All posts by Monica Frisch

Swifts, Painted Ladies and Emeralds – August 2019

Swifts were still around on 26th August despite the major departure from the City a month earlier on 28th/29th July. Fifty high over the City, 15 over the Senate House on 15th August and 10 over Histon Road on 17th August perhaps signalled another local departure. On 26th August two over Trumpington Street and one over the Market Square were probably feeding late broods.

A Wren was feeding young in Logan’s Meadow on 2nd August and Painted Ladies were the commonest butterflies on the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. The Painted Ladies looked in good condition, not ragged migrants, suggesting they had hatched locally. The invasion of Painted Ladies this year has been remarkable. In mid-July, I visited the Malin Head, the most northerly point in the Republic of Ireland, and there was a Painted Lady every 25m.

The Willow Emerald Damselfly (above) is a species new to our study area. I think Duncan McKay discovered it first. Nationally it is expanding its range and the one photographed by Trevor Kerridge at Milton Country Park – just within our NatHistCam study area – is a new location.

I haven’t seen a Spotted Flycatcher in the City for many years. They used to breed in Whitehouse Lane off Huntingdon Road but when the Elms went so did the flycatchers. There is an excellent article in the latest bulletin (covering June/July observations) of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club by Mike Holdsworth about a three-year study into the distribution of Spotted Flycatchers in the County which have declined dramatically. The College Gardens and the Botanic Gardens look ideal habitats but none have been found in the City.

Keep an eye open for Common Cranes in flight over the City – Jon Heath has seen them. This time of year they gather in numbers and move around the countryside. The Fenland population in 2018 was 53 individuals and is now the largest in the Country and exceeds the North Norfolk population and the reintroduced population in Somerset. I recently visited The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Welney and saw a group of 26 – disappointingly they were all adults with no young birds from the current breeding season.

A recent article in British Birds magazine by Mark Avery describes how forty-three million non-native young Pheasants are released for shoots annually. He questions the impact this might have on local wild bird populations (British Birds, July 2019). Only about 13 million of these are actually shot! This may account for the increase in Buzzards which must be our commonest countryside raptor and probably breeds in our study area. There have even been calls from the shooters to cull Buzzards that are taking some of these released birds or scaring the released game birds onto non shooting land. Most pheasant shooting is carried out with lead shot so there is a knock-on pollution problem. In Denmark lead shot is banned and replaced by steel shot.

A Willow Warbler (above) was in the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. I used to think I could tell Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff apart on their calls. Willow Warblers have a disyllabic “hoo …weet”, Chiffs a monosyllabic “hooeet”. I’m not so sure now! At least two Chiffs in Milton Country Park on 15th August, two Chiffs in Logan’s Meadow on 23rd August were typical tail and wing flicking Chiffchaffs; one heard calling in a private garden in Huntingdon Road on 29th August (identified by call!).

There have been several county records of Pied Flycatchers in the last two weeks of August and lots along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts but none revealed themselves in our study area.

There have also been county reports of Whinchats and Redstarts. Whinchats used to be regular autumn migrants on a farm in the north of our study when I worked there.

An Osprey was seen at Great Kneighton/Hobson’s Park on 26th August – a typical date for this migrant. One of the adult Peregrines was seen near its City centre nest site on 29th August.

Bob Jarman 29th August 2019

Cambridgeshire’s Mosses and Liverworts

Cambridgeshire’s Mosses and Liverworts: a dynamic flora

Christopher D. Preston and Mark O. Hill

NatureBureau 2019

326pp colour illustrated

ISBN 9781874357896 £25 (paperback)

This new flora by two of our friends and colleagues has attracted an excellent review in British Wildlife, August 2019: “….is beautifully written and nicely illustrated. ……. Chris Preston and Mark Hill are both highly respected bryologists with a deep knowledge of Cambridgeshire, its habitats and its species. Their enthusiasm shines through in this flora which deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious student of mosses and liverworts, whether they live in Cambridgeshire or not.”

