Warm, golden evening light bathed the paddocks and stables nestled amongst the tall, deep green trees of the forest. The smell of straw, mingled with the warm, musty smell of horses brings back memories of childhood and a horse called Guiness. Dipping and twisting, swooping in low through the open stable doors,a distinctive pointed wing bird appears, turns on a penny and disappears out the same way. With a dark black and blue back, brilliant white belly, deep red chin, streaming tail feathers and constant twittering there is only one bird this could be... Swallows. Back from southern Africa where they will have spent the winter and returned to the same nest sites as the years before. In the rafters of the stable, under the overhang of the door, and on top of the strip lighting perch a number of small nests. They look like they are made of little mud bricks laid one on top of the other and curving into a half cup.
Climbing up on a sturdy ladder each nest is checked to assess what stage it is at, or whether there are any eggs or chicks. At the same time a short net is set up covering the opening to the barn. What better additional information to add to a nest record than the identity of the parent birds?
This year things seem a little quiet. Where we might expect most nests to have eggs or chicks by this time the first few nests are yet to be finished. What the reasons are we can only speculate, but many of these are likely to be second attempts with the first nest having failed.
Finally in the last stable an active nest is found with five warm, beautiful eggs nestled amongst the soft white feathers and coarse dark horse hair lining the depression behind the mud wall.
And in the storage barns in the top field more good news. Climbing up on the old stable door and peering into the dark corner, eight small, dark black eyes stare back. With great care they are removed from the nest and ringed before being settled back into their quiet corner. This time the net that is stretched across the entrance catches both parents, and the set is complete, from egg to chick to adult.