So sings the hippopotamus to his fair hippopotamus maid in The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann:
Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me, follow
Down to the hollow
And there let us wallow in glorious mud.
Hippos spend up to sixteen hours a day wallowing in rivers or waterholes –– submerging themselves to keep their bodies cool during the day.
Elephants also cover themselves with mud not only to keep cool, but to protect their skin from parasites. It is enjoyable watching elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park either rolling in mud or squirting it over themselves.
Rhinos also use mud to cool their bodies as they have no sweat glands. As with elephants, a thick layer of mud both helps to protect the rhinos from biting insects and traps parasites that might otherwise burrow into their hide.
Buffalos like a mud bath too. They also use mud as a protection from parasites.
Closer to home, every summer we witness the trials and tribulations of the Lesser-striped Swallows that build their nest from globules of mud.
Mud or dust can be important for humans too: geophagy is the habit of eating mud or dust to augment a mineral deficient diet. Some people feel the need to eat a fingertip of dust every now and then for this reason. This craving to eat earth is also known as pica, and may be an indication that young children have an iron deficiency.
My posts have covered the saga of the Lesser-striped Swallows over the years, faithfully recording them building their nest of mud; it falling down; it being rebuilt … their best ever mud nest was usurped by White-rumped Swifts about two years ago – they have no trouble rearing their young: the nest is well built, well protected from the elements, and well hidden from prying predator eyes. That one is outside our front door, which we try to avoid using once the chicks have hatched for the mess below is copious. Meanwhile, the swallows build and rebuild.
This summer two pairs arrived (I wonder if they are related) and each built and rebuilt their respective nests in the midst of the drought – the sourcing of the mud remains a mystery – beautifully formed nests, built with such hope that lifted my heart as I watched their progress. Such heartbreak followed when finding the dusty remains (twice with broken eggs) lying on the ground. Yet, these stout-hearted little creatures flew around twittering to each other, planning their next project and proceeded to rebuild yet again.
I am very pleased to report that the most recent nest has withstood the heat, the dry weather and the damp.
Look at this nest very carefully and you will observe several things: traces of where previous nests have been built and fallen down; specks of white droppings; and just the points of feathers – indicating a bird inside. That is always a joyous sight for me as it spells success at last. Once the eggs have hatched, the Lesser-striped Swallows flit in and out at great speed to feed their young. I only just managed to capture this one before it disappeared inside.
While one was in the nest, the other swallow perched on a cable, twittering all the while. Note that it has lost one of its tail feathers. The interesting thing about this is that I have seen this happen every year for the past number of years – what happens?
Lesser-striped swallows are already beginning to mass in the sky as they swoop and weave their way through the air to catch insects in the air during the late afternoons. The day is coming closer when all will head north, leaving us scanning the sky for their return.
Regular readers will be familiar with the successes and tragedies that have befallen a pair of Lesser Striped Swallows that have chosen our house for their summer breeding abode. Mud marks under the eaves bear witness to the many nests that have been built over the years – as well as the variations in where the openings have been placed. For years a pair of swallows would faithfully build – and rebuild – in the same place. While they have always managed to raise a brood it has not been easy. My blog has chronicled many nests falling down, sometimes with eggs or hatchlings, and the patient rebuilding of them. These birds are resilient and are willing to start over – again and again and again!
Two summers ago, after yet another structural failure, the swallows built their best nest ever. This strong nest outside our front door still stands firmly – without any maintenance required.
It is sheltered from the elements and is perfect except … they had hardly settled there when White-rumped Swifts booted them out, eggs and all, and have taken it over as their home for the past two summers. Back to the drawing board it was and, after some serious contemplation, the swallows opted to build another nest round the side of the house. Here they raised a family after having to rebuild their nest more than once as earlier ones came loose and fell to the ground.
The good news this summer is that not only one pair came to claim their real estate, but two!
One or other of the pairs tried the sturdy nest but were chased away by the swifts. Each pair then decided to build a nest on the site of the two previous ones respectively. One pair perched on the bathroom window for days before starting the construction in earnest – where they sourced the mud in this drought is a mystery.
They laboured for days on end.
Finally the nest was complete and the laying of eggs could begin.
The other pair had almost completed their nest.
Then … disaster struck … both nests collapsed on Saturday.
The eggs lay shattered on the ground below this one. The other nest had not quite reached completion.
These dear birds are starting from scratch to build their homes.
We usually associate birds with trees, twigs, leaves, flowers and even on the ground. Instead, here are three very different birds photographed perching on wires:
A Fiscal Flycatcher:
A Lesser-striped Swallow:
A Steppe Buzzard:
During the heat of the late afternoons this week the sky above our garden has been filled with a combination of Lesser-striped Swallows and predominantly White-rumped Swifts swooping just above the tree tops and sometimes even lower. Usually the swifts fly so high in the sky that they almost seem to be touching the clouds. These small birds fly swiftly through the air, ducking and diving, swooping and gliding. Their deeply forked tails are sometimes open and are often closed as they chase after insects in the air – they mostly seem to feed on the wing. I find them very difficult to photograph, despite their daily presence in large numbers and was thus excited to photograph this chick found on the ground – which I have featured before.
This was the only close look I have had of this bird. Even the pair that usurped the mud nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows outside our front door move in and out of the nest too swiftly to even hope to photograph! Then I took a chance … and have at last managed to capture one in flight. It is not a great photograph, yet it shows enough of the bird to make it readily identifiable.