The first few early birds flying as scouts in advance of thousands of swallows returned Saturday to Mission San Juan Capistrano, an annual tradition seen as a harbinger of spring.

Despite the early arrivals, the celebration to mark the 200-year-old tradition will not officially begin until the first bird is sighted on St. Joseph's Day - as decreed by Father Junipero Serra when he and the local Indians started building the church in 1776.More than 10,000 spectators were expected to crowd into the courtyard at the mission early Sunday as ancient church bells toll to signal the first sighting of the migrating fork-tailed swallows.

A few early birds, or scouts, already have arrived in the southern Orange County city and a few were sighted at the mission itself.