By Peter Roseveare

The weather this winter has oscillated between the unusually mild and the unusually dry, with a few cold snaps of hard frosts, the most severe being in December. At the time of writing, March has been largely cold, wet and dank, so Spring bird song seems slow to get going. However, I have been sent a number of records of sightings. A Buzzard has based much of its winter in the woods and surprised Andrew Beardmore by appearing on the golf course. A Raven was also reported in the woods. Both these birds were traditionally found in the north and west but have spread south - eastwards in recent decades. Perhaps the most notable record came from Harry Rutherford, who spotted a Water Rail in the reeds of the park lake in February. This small relative of the Moorhen is usually well hidden in reed beds and difficult to see, although we had a previous record three years ago. I received a grizzly series of photos from Stan Kobiak of a female Sparrowhawk consuming a Wood Pigeon in his garden and, more unusually, two virtually identical photos of a young male Sparrowhawk, presumably after the smaller birds at feeders. It is not often that we see Pied Wagtails in Dulwich but two cock birds appeared in front of Gail’s on 5th March and were photographed eating crumbs, being sufficiently striking in appearance to appear in the month’s newsletter.

RSPB Big Birdwatch Results

Readers will remember that I requested duplicates of their submissions to the RSPB Big Birdwatch at the end of January primarily to make an assessment as to how we relate to the national statistic. I gratefully received eighteen records. The first finding was a surprise. In the last months of the summer, it appeared that our Blackbirds had completely disappeared from our gardens and, in our regular seasonal bird counts in the park and the woods, none were present, whereas in previous years there had been plenty. So we feared the worst and that possibly they had succumbed to the reported Isata virus. However, when we did our RSPB submissions there was a Blackbird in virtually every garden, a total of twenty - one birds being counted. As an observation, it appeared that they returned alongside the Redwings in October and November and I speculated that they were a new population. However, Pat Reynolds tells me that she has identified a female Blackbird by its leucistic white feathers as the same bird that occupied her garden last year. A more likely explanation therefore is that, being faced with the extreme heat of last July, many of our Blackbirds migrated north eastward, perhaps even to join the Redwings in Scandinavia, and returned with the Autumn Winter Thrush migration. The test will be if they now form territories and breed, but the fact that some are beginning to sing is a good sign.

The RSPB figures for the Big Garden Birdwatch in January were published in April. Their top published bird, as in previous years, was the House Sparrow, followed by the Blue Tit and the Starling, the Robin coming sixth. Although House Sparrows and Starlings are ranked in the top three, the total numbers of both are seen to be falling. This does not equate with our findings until you realize that it relates to the total number of birds counted. What is more relevant to us appears in smaller print of their report, which is the percentage of gardens occupied by each species. Our garden list, in order, was Robin, Wood Pigeon, Great Tit, Magpie, Parakeet, Blackbird, Blue Tit and Goldfinch, all of which were seen in more than thirteen of our eighteen reports. For the RSPB, Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds and Robins were seen in over 80% of gardens, Blue Tits over 70%, House Sparrows 61%, Great Tits less than 60%, Magpies and Starlings less than 40%, Goldfinches less than 20% and Parakeets less than 2%. Only one garden in Dulwich reported a Starling and only three reported House Sparrows. This is of course far from a scientific study but the indications are that we see our common garden birds in a different proportion to the country as a whole, Parakeets being major occupants, Starlings being virtual absentees, House Sparrows being very select and Great Tits outnumbering Blue Tits. I shall be interested to hear if readers have further observations or comments to make on the distribution of our garden birds.

A Plea to Reduce External Lighting After Dark

I have recently been asked about the impact upon local wildlife from the installation of evening and night lighting on sports fields and in gardens. This comes under the heading of “light pollution” over which there are concerns. The possibilities are of disruption to diurnal biorhythms, where length of day is important, disruption to night migration and disruption of night pollinators, to name a few. The assumption has been that the natural world has to learn and adapt to live with us, but the message we are now getting loud and clear is that we have to learn and adapt to live with them and not put obstacles in the way.

And Finally…

A follow - up of the nameless Mediterranean spider that was featured in my last article. I now know it to be the False Wolf Spider, quite harmless to us even though it would doubtless stimulate arachnophobia. I described it as an alien but our experts inform me that it may well have been blown in on a southerly wind, making it classed as a legal immigrant.