This is the story of a little swallow family.
Mae and Ron return to their same nest here each year, all the way from Africa, to raise their little swallow chicks.
When they get here, after their long perilous journey, they dont rest. Oh no. They get straight into renovating the old nest, ready for the new arrivals.
On this occasion, Mae laid four perfect little eggs. She and Ron took it in turns to keep the eggs warm, except at night when they both snuggled down together.
Eventually the special day arrived...
The first little beak pushed its way through it’s egg shell. It was a boy and he seemed to be in a hurry, and very curious to see the outside world. ”He came out first, hes the bravest” Mae exclaimed. “We’ll call him Tapfer.”
Next to break out of her egg was a very pretty little female and Mae named her Bonita.
Then there was quite a wait until the next hatchling emerged. It was another boy, who after all the effort of hatching, snuggled down in the nest and went straight to sleep, without even looking at his new family. Mae named him Sono.
Last but not least was the arrival of the smallest chick. He took some coaxing. I think he would rather have stayed in his egg. Mae named him Timi.
Ron obediently nodded to all the names given by his wife. She always did the naming. He didn’t always understand the names, but it made Mae happy.
Mae and Ron worked hard from dawn until dusk each day, to keep the hungry chicks fed. The summer days were long but they kept going, never complaining. The chicks kept growing and the more they grew, the more they ate, though Sono seemed to prefer sleeping to eating. Very slowly, their fluffy down was gradually replaced by proper feathers.
Tapfer was getting more courageous each day. ”Look at my wings” he said. Flap, flap, flap. “When will I be able to fly Mum?”
Mae laughed at her son. “Not yet Tapfer, not yet.” But Tapfer never gave up.
The days passed by. It was mid-summer and extremely hot in their crowded little nest. Sono continued to sleep, Bonita preened her growing feathers. Timi quietly watched everything. And Tapfer? Well, he spent his days pretending he was flying, or dreaming he was flying.
Tapfer would lean over the edge of his nest flapping his wings dramatically. ”Look at me, Im flying.” Bonita raised her eyes to heaven. Sono slept. Timi watched.
Mae reprimanded “One of these days you will fall overboard”. Tapfer persisted though. He believed the more he practised, the better he would fly. And rightly so. How he longed for the day when he would fly and glide so elegantly like his parents.
Then one day, as Tapfer was leaning over the edge practising….. there was a …CRACK… CRUNCH … AARRGHH……CRASH. The wall of the nest had given way and there sat a bewildered Tapfer on the ground!
“Quick” shouted Mae and Ron. “You have to fly”.
Tapfer was in shock and a wee bit shaky, but he managed to start running, flapping those little wings as fast as they would flap, while repeating to himself “fly, fly, fly.” And then, all of a sudden, he took off. Lopsided and rather wobbly, but he was airborne.
His dad, Ron, was flying by his side. ”Right son, see that ledge ahead sticking out, try and aim for it. Do your best.” Tapfer missed and crashed into the wall. Clinging to a piece of rock, he began to sob. ”Come on son, you are our brave Tapfer, who can fly. You can do it.”
On his second attempt, Tapfer made it onto the ledge. Dusk was by now approaching, a dangerous time for a small chick to be out of his nest. Mae tucked Tapfer into the corner of the ledge and made him promise not to move until she returned in the morning.
Needless to say, this little swallow family did not sleep very well that night. Not even Sono.
At first, Tapfer sat terrified in his corner, as the night crept in around him. It was so dark. He was fighting back the tears. He didn’t want to cry. He wanted to be brave. And then he realised – he had flown! Ok, it had been rather clumsy, but he had flown. A warm proud excited feeling came over him. He couldn’t wait for the morning to come. So he slept, and he dreamt. What of? Flying of course!
As soon as the morning sun was up, the nestlings were calling for food. Mae seemed distracted and Ron had to remind her of the laws of survival. “The chicks in the nest have to be fed first Mae. They are our priority. When they are fed we can deal with Tapfer.”
“I know.” Said a heavy-hearted Mae.
Alas, when Mae finally got to Tapfer’s ledge. There was no Tapfer.
Tapfer had woken long before the sun came up. He had waited impatiently for daylight to arrive. When it did, he ran to the edge of the ledge FLAP… FLAP… FLAP… and then off he took. “Oops, sorry.”He called to a sparrow as it dived to avert a collision. And so went Tapfer’s morning. Flying, wobbling and crashing all over the place – but all done with such enthusiasm.
Eventually, Tapfer started to tire and crash landed on a rooftop. He was hungry and exhausted and thought he ought to go home now to his family. He couldn’t wait to tell them of all his adventures that morning. But which way was home? Terror struck as he realised he was lost. But then he remembered something and shouted out “I am Tapfer, and Tapfer is brave.” To no-one in particular.
Later that day, back at the nest, Sono awoke to a dreadful noise. Swallows and other birds were flying this way and that, twittering, chirping and tweeting all over the place. There was chaos in the air.
Ron’s cousin Neef, not the cleverest of birds, flew straight into an invisible window barrier in all the excitement. Twice actually, but we wont dwell on that!
Mae could see Ron in the thick of it. He called to her ”Mae, its Tapfer, hes alive.” She was so excited. ”Well, come on then, lets bring him back he beckoned.” The chicks cheered for joy as their parents set off. Neef stayed with the chicks, nursing a horrid beak ache!
They found Tapfer half a mile away, collapsed on another rooftop. As exhausted as he was, he still mustered enough energy to share his flying adventures as Ron and Mae fed him and slowly guided him home. Suddenly, as they were nearing home, an evil gust of wind took him by surprise. He managed somehow to grab hold of a washing line as he tumbled past it and miraculously managed to upright himself on the line, a total fluke of course.
Mae and Ron joined him, sitting either side of him. As they were explaining what he needed to do next, and as he was concentrating very hard on their words, he accidentally loosened his grip on the washing line and, oh dear, he lost all balance and fell forwards. As he tightened his grip again he found himself hanging upside down on the line. He could hear three familiar voices giggling from his nest, but he couldn’t let go or he’d crash to the floor. He certainly couldn’t stay hanging upside down. So once again he flapped and he flapped those little wings, until he’d flapped himself upright again. What a comical sight he was.
Tapfer could not return to his nest. It was too fragile, and he was too clumsy, and so instead Mae made him a make-do nest very close-by.
He pined for the comfort and security of the nest and his siblings again that night, but morning finally returned. Tapfer stretched and flapped those little wings and said “I am Tapfer, and Tapfer is brave.” To no-one in particular.
Olivia N Masi, 2003