In this unusual year it is relevant to consider what the lockdown has done for our experience of local wildlife. Most widely published has been awareness of bird song during the breeding season which happened to coincide with the highest prevalence of the corona virus along with an exceptionally sunny and dry May. The clearest difference might be the tinkling songs of Goldfinches, which have been particularly abundant in and around our gardens, that might otherwise have been drowned out by aircraft and traffic noise. Many people find difficulty in learning and identifying birds by their songs as each bird's singing is unique to itself and many of the most advanced songsters improvise. However every species has its inherited song shape and rhythm and so the discipline of telling a Blackbird from a Song or Mistle Thrush or a Blackcap from a Robin is similar to telling a Mozart from a Beethoven when you don't know the exact piece.
One difference that has been apparent during lockdown is that we have seen many more Swifts flying over us during all daylight hours than in previous years with sometimes the traditional screaming parties around our houses. The problem in recent years was thought to have been the lack of aerial insect food in towns so that the birds were travelling out of town to forage and only bringing back food to feed their young at the end of the day. Perhaps this year more insects may have been available over our houses during the breeding season. It will be interesting if this observation is made more widely and whether it is related to the lockdown changes. At least two pairs of Swifts appear to have been breeding in Burbage Road and three pairs occupied apartments in George Mavrias's Swift hotel that he had installed on his house. So hopefully this endangered bird is holding its own here.
I have had a number of reports this year of Birds of Prey. Most notable is of Peregrine Falcons seen flying over Brockwell Park. For the second year running they have taken up residence on the tower of St Luke's Church in West Norwood where last year they successfully bred. Lockdown restrictions appear to have prevented information about breeding success this time but these magnificent birds previously breeding mainly on cliffs and mountains have adapted to churches, cathedrals and high rise buildings. We are probably to see many more of them here in the future, provided that we can still supply the pigeons.
Kestrels that were once numerous here now have a single pair in a traditional nesting site on St Peter's Church at the start of Cox's walk where this year they have successfully reared two young. Sparrow Hawks have been coming to bathe in the pond at Howlett's Mead and so are undoubtedly breeding somewhere nearby. A Buzzard has been seen over the Grange Lane Allotments but there is no evidence of Buzzard breeding so far. To complete the raptor picture a Red Kite was seen overflying us in May . Many of our Kite records have been in May suggesting that they could be migrating rather than part of the overflow of the large Thames Valley population. We still have Little Owls in Grange Lane and Tawny Owls in the woods. Following the saga in my last article of a tagged migrating Cuckoo we have had two records of a male Cuckoo in the third week of May raising the prospect of breeding , although this is unlikely.
Our butterflies are having a better year . Unusually very early in the season I saw a freshly emerged Painted Lady that would normally have appeared much later after migration from southern Europe. I discovered from Jeff Doodson that there is a commercial firm supplying children with Painted Lady caterpillars to enable their education by observation of the life history before releasing the emerged adults. If readers do find an unusual butterfly, and we had a record of an American Monarch last year, it is worth checking if this is the origin.
Some readers may have had a copy of the recently published London Natural History Society bird report for 2018. Although much of it is taken up by the reports of rarities seen by various observers in the last section there appears an article written by Mathew Frith entitled The Deplorable Loss of Nightingales. In a previous issue I have mentioned that Mathew was taking on the task of editing the field notes of the late Professor Peter Branscombe when in 1947 he was a pupil of Dulwich College and living in Alleyn Road. Mathew has managed masterfully to edit some 59 pages of handwritten schoolboy notes describing many birds such as Linnets that we hardly ever now see here although the Dulwich estate in 1947 was very little different in many respects to the present. Peter Branscombe would not however have seen Peregrines and Kites, although there were then many more Kestrels. Enigmatically in the title Mathew tells us that in pre-war Dulwich Nightingales sang in Dulwich Woods (not in Berkeley Square where they could possibly have been Robins) and laments their loss which of course is another story.
Additional Wildlife Sightings
We have all had more time to observe wildlife in our neighbourhood. Two of our members, living in Woodwarde Road, have monitored bats with a bat detector and found Common Pipistrelle and Noctules flying over their garden from the middle of June. Ten species of butterflies have been present, starting with Brimstones in mid-March. They have seen Stag beetles from 16th June and a Lesser stag beetle on 12th July. Damselflies (both red and blue) were flying around a pond from early May, and a Hawker dragonfly was seen emerging on 28 June.