The house martins arrived in Wensleydale during the first week in May, it may have been late April, at least we thought they had but it was a false alarm. The migrants we saw were not for us, merely passers-by having a short rest before continuing further north. Our summer friends finally came several days later and started showing off with their aerobatics, their courting dances and friendship calls. They paired and began to search for safe havens to build their nests but time passed and we couldn’t see any nests nearby or anywhere else in the village.

Then one day about two weeks ago talking with our neighbours in the sunshine, social distancing of course, we noticed that a pair were trying to build a nest in their upstairs window reveal. It was a warm sunny day, as many days have been since the middle of March, and it seemed that the ‘martins were struggling to stick their clay to the wall to make their nest. Our neighbour commented that they would find it very difficult to find wet clay because of the very dry conditions we had been experiencing all these weeks. We also considered that our becks were very low and would probably not come into contact with the rare clay outcrops on the banks, our soils are predominately loamy. Shrinkage cracks had been appearing in the fields for a number of weeks due to the dry conditions and even our lawn and garden was cracking up under the strain.

Over the next few days it was obvious that the lovebirds had abandoned their efforts to build a nest.

Early last week, still in blue skies and sunshine, on our bedroom window sill were noticeable splashes of what appeared to be cow muck with added fibres, certainly greener than clay. Maybe the ‘martins were trying out other available materials. They persevered to build with this substance for the remainder of the day and managed to construct a small ledge protruding from the pebbledash by no more than 5mm. The next day they too had abandoned all hope. Last week of course we had several hot days with more brilliant sunshine. 

Last Wednesday the first meaningful rain in the Yorkshire Dales for months came quietly through the night but even though the puddles suggested there had been a good amount the beck wasn’t singing and still continued in a quiet trickle. Then the rain grew brave and blustered during the following days with heavy showers mixed in bright sunshine and came back again even heavier at night and we woke to hear the beck rushing for the first time in months. Good news for the countryside which needed the arid ground to be quenched. Fantastic news for the house martins who at last could build with the clays of old, ‘mud glorious mud’.

So on Friday they started traditional construction, building up from the ledge they had already formed and by evening the pair were roosting in close embrace on the fragile shelf they had formed.

Today, our Bank Holiday Monday, the sky is blue and the sunshine has returned but the house martins continue to build and are nearly there. Perseverance and natures helping hand have won through. To everything there is a season!