We are always pleased to receive photographs from readers of local wildlife that has attracted or puzzled them and give such help as we can with identification. The little animal in the accompanying picture crossed the path of Anthony Mooney in Green Dale in early March and was a surprising encounter. It was in fact a female Common or Smooth Newt probably heading for a pond to get down to the serious business of breeding. It was indeed unusual to see a newt on land so exposed as they spend their terrestrial lives concealed in undergrowth to avoid predators. Once in a pond it would have been much more recognizable and will have been pursued by a male which like the nationally protected Great Crested Newt is darker brown with a crest along its back. Newts are a fascination of our former mayor Ken Livingstone, perhaps his least controversial activity but nonetheless surprising.
Besides newts Dulwich has thriving numbers of frogs and also a population of toads, less easy to find but may be seen from time to time under the shelter of a rockery stone. Maintaining wildlife garden ponds is invaluable in preserving our amphibians. In my garden I get an invasion of upwards of thirty frogs in early March who after much writhing and croaking depart after a week leaving a pile of frogspawn and a few residents. Less than one percent of the tadpoles reach adulthood but many are alas consumed by our newts.
This year the winter produced some late cold weather and briefly a flock of Redwing and Fieldfare appeared on the sports fields and a flock of Siskin and Redpolls on the birches in Dulwich Park. During cold weather these birds tend to migrate south west toward the Iberian peninsula and this may have been the destination. Nationally this year was a so called Waxwing Winter. We had a single record of three birds in Dulwich village but did not see the flocks here that we had in 2013. Amazingly at Dave Clark’s biennial Dulwich Park bird count there were twenty Shoveler , a record and almost outnumbering the Mallard. As a regular winter visitor they now seem well established but of course have now departed to breeding grounds. He did also count four Little Grebe who may stay to breed if they are not too disturbed.
The most unusual record has come from Angela Wilkes who spotted a large bird of prey overflying Dulwich being mobbed by two noticeably smaller Gulls. Raptors are notoriously difficult to identify in flight but she was clear that this was not a Buzzard or a Kite with both of which she is familiar. In fact this bird was uniformly brown with relatively long wings and we were able to conclude that it was likely to be a female Marsh Harrier. Fifty years ago Marsh Harriers were very rare and confined to a few pairs in Norfolk. But their population has grown and they now breed in the coastal grazing marshes of north Kent and Essex as well as northern Europe. Although this is probably the first time we have spotted it here it may be a record that will crop up again soon.
At the time of writing the breeding season is well established thanks to some unusually warm early spring weather . Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have arrived, Song Thrushes are singing loudly and some of the Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches that disappeared in the winter have returned. The Wrens have clearly survived the cold winter but Long Tailed Tits and Goldcrests may have suffered. At least one colony of House Sparrows has disappeared which is a shame but part of the trend, although the colony around Acacia Road still thrives.
The fine early Spring weather has brought out the hibernating butterflies and there have been more yellow Brimstones than usual this year but also Commas and Peacocks and now Orange Tips, Holly Blues and Speckled Woods. We like to hear of unusual insect sightings . My neighbour phoned me of a small black bee that she thought might be am alien species as it was being seen off by a bigger bee. I then saw one in my garden and looked it up to identify it as a Bee Fly going under the Latin name Bombyllius , ( as opposed to Bombus for a true bee). It is related to the Hover flies and its larvae parasitise true bees’ nests. We all continue to learn.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)