 48 Degree Isotherm northward in the spring. The 48 Degree Isotherm (9 degrees Centigrade) is a line along which the average night time temperature remains at or above 48 degrees. This is the temperature necessary for flying insects to become active and begin breeding and multiplying and since swallows obtain most of their food on the wing they need a plentiful supply of flying insects in order to flourish. Both species of swallows are called “Golondrinas” in Spanish and there are many references to them in songs and literature.

The night time temperature in Irapuato has been hovering just below 48 degrees for the last few days and I am waiting for my little friends to show up any day now. They are amazing little birds. The same breeding pair will return year after year to the same nest so you can really get to know them. I lived in an apartment for about seven years before I married my wife Gina and there was a flood light on the ceiling of my balcony that the swallows used as an anchor point for their nest of little mud balls year after year. I could never use the light for fear of disturbing them but that was okay because I liked having them around. The only thing that I didn't like was the fact that they usually had three offspring and two of the fledglings would always kick the third one out of the nest so that they could have more food. The one that got kicked out was also the weakest one and I guess this is Nature's way of maintaining a strong gene pool but nevertheless it always upset me.

Now, getting back to those cliff swallows of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California. They are fascinating in their own right. They arrive at the mission in San Juan, California, on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, to the ringing bells of the old church and a crowd of visitors from all over the world who are in town awaiting their arrival and celebrating with a huge fiesta as well as a parade. Now get this...originally the cliff sparrow was called “Hirundo Repuplican” which means “Republican Swallow”. At first I thought Ronald Reagan must have had something to do with it but then I found out that John James Audubon gave them that name because the groups of their little odd shaped nests looked like little republics. And speaking of republics, the Franciscan Missionary, Padre Junipero Serra built the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in the year 1776. How is that for coincidence? Many people don't know that Junipero Serra first came to Mexico where he built churches in the Sierra Gorda Mountains near Queretaro. He was sent to California to replace the Jesuit missionary Padre Kino (Eusebio Francisco Kino) when the Spanish Crown banished all Jesuits from New Spain in 1767. The Franciscans were sent in to establish missions to keep the Russians from getting any ideas about moving to California. Needless to say Padre Serra and his Franciscans did a great job. As a matter of fact the Serra Chapel at the old mission of Capistrano is the oldest surviving public building in California to this day.

There is one thing that I have been wondering about though. Is global warming going to make conflict in the Church Calendar? March 19th is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph but if the 48 degree isotherm consistently reaches the Capistrano Mission just two days earlier on March 17th, then St. Joseph is likely to lose all the crowds and the parade and St. Patrick will be the beneficiary. Sounds like a bit of trouble brewing. I think I will write to Al Gore and see what he thinks. Maybe he will want to add this information to his Henny Penny “the sky is falling” speech. Ooops, there goes another glacier!


Tancho said...

One of the wonders of nature. If you haven't seen the movie Winged Migration, a french made movie that really was special. They used one of those one person planes powered by a lawn mower engine to fly along with the birds, absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. Nothing quite like nature.

Frankly Ronda said...

Ken - We have Winged Migration - we have watched with our kids!

Bob - Thanks for sharing your feelings for these little creatures. The rhythm of an annual event is somehow reassuring.

Husband would like your conclusion!

Anonymous said...

Al Gore would probably ask you
which is a bigger threat to humanity...glacier loss or child molestation by catholic priests?

houston, tx

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.