Here in Portugal the swallows arrive much earlier than in England- sometimes late February. During the long summer months the sky is full of them. You can tell a lot from the swallows’ behaviour. When rain’s due they fly close to the ground. Down the narrow street through the village they can whistle past your ankles at such a speed it makes you jump.
This year they were few. Rumour in the village was that they were caught in a late freeze in Morocco on their way from South Africa.
Two swallows nests in the rafters of the courtyard here had been reluctantly removed in the building works. The only remaining one (and seemingly the least desirable as it was unused) was smaller and with little headroom. But the following year a pair chose it, put an extension on it and had two clutches of babies. And last year the same again.
This year the nest sat empty for weeks after the first few swallows were seen gliding around in the skies. It was becoming a great sadness. And then one day there they were, sat on the cable to the toilet light, chittering away to each other like a pair of chipmunks. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the same pair.
But this year there was a visit from a third swallow and two days of vicious battle. A long wait of many weeks to see mother swallow sitting on eggs followed, suggesting that the disturbance may have upset the natural course in some way. But eventually it came, to my relief and they hatched, albeit seemingly also with slowness and uncertainty, last week.
The nest is underneath the veranda just outside the glass doors to the lounge. When you come through the door you’re practically nose-to-nose with them. Or you can lie on the sofa and watch the feeding frenzy.
They are a constant source of entertainment and photo opportunity and very tame, being in such close proximity. But it’s short and sweet. No sooner do you see the first glimpse of that tiny, weak, lolling head the size of your little finger and its down as fine as haze, than they’re great ugly, wide-mouthed, beady-eyed beasts jostling for space and the best position in the line for getting served first.
The plan is to enclose the area under the veranda but I have resolved to somehow accommodate the swallows nest with, say, a fan-light window for access, along with their litter tray – whatever it takes. They’re part of the family. I feel truly blessed.