has written, probably, the best county flora yet that is intensely
detailed with observations, meticulous records and is beautifully
illustrated. The latest edition of British
magazine includes a “flyer” promoting Alan’s book: “This
beautifully produced book is a model for what a modern county Flora
should be”. It’s is an outstanding achievement from one of the
Country’s most dedicated naturalists.
It is an ideal complement to our study looking at the natural history of Cambridge City.
The weather changed – Locked-down, locked-up, locked-in, locked-away all applied to the effects of the weather at the beginning of the month and the abilities to get out into the wider world from our homes. The 2nd June was the hottest day of the year but from then on, the weather disintegrated into rain and lots of it. Then, more hottest days at the end of the month.
press release sent out publicising our NatHistCam project and Paul
Rule’s remarkable total of 573 species identified in his Cambridge
garden received airplay on Radio Cambridgeshire, then on the BBC’s
web site and then a two-minute mention on Spring Watch on 4th
latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club (CBC) monthly (May) bulletin
continues with a list of nocturnal migrants sound recorded and
identified in May. The species list includes: Little-ringed Plover,
Common Sandpiper (7), Whimbrel (7), Bar-tailed Godwit, Tree Pipit (2)
and adds to the remarkable story of night time migration over our
On 1st June two male Yellowhammers were singing in Trumpington Meadows, Small Blue butterflies were about and the clump of gorse near the bridge over the M11 had finally stopped flowering – more about this below! Also, on 1st June a Whitethroat was singing in my small Chesterton garden – I suspect it was the Logan’s Meadow bird I saw in May – but it soon headed off towards the recreation ground. On 2nd June a young Peregrine – with down on the top of its head – perched on the parapet near the nest site surveying the city life below while the male bird kept a noisy watch above. Two fledged birds were seen on 11th June.
The Cambridge Independent (June 17-23,2020) had an article describing how two of the three chicks had fallen from the nest site and were recovered and cared for by the Raptor Foundation, based near St Ives, and were then reunited with the parents. The second site in the City had three youngsters.
On 3rd June a Hobby was reported over the Chesterton allotments. The Common Terns have been in evidence along Riverside this year, one was near Victoria Road bridge on 5th and a bird was fishing at Riverside on 19th and there were more regular sightings to the end of the month. On 10th and 15th June up to four Corn Bunting were singing at Hobson’s Park and a flock of 40+ Stock Doves were in the area set aside for allotments. The Great-crested Grebe’s nest looked as though it had been predated by the patient Lesser-black backed Gull seen close-by in May and lots of juvenile Black-headed Gulls were about and all appeared as competently aggressive as the parent birds! A Little Egret was stalking the pond next to Long Road bridge.
Stonechats are a conundrum! They are often present in apparently suitable nesting sites such as Hobson’s Park and Trumpington Meadows up to the end of March but then they disappear. I think the key to nesting Stonechats is Gorse. There are at least two small areas of Gorse in our project area, next to the M11 bridge at Trumpington Meadows and at Hobson’s Park but both are probably too small to sustain nesting Stonechats. This gorse was possibly brought in as seeds in builders’ sand. Visit the Suffolk coastal gorse heaths and there are the breeding Stonechats – find the Stonechats and close by there are often Dartford Warblers.
June 62 Carrion
were hanging around not-so-isolating groups of picnickers on Parker’s
No-mow-May has resulted in Pyramidal Orchids in a front garden lawn in Huntingdon Road and Pyramidals and Bee Orchids in a small wayside verge at Addenbrooke’s and has encouraged the City Council to leave a weedy headland round Chesterton Recreation ground – thank you! At Hobson’s Park on 15th June a Black-headed Gull was perched in a tree! and two parent birds were tragically protecting their drowned chick from the mayhem of the colony and voracious lunging adult gulls after carrion.
Lots of Skylarks are still singing at Trumpington Meadows, Hobson’s Park and the development areas round the periphery of Darwin Green and Eddington. Nearby on 20th June at a farm site in the north of our project area three pairs of Yellowhammers were active, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were probably breeding and the new kestrel box had been taken over by a roosting Barn Owl.
A fantastic record of a Bee-eater, heard (only) over Nuttings Road on 21st June (Iain Webb, www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). At Logan’s Meadow on 25th June four Blackcaps, three Whitethroats and a Chiffchaff were still singing, +/- six pairs of Swifts were nesting in the Tower and Jon Heath recorded a Siskin over his garden (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) on 26th June.
Woodpigeons are part of our avian background that are rarely noted unless in huge flocks. I usually end up checking distant lone Woodpigeons in flight for a raptor at least 10-12 times a day when out birdwatching – usually for a possible Sparrowhawk (I often keep a count!). Birds have no problem – I do! From the late 1970’s when growing winter sown Oil Seed Rape (OSR) expanded as part of winter farm crop rotations the population of Woodies exploded – c150% increase between late 1970’s – 2010. OSR was a food source that guaranteed pigeons’ winter survival. As a result, Woodpigeons moved into our towns and cities to breed where lawns, parks and gardens offer them a food supply during the breeding season as OSR crops grew too tall on which to feed. There is a nest in my neighbour’s eucalyptus tree (the first was blitzed by Magpies).
came the crunch. Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB) became a devastating
pest of OSR seedlings due to repeated planting in winter crop
rotations, destroying germinating seedlings and forcing a reduction
of 10% in winter drilled OSR in autumn 2019.
was the widespread use of systemic neonicotinamide insecticides
(“neonics”) to kill CSFB that many blame for the dramatic decline
in our insect biodiversity.
