It is always a special joy to watch swallows swooping to and fro over swaying fields of tall grass, scooping flying insects in mid-air.
We have a fine diversity of swallows in the valley: violet-green, tree, barn, cliff, northern rough-winged, bank and the purple martin.
All specialize in snapping up insects on the wing, everything from mosquitos to dragonflies, which is why many people put up swallow nesting boxes.
The boxes work well for tree and violet-green. Other swallows, like barn and cliff, construct mud cups, whereas the northern rough-winged nests in burrows typically made in stream banks.
Swifts are another group of accomplished aerial ‘hawkers’. In flight, they are sometimes mistaken for swallows, but their narrow sickle-shaped wing that seems to vibrate, give them away.
Two species should be watched for — black and Vaux’s.
Interestingly, swifts often appear when a storm approaches, i.e. they foretell of a change in the weather (and they’re very reliable).
The common nighthawk, once called the mosquito hawk, is truly a summer time bird. It is a member of the nightjar family, to which the famous whip-poor will belongs.
Sadly, we see nighthawks less often these days. The common nighthawk winters in South America, where something is happening down there that appears to be affecting it (and other bird species).
I mentioned the purple martin as one of our local swallows (which also winters in South America).
There are local breeding colonies such as the one at Mud Bay in Surrey.
Birds from here fly inland to feed: dragonflies, especially the big blue darners, are favorites.
A nice spot to go for a lovely summer evening walk is Glen Valley Regional Park (in North Langley) which is right on the river.
Watch for swallows and eagles over the river and listen for the wonderful flute-like song of the Swainson’s thrush.
Mid-summer is indeed a very special time of the year — enjoy.
Writer Al Grass is an outdoor enthusiast and longtime member of the Langley Field Naturalists