It presents quite a contrast to the SpruceHaven situation since this barn is still home to a couple of horses. People are in and out of the barn all the time, the dogs go to visit the horses, a radio is playing and the swallows are totally habituated to all the comings and goings. It reminds me of my time spent working on a farm on weekends when I was a boy, when Barn Swallows were a standard feature in the cow sheds.
The barn itself is a grand old structure.
It is home to a thriving, ancestral colony of swallows. As of yesterday, we counted 58 nests, 26 of which contain eggs and 3 already have young. Some nest construction and refurbishment is still taking place so there is the possibility of even more productivity.
It gives one a sense of history to be in a building such as this, a sentiment never evoked by a modern, efficient, aluminum-clad rectangular structure. The walls are solid and ancient, products of a bygone era when more attention was paid to the barn than was to the house.
The sights, sounds and odours of the barn are evocative; the swallows confiding and unafraid.
An old tractor looks ready to be pressed into service at any time.
We know that a couple of nests have already been abandoned, although there is no apparent reason for the desertion. A single egg, never incremented, in the same nest each week and stone cold, is a sure fire indicator that we are not going to have a family there. We leave the nest and egg in situ, however, so as not to interfere with whatever natural processes are occurring. Jim removed the egg from one of the nest so that you can see how tiny, and exquisitely beautiful, it is, and carefully replaced it.
We are able to monitor most of the nests with the aid of a mirror on a telescopic pole, so that we minimize the degree of disturbance at the nest.
As can be clearly seen on the nest above which has been constructed atop an old nest, abundant horse manure is the preferred construction material. Straw and hay are interwoven into the dung and the wall of the old nest becomes like the lathing in an old house. When it dries it is very strong indeed, and doubtless has a certain insulation component.
In the following picture the inside of a nest can be viewed; feathers always form a significant part of the nest lining.
The horses on the farm are both friendly and beautiful and contribute in no small measure to the lining of the nest by virtue of the copious amounts of hair shed from their manes and tails.
Francine was initially quite wary of the horses, but she is getting more used to them with every visit, and now enjoys a little intimate contact.
The horses remained outside during our last visit until we had finished, but often they are in there with us as we check the nests. They are sociable creatures and love to nuzzle, so it's handy to have someone there to keep them at bay when you are up on the ladder.
Nests are to be found throughout the barn, in every nook and cranny, and often very close to each other.
Not all the swallows have succeeded in securing a mate and floaters in the population often congregate together on the wires.
The barn and the paddock are a great home for horse and swallow alike.
In case you ever had any doubt about the power of a horse's teeth, take note of the chewing they have done on the fence rail.
There is good reason to always offer the horse an apple on the flat of your hand!
Two gorgeous dogs greet every visitor with loud barks, until they get to know you, but in truth their tails are wagging the whole time and they are about as sociable and non-threatening as it gets.
With our work done, it was time to change back out of rubber boots into other shoes.
It was another job well done! Many thanks to Francine and Jim, who not only took their own shift on Friday, but came out to help Miriam and me yesterday. We appreciate their dedication.