Sometimes it’s quite simple to identify a bird out here on the Costa Blanca – once you know what a Hoopoe is, for example, you’ll know one when you see one, an unmistakeable starling-sized pink bird with black and white wings and a crest – easy-peasy, and you’re likely to see at least one on any visit to the Clot at this time of the year.
But here’s a bird which can tie even the most experienced birdwatcher in knots – the Swift. You probably already know a bit about Swifts, very dark birds which fly about extremely fast, screaming as they go and often seen in the Clot swooping low over the water for a high-speed drink. They look a bit like black Swallows or Martins, but the similarity with these birds is due to what is called convergent evolution, in which birds develop similar habits and appearance due to their lifestyles.
If you are in the UK and you see a Swift, it is usually only one species – the Common Swift. They arrive in the UK towards the middle of May, and are gone by the beginning of September. Here on the Costas, they are present from March to the end of September, but it is here that the difficulties start.
We actually have two species of Swift in our area, the Common Swift and the Pallid Swift. Seen against a bright blue sky overhead, they are more or less indistinguishable as dark birds with sickle-shaped wings, never landing on the ground and seeming to fly faster than anything else in the sky (discounting, of course, Mr Ryan’s jets which never fly low over the Clot unless they are in serious trouble). Against a darker background, you might be able to see that the Pallid Swift has a slightly scaly-looking plumage as in my picture, and a bigger white patch beneath the chin than the Common version. Given that both species are present in our area, how then can you distinguish between the two species?
The simple answer is that you probably can’t, but I am here to give you a couple of broad brush pointers towards guessing which one of the two species you are seeing. Firstly, location; there are a couple of places where you can be 95% sure that what you are seeing are Pallid Swifts, and these are along the Esplanada at Alicante port, where Pallid Swifts wheel overhead while you take your evening meal at the open air cafes, and also along the main street of La Marina village, where they chase each other between the high-rise buildings.
But this is no good to you if you are in the Clot where they occur side-by-side, and the best way to identify which one you are seeing is by listening! The Common Swift goes “szeeee”, and the Pallid Swift goes “szeee-ahh”. Not very helpful, I’ll admit, but you have to start somewhere!
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.