The Last Stand of the Swift

Yesterday evening from my window looking across the Victorian terraces beyond the Railway line running below the gardens that takes the trains eastwards out of Hastings towards Rye and Ashford. The Swifts are making a last stand here in one of their heartlands. After the arrival of a single one evening, then three birds the following day, numbers built up to 12. But this was exceeded yesterday when I managed to assure myself that there were at least eighteen present. Birds have been wheeling and diving, circling and mating, since their arrival. A larger Swift-like form spotted as I tried to count the Swifts, moving steadily eastwards over the town, proved to be a first Hobby. The Hobby falcon has done well in recent decades. This spring however there have so far been few reports locally.

In the 1930s Wood warblers were nesting annually in Alexandra Park. In the Beech woodlands along the Ridge there must have been numbers of additional pairs. Marsh Tits were numerous throughout the local woodlands here in the 1970s, even breeding in Thorpe’s Wood and Summerfields in the town itself and common on and beyond the Ridge. When we lived on the ridge in the cold winter of 1971 there were Tree sparrows and Meadow pipits in the garden and Yellowhammers were widespread in nearby farmland. We found two pairs of Grasshopper warblers nesting at Little Ridge Avenue, where Sedge warblers and Cuckoos were regular in the spring. On a walk from the Ridge to Hastings Town centre Spotted flycatchers were nesting widely, six pairs often counted by the time you reached the town. Spotted flycatchers and Pied wagtails nested throughout Alexandra park, both species nesting together in the ivy of the Bowls Club building near Queens Road, an area where Hawfinches were resident into the 1960s.

Swifts and House martins were in great number, the former wheeling in flocks of 60 or more over Queens Road. House martins gathering over St Helens Wood in the summer were in hundreds.

Cycling from Ashford to Rye in the early 1970s, on a September day, I was dismayed to come aross dead Yellow wagtails frequently along the roadside. As the car traffic has increased, the invisible toxins in the air and soil, the electronic noises and waves, so the small vital spaces and niches have been emptied by our expanding and intensifying artificial human world.

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