Snow on Figueroa Mountain

Snow caps 4,534-foot Figueroa Mountain in the San Rafael Mountain Range on Wednesday following last weekend's storm. More low-elevation snow could fall Wednesday.

My son Sean and I did some catch-and-release fishing on an isolated Whale Rock Reservoir last week. While fishing, we noticed the return of the swallows.

On this serene day, without the sound of high-altitude commercial aircraft overhead, we watched dozens of swallows flying in ground effect just off the surface of the water.

They performed small but rapid twists and turns in close synchronization, as they fed on all kinds of aerial insects, particularly swarming species, on the wing. Those group formations of swallows are called “creches.”

Swallows have a streamlined body and relatively long-pointed wings, which gives them both endurance as they glide and maneuverability as they catch their prey. Naturally, they have keen vision to help track flying insects.

Much like the swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano, they reach the Central Coast around mid-March of each year from locations throughout South America, like Argentina, where they spend their winters — an epic 6,000-mile-long journey.

Along the Central Coast, the two most common species are cliff swallows, like those at San Juan Capistrano, and barn swallows. They are social animals and live in high-density colonies.

Male and female swallows form mud into pellets in their bills to build their nests. Researchers have discovered that cliff swallows prefer to reuse existing nests but will build a new nest to reduce the number of parasites, like ticks and fleas.

Each pair of swallows will have about three or four nestlings per brood. The longest recorded lifespan of a cliff swallow is 11 years.

Along the Pecho Coast, which lies between Point San Luis Lighthouse and Point Buchon, large, shadowy swarms of black kelp flies provide plenty of food for our swallows, and here's why:

On days with plenty of sunshine and lots of upwelling, California giant kelp can grow up to 24 inches in just one day, ultimately reaching more than 150 feet in length.

Throughout the season, especially during significant wave events, a lot of that seaweed breaks off from its holdfast and washes up on our beaches. Black kelp flies — scientifically known as Coelopa frigida — lay their eggs in that decomposing kelp. Their larvae quickly hatch and ravenously feed, eventually emerging as adult flies by the millions.

Many bird species take advantage of that flying protein source, including cliff swallows.

Unfortunately, the swallows and their nesting sites don't go unnoticed by the fastest creature in the animal kingdom, the peregrine falcon.

Those birds of prey can reach speeds of more than 240 mph in their characteristic hunting stoop as they dive toward the unaware swallows and other medium-sized birds. In one swoop, they complete the food web of kelp, fly, swallow and falcon.

* * *

Don't become the prey of scammers; beware of individuals taking advantage of COVID-19 fears, among other scams.

The perpetrators are using the "spoofing" technique to simulate Pacific Gas and Electric Co. phone numbers and emails that threaten to shut off power if payment is not made on a bill.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PG&E has voluntarily implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for nonpayment, effective immediately.

The suspension will apply to both residential and commercial customers and will remain in effect until further notice; therefore, any threat related to nonpayment is a scam.

For more information, visit www.pgecurrents.com.

John Lindsey is Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com or follow him on Twitter @PGE_John.

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