The third quarter of the year is always the quietest for new records and this year is no exception, although the heat of the summer has reached new heights with no significant rain since March. Our soils are now bone dry with grasses a uniform brown. Many of our garden birds do retreat into shade at this time of year while they moult, but with slim pickings from open ground, they will hopefully continue there to find their invertebrate food. In 1976 a Minister for Drought was appointed, and it immediately started to rain. Perhaps Boris missed a trick.
Particularly pleasing this year is a record of the sighting and photography by Trevor Moore of a Little Owl in Dulwich Park where it had not previously been seen. This gives hope that the park may be a new breeding site for these birds which have lived somewhere in Dulwich for many years. A more familiar pair of Little Owls were recorded in the region of Grange Lane where they nested this year. One of these birds was photographed by Margaret McHugh several years ago and we include this as the Dulwich Park bird photo was too distant. Unlike Tawny Owls, Little Owls regularly appear during the day but will mostly hunt at night. A strange bird call heard overflying at night may well be a Little Owl.
Little Owls are not in fact native to Britain but were introduced from Holland by several enthusiastic Yorkshire naturalists first in 1842. They became widespread by the turn of the century and fitted into the British ecology around farmland and parks where there was hedgerow and old trees. In Greek mythology, apparently the Little Owl was sacred to the goddess Pallas Athene, the goddess of Wisdom and was held in great reverence in Athens where Athene’s moderation was in contrast to the revelry of Dionysus. Hence its Latin name Athene noctua and the association with the “wise old owl”.
Amongst our Summer records each year we have been following the numbers of Swifts that we see. This year the numbers though not large, have been consistent with previously and they have been nesting in some of the Swift boxes in East Dulwich. Steven Robinson successfully hand reared a young Swift that had fallen from its nest with great success. It required much dedication with the giving two hourly insect feeds. He proceeded to relocate it into an occupied nest to achieve fostering. The good news is that this was successful and it departed for Africa on 31st July. It will be on the wing for at least the next two years before it comes to breed. A talisman for the “Save our Swifts” campaign.
I particularly enjoyed receiving an account a few weeks ago from Alex Hamilton of the wildlife he had been seeing in his garden in Woodwarde Road in the first part of the year. This has prompted me to suggest that readers of my articles might make monthly wildlife diaries and submit them to the society E-mail wildlife site. A call has also gone out in the Society’s E- Newsletter which many will have read. We are living in unprecedented climatic times and wildlife of all sorts will be needing, as are we, to adapt. Our insect life is particularly important, and the presence or unexpected absence of certain insects are indicators of what is happening to our natural world and whether our own urban ecology is particularly vulnerable. Have we for instance been seeing Ladybirds, Crane Flies (Daddy Longlegs), Lacewings or Shield Bugs and were there a lot or less than usual?
The messages this year to the wildlife subcommittee were that it is once more a poor year for butterflies but as the sunnier weather took over Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Small Skipper butterflies have emerged in numbers. Their caterpillars are grass feeders and it will be a matter of interest to know whether our parched grassland will be a problem for them.
We still have Holly Blue butterflies and Commas but this year I saw no Orange Tips and so far no Peacocks or Tortoiseshells. However, it is good to report that the Jersey Tiger moth continues to thrive in SE21.
I shall look forward to reading what society members have been able to record.
Peter Roseveare, Wildlife Recorder Tel: 020 7274 4567