Finally, my Saga of the Solitary Swallow’s Long Sorrow reaches a happy conclusion

A swallow's nest nestling under the eaves of our 19thC pigsty spells success for our hardy traveller

A year and more ago, I wrote here on Voice of the North of my concern for the swallow which appeared to return to our bit of Godzone each year – yet painfully on his own. I attributed its single status to the presence of a sad little corpse that I found on the floor of our pigsty, a little-used facility which houses the lawnmower in winter and, in summer (for several years until that small tragedy), a swallow’s nest.

Now, I lack the skill and knowledge to judge whether the deceased was a female, and whether her relict (if that’s what it is) is male. But it is true that, for several years, we’ve seen fewer swallows here, none taking advantage of our roomy pigsty, and always one solitary hirundinida(to use its Latin name) playing gooseberry as pairs assemble on the telephone wires.

I’ve formed a mental picture of this lone bird battling through storms on each migration to and from Southern Africa, always returning in spring and always, in my imagination, hoping to rediscover its mate – or else to find a new one.

And, hey, I need to concoct a story here! So I’ve arbitrarily assigned the male gender to my central character and, since we’ve seen many more swallows this year – adult and newly fledged – than in recent years, woven a metaphor about courage and perseverance.

I felt that these qualities – and, as far as I can tell, the bird’s ultimate triumph – deserved to be marked in some way and, for no good reason, reckoned it needed to be done in the arch and overblown style of a Victorian ballad. So please forgive the (consciously) painful and contrived verse, admire a swallow’s perseverance and, if you are so minded, raise a glass to “him” and to his achievement!

So pressed he on through storm and gale:

‘Gainst mighty tempest, rain and hail

He battled on, blown back and forth,

While e’er his compass pointed north.


Flew o’er those white cliffs, Albion’s shore,

Yet knew four hundred leagues and more

To God’s own county he must fight

Ere calling halt to arduous flight.


“But, bird, what ails thee? Has thine mate,

Not with thee, met some dire fate?”

Alas, my friend, ‘twas I who found

Her crumpled corpse upon the ground.


No more will those two swallows meet;

No longer bill, or coo, or tweet,

Nor build their nest in my pigsty,

Nor raise their young in turn to fly.

Our old and underused pigsty attracted not one but two pairs of nesting swallows

How many years his vigil filled

I know not: yet he proved strong-willed.

It seemed that he would never tire,

Perched, lonely, on my telephone wire.


Again, this year, I judged him lone,

Playing gooseberry, perched out on his own.

But then, things changed: within the sty

Not one, but two nests caught my eye.

Indisputable (if smelly) evidence of the successful raising of a brood

I kept my distance: lurked about,

Watched parent birds dart in and out:

As summer passed their numbers grew

And swallow chicks first fledged, then flew.


Exuberantly now they fly.

With grace and dash they hurtle by;

They wheel and turn and skim and soar,

While I can only watch in awe.

I know: it doesn’t look much. I’ve seen up to 40 swallows gathered on the phone wire: but they won’t stay still for me!

“So did’st thou, swallow, find a mate?

A new spouse after your long wait?”

I know not, but he did survive:

His kin and progeny now thrive.


But two weeks hence, with heart in mouth,

I’ll see them start their journey south.

Six thousand miles: but I’ll be here

To greet their multitude next year.


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