As always a wildlife report is dictated more than anything else by the weather and its vagaries. At one point in my garden there was a Chiffchaff that had migrated in braving the icy blast, and a flock of wintering Redwing that had not yet decided to return to Scandinavia, and it was impossible to tell whether the Blackcap on our feeder was a wintering bird from Germany or one of the summer migrants that couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to sing.
However there were highlights. A Firecrest which is a slightly larger relative of the more usually seen Goldcrest spent much of the winter in the woods. Firecrests have been seen in winters sporadically over the years in the woods and are probably our most uncommon visitor, but being a more striking bird a bonus for those that spot them. Also recorded by several people both in the parks and coming to garden feeders were Redpolls and Siskins, small Finches that come to us in the winter often joining Goldfinches, but more usually seen on the Alders in Belair Park or the Birches in the American Garden in Dulwich Park.
With each new blast of cold air there were influxes of Fieldfares and Redwings that typically would come to sports playing fields where the ground had been disturbed. It was a “Waxwing year” again but this time the nearest Waxwings were in Nunhead and Herne Hill.
At the time of writing Spring has suddenly arrived with the bitter snow bearing north easterly changing to a southerly wind and with it a rush of summer migrants. On Monday 15th April there was a total of around sixty Willow Warblers all feeding on the trees and bushes of the Dulwich Park lake and a steady stream of Swallows all flying north. But the star bird was a male Pied Flycatcher feeding from perches in the American Garden. These are birds that feature on the BBC Springwatch programmes at their nest sites in Wales or the north west, so to see one here is a bonus even though only en route for elsewhere. The Willow Warblers of course did not stay either as their breeding range is apparently shifting to the north.
However there are two pairs of Little Grebes displaying on the lake, a Little Owl can be heard calling in Belair and a Tawny Owl in Dulwich Woods. A pair of gaudy Mandarin Ducks appear from time to time in Belair perhaps one day to breed. There are Peacock Butterflies on the wing so there was clearly survival from last year’s disastrous summer. Paul Bond reports that his five colonies of bees survived the terribly long winter in his hives in College Road. So there may be plenty for the wildlife enthusiast to enjoy. We are hoping that those with suitable two or three storey houses may be able to put up Swift nesting boxes to attract these diminishing birds to breed and a few free nest boxes are available via the Dulwich Society. In Burbage Road there were probably no more than two breeding pairs of Swifts last year less than half of those in years gone by.
Of more general interest the wardens of the Sydenham Hill woods have been enquiring about the history of Badgers in the woods. Fortunately Mr. Richard Robinson of Great Brownings has been able to furnish us with information and has supplied the accompanying picture of the last Badger which died in 1994. Apparently there were numbers of badgers which were centred in a still existent sett in the neighbourhood of the Crescent Wood end of the woods, maintained of course by foxes. This last Badger would regularly visit him for an evening meal enabling a series of photographs. It was found having died, presumably of old age and buried with due decorum in the grounds adjoining Great Brownings. There was an attempt to introduce three badgers after this but they strayed away and were alas found run over, one as far away as the Old Kent Road. I am not sure that the Golf Club would welcome return of Badgers as they can be partial to the digging up of greens. However if readers have more information of the Badger history we would be delighted to hear.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567 )
Sunday 23rd June from 6-8pm The Dulwich Society Wildlife Group invites members to a SWIFT WALK led by Steven Robinson and Dave Clark. Meet at 5.45pm at Dulwich Park, College Road entrance. Bring binoculars