As I left home early on the 9th June to do a bird survey in the Great Fen Project south of Yaxley, near Peterborough there were 12 Woodies sitting in the middle of my road – true townies! My survey took two and a half hours in deep countryside – real Woodpigeon country and I only saw three Woodies! They do migrate. My oldest bird book by David Seth-Smith – Birds of our Country and Empire – says: “The Wood-pigeon remains here all year round but swarms of foreign specimens come from the north in the autumn.” A paper in a recent Holme Bird Observatory’s annual report described autumn/early winter influxes of Woodpigeons from the continent. Perhaps we should observe Wood Pigeons more closely.
Last record for the month: a Silver-washed Fritillary found in Huntingdon Road on 30th June was probably brought in on the strong winds.
The weather in May has followed April – a prolonged period of high pressure with diminishing northerly winds over southern England, days with temperatures of 25C+ and the lowest May rainfall on record – just a ten-minute heavy shower on May 23rd. I suppose that’s good during this period of lock-down then partial lock-down, but we do need some rain. My garden is desperate for rain.
April Cambridgeshire Bird Club (CBC) monthly bulletin has lists of
nocturnal migrants recorded and identified by Simon Gillings and Jon
Heath. The species list is remarkable including Bittern,
a variety of waders including Bar-tailed
…! The overland Scoter migration from the west coast eastwards on
their return passage to their Arctic breeding grounds has been widely
tracked this year. Join the CBC even if it’s just to read about
Chorus Day – Sunday 3rd
May: my urban list is rather feeble: Blackbird
(started at 04:10), Robin,
Blackcaps are abundant this year and still singing across the City including the gardens in the roundabout underpass at the junction of East Rd/Newmarket Rd/Elizabeth Way. I used to think that you could distinguish Garden Warbler from Blackcap by habitat – Garden Warblers like open scrub and hedgerows and Blackcaps prefer woodier habitats. Not so! I A Blackcap was singing in the neat hedge around Marshall’s airfield well away from any trees. If in doubt it’s a Blackcap singing!
A Garden Warbler was singing in Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits on 1st May and along the Coton footpath on 7th May but I have not heard any around the shrubby margins of Coldham’s Common this year (60+! Garden Warblers were counted at RSPB Fen Drayton on 9th May – Hugh Venables www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). Three Buzzards were over Chesterton, a Yellow Wagtail was singing on the northern edge of our project area and a Whimbrel flew over Chesterton at 18:25 all on 2nd May.
Lesser Whitethroats have been singing since mid-April but there was a mob arrival of Common Whitethroats in the first week of May and the ratio changed from 1:1 to 4:1 in favour of Commons. A Common Whitethroat singing in Logan’s Meadow on 18th is, I think, the first I have recorded there. I did not see the usual Common Terns feeding along the river in early April and feared their non-arrival but three flew high over Chesterton towards the City on 3rd and one was feeding opposite the pump station on 18th May. I think Martin (Walters) is right that they breed on the TA Pit at the end of Coldham’s Lane; there are no terns breeding this year at Hobson’s Park.
On 4th May the male Peregrine brought in a kill to the female at the city centre nest site who seized it and flew to the church to eat it. Despite the presence of these two predators there are always plenty of feral pigeons on and around the tower, unfazed (or unaware?) of the deadly raptors’ presence. On 22nd May the Peregrines at the second nest site had at least three young. On 5th May a pair of Grey Partridges were in a spring barley field close to the Newmarket Rd.
appeared in ones and twos but there was a big arrival overnight on
May; I think numbers are down on previous years. Eachard Road is the
best road in the City for House
were singing from the isolated Leylandiis
in Histon Road and dense ivy in the willows on Coe Fen (not a conifer
in sight) during the month.
have been seen at Trumpington Meadows and Hobson’s Park on 2nd and
May respectively (Jill Aldred/Andrew Dobson
These later passage birds are often of the Greenland race which make
a trans-Atlantic flight to arctic Greenland and northern Canada –
one of the longest migrations of any passerine.
During the applause for NHS workers at 8pm on 14th May a Little Egret flew over Chesterton, two over Barnwell East LNR on 17th May, one at the Mill Pond on 22nd May and one flew over the roundabout at East Rd/Newmarket Rd/Elizabeth Way junction on 23rd May – all possibly failed breeders from the nearest nesting colony, probably along the Ouse Washes or Wicken.
A Cetti’s Warbler was singing along the brook behind Coldham’s Lane, Sainsbury’s on 17th May and the same bird or another at the Cherry Hinton end of the Snakey Path on 22nd May; a Tawny Owl was hooting, probably from Murray Edwards on the 18th and again in Benson Street gardens on 29th and a Mistle Thrush was singing (still!) and several flyover Sparrowhawks were seen across the City on 18th May.
heard at Trumpington Meadows on 19th
and King’s Hedges on 21st
May (Mark Jackson www.cbcwhats
flew fast past King’s College on 20th
May and another Buzzard passed low over St Andrew’s Church,
Chesterton on 21st.
Hobson’s Park Black-headed
colony has calmed down since the hullabaloo in April. Then I
overestimated its size and now reckon c35-40 nests all on the wooden
platform islands; the first young were visible on 21st
May. A male Pochard
unusual on 22nd
May and around the edge of the lake and the periphery of the park
and a Sedge
(not many of them about this year?) were singing in mid-May. Corn
are present at Hobson’s but far less prominently than last year.
