Thursday, July 28, 2011

Swallow Armageddon

Denny Barnes
Oregonian Denny Barnes epitomizes my image of a rugged Northwesterner. A former avid hunter,  he now does all of his hunting with a camera.  He's a self-taught jack-of-all-trades (carpenter, plumber, farmer, rancher, and canner) and he loves to travel and take pictures. As he says, "I'm not a pilot but love to fly and spread my wings every chance I get.  I live on the edge of civilization and I spend hours walking in the woods  I have them all to myself except for the bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and elk."
That said, Denny's story will tickle and delight you. He calls it "Armageddon," but this big guy wasn't ever going to harm any birds!  The photos are GREAT, though you really won't be able to avoid seeing the scenes he describes in your mind's eye!  Have fun, and enjoy "Swallow Armageddon!"  Don't forget, you can enlarge the photos in a new window by clicking on them!


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Michelle Alton
Swallow Armageddon by Denny Barnes

I have always been a nature lover, interested in animals, bugs, birds and almost anything that walks, crawls, slithers or flies.  But my interest in birds grew ten-fold after my daughter became an avid birdwatcher ten years ago.  During our walks at various local bird sanctuaries and game preserves, she could name all the different species of birds we saw and was soon buying me birding guides for my birthday and Christmas.  So now when I see a bird, I stand a pretty good chance of being able to identify it, and I definitely can identify a swallow! My battle with two particular swallows was a love-hate relationship that went on for three years.

Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Part One:  The House

My story begins with the 120-year-old house I live in, with its many excellent places to build a nest.  For years, my wife Sharon cursed the swallows that nested in the barn.  It was bad enough when those “flying rodents,” as she called them, took up residence in the beams and pooped all over the clean bales of hay, but then they decided to take over the house as their private domain, too.  If there was a place to build a nest, they did. In the alcove above the front door, on top of the porch lights, under the eaves and in any nook or cranny that would support mud, twigs and straw.  But they were fun to watch and I was content to let them go about their business, except over the porch lights and at the front door. (It's not very nice to have bird droppings descending on unwary guests and UPS packages.)

The Swallows

The swallows were very upset with me when I removed their nests, which, because of their persistence, became an almost daily ritual.  They’d squawk and dive bomb me, hissing and spitting.  I tried to be nice about it, explaining they were welcome to lodge anywhere else, but the front door and porch lights were strictly off limits.  The battle of wills was finally settled when I remodeled the outside of the house, removing most of the handy nesting places.

Swallow Nest

Part Two:  The Shop

Shortly after moving here in 1988, I had a large shop built that miraculously remained swallow-free for about two years.  Then a swooping, snooping pair discovered what a beautiful, safe place it was to build a nest and raise their young. They made this discovery because I seldom closed the shop doors, giving them easy access.  I didn’t pay much attention at first and, before I knew it, they had built a nest high in the rafters and already layed their pretty little eggs.

“Oh well, I guess I’ll leave you alone this time,” I told them. 

“You’re gonna be sorry,” Sharon told me.

I placed a large square of cardboard beneath the nest to catch their droppings and for a time, everyone was reasonably happy.  The birds were by far the happiest, hatching out not one, but three clutches of eggs that year.

They were back the following year, at least I think they were the same pair, and made a beeline straight for the shop.  I fended them off for a while but then I carelessly left the door open again and I swear they were in and had their eggs laid in ten minutes flat.

Whaddaya gonna do?  Sharon joked about making a small omelet for breakfast (she didn’t really mean it) but I understood her frustration.  The swallows had proven the previous year that they were by no means cardboard trained.  Oh, they hit it often enough while sitting directly on the nest but they often flew laps around the shop, dropping their little poop bombs wherever and whenever they felt moved to do so.

The third year I had a good excuse.  In the early spring, I couldn’t go near the shop without Sharon reminding me to “CLOSE THAT DOOR BEHIND YOU!”  I decided to insulate the interior and seal up the ceiling to remove their nesting place once and for all, but it was too hot to work with the doors and windows all closed up.  My plan was to at least get the ceiling finished and the doors closed before the swallows migrated back, but no such luck.... 

So I left a hole where the parents could come and go until the babies were ready to fly the nest.  But no sooner had the first batch departed than another clutch of eggs appeared in the nest.  Enough was enough!  Finally, after the second batch of babies flew the coop, I closed the shop door to keep out their prolific parents.  They were not happy!

Part Three:  Avian Armageddon

The following year, I made sure the shop doors remained firmly closed, and that’s when the real battle began. Mom and Pop Swallow perched on the power lines next to the shop, their beady little eyes focused in relentless pursuit of an open door, watching for any chance to swoop in over my head.  Every time I entered the shop, I had to stop at the door and look carefully around to see where they were.  Sometimes, if I was quick enough, I got through the door before they could, but sometimes not.  Sharon thought it was funny watching me chase the determined pair around and around, wildly waving a broom or flapping an old towel over my head as I yelled for them to “get out!” [Readers: don't you wish we had a photo of this scene? --Michelle] The whole time I’m yelling and flapping, the swallows are dodging and swooping back at me, hissing and spitting like mad.  I finally won out, but it took most of the summer and I lost ten pounds before I convinced them to leave and find somewhere else to nest.

I don’t know the lifespan of a swallow (although I’m sure one of my bird books could tell me, if I bothered to look it up) but for whatever reason they did not return the following year.  Perhaps they had earned their celestial wings in the meantime, or maybe they just decided to go down the road and find a more hospitable shop or a nicer stack of hay to poop on.

Part Four:   Peace Reigns

With the departure of the pesky pair of swallows, I had time to turn my attention to the other birds that fill our backyard.

