Famed Swallows Find New Home In Country Club

The Two-Way

The famous migratory swallows that have nested in Southern California's San Juan Capistrano Mission for more than 200 years have found a new home. Robert Siegel talks to Travis Blaylock, the facility manager of the birds' new digs, the Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills, Calif.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

They've ditched an 18th century Spanish mission for a ritzy country club. We're talking about the cliff swallows that famously migrate by the thousands each spring from Argentina to California. Traditionally, they have arrived to build their mud nests on the ruins of the mission San Juan Capistrano. But in recent years, they've begun bypassing the mission, and this year, the swallows flew 50 miles to the north and are making their home instead at the Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills. That's where Travis Blaylock is the facility director.

Mr. Blaylock, you got a bunch of unexpected guests this spring, I gather.

Mr. TRAVIS BLAYLOCK (Facility Director, Vellano Country Club): That is correct.

BLOCK: How many did you get?

Mr. BLAYLOCK: There's close to a thousand of them this year here. One day, I came here and I saw a couple of nests being built up there and I said, oh, great, we have some birds, and a day later, there is thousands of them. The word had spread.

BLOCK: And did you know right away what you were looking at?

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Actually, I did because growing up in Orange County, I did get a chance several times as a kid to go to the mission and actually see the finished product and the swallows in their nests, you know? And it was always amazing to me. But being here, I got to see everything from start to finish, which was just an awesome event.

BLOCK: Well, the cliff swallows build these beautiful, tidy mud nests, and I've been looking at pictures on the Web of them nesting under the eaves at the clubhouse, there at the country club. Looks like the nests actually match the stucco pretty well. They blend right in.

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Yeah, they're great on the architectural side, and they're color coordinated. They knew what we were looking for, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: So you're getting a new appreciation for the cliff swallow, you think?

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Exactly. Yeah, you know, this is our first time here having them at Vellano, so it's really been amazing to watch these guys work together and the teamwork they have and the communication they have. They all help each other build the nests.

BLOCK: Well, have you had any country club members who are not so excited about these thousands of swallows overhead?

Mr. BLAYLOCK: You know, not really. I think everybody here sees the greatness of these swallows. The members think it's great. I haven't heard any complaints yet. They chose the right side of the building to build their mud nests. You know, I'm pretty much the only who works back there besides the cart attendants. So, really, our members haven't had any issues with bird droppings, just myself.

BLOCK: And what are your issues?

Mr. BLAYLOCK: You know, I'm out there working. We do daily cleaning, so I'm out there monitoring, making sure nothing gets too close as far as any power washers or anything to the nests. We keep our distance from those guys. And while I'm out there monitoring things, once in a while I get an occasional gift from the swallows and so I, you know, keep a few extra shirts around.

BLOCK: You know, the backstory to this is that this is actually a troubling sign, really, in terms of bird habitat, that the birds, the swallows are abandoning Capistrano because of urbanization. A good thing for the country club, maybe not so good for the swallow population overall, though.

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Yeah, and unfortunately, like you said, urbanization is taking over and there's so much building going on around San Juan Capistrano, the noise, pollution, dust, everything that, you know, I'm sure the insect population has decreased due to construction, so they've moved over here where we're back up to the Chino Hills National Preserve. And there's plenty of food for them.

BLOCK: Well, they'll be short-termers there at the country club. They're going to be heading back to Argentina soon, I guess, but maybe next year, they'll be coming back to see you.

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Yeah, I hope they do. And we're going to welcome them here when they come back and hope we get as many as we did this year.

BLOCK: Mr. Blaylock, thanks for talking to us.

Mr. BLAYLOCK: Great, thank you very much.

BLOCK: Travis Blaylock is the facility director at the Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills, California, home this year to thousands of nesting cliff swallows.

(Soundbite of music)

THE INK SPOTS (Music Group): (Singing) When the swallows come back to Capistrano, that's the day you promise to come back to me. When you whispered farewell in Capistrano, that's the day...

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