A pair of Lesser black-backed Gulls were hanging around Jesus Lock during mid-May. Why? One was floating close to a Great-crested Grebes nest at Hobson’s Park hoping, I think, to predate the eggs the moment the incubating grebes left the nest unattended. I wonder if they breed on rooftops in the City centre, I have never confirmed this but birds are around most springs/summers. I have seen them migrating north over the Atlantic in a fierce westerly gale and they are as competent, confident and graceful as any Shearwater. I once saw one walk up to a feeding feral pigeon stab it to death with its bill then eviscerate it and swallow the entrails!
May a Red
flew low over Halifax Road (Lisa’s Dad – he has often seen them
in the Cotswolds) and on 31st
a territorial male Yellowhammer
was singing in farmland near our project boundary close to the A14.
May 2020. email@example.com
I can just about do it in my hour bicycle exercise: fifteen minutes to get there, half an hour round Hobson’s Park and a fifteen-minute cycle ride back home. I can cycle to most parts of the City and our NatHistCam project area and back within my allotted one-hour exercise with the exception of one day when I fell in the river, with my bike, at Newnham. That’s another story; my camera and binoculars survived but my mobile phone did not!
Blackcaps are singing across the City including Harding Way where I lived as a boy! I have never heard so many. They even made it onto the BBC Radio 4 national news at 7:00 on 25th April – Frank Gardner, their Security Correspondent, is a twitcher and he commented how widespread they are this spring. In Chesterton my ranking order of dawn chorus songsters is: Great Tit, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon then Collared Dove and Robin, often a Green Woodpecker in the background. Chiffchaffs have followed close to Blackcaps in abundance across the City this spring. This has been the sunniest April on record with an unusual sequence of north-easterly winds.
In 2019 Duncan McKay encouraged members of CNHS to send in Dawn Chorus recordings on their mobile phones to identify songsters. The ranking order was Blackbird, Robin, Wren and Blackcap. This year Dawn Chorus Day is Sunday May 3rd – let’s do the same again! The Wildlife Trusts have information on their web site. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club is also asking everyone and anyone to keep a weekly log of their garden birds – see their web site and download the record sheet!
The lock-down and the traffic silence has encouraged me to listen to urban bird song closely. Coal Tits breed just across to road to me but rarely venture onto my feeders – they have two songs. Blue Tits also have at least two songs and one that is only occasionally heard – a hoarse “cheeva..cheeva..cheeva”. I think this is a territorial statement from the male bird of an established pair and the familiar song is to attract a mate. In Germany, Blue Tits have been found with a deadly contagious disease rather like Trichomoniasis in Greenfinches. So far, this infection has not appeared in UK Blue Tits.
Despite trichomoniasis, Greenfinches appear to be having a good breeding season across the City and must have made a recovery from their contagion.
At 4:00am on 2nd April Redwings were passing over in numbers. Buzzards and Red Kites have been seen widely including over the junction of Histon Road with Castle Hill, a Red Kite over Tenison Road (Martin Walters) on 4th and my first Buzzard seen from my house on 5th and another on 26th; a Red Kite over Hobsons Park on 17th April.
A Willow Warbler was singing at Barnwell East LNR on 6th April (Iain Webb, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and one at Coe Fen the next day. Also, on 7th April a pair of Oystercatchers and a pair of Lapwings were at Hobson’s Park and on 15th April an Oystercatcher over Chesterton early morning. On the 9th a Swallow flew low over my Chesterton garden; on the 10th the breeding pair of Swallows were back along the river under the A14 bridge and another Willow Warbler was singing in Milton Country Park.
On 14th April I heard a Grey Wagtail singing by the river at the Doubletree Hotel – I probably have heard them before but this was the first time I have registered and listened carefully to Grey Wagtail song; the bird had been ringed. The song was a tuneful rattle interspersed with call notes. Very different from the woeful “slurp. ..slurp …slurp” song of Yellow Wagtails. (The worst bird song!)
April the first Corn
was singing at Hobsons Park and on the same day a Chiffchaff and a
Greenfinch arrived together in my garden. Both are unusual in my
small garden but they arrived together, hung around the feeders
together and left together. Maybe we will have a Chiffinch before the
season is out!!
22:30 on 18th
April two male Tawny
were challenging each other with quiet alternating hoots; they were
close by and were probably more audible because of the much-reduced
traffic noise in the lock-down.
April Rob Pople reported an Osprey
(cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and at Eddington I heard my first Lesser
of the year – but still no Whitethroats
… first one heard at Baitsbite on 26th)!
A pair of Sparrowhawks
were displaying over Castle Hill when they appeared to be intercepted
by a second displaying pair. The real sensation of the month was on
April – a White-tailed
reported over Bolton’s Pit, Newnham (James Cadbury:
cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). It was probably one of the released
birds from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme. They have been
seen over Greater London and a bird was tracked up the Suffolk and
Norfolk coasts during March.
A Mistle Thrush was still singing in Huntingdon Road (they have been singing since November 2019) and a Yellow Wagtail and a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks were over my house in Chesterton. Skylarks were in full song throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and in arable land behind St Giles, Cemetery off Huntingdon Road. The male Peregrine was reliably in attendance on his lookout perch in the City centre throughout April. On 26th April 4 Swifts were seen high over Histon Road.
