Lockdown Birding Part 10
|Just fledged Barn Swallows in the rain (Martin Kelsey)|
Wobbling on the flimsy, pliable tip of the twig, amongst the mulberry's soft, lime-fresh leaves, the newly-fledged Barn Swallows had certainly picked a challenging day to leave the nest. Shafts of heavy rain stung diagonally, driven by the fierce southerly wind. Just a few hours earlier, they had left the snugness of their feather-lined mud-cup nest, deep in the shelter of my toolshed. Uncertain of balance, they shuffled along the twig. They bore a rather glum expression, thanks to their huddled stance and wide, soft gape flanges. The latter reminded me of the face of a sad clown.
|A novice landing on too small a twig (Martin Kelsey)|
From time to time, a parent swallow arrived with food, settling for the briefest of moments alongside the youngster, plunging its bill into the wide gape before launching itself off the twig again. The lucky fledgling exuded a satisfied shimmer. It was extraordinary how the parent swallows were managing to find and bring in flying insects under such atrocious weather. They worked hard, zigzagging low over the meadow that I could see from the balcony. Only close to the vegetation might insects lurk. A Crag Martin almost carressed the canopy of a holm oak in similar pursuit.
I feared for the young birds' survival, but this morning, I watched them again. The three of them were sitting in the same mulberry tree, which grows in a sheltered position and has easily accessible entrance for the parents. The very same branches were used last year by young swallows from the same nest. I am sure that their parents had escorted them there, as a safe place to sit on their first few days out.
Today I was struck too by the agility and confidence of these young birds in flight. Three weeks ago they were embryos inside the egg. I was now watching them swoop and glide like their parents, rushing close past my face and then banking alongside the trees, before sweeping upwards to their perches. Only there did inexperience betray them with a fumbled landing, a brief jerkiness before resuming their stoic composure.