It has been a hard winter, not just from the Covid lockdown but the persistent cold north easterly winds. In a particularly cold snap during February a few Fieldfares joined the abundant Redwings and there was a record of a Meadow Pipit and a Skylark in the open grassland of Brockwell Park. The winter was slow to release its grip and in spite of warm days there were regular night frosts lasting into late April. The winter Redwings stayed with us up to the end of March perhaps to avoid the north easterly head wind of a North Sea crossing.
At the time of writing it appears that we may have a repeat of last year’s Spring drought which spells trouble for the fledging of the Thrush family nestlings. If you are lucky enough to have Blackbirds or Song Thrush nesting a regular supply of mealworms may assist survival, which can be bought at the garden centre. There seems to be fewer Blackbirds this year but there are plenty of Robins that would also benefit.
Goldfinches are doing particularly well this year as are the Tits which are surprisingly territorial. Brian Green has a very feisty Long Tailed Tit, which has been named ‘The Headbanger’ that regularly attacks its reflection in his window. Long Tailed Tits often exhibit this behaviour as do to a lesser extent Blue Tits and even Goldcrests. Maybe it is purely territorial pugnacity but perhaps it enhances self esteem. At any rate it provides close views of the birds and some entertainment.
In spite of the cold nights the annual natural cycle is underway, and the Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have appeared. Migrant warblers such as Willow Warblers with their liquid cascading song have been heard both in the park and the West Norwood cemetery, which is a quiet haven for small birds. Once more our one pair of Kestrels have taken up residence in St Peter’s church spire at the entrance to Cox’s Walk and Sally Casey has taken this fine photograph of a beautiful male. But even more spectacularly, Peregrine Falcons are once more breeding on the tower of St Luke’s church in West Norwood. Hugh Pimblett has taken a series of Peregrine photos of which this is one. Both the Peregrines and the Kestrels will be on show for the first part of the summer, but you will probably need binoculars for good views. The Peregrines may be dismembering pigeons which Hugh said was not a pretty sight.
Readers may have seen an elegant little duck in the lake in Belair. It is a Marbled Teal whose natural home is southern Spain where it visits as a summer migrant. This bird is undoubtedly an escapee from a collection. It does not carry a leg ring and it is likely to be a second-generation bird that has become free flying and feral. Birds which were once feral such as Canada and Egyptian geese and of course Parakeets have become a major part of urban ornithology and recognized as part of the British bird list once they became self-sufficient and breeding true. A main risk of non-native birds escaping from collections is that they may hybridise with a similar native species and dilute the wild strain. The prime example of this is the all too familiar town pigeon which originated as a domestic bird but hybridized with our native Rock Dove. Now the only pure bred Rock doves are a small population in the far north west of Scotland and the species is well nigh extinct. Some of the feral pigeons that we see do have the double wing bar and the white rump of the Rock Dove but they do not breed true and emerge as mixed plumage mongrel birds. Luckily our more secretive native Stock Dove which we also have in Dulwich as a tree nesting bird has remained free of hybridisation with a modest but tasteful plumage. Feral pigeons however are a major reason for the arrival of Peregrines on St Luke’s church and are much easier prey to catch than cliff nesting coastal birds and give a major addition to our natural history.
We can hopefully look forward to a Covid free summer to enable us to get out and about and observe the nature around us. It will be good to hear of records not just of birds but also the invertebrates on which so much of our lives depend and we welcome photographs if you are able to get them.. It will also be good to know how Hedgehogs are faring as there was no news of them last year.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder