A Tale of 2 Swallows

In late August 2013, 2 Greater Striped Swallows arrived at Elandsberg Eco Tourism without any prior booking or arrangement.

Words and Images by Chris du Plessis

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They promptly started inspecting the property and after some deliberation decided on a plot for their home – against the ceiling light at the entrance to our guests’ reception.

They immediately fascinated us with the arduous, but delicate task of constructing their mud nest.

They would arrive together, each with a beak full of mud. One would go straight to the construction site and place his or her mud while the partner waited. Then they would switch – the partner placing his / her mud while the other one waited. And then off they would go for the next load.

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Cleaning the ‘mess’ of mud and sand droppings on the floor never bothered us. Just knowing they were there was more than enough compensation. When they came to rest in between their building and feeding sorties, their sweet, soft burbling conversations interspersed with the most delicate whistles, overwhelmingly stole our hearts.

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Sparrows Birding
The nest at our front door.

In late March they had reared 2 chicks and departed for their winter home in Angola, leaving us thankful, but with a void. But, behold, mid-August they were back, immediately renovating and preparing for the next brood, and again we were in awe, watching and listening.

In June of 2015 we went on holiday and during our absence, our housekeeper decided to clean the ceiling, including removing the nest!

We were furious when we discovered it, but there was nothing we could do to restore it. When the swallows arrived in August we could clearly observe the utter confusion and bewilderment at the disappearance of their house. For more than a week they flew in and out before starting to rebuild it.

In August 2016 they returned, renovated and reared their offspring. In July this year (2017) 2 Cape Sparrows invaded the swallows’ nest (they are probably supporters of one of the political parties).

I chased them and covered the nest with transparent plastic. When the swallows returned I removed the plastic, but the sparrows immediately took over again and started dismantling the long narrow entrance. No matter how often we chased them, they returned. I then hastily built them a timber nest and placed it nearby, but they simply ignored it. The timid swallows had no chance. After almost two weeks the sparrows have demolished close to half of the nest, so I removed the remains.

For some time the swallows inspected our property from all sides again, and then decided on a new site – right above our front door.

But now they had a serious problem. Because of the severe drought, there was no clay available for them to build a new house. We had to intervene. We fetched fine clay from a spot elsewhere on the farm, placed it along our garden paths and watered it regularly.

Sparrows Birding
The sparrows’ redecorated RDP house

It took the swallows less than 15 minutes to discover this source of building materials. Within 2 weeks the new nest was completed and the raising of a family commenced.

In the meantime, the sparrows have moved into the RDP house I built for them and within a short time converted it into a true informal shack with all kinds of untidy plant material protruding from the opening.

But, just as we thought everyone is happy. The 2 swallows decided that they prefer their original site and promptly started constructing a new home on it.

Now we are back to providing building material as it is still very dry…

 

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