Thursday, 13 July 2006

Swifts swallows and martins

It's that time of the year when the swifts hurtle around Halesworth in their mad, dashing screaming parties. We're in the midst of a hot, sunny spell and it's been a good summer for swifts. In a cold wet summer, swifts have the ability to go into a semi-torpid stae, and often their breeding success drops to zero. This is not a serious problem for swifts as they are exceptionally long-lived for a small bird -- perhaps living up to 20 years. But despite the warm sunny weather, insects are far from abundant, and swallows and martins seem to be continuing to decline, along with other binsectivorous birds. Last year a pair of spotted flycatchers that nested under the eaves of our house as far back as anyone in the neighbourhood could remember, failed to return. And they did not come this year.

Insects seem to be in some sort of free-fall decline, with most of the specialist organisations, dealing with dragonflies, butterflies and other groups reporting more and more species as disappearing. Local success stories with a few spectacular butterflies obscure the fact that huge numbers of insect species are disappearing. And more worrying is the fact that the total biomass also seems to be declining.

When I grew up in London in the 1940s and 1950s flies were everywhere in summer. Now it is possible to sit in a street in London (and even the suburbs) eating a meal, and not see a single fly. It is a miracle that there are any house martins and swallows left.

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