The seasons continue to break meteorological records and for wildlife the mild to warm temperatures up to mid-January could be termed a “phony winter”. Arrivals here of the expected Scandinavian Thrushes were few and far between and a Chiffchaff that would have been expected to have departed to warmer climes in the Autumn was recorded in Dulwich woods in December. On New Year’s Eve Stephen Hepburn took this photograph of a fine fresh Red Admiral sunning itself on his greenhouse. Most of our Red Admirals are summer migrants but a few occasionally hibernate along with our resident Peacocks, Commas and Tortoiseshells. This butterfly must have thought Spring had arrived and one can only hope that it returned to hibernation.
My most notable record came on 4th November when I flushed a Woodcock from my back garden. Later that week came an incident recorded by Susan Robinson who rescued a Woodcock that may have hit a window from a cat. It was kept in a box and the London Wildlife Preservation Centre was contacted who collected it for rehabilitation at their unit in Earlsfield. We had a similar incident a few years ago when a Woodcock pierced a first floor window and had to be fished out from under a bed.
Although Woodcocks breed in the UK in small numbers most of our birds are winter migrants from Scandinavia and eastern Europe. They are crepuscular or nocturnal in habit and migrate at night. They appear to migrate at low level which, when they come through urban areas puts them at risk of collision with properties. If you are lucky enough to see one at close quarters, as Susan Robinson observed, it has a most attractive plumage ideal for its daytime woodland camouflage. As the accompanying picture shows it is a bird species closely related to Snipes which are wetland waders but has evolved with its probing feeding method to woodland life and indeed are occasionally able to over-winter in Dulwich.
Sparrow Hawks have once more featured in my correspondence, on two occasions eating pigeons on patios. Perhaps it is the same bird that has found overfed woodpigeons in our gardens a sitting target but too heavy to take away. It was noticed that there was a big influx of some hundreds of Black Headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls over the Christmas weekend that have now dispersed. Ringing records indicate that these are largely winter migrants from the continent rather than our own breeding population. They of course lack the dark brown head plumage of their breeding season and they all depart punctually at the beginning of April. They leave behind a small residual population of immature Lesser Black Backed and Herring Gulls that hang about throughout the year.
I have been asked why the numbers and variety of the waterfowl on our lakes are so much fewer than on Kelsey Park in Beckenham, particularly as the dredging and reed planting of the Dulwich Park lake was intended to provide greater diversity. It is difficult to give a clear explanation but the fact that Little Grebe, Mallard Tufted Ducks and Moorhens still breed successfully and there is a good hatch of Dragonflies suggest that the bio-health is good enough and a single drake Shoveler that has now turned up can be seen feeding vigorously. My personal view is that our parks now have to balance a lot of human recreational activity and also dog walking which has increased over these Covid years and the disturbance created puts extra pressure on wildlife space. Further measures to improve the management of the lakes for wildlife will need to accommodate these pressures and require more advice from the managements of both parks.
My article in the last magazine issue carried a photo of a Green Shield Bug which I deemed innocent. I was taken to task by a reader who had apparently received a nasty bite from a Shield Bug that took a long time to resolve. I asked Jeff Doodson our entomologist who supplied the photo about this and he reassured me that these bugs are vegetarian and unlikely gratuitously to bite a human. There are of course other blood sucking bugs, also belonging to the insect order Hemiptera, most notoriously the Bed Bug, that will take a meal from us through a proboscis pierce. Insects that bite us and why could feature in a future article so I would welcome readers comments or experiences.
Peter Roseveare, Wildlife Recorder
Tel: 020 7274 4567