Is it summer or autumn? A record count of 27 marbled white butterflies in the scrub field would suggest the former, but the first returning black-headed gull on 21st and a green sandpiper along the river on 27th would indicate the latter. Black-headed gulls are winter visitors here, abandoning the marsh in spring to breed in large colonies along the coast; green sandpipers (above), on the other hand, nest further north in Scandinavia, and failed breeders are already returning to their winter quarters in Africa. Along with many other species, swifts are in steep decline nationally, so it was good to see a flock of 20 hunting over the Marshes on the 5th, but they, too, would soon be thinking of departing for Africa, with the end of July being the cut-off date for regular sightings.
But before I could get too depressed by the thought of summer slipping through my fingers, it was lovely to see three young and very graceful grey wagtails daintily flitting over water crowfoot foliage lining the surface of the river, their steps so light that the crowfoot leaves barely registered the birds’ presence. I had thought that a pair was nesting under or close to the A2 bridge, but failed to gain proof of this.
Yes, it is still summer; house sparrows are foraging for insects in the tall vegetation alongside the river, as they always do at this time of year, and there are still flowers in bloom if you know where to look, despite a succession of droughts. I had thought that water speedwell was confined to a ditch in Tonford field, so was delighted to find some extensive patches of it around the pond in the boardwalk field.
A red-letter day arrived on 18th, with a kingfisher whistling its way up the river by way of heralding my 102nd Hambrook bird species – a group of four crossbills flying south west across the marsh which, to their eyes, must just seem like a conifer-free desert. This could well have been a family party adopting the species’ somewhat nomadic habit of roaming the countryside in search of pine- and fir-woods where the cones are ripe enough for their seeds to be extracted with the birds’ uniquely crossed mandibles.