Cliff swallows make home under bridge

Nobody seems to know when arched bridge was built or by whom

Staff writer

A colony of cliff swallows have gathered and built an intricate cluster of mud nests underneath the arched bridge that spans Clear Creek north of Marion near U.S. 56.

Marion resident and ornithology enthusiast Lloyd Davies actively seeks out birds in the area and always keeps an eye out for new flying friends.

“Birding is like a scavenger hunt,” he said. “When you get into it, you start going through your check list.”

In his time as a birder, Davies has observed unusual species in the area such as whooping cranes, rufous hummingbirds, and red crossbills, to name a few. Although the cliff sparrows are not rare for the area, he still enjoys watching them.

Davies has observed cliff swallows nesting under bridges near Marion Reservoir and on the highways before.

However, he first noticed cliff swallows under the arched bridge at the beginning of May while he and his wife, Robin, were jogging.

He said cliff swallows tend to mix in with other swallows and area birds so they can be hard to identify.

However, their gourd shaped nests that are scattered in clusters on the underbelly of the arched bridge are unmistakable, he said.

According to www.allaboutbirds.org, cliff swallows make their nests out of 900 to 1,200 individual mud pellets they mold into place with their beak in a shaking motion.

Typical nests measure about 8 inches long by 6 inches wide and the entrance is sometimes elongated into a tub that connects to the main structure.

Pairs line their nests with dry grass and patch any holes up throughout breeding season.

Davies said he likes knowing they have arrived because they help keep mosquito swarms at bay and he enjoys watching their aerial acrobatics.

“Cliff swallows are all over concrete bridges but they don’t come through until they can feed,” Davies said. “You just see big clouds of them swooping out from underneath bridges to feed on flying insects.”

The arched bridge is an ideal and picturesque place for the cliff swallows to congregate because it is situated near water, open grass, and farmland, as well as wooded areas. According to www.allabout birds.com these bird often take advantage of thermal air currents that bring together dense swarms of insects and feed in groups of two to more than 1,000.

The arched bridge: age and builder?

The bridge the cliff swallows have taken up under is somewhat of a historical mystery to some that have investigated it.

Kansas Department of Transportation area engineer Joe Palic said bridges usually have a plate on them that identifies who built them by and in what year they were constructed.

However, the arched bridge has no such plate.

“I was looking because our secretary’s grandfather was part of King Construction, which was a major bridge builder,” Palic said. “It seems like 1900 to 1905 is what I kept hearing but I could never validate that.”

Since the arched bridge is not on a state highway, Palic said, he inquired of Bud Druse with the county road department.

“There are no markings on it,” Druse said. “I looked everywhere on the bridge.”

Druse has been searching on and off in his spare time for the last six months and has yet to find any definitive date or specific builder for it.

“I was looking hot and heavy for a while, and everyone I talked to seemed to think it was between 1914 and 1937,” Druse said. “One licensed surveyor said he thought it probably wouldn’t have been built until after World War I because that’s when he said they started using concrete in bridges. But I don’t know.”

Palic said he also looked in old county newspapers at Marion City Library but gave up after search two years worth of newspapers because of scattered way in which information was presented from week to week back then.

“I’ve been also been digging around in the old county commission minutes,” Druse said. “It’s got to be there somewhere but you’d be surprised how people wrote back then. It’s like every other word is something different.”

Both Druse and Palic said they would be glad to hear from anyone who can pinpoint a date and builder for the arched bridge.

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