The consent of cooperative landowners like Mike and Beth is essential to conducting studies into these endangered aerial insectivores, and I struggle for words to express the depth of our appreciation. These people are conservation heroes of the first order. They deserve our respect, our gratitude and our admiration.
As we drive into the property a welcoming array of Day Lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) greets us, and the dogs run to the car, tails wagging furiously, to let us know that they are happy to see us.
We are no less happy to see them.
On a hot day they languish in the cool of the barn.
Actually, it saddens me to report that the dog on the right recently passed away, after a long and happy life I might add, but the newest addition to the canine crew is a sheer bundle of cute rambunctiousness.
The barn is an imposing ancient structure and seems to have a grandeur all of its own. It has character and charm, totally lacking in modern structures of rectilinear uniformity, with metal sidings and huge doors designed for efficiency, but totally lacking in style. I always feel happy just entering the barn.
If only these venerable old beams could talk - what stories could they tell?
One of the pleasures in doing our monitoring at Blaze Farm is the presence of two horses. These splendid animals act at times like house pets needing a little affection and they nudge up to you like a friendly dog.
The swallows here are accustomed to humans walking in and out, dogs barking and running around, the constant comings and goings of horses, a radio playing, and consequently display no inclination to immediately fly off when we go into their space.
It is always a joy to see these tough little birds and there is a good deal of satisfaction in knowing that we are trying to ensure their ongoing presence in the avifauna of the world, despite factors that have led to their precipitous decline in recent years. Knowledge is the key to everything. The more we understand of the life cycle of the birds the more we may be able to help them.
All of the nests are numbered, and they are monitored three times a week.
When the nestlings are old enough to band (around 10 days) they are carefully removed from the nest and placed in an egg carton to be carried over to the area where we set up our banding station.
Each bird then receives its own identifying band with a unique number.
As soon as each bird is banded it is returned to the nest.
Soon we will also be attaching radio trackers to ten birds to follow them on their migratory journey to South America.
A few years ago, as structures were developed to help mitigate the loss of ancestral breeding colonies when old bridges, for example, were replaced with new ones, a wooden nest cup was developed to see whether birds could be encouraged to use it as a nest substrate. The success of the Barn Swallow shelters was minimal and it was not clear whether the nest cups were shunned as a feature of the structure, or whether they were inherently unappealing to the birds. Mike and Beth allowed us to install seven cups in their barn to try to elucidate on this - and one was used.
As best we can ascertain by comparing last year's data with this year it represents an additional nest, and four healthy young were fledged from this cup. I might add that at SpruceHaven we mounted seventeen cups on the beams there and two were used, and one has a second clutch of eggs which should be hatching shortly.
We are already drawing some conclusions about these cups, particularly about their placement, and we will relocate some of them before the swallows return next year.
I need to repeat that none of this work is possible without the consent of the landowners to use their property. Old barns like this one are disappearing from the agricultural landscape and we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to track the progress of the birds in a colony that has no doubt been in existence for as long as the barn itself.
In closing, once again to Mike and Beth - THANK YOU. We appreciate it, the ornithological community appreciates it, conservation scientists appreciate it - and, best of all, were the swallows able to express their appreciation they would do so also!