Male Kestrel at Clay Farm
were at Hobson’s Park on 24th
April (Martin Walters). I have tried to count the Black-headed
at Hobson’s Park but each time I do the number increases; I think
there are 100 breeding pairs, a number of non-breeding adults and
12-15 birds in their second calendar year i.e. they were fledged
juveniles last year. These birds act as colony guards and look-outs
ready to mob the passing Heron
but also ready to sneak a crafty copulation with a lone female; no
further sighting of the 2nd
there with nest material. Two Common
were at Milton CP on 25th
just outside our project area. On 28th
April Swallows, House
and two Reed
were at Hobson’s Park. On 29th
April, along the Coton footpath, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and
Willow Warbler were singing.
On the 30th a Common Tern over the Mill Pond and three Corn Buntings singing on the ground – which I have not seen before – about 50 House Martins plus Swallows, 3 Sand Martins and a high over Common Tern were all at Hobson’s Park and Nuthatches were calling from a back garden in Chaucer Road (a new Cambridge locality for me). Also on 30th a Red Kite over Castle Hill and a Wheatear, Cuckoo and Cetti’s Warbler at Trumpington Meadows (Jill Aldred: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).
I finished my March blog with a comment about House Sparrows. A lone male bird now makes regular visits to my feeders (picture below). House “Spugs” get little press but they are barometers of the health of our urban bird life. During the lock-down more people than ever, especially children home from school, are taking an interest in the wild life around us. In Cambridgeshire, House Sparrows have become almost extinct in the wider countryside because of intensive farming and the loss of over-winter stubbles to feed. They have adapted to western urban environments and rural villages. In eastern Europe to central Asia, Tree Sparrows are the birds of human habitations and House Sparrows are birds of the open countryside.
It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! Being compelled to stay at home because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) right at the start of spring and the arrival of our breeding birds is a blow. From March 24th, it’s birding from home neighbourhoods or gardens or what can be seen or heard on fitness excursions by foot or bicycle or on a visit to local food stores. On 25th a pair of Common Cranes were seen over a garden in Ely, Jon Heath saw five over his garden in north Cambridge last year and they are examples of what can be seen from an urban home neighbourhood. It’s a good time to see Common Cranes from the fenland breeding population as wandering young birds from last year are ejected from family groups and try to establish their own breeding territories.
Fortunately, our 3-years project to study the wildlife of the City has just ended. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an ongoing garden bird survey – see their website for details: www.cambridgebirdclub.org.uk A birder in the north of the City has recorded 105 species in and over his neighbourhood (plus 18 heard – not seen – from night-time audio recordings). That’s a challenge!
spring passage is underway; Chiffchaffs
are singing across the City: Tenison Road (Martin), Logan’s Meadow
(2), Eddington, Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath and Huntingdon Road,
Canterbury St, Hobson’s Park, Long Road (2) and along the river
(4). Overwintering Blackcaps
are singing a peculiar sub-song before they leave and before the
breeding population arrives; a pair on 29th
off Huntingdon Road. Buzzards
are over the City and a pair appears to have a breeding territory in
the remaining trees at the Milton/A10 roundabout despite the A14
workings nearby – they are just outside our project area.
The City centre Peregrines have been displaying noisily and the male can been seen above the nest site. A Peregrine was seen over Lovell Road on 23rd (Jon). The Newnham Nuthatch, seen on a garden feeder over winter, is still about so is probably breeding nearby (Stella).
Logan’s Meadow has had a tree tragedy. A major willow suffered a terminal split in its trunk and has been felled. I hope it was checked for roosting bats before it was felled. This is a good site for Pipistrelles and Daubentons. The immediate effect is shocking but perhaps some benefit can be had by planting understorey shrubs and allowing the ground flora to recover. Sadly, the two pairs of displaying Great-spotted Woodpeckers and the Tree Creepers have gone. Logan’s Meadow is one of the few, probably the only “wild” woodland site in north Cambridge. I did see a Water Vole in Logan’s Meadow on 19th, that’s new to me there – maybe not to the mammal experts– but some compensation for the wreckage in the wood. Also in Logan’s Meadow, Marsh Marigold and Coltsfoot are in full flower. A Badger sett was found at Eddington.
The rookeries on Hills Road and at Girton College seem to have made complete recoveries from the effects of the February storms Ciara and Dennis. The Hills Road rookery was wiped out but now has 14, possibly 15 apparently active nests (AAN’s) – 10 last year and the Girton College rookery has 38 possibly 40 AANs – 34 last year. It’s difficult to count the Girton College site because of the dense evergreen crowns of the pines and the Sequoia.
My first Brimstone butterfly was on 24th – lock-down day – and by 27thSmall Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas had emerged from their winter torpor. Rhona has photographed a strange-plumaged Wren at Jesus College. Is it part melanism, is it a strange moult or discolouration for some physical reason? Between the bus station at Addenbrookes and the Outpatients Dept. is a shaded grass verge that has a number of Bee Orchid rosettes.
Through this winter I have seen been aware of an evening flight of Jackdaws going due north over my Chesterton home. They must be off to roost but where that is I do not know. I suspect it might be in Histon in the trees around the Church. At dusk one evening I counted 95 flying over.
House Sparrows are part of the background bird life that are never mentioned in any birding websites. But they are a barometer for urban biodiversity. They have recently returned to feed in my garden which means the colony in nearby St Andrews Road has been re-established. In the mid-1970’s, when the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) was in Trumpington so many House Sparrows descended on the ripening cereals trials to feed it was feared the yield results would be compromised. They had a dedicated sparrow killer who chased the birds into a funnel trap and dispatched them. In the early 1980’s the population collapsed and the first House Sparrows recorded at Trumpington Meadows, on the site of the (PBI), was two years ago. I may have told this before!
