It was surprising that in spite of the coldest winter for many years I did not receive any reports of rarities appearing in Dulwich. However the winter was remarkable for the appearance of Redwings in their hundreds during the very cold weather, probably more than I can ever remember in Dulwich. They disappeared almost as soon as the cold weather finished, leaving just the usual winter population that remains in small numbers with us until March before flying off to Iceland (missing the ash) and Scandinavia to breed. There were also Redpolls, mostly in the park but straying into gardens where they were reported on nut feeders. More significant were the appearance of wintering Blackcaps, one of which obligingly coincided with my RSPB Big Garden Bird Count.  These are a different population to the Blackcaps now singing in the woods and our gardens, and have been reported widely in the UK, often rather aggressive to our other garden birds.

It is of interest to note what appears to have been the effect of our very cold winter. It is the very small birds that have taken the toll and most notably Long Tailed Tits. Great Tits have clearly held their population as probably also Blue Tits but these roost in holes, often piled on top of each other for warmth, but even so are said to lose at least one third of their body weight overnight, having a lot to make up in each day’s feed.  Dave Clark diligently does a regular count of the birds both in Dulwich Park and Sydenham Hill Woods and compared with last year only half the number of Wrens were counted. He did count an equivalent number of Goldcrests but many fewer of these are singing in our garden conifers this year. There are no Sparrows in his count and diminishing numbers of Starlings.

It is clear that our gardens are our most precious nature reserves where we are seeing more Goldfinches than are being reported in the park or the woods and are now the refuges for the House Sparrow that keeps a toe hold in Dulwich. Collared Doves, so much more attractive than the larger feral pigeons favour our gardens and do not feature in the park counts. Coal Tits that were for the first time not in the park bird count have been using garden bird feeders and so demonstrate the importance of our gardens in keeping our common birds common.

I have been asked what we can do about marauding Parakeets which are descending and emptying nut feeders before the small birds can get to them. The RSPB markets Squirrel proof feeders but so far has not invented anything to do about these new aliens. Nature alas, probably has to learn to adapt to alien populations, some but not all being the result of human introductions, and there will no doubt be casualties in the indigenous species from time to time. The Harlequin Ladybird, for instance, which has spread into this country appears to be displacing our native species and there is precious little that we can do about it. The Canada Goose can be a menace and now a pair of Egyptian Geese have appeared in Dulwich Park. But the Mandarin Ducks that we sometimes see in Belair are a spectacular delight and a fine addition to our fauna, so there are gains as well as losses.

As we go to press I have just received a report from Mr Michael Brookes of Half Moon Lane that he had a wonderful view of a Woodcock in his garden during the very cold weather of 9th January. Nationwide there were reports of Woodcocks coming into gardens in the freezing weather and I had a similar record in my garden some years ago. These are a species of Wader similar to a Snipe that has adapted to woodland rather than estuarine existence. In Half Moon Lane it is most likely that the bird had strayed from the nearby railway line but previous records have usually come from the Dulwich/Sydenham Hill woods.

Peter Roseveare
Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)