In my last article readers may remember that I was advising of the risk to our wildlife of a repeat of last year’s May drought. On the day that the magazine went to print the heavens opened and what followed was a deluge that persisted through May, so the immediate risk to nesting birds was waterlogging. Clearly Robins are canny enough nesters to accommodate this as I have seen and had reports of fledglings but I am less sure of the Blackbirds and Thrushes. The numbers of singing male Blackbirds seem to be down by about fifty percent this year so we will have to watch for further evidence. Nationally Blue and Great Tits appear to have poor brood survival due to a mismatch between hatching and the emergence of winter moth caterpillars, but Long Tailed Tits are earlier nesters and there are now family parties around. Brian Green’s renowned headbanger of the last issue can now relax.
The unpredictability of the weather clearly is having far reaching consequences. Last year there was an abundance of Orange Tip butterflies in May with good availability of Garlic Mustard, their larval food plant. This year I did not see a single one. I can only think that the May deluge drowned the lot at the moment of emergence. Perhaps that too was the fate of the winter moth caterpillars but the dependence of the ecology upon small insects most of which pass us by unrecognized could not be clearer.
Wendy Gibbs sent me a report of an active flock of brown Blackbird sized birds that descended into her garden. This was a crèche of young Starlings, birds that have alas become less familiar in our gardens. Characteristically after fledging a region’s immature Starlings flock together as a crèche in which they remain until about July. This would appear to assist the survival of inexperienced young birds with safety of numbers against marauding Sparrow Hawks of which we have a few.
There have been not too many unusual reports this year. Kite Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons have been seen overflying and a parishioner reports that the St Lukes church Peregrines have been very vocal, presumably not interrupting worship. Cuckoos were heard twice in the woods during May, not this year the radio tagged BTO bird, which is apparently still alive and transmitting, but not from the Dulwich golf course. An additional sighting was by Steven Robinson who saw a Great White Egret overflying East Dulwich. This is a new colonist to this country from mainland Europe following the now very widespread colonization of Little Egrets.
My most notable record for this summer came from Rita Green whose old apple tree was visited by a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. These little Woodpeckers were frequently to be seen in Dulwich during the 1970s and 1980s but have become rare, perhaps associated with the loss of mature elms to the Dutch Elm disease. Martin Bagley has reported an occasional sighting but I have not seen one here for many years. They are not easy to see as they are much smaller than Greater Spotted, being nearer the size of a Nuthatch and spending more time in the tree canopy. It is sometimes known as the Barred Woodpecker as the familiar oval white secondary wing patch of the Great Spotted Woodpecker is replaced by a pattern of transverse wing bars. They also have red head caps which can give rise to confusion as juvenile Greater Spotteds also have this. The best way of becoming aware of them is through their call as they are quite noisy, the call reminding one of a loud angry Blackbird. Like the Greater Spotted they do drum during the breeding season but a little quieter and longer. It is to be hoped that more of us will be able to see them here again as they favour traditional natural woodland.
The second half of the summer in Dulwich is the time for Butterflies and Dragonflies. Apart from the ubiquitous Small (cabbage) Whites, butterflies are so far in short supply. Migratory Red Admirals are beginning to appear but our home grown species are yet to be seen in numbers. On a walk through the woods the usually abundant Speckled Wood Butterflies appeared to be absent. What we lack in butterflies we may be able to make up with Dragonflies and Paul Collins in what regrettably was his last report before leaving Dulwich saw both the large Emperor Dragonfly and the Red Eyed Damselfly over the park lake. However on a walk through Norwood cemetery where there is a large area of undisturbed grassland over the historic graves I was pleased to find thriving colonies of both Ringlets. and Marbled White butterflies which may have been there for generations. Of interest I noted that the Meadow Vetchling (Lathryus pratensis) was growing in abundance which I have not noticed elsewhere in Dulwich.. This is a yellow flowered member of the pea family which should be good as a food plant for Common Blues. Its presence may be historic and date back to more rural times. The area does show the value of allowing undisturbed space for nature.
Your reports and photographs are important for my wildlife articles and nothing in nature is trivial. In these difficult times we just need to notice it to confirm that it is still there.