Cycling along the towpath on 25th and a Common Lizard scurried across the track; I haven’t seen one of these in Cambridgeshire for very many years.
On a lone, fitness, cycle ride to Hobsons Park on 26th there were 5 Little Gulls, the world’s smallest Gull, amongst the 300+ Black-headed Gulls in the colony – they had probably been brought in by the easterly winds. By 30th the colony had consolidated to about 130 birds; a passing Common Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were seen off aggressively. On another cycle ride on 28th a 2nd year Mediterranean Gull was at a site in our project area, this bird was seen with nest material; three had been reported earlier including a pair displaying. I failed to locate it/them a few days later.
There are Lesser Black-backed Gulls over the City centre – will they/are they nesting on a rooftop?
I’m a great fan of Ivy! I dispute the theory it “strangles” trees when it grows up stems and trunks. What it does is add to wind resistance increasing the likelihood of tree fall during exceptional storms. It provides nesting habitats and a berry harvest that lasts through the winter and is important for House Sparrows and other species. I have seen more dead trees caused by a heavy parasitic load of mistletoe than ivy growth.
wishes to all during this very difficult time; please stay safe.
Sitting in the café in Chesterton Road on 3rd February a female Sparrowhawk swept across busy Chesterton Road at knee height, through a front gate and over a wall. Perhaps it spotted a gap in the traffic, perhaps it just took a chance but it looked to me like reckless predation!
Windsor Road, there is an apple tree that is completely infested with
It is a Bramley and now fails to produce any fruit. This seems to be
reckless parasitism as the host appears to be dying. The houses at
the Histon Road end of Windsor Road were built in 1937 on an
established orchard owned by St John’s College and this tree is at
least 100 years old.
The female Goosander was seen again at Milton Country Park on 8th February; it often swam close to the vegetation on the island at the north end of Dickerson Pit. A Blackcap was calling loudly from Logan’s Meadow on 6th and another was heard in gardens on Huntingdon Road on 7th February and a female Blackcap (“browncap”) in Lovell Road on 21st.
Sunday 9th was storm Ciara – one of the worst days for weather by far this year (followed by storm Dennis on 15th/16th). Still, a Song Thrush was singing in Chesterton during the day and off Huntingdon Road a “browncap”, Chaffinch, Dunnock and four species of tits were using a bird bath at the same time. Coal Tits are actively singing. A phone-in to Christopher South on Radio Cambridgeshire reported a Blue Tit nest with chicks. But the storm destroyed all the Rooks nests in Long Road although 31 Rooks, presumably the birds from the colony, were feeding on Hobson’s Park on 12th February.
I checked the state of most other rookeries on 13th February after storm Ciara but before storm Dennis. I counted the following intact nests (spring 2019 count of active nests in brackets):
Church and close-by Airport Way, 22 (26).
College and nearby Huntingdon Road checked on 18th
February after Ciara
sites appear to have lost remnant nests from last year. How much of
this is down to normal losses and how much is due to storm Ciara
(and storm Dennis
in the case of Girton College) I don’t know. The Walpole Road,
Airport Way and Long Road sites are particularly exposed. Rooks were
active at all the sites except the Girton College site. On 25th
February five nests had been reconstructed in Long Road.
circled over Jesus College on 12th
before heading north-east (Rob).
mornings in February and March are good months to record House
nest sites and colonies. The males call loudly usually by the nest
entrance. One of the best colonies in Cambridge is in Richmond Road
with a colony of 4-5 nests in the dense Ivy on a west facing front
wall of a terraced house.
Two Little Egrets were at Hobson’s Park on 12th February and three Little Egrets were in the horse paddock next to the A14 Bridge at the end of Fen Road; on 20th February, two were there and one in Ditton Meadows. Lapwings have taken up residence at Hobson’s Park and a male Peregrine was on the URC Church on the same day.
our NatHistCam Committee meeting Duncan McKay reported there are six
within a mile radius of the City centre; the largest in college
grounds off Grange Road has 21 entrances! At this meeting, a map of
Mistletoe distribution was circulated. In the east of the City –
Romsey Town and Cherry Hinton – Mistletoe is scarce but is present
in Wenvoe Close, Cherry Hinton and Seymour Street, Romsey. Strangely,
none in Cherry Hinton Hall despite Mistle
singing there on 13th
February and a Blackcap calling in nearby Mill End Road also on 13th
February – the two principal bird vectors of the parasite.
were singing across Cherry Hinton on 13th
north along the Cam and you will see Cormorants,
all are of the European race that develops a grey “shawl” of
feathers over head and neck in adult breeding plumage. I reckon
average dive time is 25 seconds with a range of 23-29 seconds;
whether this is escape/avoidance dive-time or feeding dive-time I
On 14th February, a Kingfisher was on Riverside and a pair in a display chase at Milton Country Park on 22nd February; the latest UK Kingfisher population is 3850 – 6400 pairs which is lower than I expected (British Birds, February 2020).
Wicken Fen is not in the NatHistCam area but the Hen Harrier roost is worth mentioning; Marsh Harriers are present too. I think it is one of the best birding sites in the County. At dusk on 14th of February five males and three ring-tails (female/1st y) were seen. It’s worth the National Trust entrance fee (and car park fee!); the best views can often be seen just outside the reserve centre or from the top of the scaffolding tower. Week days are best; weekends can get crowded! Barn Owls are an almost certainty too.
