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.
The 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 Godwits, Avocet, Stone Curlews; Common Scoters, Tree Pipits …! 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 “nocmig”! Astonishing!
Dawn Chorus Day – Sunday 3rd May: my urban list is rather feeble: Blackbird (started at 04:10), Robin, Great Tit, Blackcap (distant), Woodpigeon, Collared Dove!
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.
Swifts appeared in ones and twos but there was a big arrival overnight on 6th May; I think numbers are down on previous years. Eachard Road is the best road in the City for House Sparrows! Goldcrests 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.
Common Wheatears have been seen at Trumpington Meadows and Hobson’s Park on 2nd and 12th May respectively (Jill Aldred/Andrew Dobson www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). 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.
A Cuckoo was heard at Trumpington Meadows on 19th and King’s Hedges on 21st May (Mark Jackson www.cbcwhats about.blogspot.com). A Kingfisher flew fast past King’s College on 20th May and another Buzzard passed low over St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton on 21st.
The Hobson’s Park Black-headed Gull 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 was unusual on 22nd May and around the edge of the lake and the periphery of the park five Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler (not many of them about this year?) were singing in mid-May. Corn Buntings 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!
On 27th May a Red Kite 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.
Bob Jarman 31st May 2020. firstname.lastname@example.org