The only reason I could think for them to be coming so low was the annual swarming of the ants in the garden, though I thought this had finished a couple of weeks back, but sure enough that was exactly what was occurring.
The main nest is around the doorstep of the conservatory, and it has grown to such proportions there are now thousands of the little blighters digging under the stones of the patio. I don't mind them, we get a few in the house in the spring but otherwise their main activity is digging out new chambers for the winged kings and queens, of which this year there are a lot. But once flown the ants disappear back underground, work over for another year, and will remain largely unseen until next spring.
|Swarm 'ere 'innit|
Black Garden Ants lasius niger preparing for take-off
|They show up well on the white Upvc of the conservatory step|
|Appearing through any crack they could find|
|But these unfortunate winged queens would never fulfil their purpose.|
Outside I went to view the event at close hand. Ants were streaming out of what seemed like every single gap in the bricks of the patio and base of the conservatory. The workers in a frenzy covering a wide area to guard the participants of the nuptial flight on the ground, but they had no defence against attack from the air.
Around a dozen swallows circled low around the adjacent gardens and swooped in to scoop up the slow-moving ants as they rose more-or-less vertically in ones, twos and threes. In the half hour I watched I didn't see a single ant make more than a 20 foot ascent before being plucked out of the sky, most were taken before reaching even four feet up, as the swallows competed with each other to snap up an easy meal. Basically it was a slaughter, and one it was a privilege to witness. Swallows zipping past my head as I watched, so close I could hear their beaks snapping shut around the bodies of their victims.
|A close crop shows hunter and quarry, easy pickings|
|Sometimes two by two, it was a race to snap a victim from the air, miss one and you'd|
have to hope you get lucky on the next loop.
|Two hunters, one meal.|
It was the incoming rain which finally led to the ants abandoning the event for the day, the workers ushering their winged superiors back into the cracks and crevasses, still many more to make the perilous journey another day, probably just as well for them. Those which made the attempt today all seemed to suffer the same fate at the hands (or beaks) of the swallows. Great viewing.