When we first moved here to Southern California, and I realized I was within bike riding distance of San Juan Capistrano, and being named "Joe" and having my relatives always PUSH the celebration of "St.Joseph's day" as a counter-weight to "St.Patrick's day" (in some kind of bizarre Reeguhn-esque ethnic tribal feud) I thought to myself: "I KNOW where I'll be this coming St.Joseph's Day! San Juan Capistrano!" ...as you see, the swallows return to Capistrano every March 19th (St.Joseph's day) and leave every October 23rd (some other saint's day, I guess).
Since there's So Much hype about it - parades, bands, celebrities, etc - I wanted to be prepared. When does it happen on the 19th? Where's the best place to see it in SJC? Just how many swallows are we talking about here? How bad would the traffic be?
Well, since there's a Pat Boone / Ink Spots / multiple-cover-band song "When the swallows return to Capistrano" it made googling it a pain. There's all sorts of "news reports" and promotional videos, one in which a male senior citizen says "there were so many swallows, they blackened the sky". In this age of "video recording devices are everywhere" I was sure I'd see some kind of actual video footage of a mass of birds, large enough to blot out the sun. Well, the closest thing is this:
...and in that video, you can count 12 swallows (13, if you count the swallow nest next to the beehive in the eave twice, since it's shown twice). In other videos you can see a UCLA (some 30 miles from here) faculty office building's 4th floor being flocked to by swallows (and mudded, and pooped upon). You can see someone's inlaw's home a "a few miles from SJC" being strafed and nested by dozens of swallows. You can see poorly shot video of swallows "in slow motion". But I have yet to find any actual footage of the San Juan Capistrano swallows "returning", nor "circling the mission twice and leaving for the winter" as the legend says.
Lack of evidence does not disprove it, it just makes it even less believable, and gives me so much pause as to make me not feel bad for avoiding SJC tomorrow. I am sure there will be massive traffic jams into and out of SJC. There's no shortage of entrepreneurs, marketeers, and hopeful capitalists trying to prey upon tourist dollars there. Since I am feeling rather under-the-weather with some kind of congestive head cold, attempting to ride my bike up there and back is definitely out of the question tomorrow, and even if I did, I'd probably be run over by a out-of-town tourist trying to see a stray seagull or raven and hoping it was a swallow. And since they are supposed to return "at dawn's first light" it would be a very chilly ride, on a busy Tuesday work morning, when I am already triple booked with simultaneous conference calls.
The video above (or link here) says that SJC Mission renovations and development have decreased the numbers of swallows that return, but 'have not diminished the festive spirit'. Hazaah, hooray, how fun for you SJC. =\ I wanted to see many dozens or hundreds or thousands of swallows, digesting every flying insect for miles around, darting to and fro... but instead, a 1/2 dozen mud nests in the eaves it all you've got? On the I-10 and 101 in Phoenix there were 100s of such nests on the west side of town's interchange - I used to see them all the time.
I do not mean to disrespect SJC's swallows or the massive events surrounding their "legendary" return. But I'll be staying home tomorrow. I am kinda glad my Uncle Joe (the same one who sends me funny emails often) is not coming to co-celebrate St.Joseph's day here tomorrow... we'd both be rather under-whelemed by the lack of natural phenomenon and over-whelmed by the much-to-do-about-very-little.
If any of my SJC neighbors have actual footage of hundreds or thousands of birds "blackening the sky" on March 19th (or any other time for that matter, in SJC), please feel free to share the link the "comments", and I will happily "eat crow" - but I doubt I will swallow. =)
1 year ago