Bob Jarman 25th August 2019

July 2019 night timers and new to Cambridgeshire

I recently received an email from Jon Heath and records from his garden in north Chesterton, Cambridge. The bird list covers those recorded as night time flyovers then identified by recorded calls on night time passage/migration (“noc-mig”). The July bulletin of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club has a more complete list. These discoveries are fascinating and open up new dimensions in the study of bird movements; Quail and Turnstone are county rarities.

Are these birds moving on a broad front or are they following the NW/SE trajectories of the Nene/Ouse/Cam river valleys as suggested by Graham Easy in the 1980’s from his observations of Skuas in autumn over Milton and Cambridge flying south west? Are they just night-time movements or do day-time movements occur also but too high to see and background noise make them too difficult to record? Or, are they night-time migrants attracted to the city lights?

Whimbrel passage is particularly interesting. The only place they breed in the UK is Fetlar in Shetland. They are breeding waders of the northern tundras. I have just returned from Donegal; Whimbrels on their southward passage were the commonest shore bird especially around rocky coves. Guy Belcher’s record of 43 over Little Shelford in September 2018, Jon’s records from Cambridge and recent sightings of Whimbrels from Norfolk and Suffolk show that they migrate on a very broad front. I suspect the birds in Ireland continue a westerly transit and winter on the Canary Islands.

Jon writes: “Here is the list of waders (and notable others) for July over my garden. I recorded 18 out of 31 nights and the numbers indicate the minimum number of birds which were calling whilst flying over.”

Coot x 1Redshank x 5
QUAIL x 1Black-tailed Godwit x 2
Common Sandpiper x 5Dunlin x 3
Little Grebe x 1Ringed Plover x 1
Whimbrel x 3TURNSTONE x 1
Little Ringed Plover x 3 Oystercatcher x 1

In addition, Jon has the following exceptional records of two micro moth species: “The micros moths which I caught are (I believe) both firsts for the county: Vitula biviella on July 24th and Acompsia schmidtiellus on July 29th. Also, a spectacular Scarlet Tiger was caught on June 29th which is also quite rare in Cambridgeshire”. Thanks to Jon Heath for his exceptional records.

Hawkers, Emperors, Darters and Swifts – July 2019

I’ve been affected by Duncan MacKay’s enthusiasm for the Odonata. I went on a Damselfly and Dragonfly identification course at Wicken Fen some years ago but never really followed it up. This year is different. Hip surgery means I’ve been confined to home, the daytime skies above and nearby Logan’s Meadow. I struggle with the small blue damselflies but am sure I have recorded Variable; Blue-tailed Damselfly has been present all summer; similarly Banded Demoiselles (the iridescent body colour of the males must be one of the most striking colours in nature!), the females are completely different; Common Darters appeared briefly; Brown Hawkers appeared for three-weeks; Anax imperator (Emperor – I prefer its Latin name!) cruised the meadow and a Migrant Hawker visited my small garden. Banded Demoiselles are often blown into the City centre and I have seen them fluttering over the Market Square and Petty Cury.

Male Banded Demoiselle (left) Brown Hawker – egg laying (centre) Common Darter (right)

In the poplar trees above the river near Logan’s Meadow are two juvenile Sparrowhawks (they breed here most years) that erupt out and fly in a panic then land in the densest part of the tree top canopy. Their principle seems to be if we cannot see you then you cannot see us. It doesn’t work! Reed Bunting in Logan’s Meadow on 26th July – probably been there for years but I have only just noticed! Two Buzzards over Logan’s and a Kestrel sitting on the goal posts on 1st August.

Variable Damselfly – I think!

At the beginning of July, the Council strimmed all St Andrew’s Cemetery just as butterflies were emerging. As a result, the butterfly list for the cemetery is limited to about 11 species compared to Histon Road Cemetery, which has active wildlife management with a butterfly list of 22 species this year including Essex Skipper, Ringlet and Marbled White. (per Martin Brett, Lesley Dodd).

I’ve been watching the Swifts! A cursory impression is that they have had a good breeding season with fine weather and plenty of flying insects.

I think there was a major departure on 24th of July, just before the hottest temperature every recorded in the UK at the Botanic Gardens on 25th – 38.7C; local birds moved out ahead of the weather front on 27th July and returned in numbers on 28th. There was another major departure on the 29th. A few still over the City on 1st August but the majority of local birds have now left.

On 9th July, a dead Nuthatch was found outside the Attenborough Building in Downing Street. Unusual! – over the last two years no breeding Nuthatches have been located in the Botanic Gardens or west Cambridge despite the wooded college gardens appearing to be ideal habitat.

Not so unusual! – just round-the-corner in Tennis Court Road is Pembroke College with its magnificent avenue of London Plane trees (possibly the tallest trees in the City). Nuthatches probably breed at Girton College and 2-3 pairs in Madingley Wood just a mile away. These two localities have mature oaks. I think they are absent from west Cambridge because of the loss/absence of mature oak trees. On 13th July: a Common Tern over Downing Street and six over the Histon Road/Huntingdon Road Junction on 16th July; 51 apparently active House Martin nests at Addenbroke’s Hospital on 22nd July. Juvenile Tawny Owl heard near the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road junction.

The weather front on Saturday 27th July caused a spectacular fall of waders migrating south along the east coast. My first Wood Sandpipers were at Cambridge Sewage Farm decades ago and I’ve never forgotten their distinctive “chiff, chiff” call. To find one Wood Sandpiper is a good day, to find two is a memorable day but 110 were at Cley, Norfolk on 28th July with Curlew Sandpipers , Little Stints and Whimbrels. On Sunday night 28th Jon Heath’s night recording had a Common Sandpiper, a Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and a flock of Curlew but no Wood Sands over the City although several night time recorders in Norfolk had Wood Sandpipers.

Bob Jarman 1st August 2019

June bird reports 2019

On Dawn Chorus day (7th May) Duncan McKay cycled across the City and recorded dawn bird song from 17 locations; he also asked other Nat Hist Soc members to record the dawn chorus from their bedroom windows – on their mobile phones – and received replies from 7 other locations. He had the following results from the total of 24 locations:
Blackbird 18/24; Robin 17/24; Wren 16/26; Woodpigeon 13/14; Blackcap 11/24; Carrion Crow 7/24; Chiffchaff 6/24.

In addition, he recorded single Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers along Cherry Hinton Brook. The big surprise that Duncan has confirmed is the widespread presence of Blackcaps and Chiffchaff across the city this year. He emphasises a 7th May dawn chorus is a single time-point in a much bigger time-frame. From late February until mid-April gardens are ringing with singing Great Tits especially on sunny mornings. By the beginning of May, they are feeding broods and feature less in early morning throng. Blue Tits are odd songsters. They have a variety of calls but their song is a strange scratchy effort that is only delivered during a short period in April – and that’s it! Thanks, Duncan – brilliant! Blackcaps are still singing widely until the beginning of July.

An article in the current British Birds Journal summarises work by the BTO looking at garden bird feeding. As a nation, we spend between £200m and 300m on bird feeding products annually (I’m at least £50 of that!) and this has contributed to significant changes since the 1970’s – Goldfinches and Woodpigeons in particular have become much more common. I’m not convinced about Goldfinches; I remember often coming across “charms” of Goldfinches in north Cambridge with my friends as schoolboy birders in the early 1970’s. Woodpigeons, yes! Modern farm rotations have included winter Oilseed Rape since the late 1970’s and this has produced a benign environment for Woodpigeons in the countryside – it’s becoming full up with Woodpigeons so they have moved into urban areas!. They raid my fat balls and often browse the grass and weeds in my small lawn and on the nearby park.

Broomrapes – Chesterton
Goldfinch – Chesterton

I have had my differences with Cambridge City Council over their use of Community Payback teams clearing vegetation. I came across a team who were using sticks to thrash the vegetation to shreds to clear the pathway along Hobson’s Brook. The thrashing of path-side vegetation seemed completely indiscriminate and included a thicket where I had seen a pair of Chiffchaffs building a nest in May close to the path…I did not see or hear the Chiffchaffs again. I also questioned the Council commitment to conservation after all the nettle clumps on Midsummer Common were strimmed – nettles being an important larval food plant for several of our declining butterfly species.