By now I had a digital camera with which to capture all the different species and their color and characteristics; if only I could get them to sit still long enough for a picture!  Then I remembered a partial sack of birdseed left over from one winter when we fed the birds because of a thick layer of ice that froze over an even thicker layer of snow.  I emptied the seed into an old, flat pan and placed it on the ground outside the back porch.  It wasn’t long before birds came flocking in from all directions.

The Mix

The Feeder

Using the porch as a “blind,” it’s easy to shoot through the window, capturing all the bird images I want.  But aside from taking their pictures, just feeding and watching the birds has become a pleasure all its own.  With 80 pounds of birdseed and a 25 pound sack of sugar (for the hummingbirds) now regularly topping our Costco shopping list, I guess you could say I’ve gone from amateur bird watcher and photographer, to a full-fledged pro bird feeder.

The Hummers

  Denny Barnes (The Birdman of Coon Hollow)


Denny Barnes Bio:
A photography buff in his teens, Denny loved capturing nature and wildlife, landscapes, seascapes, cars and airplanes.  He also painted in oils and sculpted.  But his artistic hobbies were put on the back burner for 45 years  when he served in the Navy Air Force from 1965-69 (stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington State), and while he worked full-time (and overtime) as an electrician-millwright-machinist for Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. in Oregon.

In 1988, he and his wife Sharon moved to a small farm in rural Marion County, and whatever spare time he had away from his job was spent remodeling their turn-of-the-century farm home, buildin’ and fixin’ fence, caring for their five Hereford cows and sometimes helping deliver calves.

Denny retired from Weyerhaeuser in 2003, hanging up his tool belt in favor of a camera bag and tripod.  Initially, he planned to convert the upstairs of their home into an art studio and resume painting, until he splurged on his first good digital camera and fell in love with photography all over again. 

In the past eight years, he and Sharon have visited most of the national parks in the western and southwestern United States and Canada, and hope one day to do it all over again.

In 2008, Denny joined, where he has made many web friends.  He credits the BP family with helping him become a much better photographer, teaching him the difference between a snapshot and a work of art.  He thinks of himself as an amateur who is still learning, and getting a little better every day.

Denny's fine photography can be seen at the following locations:

[Note: is an online photo community, classroom, and contest site, where many of the authors on this blog have met and become fast friends over the years.  While it may not be the world's best Contest site, photographers are notoriously happy to share their knowledge and techniques with their friends and colleagues and because of that comaraderie, most of us have grown both as photographers and as fellow travelers on Planet Earth. --Michelle]
  All photography by Denny Barnes
Denny's Bonus Photos:
Bryce Canyon - Utah

Grand Teton from Signal Hill

Mt. Rainier

Orange Crush

South Falls - Silver Falls State Park

Whale Cove - Oregon

Wildlife Safari Bears - Oregon

Wildlife Safari - Oregon

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm - Oregon

Yaquina Head Lighthouse - Oregon

*** I Need Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We haven't a single story on tap. I'm working on one, but it won't be ready in time for next week. Please consider sharing your tales of Relentless Pursuit! Give your imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, or humorous. And I'd be appreciative if you also take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story!--
  Michelle Alton



Anonymous said...

I can just picture those birds dive bombing you. Mocking birds have chased me a time or two. What a great story and awesome photo's!! :) Tammy

Peaches said...

HAHAHHAAHA, I know all to well about the barn swallows and even the red winged black birds dive bombing me on our farm
Thanks for the laugh Denny and keep up the great shooting :)

Monnie Ryan said...

Denny, you already know I love your photos. But the pictures my mind conjured up of you trying to get the shop door closed before the swallows could fly in are just too funny! Wonderful story!

Joe DiGilio said...

I enjoyed your story and your photography, which I am no stranger to, Denny. Those swallows sure had you on the run. It's fun to watch them feather their nests and nurture their young but sometimes they find the darndest places to set up housekeeping. Seeing you scurry around trying to foil their efforts must have kept your wife in stiches.

Ron McEwan said...

Denny this has been a joy to read and to look at your photos again. We deal with them out on the farm. The best thing about them is that they can eat a lot of bugs.

You live in the beautiful part of the states. I lived in WA for 12 years. I envy you.

Dave Phalen said...

Gtreat story!! Awesome photos!!

Bob Cammarata said...

Great story and photos!

Birds (..of ALL feather) are fascinating little critters which rank highly among the most unique and photogenic of all Earth's creations.
I've always aspired to know more about them but have never taken the time to formulate an expertise.
(I've often been referred to as "a bird brain" but I'm not sure that qualifies.)

Thanks Denny, for sharing your story.

Ben Prepelka said...

Thanks Denny for sharing your saga of the swallows, a very entertaining tale for sure!! Now you can add another job title to your already handsome resume, "journalist".

As always, I continue to appreciate your photography and "your" half of the country!

Ben Prepelka

Sandy Powers said...

Denny, I really loved your story! My hubby & I have become avid bird feeders ourselves, and our relationship with the doves in our yard remind me somewhat of your swallow stories :)

Aside from the great story, I LOVE your Oregon /Washington photos. The Oregon coast is one of my top 2 favorite places on this planet! And I don't know that I've ever SEEN a better Mt. Ranier photo!

Brett Dolsen said...

Well that had me chuckling quite a bit Denny!!I can relate somewhat due to a famly of sparrows here at the moment!!Cant afford to leave those doors open!!
A very enjoyable story and great shots!

Anonymous said...

Great story and photos, Denny!! Those swallows are quick...

Robert B

marty Straub said...

Great story, Denny, and wonderful photos (especially the extras). As Monnie mentioned, the pictures you conjure up with your words are equally amusing. We also have nests around and on our house every year, too. There is a wreath on one door that is always used, and I have to leave a note for visitors and intruders alike to use another entrance until they're done.