No two years are the same. Last year spring was late and this time round it has been early with a virtually frost free winter. This should give our garden birds a chance to fledge more than one brood and populations should be sustained. In order to sustain a population each species should have at least one surviving fledgling per year. A mild winter should have enabled this so we shall have to see.
There have been a few reports of sightings of Buzzards both in and around the woods and overflying. These large raptors are now thought to be the most numerous bird of prey countrywide, having spread from their stronghold in the west country. As their main food items are rabbits we are not likely to see many in Dulwich but their incidence here does indicate a change in the distribution of our various raptors. Kestrels that were most common have had a population drop and are probably now no longer resident in Dulwich. Their last known nesting site was on St Peter’s church tower at the Dulwich Common junction with Lordship Lane but there was no sign of them this year. Kestrels normally eat small rodents and beetles but when they nested on the tower of Dulwich College the biology boys analysed their pellets and found that they were mostly eating Sparrows. And now Sparrows have largely gone.
Kestrels have been replaced by Sparrow Hawks which are much more efficient bird catchers and will take anything from Pigeons to Blue Tits. The population of Sparrow Hawks as also other raptor species were decimated by pesticide poisoning but the banning of DDT has resulted in a raptor recovery of the bird hunters so that Sparrow Hawks are the most commonly seen birds of prey over London. Peregrine Falcons are now nesting on high rise buildings in the metropolis and can occasionally be seen overflying Dulwich and Hobbys, once a rarity, are reported every year.
There are indeed other changes in our local birds. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch in January noted a fall in the numbers of Starlings counted. There were of course Starlings seen in the winter but these were likely winter visitors from the continent. In years gone by nesting Starlings could be seen emerging from holes in the eaves of many of our houses and old Woodpecker holes in the trees. A springtime walk through Dulwich in the week of this article failed to reveal a single bird. Suddenly another species we all grew up with seems to be disappearing. And like the demise of the House Sparrow there is no ready explanation.
On a more cheerful note some of us may have seen an unusual and attractive goose on the Dulwich Park Lake. This was an Egyptian Goose, not an immigrant from the Middle East but one of a feral population that has come from collection escapees. Their stronghold was East Anglia but they have spread into the Thames valley and a few appear in London parks. They are a great deal more elegant than the Canada Geese which also derive from feral populations and will hopefully not become a menace. Some feral birds such as Mandarin Ducks we like, but some like the Parakeets we shall have to learn to like, but perhaps the Egyptian Geese who have the most photogenic goslings can be accepted without question.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (telephone: 0207 274 4567)