After over sixty years of birdwatching this has been the first winter in which I have seen almost no winter migrant Thrushes. My only sighting was a small flock of Redwing flying over Sydenham Hill wood during Daniel Greenwood’s December bird walk. Usually there are flocks of Redwing with Fieldfares sometimes numbering into hundreds both in our parks and sports grounds and also coming into our gardens for Cotoneaster berries and readily available worms, but this year there were none. The RSPB have noted the absence and stated that they had all remained on the continent as the conditions were favourable there. It does however indicate that climate change is one of the factors having a dramatic effect on the numbers of birds we are seeing.
The birds that are doing well here are those that we can easily feed, particularly the Tits and one of the successes has been the Goldfinches which have prospered in towns more than any other of our finches as they have a predilection for Nyjer seeds which can be put into feeders, as well as enjoying the seeds of Birch trees and Alders. Robins, Blackbirds and Wrens have maintained their numbers partly because they were able to have several broods last year but Song Thrushes and Starlings continue to decline along with our Sparrows. Mistle Thrushes, though never common here are also declining, although a pair have been attempting to nest in the Alleyn’s school grounds this year.
The most spectacular change has been the huge and continuing rise in numbers of Parakeets. The suburban environment of parks and gardens in a temperate climate clearly provides them with a niche that matches their world of forest and parkland in the Indian subcontinent. Last year they were gorging themselves on the soft fruit on our Prunus trees and at the time of writing they are feeding on the emerging sticky buds of the Horse Chestnuts. And when nothing else is available there are the garden nut feeders. We are not alone in having them as they are also present in other cities in Europe so their origin here is unclear and may not have been the escape from an Ealing film set as previously suggested.
A few other less usual birds have been recorded. I have had two records of Grey Wagtails. These are usually birds of fast running streams, so they will have been migrating. Pied Wagtails are more usually seen, so called because of their tail movement that assists their running gait as opposed to the hopping of the Finches and Sparrows. The male Grey Wagtail is a handsome bird with a bright yellow belly and black chin with the upper parts slate grey. I have seen it in Dulwich several times and was the first but never repeated visitor to my garden pond.
Apart from this I received a bulletin that last year’s white Sparrow is still alive and well and records that the wintering pair of Blackcaps visited several gardens, presumably now having departed to Eastern Europe. And finally a Pheasant in Court Lane in February may have sought refuge from the Kentish sportsmen although the shooting season was finished.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 0207 274 4567)