2019 has so far been a year of high temperature records. We had the warmest ever February and more recently the hottest ever Easter Monday. Besides the recreational benefits it brings us it also brings on the wildlife. Summer migrants arrive early and hibernating creatures wake often prematurely which may or may not be a good thing. In February there were records of Brimstone butterflies on the wing and there were national records by March of Sand Martins and even Swallows having crossed the channel.
To my great surprise on 20th February I observed a Humming Bird Hawk Moth hovering and feeding off the nectar of my neighbour’s flowering Daphne bush. This early record excited the south west London and Surrey entomologists to record it in their annals of first year sightings. Humming Bird Hawk Moths are normally recorded as migrants appearing in mid summer from the continent. It is now recorded that they are able in our warmer climate to over winter here and hibernate in crevices, exceptionally for a macro moth species which usually pupate and survive as chrysalises. This moth is notable for its remarkable resemblance both in appearance and behaviour to the Humming Birds of the New World. But unlike America, Africa and Australasia Great Britain and Europe lack specialist bird pollinators so evolution has slipped these moths into the role and their shape follows their function, a phenomenon often described as convergent evolution.
With the warmth of the Easter Holiday Spring came on in earnest and Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs had arrived and were in full song. The early Butterflies, yellow Brimstones, Orange Tips, Holly Blues and Speckled Woods were in gardens, and the good news is that although local Peacock and Comma populations have crashed in recent years there was good enough hibernation under the bridge in Sydenham Hill Wood to provide a base for recovery. Our one pair of Kestrels are reported once more to have taken up residence in St Peter’s church in Cox’s Walk and Tawny Owls are again reported calling in Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Wood. A drake Mandarin Duck has been seen on the lake in Dulwich Park, a welcome return after an absence of several years and a pair of Little Grebes are once more courting.
Claire Kelly has provided us with this photograph of a Jackdaw in Dulwich Park. They have aroused some interest as unfamiliar local birds having only taken up residence in Dulwich in the past two or three years, surprisingly as unlike that other green local invader they are well known European native birds. However Jackdaws are probably here to stay as being well adapted to us and already breeding both in the parks and the woods.
It is well worth particularly in early and late summer keeping our eyes and ears open for the unusual as rarities do turn up. I heard that in the migration season two years ago a Grasshopper warbler was singing in a reader’s garden and this was a first for Dulwich as far as I know, distinguished by its extraordinary song that sounds like a continuous fishing reel. It would otherwise have been seen as a rather boring brown bird. I once heard it said that British Warblers were boring birds with beautiful songs but American Warblers were beautiful birds with boring songs. Perhaps we should stick with our own, so do keep your records coming.