What a difference there is in our winters. Last year we had Daffodils flowering in January and I reported a Blackbird in full song from December onwards. At the time of writing in mid January we have had many days of hard frost, the Daffodil bulb shoots are barely visible and the Blackbird has to spend its daylight hours foraging for food and cannot waste time in out of season song.
The cold winter is having its effect on our wildlife. While we appear to have plenty of Blue Tits and Great Tits, conspicuously absent are the flocks of finches that have been such a feature of our garden bird life. Particular mention should be made of the Goldfinches that came so frequently to our feeders. They still come occasionally in ones and twos but the regular flocks have gone. We are aware that Greenfinches have been hit by disease and Chaffinch numbers were never high but Goldfinches could appear in flocks of upwards of twenty or thirty. Residual garden berries are maintaining Blackbirds and hopefully the more secretive Song Thrushes, but significantly in a walk through the woods this week where there were few berries I did not see a single Blackbird which shows the value of our garden cultivation.
Paradoxically this year the south east appears to have been colder than further north and it may be that absent birds have simply voted with their wings and moved to warmer areas and this will almost certainly account for the fact that there have been very few Redwings and Fieldfares this year. Earlier in the winter when winter migration was on a flock of Fieldfares descended on to a berry crop in Dalkeith Road and this can of course happen at any time. These are large Thrushes about the size of a Mistle Thrush but with pale blue rumps and heads. They are very noisy with a loud chack-chack call so are not easily missed. In some years when rural food is scarce they arrive in numbers to forage in our sports fields, so they may yet appear.
The findings of the RSPB big national garden birdwatch which takes place each year in the last weekend of January will be of interest to see if the changes that we observe here are present elsewhere or whether the south east with its continental cold is unusual. Some of the very small birds such as Goldcrests, Wrens and Long Tailed Tits will undoubtedly have taken a hit as they always do in cold winters but large broods in succeeding summers usually aid recovery. Large birds such as Wood pigeons, Magpies, Jays and Crows clearly are very little affected and neither are Parakeets in spite of their Indian origin.
Unfortunately the Dulwich Park Water Rail which featured in the last report did not stay, but four Shoveler Ducks have been overwintering and can be seen on the lake quietly “shoveling” with their spade-like beaks. The Rosendale Allotments are clearly a fertile habitat and a Tawny Owl was heard there this week perhaps having discovered a supply of rodents and I hear also that they have a colony of Hedgehogs which are hopefully hibernating just now.
Tawny Owls are strictly nocturnal and although one or two pairs have historically bred in the woods they very rarely have been known to stray outside and certainly not in daylight to permit photography. However the late lamented Rosa Davis put up an Owl box in her garden at 117 College Road many years ago and did achieve a successful nesting pair. Little Owls are more obliging and will often venture out in daytime. The golf course and the Grange Lane allotments provide a very suitable habitat and Margaret McHugh has had the good fortune to see this Little Owl for several days in Grange Lane with an excellent photo opportunity.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)
The Sad Tale of the Little Fox
Like many of Dulwich’s residents I am not a fan of foxes. They strut about the garden, damage the fences and flower beds and leave what wildlife enthusiasts call ‘scat’ all over the place. I once read that the first time they appeared in Dulwich in modern times was in 1947. All that said, I really did fall for the little fox that mooched about our garden, took naps on the lawn, peered through the French doors and showed no fear of humans. He was usually on his own and over the weeks and then months, he never seemed to grow any bigger. One day, I found him sitting upright, just like a cat, with his tail; curled around him, peering into the empty pool. A couple of days later I found him lying dead on the path. Despite my aversion to foxes I felt very upset.