October, which is the time of writing for this issue, is always an exciting time for the amateur ornithologist. Our breeding birds are emerging from their summer moult and becoming more conspicuous. In order to maintain population stability most of the smaller species need to quadruple their populations by breeding and the signs are that many of out local breeding birds have done quite well. I have had reports of Long Tailed Tits, Dunnocks, Wrens and the appearance of more of Great Spotted Woodpeckers on nut feeders. We had a glut (a plague to gardeners ) of aphids and this was followed by a surge in numbers of hover flies whose larvae feast on aphids. All this was good news to breeding birds and this year particularly to House Martins with flocks of 50 or more birds remaining into the second week of October.
There are now feeding flocks of Great, Blue and Long Tailed Tits with occasional Coal Tits and Goldcrests passing through our gardens and, with the non-appearance so far of winter frosts, a surprising number of Chiffchaffs delaying their departure. People may also have noticed the surprisingly large number of Blackbirds and I have had upwards of ten together feeding on my lawn. We may wonder where all these birds have come from as our gardens do not sustain this population in the breeding season. The answer lies in the thickets and the particular example in the adjoining picture had evidence this year of breeding Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin, Wren, Long Tailed Tit, Blackcap and Chiffchaff with a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a hole in the Poplar tree behind. Sadly this particular thicket will disappear if the Herne Hill Velodrome development goes ahead and our birds will need to rely on other quarters.
October is also a month of changeover of many of our so-called resident birds, and those of us that do not have to look constantly at the traffic will notice a trickle of passerine (sparrow-like) birds, sadly not Sparrows, flying over us just a little more than roof high. Some are easily identifiable by their calls and these are usually Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. A few of them are dropping into gardens and several people have indeed reported Goldfinches. Many of these are from the near continent and move here to take advantage of our milder winters. An urban oasis such as Dulwich offers an excellent stop-over and I was surprised to find a flock of ten Meadow Pipits in the velodrome site in early October, common birds in coastal grasslands but not resident here.
Of our rarities, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have been regularly seen in the garden of Bell House in College Road but Bullfinches and Spotted Flycatchers were absentees as unfortunately were Willow Warblers. A Little Owl apparently based in Brockwell Park has been hunting in Burbage Road as have occasional Sparrow Hawks and Kestrels. The British Trust for Ornithology is assessing the population of Tawny Owls this year, so it would be useful if those of us who live near the Woods can report in to me any sightings of these birds.
2004 clearly gave us the wrong sort of global warming for butterflies and we all noticed that there was a dearth in our gardens. We had a good brood of Small Tortoiseshells early on, but subsequently it was mostly Cabbage Whites. In most summers the prevalent butterfly over the velodrome site has been the Meadow Brown but this year they were largely absent, replaced surprisingly by their smaller cousin the Gatekeeper which seemed not to have been so troubled by the rain. Future years will show if this is a permanent feature. But on a more cheerful note a fine autumn flying Brimstone butterfly was in evidence in the week of this report.
Please, as ever, keep reports of birds, mammals, amphibians, unusual insects such as stag beetles, or anything unusual that moves rolling in as they are the stuff of my articles.
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