The Mud Eaters

Before I write this post I want to say something to put it into perspective.

House Martins

About twenty five years ago I found myself in a difficult position. After a couple of redundancies and having to take a low paid job I faced having my house repossessed and I had to leave my family in Yorkshire and go to work in London.

It wasn’t the best part of London, it was south of the river, Deptford, New Cross and The Old Kent Road. I spent twelve years there, I managed a couple of companies in that time, we were very successful. Our success was simply built on hard work. My men and myself worked very long hours.

I would return home from a thirty six hour shift (real work not doctors hours) hardly able to walk and with my boots full of blood. You remember these things.

One day a fellow came to me, his name was Mike, he was a big Jamaican man with a constant smile and he was a good friend. “Can I make a phone call, Col?

“Yes , of course. Is everything okay?”

The Deptford tower blocks were not great. He told me that a guy had been shot in his block last night and it was gang related, so people were going round the block kicking doors in and asking questions. He just wanted to check that his wife and children were still okay.

That one sticks in my mind. How can anybody live like that?

I just thought, “Mike! Why on earth did you come to work? Go home protect your family, Jeez”

Everyone doesn’t live on a beautiful farm. All Right? I know. And they still don’t today.

I live in a beautiful place and I understand that and appreciate it.

hOUSE mARTINS

Pesky birds.

I live very closely with the birds. I feed birds in the garden and it is full of Woodpeckers and Goldfinches and all sorts of beauty but round by my door, in the farm yard, it is the Swallows and Martins

I opened my door yesterday and they started to mob me. They don’t like me being so close to their nests and they swoop at me and fly inches in front of my face.

This is my nest!

I live here. There is nothing that I can do about it. The air is full of Swallows and Martins and it is beautiful and I can’t capture this on camera. You need bigger, faster eyes than my camera has got.

From the door of my flat I saw them gathering mud.

These are my Mud Eaters. There are dozens of them.


The House Martin survives on a diet of pure mud. They like eating nothing better than mud pie 🙂

That is not exactly true, they are taking the mud to build and repair their nests. I have tried helping them by taking out buckets of water and creating mud but apparently it has to be at just the right consistency, wet mud won’t do.

They are very beautiful, busy little birds.


I have just stepped out of my front door to have a cigarette. It is still quite early here, 8 am, the Swallows woke me at three forty five. They mobbed me just now. It is like when a pretty girl is really angry with you and all that you can see is how beautiful she is, it makes them mad. What can I do? I live here.

Last summer I focussed on the Swallows and we didn’t see much of the Martins. This year I have a Martins nest just outside of my door.

This is my front door

My doorThe most immediate Swallows (Fred and Rosa) nest in the passage at the bottom of my steps. There are a whole bunch of others that nest in the outbuildings to the left. The Martins are nesting in the eaves above the Swallows.


Last year I concentrated on the Swallows, they are lovely but I was thinking that this year I should spend more time with the Martins, they are also lovely.

House Martins

I know that there are readers shouting, “What about a Moth Trap!” There is just so much that needs to be done. I need a team of scientists to move in with me and start recording everything but my lease says, “No Pets!” Let’s do the House Martins and insects and botany this year.

There is a Barn Owl in the fields behind the farm, now that would be a challenge.

Mud Eaters.

I know exactly how lucky I am as I wake up this morning. Let’s take full advantage. 🙂

29 thoughts on “The Mud Eaters”

    1. Thanks Maureen 🙂 Yes, I struggle to get decent shots of these little birds, they move so quickly and they don’t seem to settle and sing like the Swallows, they are always on the go. Sometimes video is easier 🙂

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  1. Yes, you are very lucky to have such birds around you. Here in 1930s suburbs I see Martins high up in the sky on occasion, and in nearly thirty years I have seen just one, possibly two swallows. What I do have as a daily visitor however, are Mr and Mrs Bullfinch. Couldn’t believe it when I first saw them. It does mean that I have had to buy a squirrel proof cover to put seed out on the ground, as without that no bird would get any food at all. Nearly forgot, what lovely videos, really nice!

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    1. Thank you John 🙂 Our Bullfinches have stayed around, although they spend more time in the orchard than at the feeder. We don’t really have problems with Squirrels, there are plenty about but they seem to find their food elsewhere but this is a farm and we do get the odd Rat. The last one met his unfortunate end from the farmers shotgun, not an air rifle but a shotgun, the poor little thing didn’t stand much chance. It is probably lucky for the Squirrels that they can forage elsewhere 🙂

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  2. You’ve had quite an interesting life. Looking back does always put a good perspective on today, whatever you see when you look back. Your photography of all these quick little birds takes a lot of patience, and we benefit from you having that patience. Thank you for sharing all that you do.

