As we were visiting the Kiwi plant nursery at the outskirts of Spruce Grove I notice a soft chattering sound among the trees and shrubbery. I was pretty sure it was a bird but I was not familiar with who the suspect would be. I did not have to wait long. In short order the Barn Swallows came swooping in at low elevation, crisscrossing the sky in death defying maneuvers. One of the swallows landed on top of a tall flag post with a large Canadian flag fluttering in the breeze. I just had to take a picture of this diminutive bird perched on top of the post with a gigantic flag. How do you compose a picture like this? One could zoom in to get a closer look at the swallow, but then the flag would not be in the picture. Alternatively you zoom out to fit both the swallow and the flag, but then the bird is just a speck. I choose the second option. You can sort of see the rust coloured breast of the Barn Swallow (if you squint) sitting on top of the pole without a care in the world.
As you approach the trail head that takes you to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory a small side road takes you to Francis Point. We tried to find Francis Point in February when the snow still was deep, but were unable to find this inconspicuous side road. It was likely covered up with snow. It is about a 500 m walk through a forested patch to get to the Francis Point bird blind, an old wooden shed that looks like it is about to collapse any minute. From the blind you have an expansive and unobstructed view of a vast grassy field. I suspect that once upon a time, when the Beaverhill Lake was larger this field may have been under water. Over the last few decades, however, the lake has been shrinking and these days it is no longer visible from the blind. Along the rafters in the blind there are cup-shaped bird nest made out of mud. There are not many options in terms of who could have made them. It could be either swifts or swallows. As there are no swifts reported at this location that leaves us with the swallows. Three species of swallows have been reported here; the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). The tree swallow is out as it nests in natural cavities of standing dead trees, old woodpecker cavities or in nest boxes. Cliff Swallows build a nest out of mud that looks very similar to the nests in the blind. Cliff Swallow nests are different in that they are more covered and have small circular entrances. That leaves us with the barn swallow. A simple web search reveals that indeed the match is perfect. Barn Swallows typically nests inside accessible buildings such as barns and stables, or under bridges and wharves. They collect mud pellets and build neat cup-shaped nest attached to beam or other vertical projections. The inside of the nests is lined with grasses, feathers or other soft materials. It never crossed my mind to peek inside the nests, but next time we visit I will have a look. Judging from the eBird reports, the Barn Swallows do not return to Francis Point until May so we still have a few weeks to go before being able to acquaint with the inhabitants of the nests.