Although this article is being written during a July heat wave Autumn will be approaching by the time it is read. But it has been a difficult year to assess. The cold start to the summer caused everything to be nearly a month late and Hawthorn blossom that is normally in full bloom on May Day was at its best in the third week. The result was bumper blossom in June. It will be difficult to know what effect this seasonal variation will have had on our nesting birds. The seed eating finches, tits and sparrows change their diet to small caterpillars while feeding their young which is why they do not often visit feeders at this time. Those that nested at their usual time may not have had sufficient availability of small caterpillars to achieve fledging of all their broods. It is interesting to note that they do return to feeders in July and in the present heat appear to be as hungry as during the winter and queuing at the birdbaths for a drink.
There has been anxiety nationally about falls in population of Swifts and House Martins. Swifts nest in the crevices of our older houses. During May and June many not sitting on eggs depart out of town to collect insect feed and we only see the numbers in early morning and evening. In July the young fledge and the families can be seen at daytime in screaming parties around houses as well as high altitude feeding. Fortunately there have been sufficient numbers this July to suggest adequate breeding and the hot weather will have given them a bonus of high flying small insects drawn up by rising air currents.
In Dulwich we are fortunate to have woodland and green areas which support populations of Woodpeckers. Our commonest are Great Spotted Woodpeckers which we see often on our tit feeders, but also Green Woodpeckers that come to our lawns and mown fields to feed on ants with the aid of their long tongues. Both Richard Robinson in Great Brownings and Martin Bagley have recently reported the much rarer Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which nationally is considered to be endangered.
It is easy to be confused in the identification of the two spotted Woodpeckers.
A young Great Spotted Woodpecker as shown in this excellent photograph supplied by Bryce and Mary Caller has a red cap. However after its first moult the red cap is lost and the females have no red on their heads with the males having just a red disc in the nape of their necks. The adult Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers confusingly have red caps similar to the juvenile Great Spotted as adult plumage. But they are much smaller than the Great Spotted, being no bigger than a Starling and generally much more difficult to see. Their other distinguishing feature is that the large oval white path on the wing coverts is replaced by a series of white bars, so that they are sometimes known as the Barred Woodpecker.
As this little Woodpecker is becoming so rare it is well worth sending in records when we are lucky enough to see them. They are difficult to spot so that often the best way is having heard a rather strident call that sounds like a cross between a Starling and an angry Blackbird. It will usually come from fairly dense canopy, whereas the “chit chit” call of the Great Spotted will often come from the top point of a tall tree such as a conifer. In the breeding season both woodpeckers will “drum” by repeatedly beak hitting a dead wood branch which substitutes for song. There is a difference between both species, the Greater Spotted’s drums are louder and shorter. Green woodpeckers sensibly don’t drum but make a loud laughing call which gives them their other name – the Yaffle.
I would like to hear of any records of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers particularly if a bird is seen to be nesting. And of course I am happy to hear of any unusual sightings or discuss identification problems.
Wildlife Recorder (telephone: 020 7274 4567)