SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — If the swallows came back to Mission San Juan Capistrano today, renewing a centuries-old tradition, their numbers were so few that they eluded the mission's official swallow spotter.
Four ancient church bells were rung to signify the return, but 91-year-old Paul Arbiso, the chief swallow watcher and bell ringer for more than 30 years, said he didn't see any birds today. He saw some earlier this month though, he said.
Dick Landy, the mission's visitor center director, said he told Arbiso to ring the bell after he spotted a half a dozen swallows flying above the mission grounds. Landy said he saw 15 or so more swallows just after the bells sounded.
Hundreds of people gathered at the mission early today to catch the first glimpse of the returning swallows, but sightings were few.