Barn swallows 1, column writer 0

Living in a river house — 11 feet off the ground on concrete and steel pier and beam — is occasionally adventuresome and, therefore, never dull.

It is akin to living in a tree house, especially with trees on all sides, including one up through the middle of the back deck. The net effect of “treehouse living” is that you get a close look at your neighbors, birds of all kinds, and I do mean the feathered variety.

My Life Mate is particularly attuned to birdlife and has a couple of books, gifts from her late mother who became quite knowledgeable about the avian ways. Sighting unusual and/or uncommon birds prompts a quick reference to the books and identifi cation of the bird or birds in question.

Naturally, there are bird feeders in appropriate places in front of the house and a bag of bird seed in the pantry, as well as a bottle of red hummingbird food in the fridge for the little darters’ feeder hanging off the back deck.

Late last winter, when Central Texas was “gifted” with about four inches of snow on the ground, Life Mate managed batches of photos of about 40 robins making an early spring appearance and frolicking in the snow.

All back windows and the back deck look out onto the river where there is no shortage of interesting species — white egrets, blue herons, occasional wood ducks and mallards and once, just once, a double-crested cormorant. The cormorant appeared in the early spring and the book shows that it must have been a migration pattern.

For spectacular color, however, nothing beats a painted bunting — bright red breast, brilliant blue head, yellow back and green wings. One off your front deck, partaking of your hanging feeder full of seed, is a beautiful sight.

Life Mate has shown me there are black birds that actually have some color to them, in addition to basic black, that is, sort of like a formal tux with a multi-colored bow tie.

Some birds can be a bit scary, for instance a great horned owl. One sat on the gate to the yard, a mere 40 or so feet from the front door. It was, we assumed, hunting the field mice that frequent the storage shed under the house. Opening the front door and stepping out onto the deck that night sent him flapping away emptytaloned.

Then there are — please excuse me, bird-lovers — the pesky birds. With a river house — standing on the aforementioned piers and beams — the space underneath serves a multitude of purposes. There is the storage shed plus a space covered with pavers that holds a redwood picnic table and two bench swings. And, it’s our garage. That’s where the pesky ones enter the scene.

In a space where my pick-up truck is parked, some barn swallows have for three seasons now built their combination mud and grass nest in a spot above the truck cab. The net result is globs of mud splattered all over the top of the cab plus the driver’s door and window.

This year, I caught them early in the process and knocked down the partial nest.

Back they came and I raked the mud and grass off again. Then I put one of those fake owls up on the hood and kept a watchful eye, running at the reappearing swallows with arms waving and emitting a guttural “oooaaahhh” at the little monsters.

They moved to the front deck and got a nest partially built before I discovered it. I tore it down.

Then, we took a trip. Upon returning, there was a completed nest in the old spot above the truck and the vehicle seemed to have more than the usual mud on it. Plus, the fake owl had some swallow droppings on its head.

I grabbed a rake to knock the nest down, but Life Mate ornithologist said, “Check it for eggs first.” I did and there were eggs. “Leave the nest,” declared the resident avian lover.

Barn swallows 1, columnist 0.

Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at

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2010-06-24 digital edition

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