This winter will be remembered by ornithologists and many more as the Waxwing winter. Apparently the berry crop in Scandinavia failed and these exotic birds flocked across the North Sea in their hundreds to feast upon our plentiful berry and seed crops. Obligingly they are not only quite tame but seem to favour towns where gardens can supply their chosen food. It is not unusual for single birds to be reported in Dulwich during the winter but on 21st December we had the first sighting in Burbage Road of a flock of twelve or possibly fourteen feeding on the ash keys at the entrance to the sports ground. The same or a similar flock appeared in Court Lane during the Christmas period. There was then a flood of reports of perhaps the same flock in Turney Road and Rosendale Road on the weekend of the 21st January. I expect many more of us will have seen them and heard them giving their high musical trill as their contact call, ornithological gems which will hopefully have given pleasure to many.
But these are not all that we have seen in this snowy and rather bleak winter. Siskins, small finches that resemble canaries and Redpolls that resemble small Linnets have been feeding in the Birch and Alder trees of Belair Park. These are more typical winter visitors which are often seen coming to garden nut feeders in the late winter when the seed crop begins to run out. There has been a report of a cock Brambling in College Road. This is also a winter visitor from Scandinavia and may be seen with flocks of Chaffinches taking seeds on the ground or perhaps visiting a bird table. You may first spot it as different from a Chaffinch by its white rump that shows when it flies, but closer observation will demonstrate a rich rusty orange on breast and shoulder which becomes progressively brighter at the breeding season approaches and its feather tips wear.
It is a good year for Goldfinches which have discovered that gardens in towns offer more than our countryside, but the casualty of the past two or three years has been the Greenfinch. Whereas in past years we were seeing parties of a dozen or more birds competing for place on our nut feeders this year there are just one or two. The explanation for this lies in a disease organism called Trichomonas which the medical fraternity will associate with a different sort of illness, but alas in Greenfinches appears to be fatal.
Those other regular winter visitors, Redwings and Fieldfares are in shorter supply this winter, in contrast to last year when the numbers of Redwings were huge. The explanation may lie in the very cold weather of December causing them to continue their Autumn migration south and west in search of higher temperatures. However our resident Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes are now singing in preparation for the breeding season, and exceptionally I have a Blackbird in full song from mid January. I usually expect Blackbirds to reserve their first full song for St Valentine’s day, a good note on which to end this report.
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