The question on everyone’s lips is “Has it really gone?” They are, of course, referring to the ring-necked parakeet that had made Hambrook Marshes its home since August 2021, but whose raucous screech hasn’t been heard this month. Initially, the old railway embankment was its headquarters, but more recently it tended to wander further afield, and would be heard calling from the Wincheap area. Having failed to attract a mate, hopefully it has moved on to more congenial pastures. 

Some birds have been sadly conspicuous by their absence, however. No swifts, house martins or swallows have been seen over the Marshes, and only a faraway cuckoo has been heard. All species are suffering massive declines, and it seems there is little we can do to halt the losses. 

Despite the chilly weather, spring is definitely progressing; a migrant reed warbler was singing in the osier bed on May 24th, along with a garden warbler, perhaps taking advantage of the narrow strip of willow that has been taken out of the annual cutting rotation, and so is now providing potential habitat for these birds. Reed buntings (left), less commonly seen than a few years ago, have also put in an occasional appearance, but all these species are in the relatively early stages of nesting, whereas starlings raced out of the breeding stocks a while back, and flocks of a couple of dozen adults and fledged young are now to be seen on the wires, along the riverside path, or exploring Tonfield field.

A welcome visitor on May 18th was a common sandpiper (right), a migrant wader that doesn’t nest in southern England, and would simply have been pausing briefly to feed up before continuing its journey into Wales, to the Peak District, or right on into Scotland. Other less frequent visitors were a pair of linnets, which perched in the old embankment scrub for a few minutes before flying off. 

An interesting phenomenon witnessed by a local resident on May 30th was a swarm of honey bees draping themselves over a fencepost and wire netting beside the river path (left). Swarming is part of their natural behaviour, and is a way for them to colonise new areas, or to move out of an overcrowded hive. A swarm usually consists of a single queen, plus hundreds of female workers and smaller numbers of the larger, male, drones. Usually the swarm will move away after a few hours in its search for a vacant hive or a natural cavity. I don’t know how long this particular swarm remained on the post, but imagine it proved a tad intimidating to passers-by, although while closely clustered they take no interest in people, who are therefore perfectly safe.