Goldcrests and Coal Tits are singing wherever there is a well-established stand of conifers and my first city flowering Blackthorn was on the 14th.
south edge of Dickerson Pit at Milton Country Park on the 18th
had a pair of displaying Great-crested
and five Wigeon on 22nd
February; the commonest ducks were Gadwell
– feeding dive time was 19-23 seconds!
you looking for the Peregrines?” said a Civil Enforcement Officer
(Traffic Warden) to me on 21st
February. “I saw one earlier this morning” he said “Got a
picture of it on my phone, have a look and last week I saw a Red
over Coe Fen”. The pair were displaying noisily at roof-top height
February and the size difference between the male (smaller) and the
female (larger) was obvious. A Woodcock
was off Huntingdon Road on 21st
(Sean Rouse, www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).
The Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust encouraged land owners to complete the 30-minute Big Farm Bird Count during February. I completed one on the NIAB’s Trials ground that falls within our study area – 15 species in the half hour including Yellowhammer, singing Skylarks and a flyover Grey Wagtail!
Hobsons Park Stonechat
were feeding along the busway on 25th
and 176 Black-headed
were around the lake – 9 (5.1%) were first years. This matches a
guestimate of first year birds along Jesus Lock to Riverside in
winter 2018/2019 of 6%.
flock of Long-tailed-Tits
were arguing with their reflections in a garden mirror off Perne Road
February 2020. – firstname.lastname@example.org
hint of spring sunshine and breeding behaviour begins. Great
are often first with their ringing song, Blue
too, but their song is often a coarse version of their call and they
never sing for long. Great Tits keep going! Blackbirds
are at it and Song
just revving up. Mistle
have been patiently singing since last November.
It happens every year – I hear a call, often associated with a tit flock, and ignore it until I remember what it is – of course it’s a Tree Creeper. I’m relieved that I can still hear it at my age. “Sibilant” is the word – it’s a word I have only read describing bird song but that’s what a Tree Creeper’s call and song sounds like: sibilant! One was singing in Logan’s Meadow in mid-January. Wrens are singing – they never seem to stop. They are our commonest bird with 11 million pairs out of the estimated 84 million breeding pairs of birds in the UK (British Birds, February 2020 Vol 113).
Four Great-spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other through and around Logan’s Meadow. At least two were males with a red patch on the back of their heads. I like them. They are noisy, full of enthusiasm, careless and indiscreet in their nuptial display chases. Rhona Watson has photographed a female (without the red spot) in Jesus College grounds with a chafer grub. I think it was a gift and part of the rituals of a breeding pair bond.
There were still plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares about in January. Fewer seem to have ventured into the City this winter which has been mild. I think there is still plenty of food to be found in the countryside and on farmland although Logan’s Meadow has a regular roost of Redwings. Eighty-Five Fieldfares were in a flock on farmland in the north of our project area in early January. The Newnham Nuthatch was a regular visitor to a garden feeder during the month.
A female Goosander has been present on the Dickerson Pit at Milton Country Park during most of January. I have seen it in almost exactly the same place on several occasions – in the north end of Dickerson pit which is just outside our NatHistCam project area. The front cover of the latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club Annual Report (no 92, 2019) for observations logged in 2018 has an illustration of a female Goosander with chicks. Goosanders bred successfully for the first time in Cambridgeshire in 2018 at two sites; one site was on the River Cam at Little Shelford. Typically, it is a breeding bird of faster moving upland rivers and streams.
In 2014, I found a female Goosander with seven chicks in May on the River Great Ouse near Milton Keynes. They were amusing to watch. From a distance, they were like yobs on a day out diving, swimming and clambering over each other in the water until they saw me on the water’s edge when they lined up politely and immaculately behind their mother and swam past in a line. It’s a breeding bird we should now look for on lowland rivers.
have been seen regularly on the united Reform Church in Trumpington
Street. On a cold wet morning, I saw the female perched on the very
top of the spire looking huddled and damp.
I had not been to Kingfishers Bridge Reserve near Wicken Fen for many years but in the last two weeks I have been there twice! It’s just off the road from Stretham to Wicken opposite the road to Upware. Its free to visit and well worth it. James Moss, the warden, and Stephen Tomkins gave excellent talks about the reserve to the Natural History Society on 30th January. It has a visitors’ centre and encourages families and has hides, picnic tables and the “Bittern Hump” where you can sit and watch and wait for Marsh Harriers and Bitterns. There is a white-board where you can add your own sightings; someone had seen a” fezunt” which continues to amuse me!
the month the regular pair of Stonechats,
at Hobson’s Park and a Kestrel over the Market Square and Logan’s
Meadow. The Kestrel is the common European lowland raptor and its
range extends into North Africa and the middle-East.
the New Year I visited The Lebanon. The weather was terrible! Heavy
rain every day often most of the day. I visited Mleeta in the south
of Lebanon which can be described as the Hezbollah theme park!
Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation but is an integral
part of the sectarian peace and government in Lebanon. The park is on
hills overlooking the lowlands of south Lebanon and was the
resistance headquarters against the Israeli occupation in the 1990’s.
It is a memorial to the deaths of the Hezbollah “martyrs” and
shows captured Israeli munitions, a gift shop, lecture hall and a
200m tunnel through the hill to the Hezbollah observation post. The
“sparrowhawk” is depicted as the bird of resistance because it
“hovers, all seeing, over the valleys below and is bitter to the
taste”. The Hezbollah guides were not impressed when I pointed out
the bird described and in their propaganda film was a Kestrel.