Lastly an Osprey over Trumpington Meadows on Friday 21st June (Iain Webb – This blog may go quiet in the next month as I recover from hip surgery. – 2nd July 2019

May to the first few days of June 2019

Telling Arctic Tern from Common Terns is not easy (see April blog). I have only once seen the two together– the Arctic’s were breeding in a dense colony and a single pair of Common Terns were breeding in a near-by harbour. The translucent primaries and secondaries of Arctic’s is difficult as is the blood red bill without a black tip that often darkens to blackish in breeding plumage. The terns at Hobson’s Park are definitely Common Terns – I think there are two breeding pairs – the photos below show the flight patterns of the two terns. The sharp blackish edge to the underside of the primaries in Arctic Terns compared to the diffuse grey undersides of Common Terns is a good way of distinguishing the two species – but not always easy to see.

Arctic Tern
Common Tern at Hobson’s Park 

I agree with Rob Pople (BTO) – I think the terns fishing along Riverside, opposite the boat houses and in the Long Reach near Ditton Meadows are from Hobson’s Park. At 21:00 on 1stJune – Strawberry Fair night – a diving Common Tern with its catch headed over the City towards Hobson’s. I saw the Long Reach terns doing the same last year.

Two Black Terns at Hobson’s Park was an excellent find (Pete Holt – and coincided with a small influx in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Blackcaps have been one of the commonest song birds across our study area all month, together with a strong arrival of other warblers. A small copse at the end of Arbury Road on 3rd May had singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat,and Lesser Whitethroat. Lesser Whitethroats have been a feature of this spring; in addition to April records I have heard birds singing at the following locations: Cherry Hinton Brook (behind Sainsbury’s), Coldham’s Common, Brierley Close and Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits (2) plus Garden Warbler, Blackcap (2) and Common Whitethroats (2) also at the chalk pit. Swifts arrived in numbers on 8th May and are using the Swift tower in Logan’s Meadow. On 7th May a Chiffchaff was still singing behind the Riverside Museum and on 12th the Chiff was still singing in gardens in Gilbert Road.

The City Centre Peregrines have had a difficult time. On 29thApril, the male bird was found injured in Newnham College grounds probably damage by a collision during high winds. It was taken to the Raptor Centre near St Ives to recover, leaving the female to feed the chicks alone. On 30th April, she was seen recovering cached prey and on 1stMay a third bird appeared – possibly another male. (see Twitter: @cambsperegrines). On 27th May I photographed the fledged bird below. On 7th May the female Peregrine at the second city site seemed to be firmly sitting on eggs. A Hobby was over Highsett on 31st May.

City Centre Peregrine
Reed Warbler

A singing Reed Warbler was a good find in Mill Road Cemetery (sorry date and observer mislaid). I have seen them before in unusual places in mid to late May – Romsey Road, Asda carpark – Beehive Centre. They may be late migrants from Eastern Europe that often have a more mimetic song. Reed Warblers were also singing at Hobson’s Park. Corn Buntings are singing in Hobson’s Park – it’s the best place I know to see this uncommon and charismatic farmland bird; they can easily be seen singing from the tops of the saplings. A territorial Yellow Wagtail was displaying at a farmland site on the north edge of our study area on 31st May.

Yellow Wagtail
Corn Bunting

I have seen a pair of Turtle Doves, but just outside our study area, heading towards a regular breeding site. Turtles Doves have become so rare that breeding numbers are now being collected and collated by the UK’s Rare Birds Breeding Panel.

A visit to Byron’s Pool and Trumpington Meadows on 30th May with the Wildlife Trust’s bat experts, Anita and David, recorded Common and Soprano Pipistrelles and excellent views of Daubenton’s bats and a hunting Barn Owl. A visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital on 4th June counted 81 House Martin’s nests that appeared to be actively used or freshly repaired with nesting birds inside.

The British Ornithological Union, which manages and supervises the list of British birds has added/reinstated a 30-year-old record of Falcated Teal duck without considering any new written or visual evidence of the original record. Reinstate the Cambridge Moustached Warblers, I say, that were seen by all the top Cambridge birdwatchers in 1946 but rejected 60 years later in 2006 by the BOU!– 4thJune 2019

April – first few days of May 2019 – Rook revival

How did I miss them? Perhaps a tree was obscuring the view and it was removed/felled over the winter or was it just observer failure! The rookery in Cherry Hinton Hall was again 10 Apparently Active Nests (AANs) but a new rookery has appeared about 75 m away in Walpole Road with 12 apparently active nests. They were obvious so how did I miss them!? I didn’t, I hadn’t; Roger (Horton) and Duncan (McKay) both confirmed that this was a new colony. All the Rookeries in our NatHistCam study area have maintained numbers or increased; this year the total count of AANs was 134 (2018 – 111; 2017 – 108).

Early Common Terns were seen at Hobson’s Park on 9th April, a pair along Riverside on 28th April (Rob Pople) and a pair noisily patrolling the northern edge of our study area at Milton Country Park on 2nd May. I do not know where the Riverside birds breed but they might be from Hobson’s Park.

Late Teal were at Eddington in the early part of the month but are easily disturbed to the ditches closer to the M11 where they may breed.

Male Teal at Eddington
Early juvenile Green Woodpecker at Milton Country Park (Trevor Kerridge)

The pair of Nuthatches were again seen at Girton College (Jon Heath) but nowhere else in the City despite searches. A dead Tawny owlet, almost fledged, was found in Jesus College grounds on 1st April (Rhona Watson) and a vigorous living owlet was at Girton College on 2nd April (Duncan McKay); a Chiffchaff in Gilbert Road on a cool damp evening on 2nd May and a Willow Warbler was singing in Tenison Road on 12th April (Martin Walters). On 2nd April two Swallows were near Darwin Green and on 18th April two Swallows were over Oxford Road but numbers of hirundines have been few; the regular nesting pair under the A14 bridge near Horningsea were seen on 2nd May and birds over Milton Country Park on the same day. Bullfinches are breeding in a garden in Huntingdon Road.

Throughout most of April Blackcaps were the commonest songbirds across the City. I have never heard so many – every suitable copse, clump of trees hedge, wayside shrubs or wooded garden seemed to have a singing male. Mill Road cemetery had four singing Blackcaps, two Chiffchaffs (and two singing Greenfinches) on 16th April.

Female Blackcap – bumper spring for this bird

There has been an interesting sequence of inland records in Cambridgeshire of Little Gulls and Arctic Terns this April but few coastal records from Norfolk or Suffolk of these pelagic species. Numbers of Little Gulls recorded at Grafham Water peaked at 37 on April 11th and 32 Arctic Terns at RSPB Fen Drayton on 27th April. I have seen large numbers of Little Gulls following the French and Dutch coasts north in spring to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia taking advantage of the prevailing south westerly winds. This April easterly winds might have stalled their passage round the coasts so they may have taken the short cut overland to the North Sea to avoid rounding the English Channel. This might add weight to the theory that overland passage following the SW/NE (NE/SW in autumn) trajectory of our major East Anglian river valleys – Ouse, Cam, Nene – is a regular overland migration flyway.

On 16th April a well fledged sub-adult Mistle Thrush was in the next field to 50 Fieldfares in the Fen Road meadows. Two Oystercatchers flew over the Botanic Gardens on 18th April (Nets Shelford) and again on 28th April (Rob Pople) – possibly the same birds; this species, exploring potential inland nest sites over our study area, occurs most springs.

On 17th April winds changed to gentle south easterlies and many spring migrants must have arrived. Rob Pople recorded 2 Reed Warblers at the Sanctuary in Adams Road on 28th April and I heard my first Whitethroats and a Garden Warbler in our study area on 2nd and 3rd May; Lesser Whitethroats were heard by the Milton cycle bridge, in the bushes by the Sewage Works and near Cambridge North Station on 2nd May. The first Swift was over the City on 1st May.

