Autumn brings spectacular migrant birds to Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods
By Daniel Greenwood
Autumn arrived at Sydenham Hill Wood with a stunning discovery. On 3rd September long-term London Wildlife Trust volunteer Ernie Thomason photographed two juvenile hobbies in Dulwich Wood, having watched adult birds flying low over the Sydenham Hill Wood glade. From as early as June staff and volunteers conducting night time moth surveys had heard the calls of falcons that sounded very similar to the African migrant hobby. Hobbies are close relatives to the better-known peregrine and kestrel. The latter raised four chicks on the St. Peters Church spire in June whilst peregrine has been seen in and around Sydenham Hill Wood over the past year. The hobby arrives in Britain each spring to hunt small birds (as well as the larger ring-necked parakeet in London) but its most iconic trait is its predilection for dragonflies. Hobbies can be seen catching and consuming dragonflies whilst gliding through the air, a key way to identify them. We are indebted to Ernie and his photographs in securing evidence that the birds have bred locally. We suspect that they bred in Sydenham Hill Wood. As a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to disturb hobbies when they are nesting or to advertise their nest site. In this case no one knows where that was.
September welcomed firecrests, Britain’s smallest bird alongside the goldcrest, to Sydenham Hill Wood for the winter. Another local birder, Gavin Horsley, managed to capture a beautiful image of this very colourful and sought after bird. This is the first such image known to the Trust of a Sydenham Hill Wood firecrest. In October, the Wood has been alive with yet more avian activity, this time from crows and parakeets mobbing a pair of buzzards that have been present for several weeks. It is common for young buzzards to explore the landscape in their first autumn and it’s likely these birds are youngsters. It still amazes us to peer through the canopy of south London oaks and see the broad wingspan of a buzzard. Two other migrants were seen in October, with a whitethroat on the 2nd October and a redstart on the 8th. Both will have been returning to Africa for the winter. The larger scale connectivity of the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods is of tantamount importance for these amazing birds. Closer to ground level we have been keeping a close eye on the fungal life of the woods. A wet spell in the early autumn led to the springing up of trooping funnel, coral fungus, sulphur tuft, hare’s ear and various species of bonnet. All three of our fungi events this year have been booked up, to the disappointment of many. We will aim to put on an extra event in 2016.
We rounded off our spring and summer events season with our annual Open Day on Sunday 13th September to celebrate the importance of Sydenham Hill Wood for the local community. Over 300 people came to enjoy tree and bird walks, pond dipping, music from the South London Folk Collective, wood carving on a pole lathe, and slices of homemade cake. Thank you to everyone who attended and made it such an enjoyable event. Though London Wildlife Trust are pleased with the progress we are making in working with visitors to ensure that wildlife is protected and respected, there have been a worrying number of incidents in neighbouring Dulwich Wood that could have long term implications for people and wildlife. It came to our attention during August that a number of fire pits and campsites were being created in areas of young oak woodland that were leading to the trees and soil being damaged. The Dulwich Estate prohibit the building of fires but this is being ignored by some visitors. Further to this, there have been numerous large-scale dens built against oak trees across Dulwich Wood which are creating tracts of eroded soil that will lead to the loss of regenerating hornbeam and oak trees and its associated habitat. London Wildlife Trust have received a number of complaints regarding issues that are related to Dulwich Wood. This sensitive ancient woodland needs to be protected to prevent the eventual long term loss of trees and species. There are simple measures which could be taken to address these problems. Though Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood are two separate sites in theory, they are of one ecosystem.
We are pleased to announce our winter events for early 2016, with more to follow in the spring, summer and autumn:
Winter tree ID, Sunday 24th January 2016, 14:00 inside the Crescent Wood Road entrance to Sydenham Hill Wood
London’s urban wildlife talk, Friday 5th February 2016, 11:00 at Peckham Library
Winter bird walk, Sunday 14th February, 09:00 inside the Crescent Wood Road entrance to Sydenham Hill Wood
The trees of Dulwich talk, Tuesday 8th March 2016, 14:00 at Dulwich Library