Out of Africa



Young swallows – a week or two before they took flight – nesting under a shed roof on our family farm in Rahugh, Co. Westmeath. This picture was the end of June. They have since left the nest, and are getting ready for their great journey.

Swallows have been coming to this particular nest on our farm for more than a decade. The nest is tucked under the gutter of the shed which was built in the late Seventies.  An older shed – which used to be the milking parlour – has been the location of swallows’ nests since I was a child, and probably long before. The shed has a low roof – the nests were typically within arms reach, and the adults swooped in and out of the shed to feed their young even while milking was in progress. After a while , we didn’t even flinch or duck as the swallows flew just a few inches past us through the narrow door, during the milking times.  Though our family have lived on that farm for centuries, it’s likely that the swallows have been breeding there every summer for millenia – long before anyone knew that birds migrated at all, and long before anyone in Europe discovered that their ancestors had once migrated from  Africa one upon a time.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and one of my favourites is In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg. The most recent episode discussed bird migration.