The winter of 2011 will be remembered by wildlife enthusiasts as the Waxwing winter and indeed there were unprecedented numbers of these beautiful birds everywhere. In Turney Road at the sports ground entrance there were at least a hundred and an impression of the numbers can be seen from Robert Park’s accompanying photograph. Sandy Alexander described his car as being covered in Waxwing droppings, the saving grace being his enthusiasm for the culprits. Whether these numbers will appear again remains to be seen.
But this has been followed by an April heat wave, a problem for the drought burdened gardeners but a bonus for much of the wildlife. The summer migrants have been arriving early with Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs establishing territories. Willow Warblers on passage from southern Africa were singing in Dulwich Park in the first week of April, an amazing feat for a bird little bigger than a Blue Tit. And perhaps more intriguing has been a Reed Warbler singing in the recently planted reed bed on the bank of the Dulwich Park lake. We shall have to see if there is sufficient reed habitat to enable breeding.
Resident birds have also started to breed early and it may enable the Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes to get two or even three broods fledged which could swell the population, particularly important for our Song Thrushes. Little Grebes, a recent addition to our breeding list are already well advanced in their breeding cycle in Dulwich Park, and like many of our wild birds such as Herons and duck varieties they are adapting to urban life by discarding their fear of humans.
There have been three or more pairs of the beautiful Mandarin Ducks on Belair lake. I am not sure where they are breeding but they are tree nesting ducks with young that drop out of their nesting site after hatching, and in previous years there have been no sign of them during the actual breeding period.
Another bonus of the fine Spring has been the early appearance of our colourful hibernating butterflies such as Peacocks and Commas, species that require Stinging Nettles, not the most welcome of our weeds , on which to lay eggs and breed. But there have also been a profusion of Holly Blues and even a few of the pretty lemon yellow Brimstones which could use Pyrocantha shrubs as a food plant for their caterpillars. Orange Tip butterflies appeared early this year, and the females, that look superficially like Cabbage Whites as they lack the orange of their males, could be seen laying eggs around the blossoms of Honesty plants, and also Hedge Mustard that can be a rather prevalent weed.
The first House Martins have just been seen, again quite early, and we shall have to wait for the later summer and the next report to see how these and the Swifts fare this year after what have been for them increasingly lean years.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (Tel: 020 7274 4567)