Cliff Swallows at Nest
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8 7/8” x 11 7/8”, acrylic on board, 2001
The summer days of my youth were spent at a cottage on a lake which bordered northern forest and southern farmland. This was the perfect interface for a young artist and naturalist. The barn was only yards away from the cottage and was a source of endless pleasure ... hide and seek, jumping in the hay, watching the pigs ands sheep and cattle and chickens. It was the warm and complex world of the traditional family farm.
The barn also provided habitat for wildlife. The most obvious denizens were the barn swallows. Their cheery “peeta peeta” notes were blended with the barnyard sounds. Then one summer some of the swallows were uttering a more melodious chirp. Young Bateman, the budding birder, was thrilled to notice that some of the swallows had little creamy patches on their foreheads as well as square tails and orangey rumps. My Peterson field guide told me that these were cliff swallows. Before the arrival of Europeans [to North America] these birds would have nested under protective overhangs of cliffs but for the last couple of centuries the eaves of barns provided equal protection and barns were more abundant than cliffs in most areas.
Barn swallows build a simple cup attached to the wall or ledge but cliff swallows create gourd shaped orbs from little blobs of mud.  I see fewer and fewer barns in my travels and it has been some time since I saw a cliff swallow but when I do my heart goes straight as an arrow to those days of my youth.