23 October 2015

It’s the time of night when the land turns monochrome. Colour leached out by the setting sun flies up into the sky turning the clouds pink. Kookaburras laugh out into the evening, before the frogs take up the chorus, spreading their chirrups across the drowsy land.

There’s no night-time flurry of swallows returning to their nest tonight, no more cheeping little heads raised above the edge of the nest’s mud wall. But this year it’s because of success, not failure. Last year the swallows had a dismal record of baby-rearing. Two lots of eggs were laid and babies hatched, only for us to find naked fledglings dead or gasping on the ground under the nest after a few weeks of rearing. I don’t know if this year’s parents are better, or if there has been some radical reshaping of the nest under strict Health and Safety Guidelines, but I feel like sending this year’s parents an award for most improved.

Ugly baby heads appeared a few weeks ago, their wildly disproportionate beaks gaping. Last week fluffy babies perched above the nest. This morning there were two baby swallows sitting on the railing, staring at the big world. Their parents came swooping in after a while but they weren’t stopping to stuff titbits into their mouths – they were there to entice them off the rail and out into the yonder. One of the babies followed, returning after one circuit to struggle back onto the rail. Its sibling stretched one wing out and scratched underneath, displaying a certain virtuosity. It spread its wings and flapped but stayed where it was. Then the parents were back swooping and scooping up both babies into their flight. The four of them flew around the valley and returned, the babies to the rail, the parents right back in to the nest, flying out with the third baby following. Swoop, fly, swoop, back to the rail and then all five are in the air, dipping and turning, skimming out of sight and returning to the home rail. The next time they all take off they don’t return. I see them on the edge of the tank, two bigger bodies, three littler ones, then no more.