A possible new housing development in our study area next to Darwin Green may advance beyond the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road boundary footpath. I knew this land as Green Belt but there are proposals from Barratt Homes to build houses, and possibly a new school, up to the A14; this land was ‘scoped” by archaeological surveyors early this year. It has two pairs of breeding Grey Partridge and other Red Listed Farmland species including Yellowhammer, Linnet, and Yellow Wagtail; Barn Owls hunt this farmland regularly and a pair of Kestrels nest there. In 2016 four pairs of Lapwings nested – the first time in (at least) 50 years. – 3rd May 2019

March 2019 – “The Ravens have left the Tower”

Thirty-four Rooks nests were under construction in Girton College – it’s difficult to get an exact count as many are concealed in the canopy of a Scots Pine. Rooks used to be abundant in college grounds in West Cambridge and the “Backs” but this is the only college rookery in the City. “It’s as if the Ravens have left the Tower” said a friend who knew the area well in childhood. The Long Road rookery has 10 nests – the other rookeries in our study area have yet to be checked.

Rooks at Girton College

There is a rather dubious alleyway between Oasis and Gap that opens onto the Market Square – if unlocked it’s an excellent place to see Grey Wagtails! A pair was displaying there on 5thMarch and I suspect they nest on the roof of MnS.

On 6th March, at least 70 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were resting on the gravel exposures at Darwin Green. If left undeveloped this looks an opportunity for breeding Little-ringed Plovers. The area is secure so birding is difficult.

An early House Martin was over Trumpington Meadows on 10thMarch (Jill Aldred – and a Chiffchaff was singing in the orchard at Milton Country Park on 10th March; a few Widgeon were still there on 28thMarch and Great-crested Grebeswere displaying. Three or four Chiffs and Treecreeper were singing at Byrons Pool on 17thMarch and four Buzzards were overhead.

A ‘clasp’ of frogs in a garden pond – 18th March
Great Crested Grebes, Milton Country Park

Trumpington Meadows had 60+ Golden Plovers on the nearby arable and two Grey Wagtails also on 17th March with lots of Coltsfoot and Cowslips in flower and flowering Gorse (probably introduced) near the bridge over the M11. Iain Webb gave an excellent talk to the Wildlife Trust members about Trumpington Meadows as it develops as a Trust reserve on the edge of an urban development. He said that 105 bird species had been recorded so far – a notable exception was House Sparrow. In the mid-1970’s when this area was part of the trials ground of the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) flocks of hundreds (possible a thousand) of, mostly juvenile, House Sparrows would descend on the ripening winter wheat trials compromising the yield results. There was a dedicated sparrow killer who would chase flocks into a funnel trap and …. kill them! It seemed to make no difference to numbers. It was probably the change to winter arable sowings – winter wheat, winter barley and winter oilseed rape – and the loss of over-winter weedy stubbles that caused the extinction of countryside House Sparrows in our project area.

On the 18th March 5 Buzzards were over the A14 at the Histon interchange plus another single bird nearby.

Peter Bircham counted 100+ Snipe at Hobson’s Park on 19thMarch, two Corn Buntings were singing, Skylarks were very active, 50+ Grey-lag Geese were present and Black-headed Gulls were displaying – the islands have been strimmed (thanks, Guy Belcher), making ideal nest sites for the gulls and hopefully returning Common Terns. On the same day three Buzzards were over Homerton College and on 21stMarch two Buzzards were over Storeys Way.

The Riverside to Jesus Lock Black-headed Gulls had mostly left by 21st and night flying Redwings were heard on the 21stand 22ndMarch over Castle Hill and Mitcham’s Corner.

Skylark– Hobson’s Park
Buzzard over Chesterton

On 23rd March a concerted search for Nuthatches in the “Backs” found none despite the conditions looking ideal especially in St John’s College gardens; the day before four territories were located in Gamlingay wood by calls and sightings. The timing and conditions look right in the “Backs” but the birds are just not there. Also on 23rd March the female Peregrine was back at the City centre site. On 24th March 2 Blackcaps were singing in Robinson College, a Water Vole in the ditch behind King’s College and a pair of Mandarin Ducks near Byron’s Pool (Richard Palmer – These may have been birds disbursed from the colony at Wimpole.

