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Notes from the North News

Swallows and Martins 13 Sep 2023 Close encounters with swallows and house martins over the summer and early autumn.

It’s been a good year for swallows up here. As usual a small number arrived in April, decided to stay and bred successfully. In recent years, there has been quite a high mortality rate if the chicks have coincided with a badly timed heatwave. Whole broods have died, and nests have fallen out of the barn rafters. But this summer the timing was good and their numbers swelled to between ten and twenty, as far as we can tell. Counting swallows accurately is very difficult.

For a few days during the September heatwave, out of nowhere, these swallows were joined by dozens of house martins for a few hours at a time – too many to count. Has anyone seen them elsewhere in and around Eynsham? They settled on wires, roofs and aerials, repeatedly flying off en masse and returning separately. They seemed to like the tops of the three pines and other tall trees. They flew in and out of our neighbour’s open-sided barns, where the swallows have been nesting and roosting. Spectacular.

Each year we have been here, a swallow has flown into the kitchen and had to be swiftly removed (alive and well) before the dogs caught on. This year we have had three, two downstairs and one upstairs. All released in time. Not so lucky was the swallow that the cat somehow knocked out of the air. It was still alive when found, but did not survive. Another one flew into a window pane, and this is what happened:


To hold a swallow in your hand

that flew into a window

and wishing it no more than stunned

is everything you can do.


She squealed when picked up from the ground

plangent in pain or panic

but stays quite still inside cupped hands

as if, now, fatalistic.


Flat on an open palm uncaught,

her life on a tenterhook,

she slowly moves her head about

warming in the aftershock.


And suddenly she’s gone. You watch

her circle round the courtyard

and question whether hers could match

your breath-intake of gratitude.


Click to enlarge