In this difficult year it is perhaps our wildlife that can give us distraction and hopefully some light relief. We have the record of the Friern Pheasant reported by Stephen Hepburn in my last article who remained in Friern Road most of the winter tapping on french windows for her regular meals of suet. She appears to have departed for pastures new on or about 9th March. Two years ago I reported the case of the lame duck that landed in the garden of Jan Welch and gradually recovered her mobility under Jan’s watchful eye. This year a duck reappeared together with a partner (ducks have partners unlike geese and swans which have lifelong spouses) that Jan believed was her very own recovered bird. Mallard do go a bit stir crazy in the Spring and often drop into gardens perhaps to evade the marauding gangs of testosterone driven unmated drakes that can sometimes be seen pursuing hapless females. Ornithology in springtime is rife with abuse and promiscuity but nature remains beautiful!
Come in Carlton 11!
On a more scientific note the British Trust for Ornithology have been running a migration project of which one line has been the radio-tagging of Cuckoos to track their migration journeys. This year the front runner has been a male Cuckoo named Carlton 11, so called because he was tagged in Carlton Marshes near Lowestoft in May 2018. Having left Liberia on 24 March this year he took about seven days to cross the Sahara via the Ivory Coast, was in central France on 18 April and on 20th April had a brief stopover at 10. 20.a.m at no less a place than the Dulwich and Sydenham golf course. So if anybody was on the golf course or perhaps the surrounds heard a Cuckoo on the morning of Monday 20th April Carlton11 was your bird. The opportunity was short lived because on 21st April he had headed west into Berkshire. After he left us he toured two more golf clubs in Berkshire before heading east to Suffolk and by 5.30 p.m. on 25th April had reached his presumed destination near Great Yarmouth having travelled 10,377 miles. He could have raised millions for the NHS!
A saving grace of this April has been the brilliant warm weather that has enabled our natural world to take advantage particularly in the emergence of our native hibernating butterflies. Remarkable has been the numbers of our beautiful lemon yellow Brimstones. But also we have been able to see once more Peacocks and Commas and most pleasingly the once very common Small Tortoiseshells that have had such a hard time over recent years. The fine weather will have given them opportunity to find each other, mate and lay eggs, their main function of their Spring before dying and leaving it for the summer broods to take over. Other native butterflies such as Holly Blues and Orange Tips, Small and Green Veined Whites have emerged from chrysalises and add to the show. The migrants such as Red Admirals and Painted Ladies will hopefully follow later.
In my long series of articles I have neglected the flora of Dulwich and what may be termed the wild flowers of Dulwich. At one level it may be said that there are hundreds of wild flower species here and in compiling a flora it is difficult to know where to start. Although we live in one of London’s green oases most of the open land is cultivated either as garden, park or sports field. For native wild flowers in wild places we have to go to the Sydenham and Dulwich woods, our historic remainder of the Great North Wood. There the London Wildlife Trust has been fencing off areas to enable flowering plants that have historically existed to regenerate. A large proportion of these are flowers of the spring and early summer that can go through their life cycles before the trees take over the light and soil moisture. Walkers in the woods will see Wood Anemones, Wild Garlic, the Yellow Archangel, Bluebells and Primroses. None of these is particularly rare and unfortunately Bluebells in particular have been contaminated by the intrusion of the related Spanish Bluebell growing widely in our gardens.
Our gardens are of course full of wild flowers most of which we regard as weeds, these being plants that we wish not to be there. In a quick spot check of my garden I have immediately identified fifty species that I would regard as weeds, but they are of course a population of the survivors of more rural times. Many of them carry names to match their countryside origin such as Shepherd’s Purse, Jack-by-the Hedge (Garlic Mustard), John-go-to-bed at noon (Goatsbeard), Scarlet Pimpernel, Self Heal, Creeping Cinquefoil and Herb Robert. The irony is that we marvel at a field full of Meadow Buttercups but Creeping Buttercups in our lawns are a menace and Stinging nettles are the food plant of our best loved native butterflies. This week I watched a female Orange Tip butterfly diligently laying eggs on the Garlic Mustard that I would have wished to pull up, so it will have to live on and alas reproduce.
It would not be an easy job to draw up a flora of Dulwich and not least because it is complicated by the fact that many of our wild flowers have been adapted as cultivars such as Foxgloves, Primroses and Snowdrops and can self seed and grow freely. This year I have had a marvelous show of the Snakes Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) which exists in the wild as a two star rarity but self seeds very happily here from a purchase made a few years ago and will probably now outlive me.
In these locked down times we are able to use extended leisure to observe and record. The Blackcaps are singing vociferously everywhere and I recorded a Whitethroat in the Green Dale field. With the world much quieter it is an opportunity to listen and enjoy the concert around us.