The summer has given us an extraordinary mixed bag of weather with an exceptionally wet May following an unseasonably cold March and April and then a build up to very high temperatures and drought in June and July. The effect on our wildlife will need to be assessed later, but some bird species such as Robins can find the hot days as difficult as the cold with the retreat of worms and other ground invertebrates to deep levels.
There has however been good news. As part of the Dulwich Festival, Dave Clark and myself undertook a bird walk in Dulwich Park and were able to show the thirty or so people that attended the first ever nest in Dulwich of Little Grebes (otherwise known as Dabchicks) in the lake. These are not of course rare birds but it is a bonus to see them here. Apart from this the group were able to see and hear the variety of common breeding birds that we have which should be enhanced next year by the refurbishment of the park and the reserved wildlife areas at the margins. An additional bonus has been the successful breeding of a family of Spotted Flycatchers in the park. This is one of the rapidly declining British birds and I thought that we had lost them so their reappearance is welcome. The sight of these birds making their fly catching forays from a favourite perch was a traditional feature of the English summer.
In early summer the return of House Martins and Swifts seemed poor, particularly as there were upwards of 50 flying together last autumn and I counted only six House Martin nests in Burbage Road. It is said that the migration loss can be as much as 75%. However, breeding has clearly been most successful and the numbers are already restored by two broods of young Martins and screaming parties of over a dozen Swifts by the time of writing in July.
In early June a mystery pair of duck turned up in the editor's garden which had me guessing. In fact these turned out to be Mandarin ducks but as the accompanying photograph shows, the male was certainly not typical and lacked the finery that we normally expect. Male duck do not keep their finery throughout the year and our native duck go into what is called eclipse in which they spend the summer looking much like their females. Mandarins, which as the name suggests, originally came from China, do not go into a full eclipse but the loss of plumage makes them harder to identify.
Our Magpies are developing bad habits. Several correspondents have been noting that they have been dunking their bread into our birdbaths and turning the clear water into messy soup. Angela Carr noted that a Crow had also picked up the habit and was stealing plastic flower pots into the bargain - the Crow family are well-known thieves
Please keep corresponding. Our wildlife is an integral part of the quality of Dulwich and your records and experiences the stuff of my articles.
Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)