I saw my first swallow of the year at Lerryn on April 19th. There it was – just the one – sitting neatly on a telephone wire. I was astonished; it seemed so early! But a few days later they were here, at Highfield, in numbers. Swooping and plunging, weaving intricate patterns through clear skies with swift sureness of eye and wing. And from the balcony, I can watch them as often from above as below. Beautiful and breath-taking grace.
We knew there were old nests in the garage; B had cleared and cleaned the area very soon after we arrived. He likes his garage clean and tidy. We also knew the previous owners had never closed the garage door. (Perhaps because the door mechanism didn’t work…) What we didn’t know is that swallows return to the same nests year after year.
The moment the garage door is open the swallows are inside. It doesn’t matter if we are inside too; they swoop in on silent wings, wheeling and banking, filling the space with such artistry and poise. I’ve never watched swallows in such close proximity. The edges of their wings on the underside are like chequerboards…
There are also old nests in the barn – and plenty of gaps in the barn construction to enable the birds to fly in and out. But again, they are used to the door being open. Every time it’s open, in come the birds. They sit on their old nests and chatter and grumble, but they won’t come and go via any exit but the main door.
I bought an artificial swallow nest; B put it up as near to the garage as possible in as sheltered a position as possible. The swallows aren’t interested.
So this year at least, it seems unlikely that we will enjoy the comings and goings of parental swallows, or catch a glimpse of fledglings and first flights. They are still with us: still hunting on the wing and settling on the weather vane where they chitter and chatter in what has now become an instantly recognisable litany. I hope they continue to return each year. And I hope that by next year we have thought of a place where we can give them unfettered access, where they might nest in peace and safety.
“The swallow is come! The swallow is come!
O, fair are the seasons, and light
Are the days that she brings,
With her dusky wings,
And her bosom snowy white!”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow