Probably as a result of the extraordinary weather that is being experienced all over Europe and in particular last summer’s drought, the Scandinavian Rowan berry crop failed. As a result, we had massively increased numbers of Redwings arriving in October and November and there were Redwings in every garden that could provide berries. I had reports from people that had never knowingly seen a Redwing before and a record number of over twenty-five in my garden alone. They have now stripped all our berries and most of them have now moved on, leaving a few smaller flocks in the Park and the woods. At the same time we started to see Blackbirds once more in our gardens but these, as predicted, were likely migrants rather than our home bred birds. Traditionally, Blackbirds start to sing on St. Valentine’s day and by the time this issue goes to print we will know if any of these birds have set up territories. At the time of writing it is a hope, as their absence from our autumn bird count was a big concern.
However, the autumn Thrush migration did bring us a surprise. The Rutherford family have installed a trail cam in their garden and to their surprise, when they checked it on the 25th November there was a series of pictures of a male Ring Ousel distinguished by its striking white crescent across its breast. Undoubtedly this was for us the record of the year and merited its role in the E-newsletter. The Ring Ousel is sometimes described as the Blackbird of the north and is a summer migrant that nests in rocky uplands such as may be found in the Lake District. They migrate south and most of the passage migrants may be seen in the autumn on our west coasts, so this was an unusual visitor to south London.
Following my request for records other than birds, Lindsay Rosser has sent me a photo of a large spider on her bathroom wall. This proves to be of interest as it was identified by her expert son Neil as a species from southern Europe that is becoming widespread in London and goes by its Latin name Zoropsis spinimara (not yet having an English name). As spiders don’t fly, they have perhaps been hitching lifts from holidaymakers and are an example of yet another alien southern native creature that can now carve a niche here. This is hopefully not at the expense of our native species, although it must be a concern.
The first half of this winter has been unusually mild, if rather windy, and perhaps the availability of natural food has prompted the observation that there have been fewer visitors to our feeders. This may mean smaller counts at the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend of 27 to 29 January. However, in the short, very cold spell of weather before Christmas there was clearly some bird movement and David Stacey recorded a flock of five Meadow Pipits in his garden. He cleverly identified them by observation of their plumage markings, otherwise they would probably be written off as “little brown jobs”. Of other more regularly reported winter visitors, noteworthy is a Woodcock in the Sydenham Hill woods and Shoveler ducks on the park lake. A pair of these provide entertainment when they go head to tail and rotate as they “shovel” the water surface with their large beaks.
The numerous elms which have repopulated Gallery Road after their predecessors were killed by Dutch Elm Disease have resulted in the hosting of a colony of the rare White-letter Hairstreak butterfly. The hyphenated name is correct and not a misprint. Its name derives from a feature on its outer wing marking which has the appearance of a capital W. It’s not a particularly easy butterfly to see as it is quite small and tends to fly in the leafy canopy, but it is on the wing in June and July. Thanks to the award to the Society of two disease-resistant elms by Elms4London, it is hoped that this colony will remain.
The second half of the winter is now giving us some more cold weather and there will be more dependence on garden feeders, which will boost our records for the RSPB count. We would like those of my readers who do the RSPB count to send me a duplicate of their findings so that we can see how our patch records relate to the national census. The fear is that some of our urban songbirds are proving to be particularly vulnerable to the climate changes and more so than in the country at large. Our gardens are the best nature reserves we have in south London and in conjunction with the Garden and Trees groups we can hopefully seek how “Gardening for Wildlife” can improve our natural habitats.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (020 7274 4567