Cliff Swallow Image by Len Nelson
By Mary Kadri
Working my way through my bird monitoring education with PWA researcher, Len Nelson, I put aside my new fear of spiders to join him in counting cliff swallow nests under the Adobe Creek bridge at Shollenberger. (I recently had a shockingly awful reaction to a spider bite, after which it took me two weeks to get my face to assume its normal shape and proportions!) After applying bug repellent, I scooted under the bridge to a surprisingly comfortable shady spot, where I joined Len and about a hundred cliff swallows darting about. I have to say, I felt like a kid again under there! We went at high tide in the afternoon, when, as Len explained, the water reflecting off sunlight onto the bridge underside would help us to see better. As it is impossible to see into the cliff swallows’ mud sack nests to count eggs or chicks, the best we could do was to count active nests. We could see a few chick beaks poking out waiting for some food, but that was about it. We counted the nests first from the north side of the bridge and then from the south side in order to see the mud houses clinging to the metal beams on each side.
This year, Len said, there were far fewer nests than in recent years. In 2015, he and the late Bob Dyer counted 225 nests. In the ensuring years with Deb Sheppard or Sheryl Nadeau, it was in the range of 100-200. This year it was down to 84. This may be, Len speculated, due to the fact that he had seen many cliff swallow nests downriver in the tires by the Dutro asphalt plant dock. Nature adapts where it can! Perhaps we will find a way to count those in the future.