The summer sky above the garden is busy – with dashing flight, shining blue backs and burst of twittering which sounds more like gossip than birdsong – there is no mistaking the most beautiful, agile and heart-lifting of birds – the swallow.
I always make a note in my diary when they arrive and this year it was April 21st – a good week later than last year. I feel an overwhelming sense of the return of an old and much loved friend, who shares the garden with us.
First to arrive are the males followed about a week or so later by the females exhausted from their epic journey from South Africa. Incredible to think they have returned to within a few hundred yards of where they were born and their parents to exactly the same place.
Their chatter starts before dawn and continues on and off throughout the day. That sound along with their busy aerial elegance, is as central to this garden in summer as any plant.
They have built their nests and raise at least two broods in the dark, cool and safe place under our cart sheds where I watch them whizzing in and out a hundred times a day. Last year when a young chick fell out of the nest, I carefully managed to return it up as close to the nest as possible (the nest was too high and awkward for me to reach even with a ladder) by making a nest with straw in an old cooking pot from which the parents continued to feed and care for it and it thrived and joined its siblings a few weeks later to line up on the oak beams above to fly.
I always check swallows height in the sky for the next day’s weather because they follow the insects, which rise and fall according to the air pressure. When swallows are flying high that means that there is a good chance of fine weather the next day and when they are swooping just inches from the ground to get insects, the pressure is low and it is likely that rain will follow.
An old tradition says that swallows bring good luck to a household. They certainly bring great joy to us.