The unexpectedly cold weather of March brought with it an influx of Redwings also accompanied by Fieldfares to take advantage of our open spaces where falls of snow were lighter than elsewhere and a more hopeful food source.

The national story of the winter was a major eruption of Hawfinches from the continent which were said to be “everywhere”. These large finches are partial to Hornbeam so we could have had records. It would be of interest to hear if anybody happened upon them in Dulwich.

One unusual record came from Stan Kobiak in February who photographed this cock Pheasant in Rycotes Mead. Dulwich is not a natural habitat for Pheasants although it might have found refuge in our woods. Pheasants are not in fact indigenous native birds but along with Rabbits and Brown Hares were imported by our forefathers as a food resource. There is a record of their having been kept by the Romans but these were darker than the birds we see here and probably did not become feral. There are also monastic records of their having been kept in captivity before the Norman conquest but it was after the conquest that the lords and barons introduced pheasants with a prominent white ring around the neck. Our Pheasants are a mixture with other races introduced later from the Caucasus which had darker plumages than the first and lacked the white neck ring characteristic of the race from farther east. There is a great variability in plumage and the bird in Rycotes Mead with its partial white ring was clearly a mixture of races. The name Pheasant apparently comes from a Greek source Phasis , a river where Pliny recorded that Pheasants were to be found and the name is translated into several European languages.

At the time of writing winter has transformed into what looks like summer after a spring monsoon and summer migrant Blackcaps are in full song with Brimstones, Orange Tip and Holly Blue butterflies emerging. A Firecrest is reported to be singing in Sydenham Hill wood and the gentle cascading song of a migrating Willow Warbler has been heard in Belair. Willow warblers were once the most numerous breeding warbler in the south of England but they no longer breed locally and generally appear to have been shifting their breeding range further north, perhaps in response to climate change and the better availability of the right food for nestlings. The erratic weather of recent years may indeed be a cause of mismatch between the hatching of nestlings of many birds and their food availability, but some such as perhaps our colonizing Firecrests may be taking advantage.

I have recently been in correspondence with research scientists at the RSPB concerning the result of their Big Garden Birdwatch. Each year they report the House Sparrow as the most numerous occupant of gardens followed by the Starling and the Robin but this year comes ninth in the table. This is clearly at variance with our experience here and I suggested that a more interesting analysis to be by zone rather than region. Factors such as urban air pollution may be making a difference either through invertebrate food supply or as my correspondent suggested oxidative stress. It would indeed be surprising that if air pollution is causing problems with our own public health, it did not also affect the eco health of our wildlife. I should be interested to hear if any of our readers have observations on the subject.

Do keep sending me your records not just of birds but any unexpected wildlife with photographs if you are lucky enough to be able to get one.

Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (020 7274 4567)