On 28thMarch ten Chiffchaffs, and two Blackcaps were singing between Riverside and the A14 bridge at Horningsea including one Chiff behind Newmarket Road Tesco’s. Blackcap and a Chiff were heard in Huntingdon Road on 29thMarch.

My first of the year Holly Blue butterfly in Cherry Hinton on 29th March and a Buzzard was disturbed by crows from a tree at the end of Union Lane near the junction with Chesterton High Street.

Two Buzzard flew high over Elizabeth Way on 29th March and Chiffs were singing in Logan’s Meadow and Gough Way; three Buzzard were seen over Girton College on 31stand a Blackcap and Treecreeper were heard singing in the college grounds. A Blackcap was singing along Newnham Road in the tree where the burger van parks in the evening!

It has been a month of singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps and possibly 17 different Buzzards over our project area. The number of Buzzards is remarkable considering the first confirmed breeding, for many years,in the County occurred just 20 years ago in 1999. – 31st March 2019

March Sightings 2019


The first Frogspawn was recorded in Girton on Feb 27th (Ben) and then there were a slew of sightings between Mar 2ndand 4th (Pam, Simon, Guy, Simon, Val). Simon’s happy couple were spotted on 2nd while Pam’s March 4th spawn had become Tadpoles by 23rd.

Mating frogs    Simon Mentha
Frog guarding frogspawn    Pam Gatrell

Veronica reports activity at Newnham Croft School: 100 saplings have been planted in the wild area and the children have under-planted there with snowdrops and aconites.  The school maintenance team have cut back dead branches and cleared ivy and brambles, to open it up until the canopy recovers.  Sadly, a Muntjac deer population have moved in and are munching their way through the vegetable plot and flower beds. The children have witnessed Deer, Moles, a Fox that has its route along the back of the school grounds and a Pheasant that has taken a liking to the wheat bed. There are many more crows and magpies this year.


Richard has a grandstand view of the new nature reserve and lake at Great Kneighton. He comments on the activities of Black Headed Gulls, pestering Little Grebes and forcing them to dive repeatedly until they finally give up their catch. Sometimes the gull sat on the water waiting for the grebe to surface, but on occasion flew around, perhaps able to see the grebe under the water. Having watched this, he was then astonished to observe a Cormorant getting the same treatment from the much smaller gull!  Also, Black Headed Gulls mobbed and evicted a Lesser Black-backed Gull that had settled on ‘their’ pontoon.  Aggression certainly pays.

Newnham’s Heronry is again occupied. Mike reports 2 nests, each with at least one juvenile by 26th (begging calls) and on 18th a pair were spotted mating at 6 am. Birdsong begins about 5.15 am and a Blackbird in Owlstone Rd seems to be singing virtually round the clock. Newnham also has masses of Song Thrushes and Chiffchaff  were heard in Paradise March 23rd .


Jonathan noted Holly Leaf-miner Phytomyza ilicis, while working at West Pit.  He thinks it will be present elsewhere in the city, though doesn’t recall seeing it before. Have you seen any? Liza reports a non-native plant on Empty Common, called Nonea lutea, belonging  to the borage family.  It looks like a primrose-yellow lungwort and has most likely seeded over from the Botanic Garden. Jonathan confirms it is “wild” there, with a couple of records from Cambridge and nine in the county as a whole.  Has anyone else seen it growing wild?  

Nonea lutea    Liza Steel


At last, some of the blossom may have coincided with the emergence of pollinators.  There have been lots of bees and Trevor records “Watching a very large Bumble Bee [no white rump] with my 5 year old grandson. It was making very slow progress across the staging in my greenhouse. Twice it fell over on its back and after righting it, it fell over again, then delighted my grandson by sending out a stream of presumably urine, at least ten inches into the air.  I was most impressed by the volume, probably the result of a whole winter sleep.” Wow!

