We like to see lots of summer visitors here at Eco-Gites of Lenault in Normandy and not just in the gite. We also look forward to the arrival of our swallows. We love seeing them swooping over the fields catching insects and hope each year they will successfully hatch their young.
Imagine our sadness when, in 2013, no swallows returned to us. They were about locally but none were here. Not one. Swallows always return to the same place year after year using navigational skills far greater than your average GPS and that no-one really understands. Returning parents will often re-use the same nest, patching it up after the winter to raise a new family and young birds will build new nests nearby. So why did no birds return to us in 2012? We can only assume that they died somewhere between here and South Africa where they overwinter. It is, after all, a hugely arduous journey made more perilous by the fact that some are still shot for sport in parts of Europe. Asking around, other people confirmed that numbers of returning swallows were down that year so we assumed conditions had not been good for them - maybe a drought in South Africa or especially bad weather for one or both of the migrations.
Come 2014 we wondered what would happen and thankfully a small number of swallows did arrive; probably young birds from nearby locations looking for new nest sites. Sadly though, none of them nested in any of our stone buildings and we saw just one nest in the big barn ... and numbers were still lower than in previous years.
So what would 2015 hold? As spring moved on I looked up every day, keen to see their distinct outline grace the skies. I was not disappointed and a good number of birds have made it back this year. Are they nesting? Yes!! There are still no nests in the feed shed so I am safe to go in there without having to duck when I open the door (they have a hole in the door to get in and out but always preferred to wait for me to open the door and fly out!) but I have found 2 nests in the pig pens and both are full to the brim with soon-to-fledge youngsters.
Nest number one is built on an old light near the door:
I took these photos when it was nearly dark and I had gone to put everyone to bed so the young birds were tucked in, all quiet and sleepy. Below is a photo, snapped by Simon in 2010, when some very hungry youngsters thought he was bringing them lunch!
In that year he also managed to set up a video and film the parent birds repairing an old nest ready for their new family. It's only 28 seconds long so do have a watch:
Who finished building first, the swallows with their nest or us with the gite? It was the swallows who won! The gite wasn't finished until July 17th by which time the swallows had mended the nest, hatched a brood and were quite possibly on a second family for that year!
Do you have swallows nesting near you or have you any interesting swallow stories to tell?
For more tales of our feathered, furred and scaly friends please click on the link below for the Animal Tales blog linky (live from Tues 16th June).