Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Swallows snub Africa for refinery

Swallows usually migrate to Africa in winter to escape the cold

It is often said that one swallow does not a summer make - so what does it mean when a flight of swallows does not fly south for winter?

A handful of the birds have continued to nest at Pembroke's Chevron oil refinery in Pembrokeshire rather than migrate to Africa for the winter.

Workers have counted seven swallows so far and believe they have survived as they are in a heated hall.

They have also been leaving the door open for them to find insects.

John Hayes, an inspection engineer who has worked at the refinery for 40 years, is a licensed bird ringer (a person who can fit a weightless ring to a bird to monitor it) and has made it his job to watch the birds.

He said they have built mud nests high up on the light fittings inside a laboratory on the site, although they can often be found roosting in the refinery's fire station next door.

They fly in and they do all bits and the boys keep an eye on them. It's like having pets
Ray Scott, worker

It is the third year in a row that some swallows have been spotted at the site during the winter months - six were seen in the winter of 2006-2007, a single bird was spotted last year and seven are there this year.

"It's amazing they're staying," said Mr Hayes.

"There has been previous records around Britain of single birds staying but this is three years on the run when we have had multiple birds staying.

"At the beginning of December I counted 18. We had the coldest start of December for many years so that probably gave them the impetus to move so most of them left."

Ray Scott, who works at the site's fire station, said the staff treated the birds like pets.

The refinery at Pembroke
Swallows have been spotted at Chevron oil refinery for three winters

"The only thing is they make a lot of mess but we accepted them," he said.

"They have been coming now for years. They fly in and the boys keep an eye on them. It's like having pets."

But why do the birds stay at a noisy and busy oil refinery during the cold winter when they would usually fly south to warmer climes?

Mr Hayes said: "The fortunate thing for them here, the reason they can survive is we're in a building, in a fire hall, it's heated, the light fittings are warm.

"As long as there are insects out there if we get mild weather then the birds will be okay.

"If we go to really severe cold weather and insects aren't there then the swallows, I suspect, wouldn't survive.

"We have just had the shortest day so it's getting lighter for them now so that's more time for them to catch insects. It can only get better."

Lewis James, reserve project manager for RSPB Cymru, said: "It is quite rare for this type of thing to happen and for swallows not to undertake their normal migration.

"However our winters are now significantly milder compared to a decade or so ago and could be one of the reasons they can survive longer into the winter than in the past."

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