Other invertebrates include a Hawthorn Shield Bug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale,

Hawthorn Shield Bug     Pam Gatrell

Queen Wasps coming out of hibernation, a Yedoensis prunus alive with dozens of bees, including Buff Tails and Solitary Bees (Pam). Several people have noted that it is a bumper year for 7-Spot Ladybirds.  I have not seen any Harlequins yet.

Muslin Moth   Paul Rule
Oak Beauty   Paul Rule 

On 15th the most attractive of winter moths finally turned up in Paul’s garden, the Oak Beauty. Then, the first Muslin Moth seen this year, which despite appearances, was only playing dead.

Butterflies in March

Brimstone (June, Val, Suki, Rhona, Paul), Holly Blue (June, Paul, Rhona), Peacock (Rhona, Suki, Paul, Ben), Small Tortoiseshell (Paul, Ben), Comma (Paul), Large White (Suki), Red Admiral (Suki), and Speckled Wood (Rhona) add up to a good tally for the month.

Speckled Wood     Rhona Watson

On 21st March, Ben’s hibernating Hedgehog emerged bang on time for the solstice.  On 29th, Paul found this one sniffing around the moth trap. March is the month when they emerge from hibernation and I am waiting for another one to re-home.

Emerging Hedgehog     Paul Rule

Finally, I am not sure what to make of: “Just to report a very dizzy small groundswell in my garden (CB4)”. A bad case of Google Auto-Confuse or tiny earthquake in North Cambridge?

Garden Birding

My garden lies on the northern boundary of Cambridge. The garden is a decent size; containing a pond, mature shrubs/trees, with also a fair amount of visible sky. It is surrounded by further residential areas to the south and the rapidly developing Cambridge Science Park to the north. Over the past 20 years I have watched and documented the birds coming into and flying over the garden. Recently this has also included monitoring migrating birds flying over at night in the spring and autumn (‘nocmig’). To date (March 2019) my garden list stands at 105 species, with an additional 18 species ‘sound-recorded only’.

Waxwing – Feb 2010
Reed Warbler – May 2016
Ring-necked Parakeet – Sep 2013

The key to garden bird listing is to learn which time of year / weather conditions are best and then to concentrate observation effort at these important points. Autumn is generally the most the productive time of the year. Late August and early September sees the best chance of finding unusual garden warblers; including Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. Late September through to early November is the key time to observe visible-migration (‘vismig’). On days with preferable conditions (overcast with light northerly or easterly winds) hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of Redwing and Fieldfare can pass over. Common migrants moving with the thrushes will often include Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Pied Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. There is, however, always the chance of something a bit rarer passing over, and at this time in the past few years Hawfinch and Merlin have been seen over.

Merlin – Oct 2017
Short-eared Owl – Mar 2017
Great Crested Grebe – Feb 2016

Winter generally provides a more standard set of garden birds. There is often little change, though regular watching of feeders can turn up Redpoll or Siskin, or better yet a Brambling. Blackcaps are now fairly common winter visitors to Cambridge gardens, and are frequently attracted to cut apples. Harsh winter weather can produce unusual species such as Fieldfare turning up in the garden, while it’s also a good time to look for weather-displaced birds flying over such as Lapwing and Golden Plover, or even Woodcock.

Migration kicks in again with the onset of Spring, with it now the time to listen out for singing migrants including Chiffchaff and Blackcap and then Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat later in the season. Last year I was lucky enough to hear my first Cuckoo singing in the distance. Warm, sunny spring days are often the best time to ‘sky-watch’ for soaring raptors. Buzzards are now very regular, with Red Kites becoming increasingly common and Marsh Harriers nearly annually seen. One spring sky watching session miraculously provided a high-flying Short-eared Owl and warm conditions in the past week produced another new garden addition – 4 soaring Common Cranes!

Osprey – Aug 2014
Mediterranean Gull – July 2013
Marsh Harrier – Oct 2013
Common Crane – Feb 2019

Jon Heath March 2019