Not for the first time it is a Sparrow Hawk which has provided the most dramatic wildlife incident of the year. Just imagine how it feels when you are relaxing in the glass extension to your house when through the open door at high speed flies a Parakeet hotly pursued by the biggest brown bird you have ever seen. Such was the experience of Kenneth Wall in Calton Avenue. Of course, the offending bird was a female Sparrow Hawk in pursuit of its newly introduced food supply. There was a moment of confusion in which the Parakeet made its escape and the Hawk got itself behind a French horn which was leaning against the wall. Somehow it extracted itself and flew up towards the ceiling and they were faced with the problem of how to get rid of it. They attempted to throw a blanket over it and then somehow it managed to find its way out. Sparrow Hawks rely on surprise attacks but perhaps fortunately did not on this occasion catch its Parakeet.
I am asked from time to time my opinion on the feeding of foxes. My answer is definitely not. Foxes are wild animals and should not be allowed to become tame.
They are opportunistic carnivores and scavengers and given the chance could enter houses by cat flaps or open doors. Many carry a skin condition called mange and would constitute a health risk including scabies. The young fox pictured chose to join our family party of thirty, perhaps having smelt food, much to the surprise of the non-Londoners. It still reappears and will come to within a few feet almost as an act of provocation. It looks very healthy, and I only hope this is not the consequence of it being fed.
With the COP26 conference a major topic of the moment it is timely that we should look at what we can see as the likely effects of global warming on our local wildlife, not just from the extreme events which may be disastrous but the alteration of our seasonal climate.. For over ten years Dave Clark has been doing systematic regular bird counts both in Dulwich Park and Sydenham Hill woods. Although as he states these are not strictly scientific, they do give an indication of the gains and losses over this period. As expected, we see evidence of the rise of Parakeets and Corvids particularly Jackdaws which have quite recently taken up residence here. But we are clearly losing some of our best loved songbirds that live and breed at shrub level, most notably members of the Thrush family, Song and Mistle Thrushes and now also Blackbirds. May is a crucial month as that is the point at which their young fledge and in 2020 there was a May drought and 2021 a stormy deluge. The lives of these birds are short and if they do not replace the numbers will spiral downwards. and this would appear to be happening.
There are of course other factors. There is an ever present tension between the need for space for human recreation and the provision of undisturbed wildlife habitat and also nest predation by crows and cats. But if we wish to continue to see and hear Blackbirds in our gardens we need to leave hedges uncut in May, and leave Ivy alone. We should also beware pf searching for a nest where we might also carve a route for a Magpie. There are very few Song Thrushes now so it may already be too late for them, but we still need to save our Blackbirds. If we have a May drought, meal worm feeds may help supplement the lack of worms.
May is indeed crucial for other wildlife. We have had a succession of poor years for those butterflies that hibernate such as Peacocks and Tortoiseshells and need good weather for early breeding. The national big butterfly count this year confirms the loss which probably relates to poor survival of those that emerge in the Spring. Winter moth caterpillars need to be available in May for the Blue and Great Tits and if a warm Spring brings them out too early the nestlings will starve and there has been evidence of this. Interestingly I have received an observation from Harry Rutherford who records his trapped moth numbers that the Horse Chestnut leaf miner moths were a fraction of their usual numbers. It may be noticed that our local Horse Chestnuts which have in recent years been defoliated by the leaf miner larvae by the end of August have retained their leaves until October, so even this indicates the sensitivity of our wildlife at all levels to weather unpredictability.
In contrast to the butterfly story the British Dragon Fly Society reports that the warmer temperatures have been a benefit and this has been noticed by our entomologists. Jeff Doodson reports having seen three species of Azure Damsel Fly and the Large Red Damsel Fly with Southern Hawkers and the Common Darter which he has photographed. He also notes however a relative absence of Ladybirds this year but includes for interest a photo of a Green Shield Bug that innocently occupies our gardens. This now may have to be distinguished from the American Stink Bug, a nasty brown invader, catastrophically destructive of fruit trees and with an odour of Ammonia or even an American Skunk.
As part of our hope that we can maintain and indeed improve the bio-diversity of “leafy” Dulwich I would be interested to hear records of observations of any form of local wildlife that excites readers curiosity. There is expertise among us and we can usually manage to help with identification and add to interest and we can all learn. As a final thought has anybody seen any Hedgehogs as I have not had a record for the past two years. It would be sad to have to declare them as locally extinct.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder