Look up – don’t miss the migration motorway overhead

Beddington Farmlands under a Hurricane Ophelia sky, with the Viridor incinerator to the left. This was meant to be a country park and nature reserve

NATURE NOTES: As we head into November, with the nights closing in, PETER ALFREY, the ‘Birdman of Beddington’, suggests what to look for in your parks and open spaces, and how to provide wildlife with some help into the winter in your garden

October was changeover month, the busiest month of the year for bird migration. Birds that spend the summer in this country have been migrating south and birds that winter here have started to arrive.

As the breeding season has ended by October, it is also the month of maximum number of young birds. The skies over Croydon and Sutton have been like a busy motorway of migrating birds. Some days there were over 300 redwing migrating overhead per hour. On October 19, there were also more than 300 chaffinch observed.

Our breeding pair of barn owls successfully raised one young and there were also tawny and little owls present all month around Beddington Farmlands.

Vestal moths were spotted in this part of south London last month for just the second time

The tail-end of Hurricane Ophelia brought a stream of warm air from the south in the middle of the month, which pushed up a few migrant insects.

Most noteworthy was an influx of vestal moths (only recorded once before in 2015) and a gem, the first time this species has been recorded at the Farmlands.

There were also a few other new moths recorded including the garden midget – a micro moth only a few millimetres long. The additional new species takes the Beddington Farmlands species inventory to well over 2,200.

My colleague, John Birkett, has been monitoring sightings around Croydon’s parks and open spaces. In South Norwood Country Park, highlights included a whinchat, while the third brood of Egyptian geese appeared on the lakes in early October. There were up to 35 shoveler ducks, two tawny owls, several kestrels, and redwing sightings increased as the month progressed.

Over at Waddon Ponds, the family of mute swans were still present and other birds present included Egyptian goose and chiffchaff.

At Riddlesdown and Farthing Downs, there have been sightings of yellowhammer, bullfinches and siskin. Visible migration counts included more than 250 woodpigeons on October 17. In other areas across, Croydon there was a firecrest at Kingswood.

This sparrowhawk was successful with a starling on its hunt at Beddington Farmlands

According to Dave Warburton, the late summer and autumn have been a difficult time for the meadows in Sutton’s nature reserves. The cool and damp August and persistent showers through September and into October hampered haymaking. While you should obviously “make hay while the sun shines”, the damp weather extended the flowering of many of our meadow plants, while leaving the grass wet.

Dave says, “The aim of haymaking, for conservation purposes, is to cut the meadow when the majority of species have flowered and are ready to set seed. The cuttings are left for a couple of days in sunny weather to dry out and drop their seed after being turned, or “tedded”, before being collected up in a baler for winter food for livestock.

“We would normally expect all of our meadows to be cut by mid-September but we were only just finishing by last week, so this may impact on the viability of seed for next year.

Sussex cattle were turned out at Roundshaw Downs in September, but the weather delayed the conservationists from their haymaking until the last fortnight

“It is not just the haymaking that has suffered but also meadow restoration. We are working at Sutton Common to remove the dominant creeping bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera) and create new bare ground, ready to seed with a species-rich wildflower meadow mixture. However, the persistent drizzle since August has not allowed the site to dry fully and we are unable to seed this autumn. We’re going to have to wait until the site dries in spring (hopefully!) before we can seed, which is less than ideal for us but we are still hopeful we’ll be able to create a vibrant meadow next year.”

Work continues apace at Queen Mary’s Woodland. New benches will be going in shortly and we are working on interpretation boards to help visitors understand the importance of the site and the work the Biodiversity Team and Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers (SNCV) have been undertaking. To celebrate the opening of the woodland and the 30th birthday of SNCV at Queen Mary’s Woodland, there was a celebratory event.

Sedum provide late autumn colour for gardeners, and vital nectar for insects

October and November are the time for getting the garden ready for the winter. It’s a good time to get hedges trimmed up so they are tidy for the whole dormant season.

It’s also a time where nature is getting ready for the winter and the last remaining insects are struggling to find nectar. That’s why it’s a great idea to plant some late nectar providers such as sedum, also known as ice plant.

Ivy, too, can be a real life saver for many late autumn insect species, and it is a great component of any wildlife friendly garden. The main thing for gardeners to concentrate on with ivy is to contain its growth and make sure it doesn’t grow into the canopies of of your garden’s trees – keeping it trimmed up on the trunks of trees is a great technique which looks good and still provides food and shelter for plenty of birds and insects.

And as this is a migration month, this really is the time to follow advice of Beddington Farmlands champion David Lindo, the Urban Birder: look up.

Flocks of redwings and fieldfares, finches and pipits can be seen flying over the whole area, heading to warmer wintering grounds to the south and west.

The flowers of the ivy are another rich source of wildlife food in your garden

And if you listen at night, it is possible most calm evenings to hear the high-pitched calls of redwings flying over – the migration doesn’t stop just because it gets dark. Birds continue moving to keep ahead of the coming winter, 24 hours a day.

Please send us your favourite nature photo of the month for a chance to win a monthly competition. Please send edited jpgs to Peter Alfrey.

Your Questions: Questions regarding identification of something you have seen or questions about wildlife gardening or day trips to nature reserves in Croydon and Sutton can also be sent to Peter Alfrey. We will publish a selection each month.

And for more information about local wildlife, checkout:

Beddington Farmlands
Croydon Wiki
Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers
Little Oak- Wildlife Gardening Experts
and Peter Alfrey’s own birding notebook

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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