The second half of the summer is a quiet period for some of our wildlife. Most of our birds are in moult and as a result the small birds go into hiding for most of each day, necessary because this is the time when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable to predators and furthermore unlike mad dogs and Englishmen they do not go out in the mid-day sun of which we had a lot this year. Records were sparse apart from a Buzzard spotted flying over Pickwick Road. It was therefore difficult to assess how successful breeding has been until the start of Autumn. Dave Clark has done his regular biennial Dulwich Park bird count and this shows that there are still good numbers of Robins, Blackbirds and Tits but there are very few Song thrushes and Greenfinches are now virtually absent.
However Paul Bond tells me that he has a population of Greenfinches in his Half Moon Lane garden and the clue seems to be that he is growing sunflowers. Perhaps he has the entire local population.
Of more concern and the concern is national there were significantly smaller numbers of Swifts this year. They did not arrive until the third week of May, two weeks late and had mostly departed by mid July, two weeks early. In Burbage Road there may have been just one pair breeding. However, interestingly a neighbour of Dave Clark in East Dulwich during house renovation two or three years ago had fitted three Swift boxes. He had no luck until this year when all three were occupied. Clearly the lesson is that it takes time for these nest sites to be identified and they may have to be prospected by first year old non- breeders before use in later years. The evidence from extensive study is that Swifts remain very faithful to their nest site year on year once established. We shall have to see what future years bring but the general worry is that that a fall in aerial insect numbers is causing a national loss of all insect eating birds.
This year I have been asked, “Where have all the butterflies gone?” Certainly the were many Small (Cabbage) Whites and Holly Blues, but no Tortoiseshells Peacocks Red Admirals and Commas in what should have been an ideal Summer. The probable culprit was the so called Beast from the East, the spell of frost and snow in April that came just as the Nymphalidae butterflies were emerging from hibernation and it killed the lot. Red Admirals should have migrated in from the continent but they too were surprisingly absent. It will probably take years for recovery to take place. Fortunately our woodland butterflies including the Silver Washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak and Speckled Woods have survived for another year.
However, what we lacked in Butterflies was made up by Dragonflies and the late summer produced an abundance of Southern Hawkers, a fine photograph of which has been supplied by William Marshall. These typically emerge in late Summer a little later than the similar but larger Emperor with which it would otherwise undoubtedly compete as they are fiercely territorial. There are a number of species of Dragonfly some of which we may see at different times of the summer. The Hawkers are the largest but other smaller groups go under the names of Darters, Chasers and Skimmers, the medium sized Common Darter being the reddish brown dragon fly most often seen. Damsel Flies are mostly much smaller and can be distinguished by folding their wings over their abdomens rather than resting with their wings extended like the Dragonflies. The damsel fly with which owners of ponds will be most familiar is the brilliant blue male Azure Damsel fly that can be seen fixed in tandem with its more dowdy mate while she deposits eggs into the pond surface.
Finally a most interesting contribution has come from Bridget Furst who lives at 110 Dulwich Village and who with friends from 95 and 97 Dulwich Village joined a Bat Walk in Ruskin Park with Dr. Iain Boulton the Lambeth Ecology Officer who introduced them to the use of a Bat meter which could identify different Bat species by their individual vocal clicks. Intrigued they bought a bat meter themselves and the result was a revelation of Bats including the Brown Long eared Bat flying round their gardens that back on to Dulwich Park. They speculate that several species of Bat may be much more widespread in Dulwich than previously thought. Bridget will be happy to share her enthusiasm with any who might also be interested.
It is now Autumn and the winter Thrushes are coming in from Iceland and Scandinavia. Shovelers and a Teal (our smallest British duck) have been seen in the park and four migrating Song Thrushes which unfortunately will not stay.
There will be more to record as the winter comes in.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder