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Migrating Cliff Swallows Trade Spanish Mission Digs For Country Club

For years, thousands of cliff swallows have migrated from Villa Ventana, Argentina, to Orange County, California, to build their mud nests among the ruins of the Mission San Juan Capestrano.

By custom, the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association throws a Swallows Day Parade — "the nation's largest non-motorized parade" — in their honor, complete with horses, colonial costumes, and marching bands.

In recent years, the migration patterns of the cliff swallow have changed slightly. Birds have bypassed the traditional nesting site, favoring higher ground and, it seems, chichier accommodations.

This March, a colony took up residence in the eaves of the "Tuscan-inspired" club house at the Vellano Country Club, The Orange County Register reports.

In an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, Travis Blaylock, the facility director at the club — whom the newspaper calls the "chief bird watcher and guardian" at Vellano — recounted what happened. Above all, he was amazed at the speed of the migration.

(You can see a photo gallery on The Register's website, here.)

"It actually looked like a scene from Indiana Jones, with bats flying over," he said. "But it was the swallows. It was amazing how many of them came here, in a day's period, and started building the nests."

It was an unexpected event, that's for sure. One day, I came here, and I saw a couple nests being built up there, and I said, "Oh, great. We have some birds." And a day later, there were thousands of them here.

So far, members of the club have shared Blaylock's enthusiasm for the birds, he said.

The swallows built their nests on the back of the club house, far from the pro shop. And serendipitously, the color of the mud the used matches the stucco facade.

The new residents do make a mess, which Blaylock has to clean up. But that's a small sacrifice, he said. He brings more than one change of clothes to work, and has this advice for club members: "Don't open your mouth when you look up."

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