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    1. Thank you Nancy 🙂 Well at least I do know how lucky I am. The birds are being very beautiful this morning and I have just seen two little heads poking out of the Martin’s nest. Chicks? or maybe the grown ups are just having a lie in. I had better put the camera out 🙂

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  3. I am so glad you managed to get photos showing the beautiful iridescent sheen of the feathers. I know those tower blocks in Deptford. I used to live and work in the London Borough of Lewisham for a while in another life. I know how lucky I am to live where I do.

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    1. Thank you Clare 🙂 I would not be disappointed if I never saw London again. I did like it once, I felt there was an edge of excitement on the streets and everything was always open but I was younger then and I was concerned with making money. I don’t think many people would choose the city if they could earn their living in the countryside.

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  4. As I first began reading, I again had that nagging wish in the back of my mind: “I wish he would show us his house!” And so I continued to read and scroll down and there it was! I like the open door and view of the ladder-back chair inside. That house view and the tidbit about your past gives us a glimpse of another side of ‘You’. When my husband and I lived on the farm, the Swallows would make their mud nests under the eaves of the house, and we so enjoyed seeing the heads and beaks of the babies peering over the edge. (Oh, and now we can see what window Fizz is looking up at when he wants you to come out and play.)

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    1. Thank you Joy 🙂 I live in a flat which is just three upstairs rooms on the side of the farmhouse. It came fully furnished and I mean fully, with crockery, bed sheets, towels. It used to be a holiday let and I didn’t have to buy anything when I moved in here. There is not much of “me” about the place but that is okay, I don’t like to own things. There is a fair bit of mud and camera gear, walking sticks and old hats scattered about and animal food and plants and other things that I bring home. There is a Mouse in my kitchen that nobody knows about, it only raids my bird food. It is quite a nice place to live 🙂

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      1. Sometimes I wish I didn’t own so much. Less things mean more freedom. When I look at birds and such, I sometimes think: no car, no house, no insurance, no bills, clothes, dishes, furniture. These are the times I envy the birds. And they can fly anywhere free!

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  5. What about a moth trap? But you know, we would swap you a few moths for nesting swallows or martins. Shirley used to love watching them fledge at our old house. No swallows here :-((

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    1. Thank you Andrew 🙂 I am hoping to see and film the Martins fledging this year but I am not sure how that will work, the nest has a very small opening. We will see.

      On a different note I have just been reading your June 1st post and I feel the need to comment on your NBF the Scorpionfly. It is such a beautiful and extraordinary insect.

      Sexing them is easy, only the male looks remotely Scorpionish.

      Male Scorpionfly

      That Scorpion’s sting is really just claspers used in the reproductive act and the female lacks them.

      female scorpionfly

      She makes up for that by having the prettiest face.

      female scorpionfly

      The problem is that there are several different UK species, they all look like this and to tell them apart you do have to chop them up and examine their naughty bits under a microscope, at which point you only really know what the animal you just chopped up used to be, it doesn’t tell you anything about the next one that you see. It always seems a bit pointless to me. So they are just Scorpionflies, Panorpa species 🙂

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      1. Thank you Colin. My scorpionfly was a female and the photo wasn’t very good. Incredibly active. And yes they are indeed very attractive. They drop down quickly into the low grass. Hard to follow. I haven’t seen them sitting still yet. I should be content with Panorpa sp. but I like to get to species level if I can

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      2. There is an easy way to get it to species. I could just say that this is Panorpa communis, The Common Scorpionfly and nobody could say that it isn’t. That is the most common species and it does look like this.

        If you Google for Panorpa communis you will find lots of articles with photographs and they are not actually wrong, they just don’t mention that these photographs do not show enough information to rule out Panorpa germanica or Panorpa cognata. There’s no harm in making things easy 🙂 Anyway I wonder who noticed these tiny differences to the genitals and decided to have three different UK species?

        I have seen males identified from good macros of their “stinger” but never a female from a photograph. Get a good top shot of the sting and you are in with a chance.

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  6. I love the photos and videos you share, Colin. 🙂 I love swallows (we have mostly tree and a few barn) but we rarely see martins. Such a small opening of the nest must help keep marauders out. Do they reuse nests or rebuild every year?

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    1. Thank you Eliza 🙂 They will repair and reuse old nests but I didn’t have them on my side of the house last year, this nest is new. It is strangely lonely too, they normally nest in little groups but this is just one nest on it’s own. Maybe if these birds are successful others will join them next year. House Martins, here, have suffered a big decline in recent years but there are a lot of them on the farm and they seem to be doing very well now.

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  7. I love their fat, feathery legs. I wouldn’t mind being bombarded too much. Thank you for the perspective on your friend who needed to use the phone. I am often in need of reminders of how perfect my life is, so I am properly grateful.

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