Photo by Dave Smith

No swifts have been seen over Hambrook this summer, and they are already heading back to Africa, so it looks as if this is going to be the first blank year for a truly iconic species. Loss of nest sites in old buildings may be part of the problem, and the erection of nestboxes has often brought small colonies back to areas that they had deserted, but the massive decline in insects is surely largely to blame, both here and in their winter quarters.

Swallows and house martins, while not related to the swift, do occupy fairly similar niches, with all three catching their food on the wing and nesting almost exclusively on man-made structures. So it is perhaps not altogether surprising that these two species are also in steep decline, and neither has yet been seen on the Marshes. Their southward migration takes place a couple of months later than the swifts’, there is still time to see a few. However, any birds that pass through this autumn will mostly have bred further north in England or Scotland, where they are enjoying more breeding success than down here, so September and October counts don’t give a true indication of how well they are faring in Kent.