We have been blessed or cursed with a colder winter this year which has undoubtedly had its effect on our wildlife. The mortality, particularly of our smaller birds will have been greater this year, although it is the winter losses which probably return populations to the same level as bred the previous year. However as many of our garden birds are adapted woodland species, it is the regular garden feeding that maintains them. Natural food, whatever the weather, tends to run out in late winter, especially if there is a cold March when it becomes more important to maintain feeding at least until Spring is well established. Indeed it is noteworthy that the canary-like Siskin is most often seen on nut feeders during March when its normal woodland habitat is running out of food.
It is probably another feature of the cold weather that Redwing and Fieldfare which are medium to long distance migratory Thrushes are conspicuous by their absence this year. Whereas this may in part due to a paucity of berries, their preference for feeding on worms and other invertebrates in the short grass of our sports fields is not available in hard frosts. The probability is that they continue their migration to join expats in the Iberian peninsula. We may see them again in March when they are on their way back to their Scandinavian breeding grounds.
Readers may remember that in my last article I described Audrey Lambert’s amazing record of Nutcrackers, a European member of the Jay/Crow family, rarely seen in the UK. It is difficult to get these records accepted by the ornithological powers that be as Nutcrackers are elusive and do not stay still enough for telescope laden twitchers to see (indeed many twitched rarities are so off course that they may be on the point of death anyway). However on 30th October I happened to meet Dr Budgie Savage who told me she had just seen three extraordinary birds making an unusual Jay like noise in Sydenham Wells Park and on taking out a bird book she was able immediately to recognise them as Nutcrackers. They are fast travelling birds that spend time at tops of trees and of course there was no sign of them when searched for again. So maybe not a verified national record, but certainly a local turn up for the books.
There are no records to compete with this. Having said that I had not seen a Bullfinch in Dulwich for some years and I was pleased to see one in my garden with a small party of Chaffinches and Greenfinches; so along with the recent record of a male at Rosendale allotments it is apparent that they are not entirely absent. Dave Clark has once more seen a Firecrest in Sydenham Hill woods and on his latest bird count there saw a Tree Creeper which is only seen intermittently. Jeff Tetlow has found a Woodcock, alas dead, in his garden so there may be more to find in walks through Dulwich Woods. It would be nice to know if anyone has seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker recently which is our one red listed endangered species. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are quite common but the Lesser Spotted is much smaller (about the size of a Starling) with a red cap to its head and a series of thin white bands on its wings as opposed to the white oval wing patches on its Greater Spotted cousin. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are regular visitors to nut feeders but it is unlikely that one would see a Lesser Spotted there.
Please keep your records flowing and if there are any wildlife queries I will be glad to do my best to answer them.
Wildlife Recorder ( 020 7274 4567)