Jon Heath’s discovery of the Siberian sub-species of Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) near the Orchard at Milton Country Park (MCP) was a brilliant find and just falls into the north of our NatHistCam project area. Cryptic grey plumage and its distinctive “peep” call, not the usual Chiffchaff “hooeet”, were the clinching identification features. The bird was found on 10thDecember 2018 and last recorded on 2nd January 2019 (Nigel Butcher, www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). I tried looking for it on 6th January in a tit flock but had no luck. Up to four Chiffs (Phylloscopuscollybita collybita) have also been seen.
I spent the New Year in Jordan on the Dead Sea coast. Chiffchaffs were common in the hotel gardens and I think they were all this Siberian subspecies; single birds called with a plaintive “peep” as if they had been grabbed by their rear body and squeezed! Birds feeding in loose groups of 3-4 birds never called; only isolated individuals. At first, I thought individuals might be Caucasian Chiffs (Phylloscopus lorenzii) but they lacked a clear white supercillum and brown plumage. Future DNA analysis might confer species status to this Siberian race. None of the Dead Sea birds looked as grey as Jon’s bird but all called with a “peep”. Illustrations in two field guides suggest this subspecies is polymorphic but with distinct vocalisation.
“Why no tweety birds in my garden anymore, just Magpies and the occasional Crow?” said Kate of Sturton Street, as her bruiser of a cat surveyed the garden from her shed roof and another thuggish mog erupted through the cat-flap!
On 10th December, a Merlin was seen over the A14 at Girton (Guy Belcher; www.cbcwhatsabout.com). This fierce falcon is seen most winters in this area. I once saw a female Merlin near the Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath sitting on a lump of mud, as a Skylark flew over the falcon launched itself turned upside down and snatched the Skylark in mid-air and returned to the same lump of soil with its prey. Two hundred+ Linnets and a mixed flock of 25 Yellowhammers and 15+ Reed Buntings were feeding on sugar beet stubble north of the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road footpath, nearby was a covey of five Grey Partridges on 5thDecember and seven on 14th December and 56 Stock Doves on the latter date. I was shocked to see preliminary building excavations on this land under a planning consent by South Cambs District Council. I thought this land, north of the footpath and immediately south of the A14, was Green Belt. This area is breeding habitat to eight species of Red-Listed farmland birds and a colony of Common Lizards.
On 18th December, a single Pink-footed Goose was amongst the Greylags at MCP (CBC e-Bulletin No. 66 Dec 2018).
Blackcapshave been appearing: a male and female in a garden off Huntingdon Road and the male in the birdbath on Christmas day. A male also appeared early morning in my Chesterton garden on 6thJanuary soon after a Red Fox made a run round the garden heading, I think, for sanctuary in the churchyard before the dog walkers appeared.
One to two Bramblings have been seen in a garden in Windsor Road (Chris Akhurst) and up to 40+ birds are still present in the Beechwoods (Paul Rule –www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).
I am still/always astonished I can watch Peregrines in the City while having a coffee sitting at Don Pasquale’s in the Market Square. They are now birds of the lowlands as well as specialities of the Highlands; from rarities to new colonists of stunning presence.
Hobson’s Park on 6thJanuary: male and female Stonechats and about 24 Snipe feeding around the lake margins; Teal on the ponds next to Long Road bridge. This time of year, tits start singing. On sunny days, Great Tits ring out with the sunshine; on overcast days, Blue Tits scratch out their repetitive stanzas. Is it me or is it the birds? – Blue Tit song is nothing like the repeated exuberance of Great Tits but a perfunctory effort that’s repeated once or twice and that’s it!
The latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club’s Annual Report for 2017 is now published – if you would like to purchase a copy please contact me and I will arrange delivery, for a fee (not sure how much it is to non-Bird Club members but will let you know). It gets bigger every year with stunning photographs and is full of interest. Two facts from a speed read about our NatHistCam area: Carrion Crow max. count on Parker’s Piece was 86 birds (I had originally put the City population at about 66!); a Black-headed Gull ringed as a first-year in Zuiderhogeweg, Drachten, The Netherlands on 5th January 2004 had its ring read on Parker’s Piece on 6th March 2017 – a distance of 415 Km and aged 13y 2m 1d!
The Annual Report also contains an excellent paper from staff at the RSPB’s Hope Farm at Knapwell on how to manage a profitable conventional arable farm, increase bird abundance and diversify habitats. Winter bird seed mixes are sown and mixed seed food is spread in areas where finches and buntings regularly feed to cover the “hunger gap” from January to April.
Bob Jarman 10th January 2019