Monthly Archive: April 2017

A barney and a rumpus

Lavender and gum rock rose and red earth

Guarding her eggs and spying on us at breakfast


My attempts at avian social engineering have worked. I kept what was left of the red-rumps’ nest masked by its rough net of tape until the barn swallows had given up on it and established themselves elsewhere.

‘They don’t seem to have a good concept of space,’ said a friend, seeing the shallowness of the beam the barns started building on in the middle of the veranda. It was newly painted; that must have been what they liked.

‘Or perhaps it’s time they lack a concept of,’ said Husband, as the birds arrived almost simultaneously at the nest, beaks jammed full, and one would have to wait it out, muddy feet on our washing line, until the first had finished positioning its mud-gobbet.

The nest was completed after a week or so. It has a flattish, raised prow, and without doubt eggs have already been laid since the female spends a lot of time in there, sideways on, her rufous face in view, watching us when we’re busy on the veranda.

Once the barn swallows had built enough of the nest to convince me they’d committed to the site, I took down the masking tape from the red-rumps’ old nest, especially since I’d been hearing snatches of their radio-tuning song as they flew overhead. In a short space of time, they arrived at the hook – their nest was built around a hook in the ceiling, as you may recall – and started staking it out. They also started making flying passes at the barns. Wings would sometimes collide. A fat carpenter bee got feather-swatted out of the air, an innocent bystander caught up in the rumpus.

‘This place, this place, this place is ours, NOT YOURS!’ the barns declare constantly, the ‘NOT YOURS’ delivered as two raspberries, the second of which is ratcheted up to the fullest. They have the louder, more demanding-sounding song. It isn’t aimed solely at the red-rumps. They are more than capable of a barney with their own kind when a new male comes a-calling to see if he can get in on the action.

The red-rumps seem unaffected by the song. They are now steadily rebuilding their nest, some of which got damaged by sparrows, and some of which came down at the accidental brush of a human hand, so delicate was its construction. It took the birds a good ten days to build and us only seconds to dislodge. Still, they are well on the way to completing it anew.

I don’t know if it’s common for red-rumps and barns to nest together in the same space – I suspect not – but it’s working out well enough here, small competitive displays of flying ability aside. It’s working out so well that the sparrows, those clumsy birds with their heavy flight, are now nosing in. The female sparrow, who liked to look at herself in the glass of a smartphone, moved her attention a few weeks ago to the metal outlet pipe of – actually I don’t know what exactly; the gas water boiler that’s the back-up when there isn’t enough sun to heat the water? – whatever, it emerges by the bathroom roof, and for some weeks now the sparrow has been tapping it regularly, forcefully, and audibly to whoever is on the loo. The male was obliged to turn his attention, too, to this hot, bright, wholly unsuitable nesting site; mostly he just looked on while she rang her beak against the metal. But they are now attracted by all the fruitful activity on the veranda, perhaps trying to see where they can fit in there.

My other main activity in the four weeks since I last wrote a blog has been, aside from work, the raising of seedlings, a first for me and something in which I felt I had little or no competence but wanted to do anyway. All manner of greenery has emerged from the soil compartments in the storeroom, and I cursed my overuse of seeds and my complicated labelling key, which slightly fell apart when I turned the trays around to even out the light falling on them. Well, I don’t want to tempt fate by claiming any successes there. Early days.

Things have moved on the oil/gas exploration front here – and moved in a good direction – but I see I’m going to have to save that for another post, which I think will be sooner coming than this one was. Just to leave you with a note about scent: in the morning the air smells of earth spice, and as the day moves on and the breezes change, air-drifts of lavender, gum rock rose and orange blossom waft by. April in the Algarve.

The early stage of barn swallow nest-building involved straw, a piece of which you can just make out in the bird’s bill

We were very happy when the red-rumped swallows returned to the wire



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