May, 2020

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

The rain pauses. I set a chair at the edge of the field. The barn swallows have returned. Cinnamon-bellied, navy-backed, tails deeply-forked, they dip and dive through blooming Scotch broom. They’re skimming wet leaves, drinking on the fly. They’re eating flies and wasps, bees and butterflies. Imagine a thread unspooling from those tails. The signatures cross and loop, fall invisibly onto wet brush.

Their chirps mix with the foghorn that through damp air sounds like a digital owl. A horse trail is also nearby. The swallows have come all the way up from Central and South America to return to last year’s nests. Stan Tekiela’s notes say they build with over 1,000 “beak-loads of mud.” Kate Kaye says construction materials include “mud, grass, feathers—and possibly even horsehair.”

When I wear my red beanie the swallows, too fast for binoculars, come close enough to hear wing flaps. The next rain curtain appears a mile or so away. Earth rhythms are consoling as I seek to regain my lost sense of time. When the first drops patter my sleeve I fold up the chair and head in. The birds also vanish.