This could be the last bird blog as our NatHistCam project comes to an end. It had been a fascinating three-year study – not just local patch birding but an attempt to record the changes in the City’s bird life and habitats. It’s difficult to understand just how big these changes are. Have all similar cities experienced the changes that Cambridge has? In a historical context, there have been major changes in the bird life of the City – some probably due to climate change, others to habitat loss due to building developments, and other changes, especially the increase in raptors, due to protective legislation. Perhaps the most interesting development has been recording of nocturnal passage over the City and identifying species and numbers of birds by their flight contact calls.
The Pallas’s Warbler was re-found on December 2nd at Paradise Local Nature Reserve. The other December highlight was the Western Siberian subspecies of Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) found in Logan’s Meadow Local Nature Reserve by Simon Gillings on December 11th and subsequently by Nigel Lister. I’ve had a couple of goes looking for it – the second time on 23rd December I found a Chiffchaff but it was always too mobile and too distant to clinch an identification; I didn’t hear it call – perhaps it didn’t.
two males and a female – have frequented a garden off Huntingdon
Road feeding on Mahonia
nectaries and Honeysuckle berries; they have been seen most days
during December including Christmas Day! Up to seven Cormorants
have frequented the roost at Logan’s Meadow and a pre-roost
gathering of at least 16 Magpies
assemble there most evenings (down from 26 last year).
Little Egrets have been seen in and over the City in our project area at Sheep’s Green and Granchester Meadows on December 14th, over the junction of Histon Road with Huntingdon Road on December 13th, and over the Sir Isaac Newton pub on Castle Hill on December 21st. Twenty years ago, sightings like these would have been unthinkable; thirty years ago, would have required a full written description to the UK Rarities Committee.
have been seen behind the Cambridge Rugby Club near the Tennis Club
and at Hobson’s Park on 21st
December and 24th
December respectively. Perhaps one year a pair will stay and breed in
our project area but every year pairs appear settled but by March
they have gone. Also at Hobsons Park on 24th
December 17 Linnets,
(heard only) and 21 Rooks.
Were these the same 21 Rooks I saw on Nightingale Avenue recreation
ground on 23rd
December and were they from the Long Road colony or the Cherry Hinton
Hall/Walpole Road rookery? On the very edge of our project area a
flock of c220 Linnets were seen on a field of Maize stubble and
potato haulms together with 26 Pied
and 20+ Meadow
This highlights just how important over-winter weedy stubbles are!
to five Little
are regular along the Cam from the Long Reach adjacent to Ditton
Meadows to the bridge over the A14.
news from Hobson’s Park: Lapwings
bred there this years and chicks were seen (Dusty Miller).
22nd November, a Pallas’s
was found in Paradise Nature Reserve. It was a sensational find of
this tiny rare migrant warbler inland and a fantastic discovery (Mike
It’s the second County record. Local naturalists say that it could
have been there some days before it was identified. The first County
record was a moribund bird found in Peterborough outside the Natural
England offices in 1998; it had struck a window. Over the weekend of
November it attracted about 100 birders. I caught up with it on 25th
November but it was difficult to locate and it moved with speed
through the foliage loosely associating with a Long-tailed
flock and Goldcrests.
The most recent national annual total of this rarity is just 27 in
2017. Inland locations are very rare; overwintering birds are even
rarer. This bird ought to be in south-east China by now!
Also seen in the nature reserve were two Chiffchaffs, a Nuthatch (a good find – this bird is rare in our project area), 1/2 Treecreepers, a well-watched Kingfisher fishing and a Woodcock.
October monthly bulletin of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an item
by Simon Gillings about his analysis of October night-time bird calls
over his Chesterton home. His findings are remarkable and the
practice of analysing overhead nocturnal bird calls adds a new
dimension to ornithology – I nearly said bird watching – but it
is not “watching”! If I’m reading his tabular summary correctly
he has recorded the following October monthly totals (highlights
9 (I don’t think I have ever seen Little Grebe fly more than a foot
above the water but migrate and colonise they must and they do!);
17 (I have never seen Ring Ousel in Cambs and as I live about ½ a
mile from Simon they probably flew over my house!); Redwing
9. The numbers and species recorded are …… astonishing and add a
new story to the intrigue of bird migration – remarkable! Less
vocal species may also pass over such as Corncrakes on their way to
the Hebrides and maybe it will unravel the secret westerly migration
of Aquatic Warblers too.
the month, a Common
on The Pond at Eddington had a white Darvic
leg ring on its right tarsus plus an aluminium? ring on its left.
From a number of photos, the ring identification was “JK81”. I
contacted the Euroring internet site and received the following
details: ringed at the Stavanger ringing centre, Ostfold, Norway on
21 May 2016 as an adult – possibly three years old; seen at
Ostfold, Norway in August 2016 and then Eddington on 7th
November 2019 – so it’s at least six years old.
