On a Sunday afternoon in May my wife drew my attention to an agitated Herring or possibly Lesser Black backed Gull flying northwards high over our house. Binoculars proved that it was mobbing a large bird of prey which to all appearances was a Buzzard. However it was significantly larger than the pursuing gull, the behaviour of the gull was unusual, and I was unable to see the usual wing markings of a Common Buzzard with which I am familiar. I wondered then whether it might have been a Honey Buzzard, a rare bird in the UK being a summer migrant nesting in very small numbers in the New Forest. The identification of high flying raptors is notoriously difficult and so I was prepared to write the record off. Then an E-mail from Dave Clark informed me that a Honey Buzzard had indeed been seen flying over North London so I would like to believe that this was indeed my bird and if so a first for Dulwich. To those of us brought up on the stories of Uncle Remus we may remember that Brer Honey Buzzard was a bit player in the ongoing conflicts between Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. It has however acquired its name from its major diet items being the contents of bee and wasp nests. Of additional interest is that the bare patch known as the cere at the base of the bills of most raptors is in the Honey Buzzard covered by feathers which protects it from stings whilst feeding.
Apart from this the records have been more mundane. Red Kites are now more regularly seen overflying us as might be predicted by their large populations west of London. A migrating male Wheatear was seen in May on the Alleyn playing fields. This is a strikingly attractive silver grey, black and white member of the Robin family most distinguished by its white rump when it flies away. This bird was probably of the northern variety as most of those breeding in England will have been on site for a month. A Reed Warbler briefly visited the reed bed in Dulwich Park and a Whitethroat has been singing in the velodrome site along with the breeding Blackcaps throughout the early summer hopefully breeding also.
Last year Hobbys were thought to have bred in the woods and a Hobby has been seen this year but with no evidence of breeding so far. However Kestrels are once more breeding in the tower of St Peter’s church at the entrance to Cox’s walk and have three chicks. Brown Long eared Bats and Pipistrelles continue to occupy their roost in the High level Railway Tunnel whose legal status of protection will act against any possible suggestion of running a cycle route through the increasingly valued nature reserve.
The Swifts arrived as usual in May in apparently bigger numbers than in recent years but we have not seen the screaming parties around our houses particularly in July when the young fledge so I fear they may not have bred this year. The sole surviving pair of our House Martin colony eventually turned up rather late at the end of May and have reused their old nest for the third or fourth time. Luckily the house owners tell me that there is a clause in their house painting contracts that the nest should be preserved. It is to be hoped that the fledged young will return to breed although the four that fledged last year have not obliged. The nest is being included in the British Trust for Ornithology House Martin National Survey as there is a wish to find out reasons for the species’ decline.
It has not so far been a very good year for butterflies, probably as a result of the amount of heavy rain, the problem being of course the loss of caterpillars from foliage, and this of course can have a knock on effect in the feeding of fledgling small birds. One or two Comma butterflies are appearing so there may be more to come. It has however been an extremely good year if you happen to be a Snail which ought to be a bonanza for the Song Thrushes.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (please telephone 020 7274 4567 with any sightings)