(Ring-necked) was seen in Jesus College on 4th
November. This non-native escapee is an uncommon bird in Cambs.
have been present in the Beech Woods since the beginning of the month
can be seen in the small sector of Milton Country Park in our project
area (Jon Heath saw 4 there on 6th
is the best place to see Common
in our project area and nearby in the grounds of Girton College on
November one, possibly two Nuthatches and two Tree Creepers amongst
the roving tit flock. On 11th
November, a Peregrine
was over the Market Square and on 15th
November, the female and male Peregrines were “jousting” in
flight together over the Market Square. I have never seen male and
female birds together as well before. The female is larger, bulkier
and deeper chested than the male and after aerial spats they often
sat together on the corner spires of King’s College. Take a seat
for coffee at Don Pasquale’s and wait for the action!
seen on the 11th
November, at Hobson’s Park, a Water
and a female Stonechat
November at Hobson’s 12 Common Snipe (in a wet sector of the area
set aside for allotments) and a flyover Peregrine; on 24th
November, there was a pair of Stonechats at Hobson’s Park and a
On 16th of November I watched angler Alan Stebbings (he works at Ridgeon’s) land a 10 lb pike near the Mill Pond whilst a nearby Grey Heron waited for him to throw it the disgorged fish bait. Panic amongst pigeons in the Market Square on 22nd November was not caused by a Peregrine but a flyover Kestrel!
was singing in Chesterton on 13th
November, another was heard near Storeys Way on 19th and Paradise
Nature Reserve on 26th;
one was defending a Mistletoe clump with berries in Chesterton on
November. On 16th
November, a male Blackcap
in my Chesterton garden – mid-November is a typical arrival date
for overwintering Blackcaps from central Europe. This matches ringing
records from Holme Bird Observatory on the Norfolk coast. A female
Blackcap, a “browncap”, was seen in a garden in Benson Street on
November feeding on Mahonia
nectaries and a male in Tenison Road feeding on the shrivelled
remains of grapes on a vine.
nocturnal Peregrine strike is suspected of killing the Long-tailed
Skua that was found in October; perhaps the Skua was too bulky to
carry off or the falcon failed to “get-a grip”! Records of Red
over Mill Road cemetery in May, June and September this year (Andrew
Dobson). This is in the very centre of our NatHistCam project area.
On 16th October Shaun Mayes of the St John’s college staff found the fresh corpse of a bird outside Merton House at the junction of Queens Road and Madingley Road. Shaun and his birdwatching colleague David Brown contacted David’s brother-in-law Jonathan Bustard (a good name for a birder)! and the identification was confirmed as a juvenile Long-tailed Skua.
This is a remarkable inland record for this rare migratory sea bird. I think it is the first for our project area and possibly only the 12th record for the County. Previous records have come from Foul Anchor in the north of Cambridgeshire, beyond Wisbech, on the banks of the River Nene five miles south of The Wash. It adds further evidence to the idea that migratory sea birds travel overland to short-cut migration routes. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Graham Easy saw flocks of skuas (Arctic and Great Skuas) passing south west overhead, at great height, in autumn over Milton. He speculated that there were major overland migration routes for skuas and Kittiwakes following the north east/south west trajectories of the Ouse/Cam, Nene and Welland river valleys exiting in the Bristol Channel. Remarkably, these seabirds appear to take an overland short cut on their way to wintering grounds off the coast of Senegal.
We know that some skuas on their northerly spring passage fly through the Great Glen from the North Atlantic to exit in the Moray Firth and the North Sea on their way to their breeding grounds in the northern Isles and the sub-Arctic tundras. Watching Skua movements on the North Norfolk coast this time of year and all the skuas appear to be flying west i.e. into the Wash not east which, as you would expect, would take them around the East Anglian coast and then south eventually into the English Channel.
This is a brilliant record – thanks to Shaun and David.
On 6th October, there was a big night time passage of Song Thrushes and Redwings and daylight passage of Redwings over the City. I haven’t seen a Fieldfare yet! On 10th October, there was a Yellow-legged Gull at Hobson’s Park and two there on 15th October. Also at Hobson’s Park on 15th October were 60+ Redwings (over), a Water Rail, 2 Snipe, 4+ Corn Buntings and outside Trumpington a huge flock of 500+ Golden Plovers. The influx of Jays into the country – apparently due to a failure of the acorn crop in Europe – seems to have stopped but they have filtered inland and are common throughout our project area.
The common wagtail in our project area seems to be Grey Wagtails not Pied Wagtails. I see or hear them most days. There is a regular pair on or over the Radio Cambridgeshire building, a male was singing in Regents Street on 16th October and they are often flying over the Market Square and where I live in Chesterton. Also on 16th October was a late Swallow over Mill Road Cemetery.
I discovered a new habitat! Behind the West Cambridge university building there is a balancing pond – a large lake of at least one hectare; it is hidden from view behind the hedges along the Coton/west Cambridge footpath. According to a local angler it’s been there for about 5 years and is full of huge Common Carp – ideal for a passing Osprey.
On 18th October, a Chiffchaff was calling in a large garden in Huntingdon Road and there were three Buzzards over Thornton Way. On 19th October, there were eight Common Buzzards over the rough land at Eddington, 12 Linnets and 12 Meadow Pipits. Buzzards are now, probably, our commonest raptor. Twenty years ago, in 1999, they nested for the first time, in great secrecy, in west Cambridgeshire. It is a remarkable turn-round and is likely due to legal protection (thanks to EU law!) and the subsequent lack of persecution.
October one of the Peregrines
was roosting at its regular site in the city centre and on 30th
the commonest duck on the slice of Milton Country Park in our project
area; the regular wintering Widgeon
Simon Gillings of the BTO has collected the night-time recording
device from my garden. It recorded night time calls of birds passing
over head from 6pm to 6am and he had placed a number of them across
the City. Martin Walters has written a very good “Nature Notes”
in the Cambridge
October 2019) about Simon’s project. Simon now plans to download
the recordings to survey nocturnal migration (“noc-mig”)