Category Archives: Project Blog

This blog will record the progress of the project as we go along.

July Sightings 2019


Grass Snakes have been very abundant this month – Duncan reports six at Barnwell pit, others at Empty Common, in East Barnwell nature reserve and swimming across Cherry Hinton lakes. One was also seen in Fulbrooke Road.  Then great excitement in the press when a nine foot Python climbed out of an upstairs window and was awol for 5 days, before recapture.

Python on the loose!


It is a quiet time for birds, but the Newnham Swifts have done well, with 8 fledged altogether, the last on 31st. The (now empty) LMB building at Addenbrooke’s has at least 50 House Martin nests (Richard). Guy spotted 3 juvenile Green Woodpeckers feeding together on an ant hill at Sheep’s Green. In Newnham, 3 tawny owl chicks have fledged. Peter reports small groups of Long-tailed Tits seen quite often in the apple trees, while at Pinehurst, Jill had good views of a Jay. There were lots of Gulls (mainly Black Headed) and Corvids (Rooks and Jackdaws) on the playing fields of St Bedes (Holly). Rhona had excellent views of a female Sparrowhawk in Jesus Woods, which had just caught a young Moorhen. Kingfishers are always a joy to see and Steve reports one seen in Queens’ ditch.


Butterflies are having a fantastic year.  The Histon Rd cemetery count totals 22 species, including a Marbled White, not previously seen there. There was another in Trumpington, on some Cardoon flowers (Mo). Liza reports the small form of the female Small Blue butterfly Cupido minimus, with total wing span just 16mm, on Trumpington Meadows. There have been huge numbers of Painted Ladies (Mo, Mary, Martin).  A  White-letter Hairstreak was seen on 8th July near Bourn Brook (Jeff S) and Purple Emperor female on Buddleia at roadside 200m N of Cambridge North station on 16th July (Chris H). Interesting to speculate where this came from, as they are found “High in the tree-tops of well-wooded landscapes in central-southern England” – hardly a description of N Cambridge!

Other invertebrates

Dragon and Damselflies are also doing very well. Duncan found a White-Legged Damselfly on Grantchester Meadows – a first for the NatHistCam study area and generally rare in Cambridgeshire, but apparently expanding their range north and east. Then, just outside our area on the Cam at Horningsea, were two more displaying males and a tandem pair of White-legged Damselflies, seen on 16th July (Jeff).  Rhona reports from Jesus College a Southern Hawker, a Migrant Hawker and her first Black-tailed Skimmer.

Lots of other Invertebrate records this month. On cedar tree stump at Cherry Hinton Hall, Rob found a Giant Horntail Urocerus gigas (a sawfly) being predated by a Steatoda spider. Liza found many tiny black bees (5mm) Chelostoma campanularum, which specialise on Campanula plants.  Kevin was delighted to find 2 Hornet Mimic Hoverflies on buddleia and also in Histon Rd was a 6-spot Burnet Moth (Sue Woodsford). Meanwhile, down the road in Chesterton, Bronwyn was invaded by a Hornet Robberfly Asilus crabroniformis….. “It came into the house, there were tiny children all around and everyone too scared to even take a picture of it!!” These fearsome-looking flies are top predators of dung flies and this was less than 1k from the grazing on Stourbridge Common.

Equally scary to arachnophobes, Jill reported a Harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosus on her bedroom ceiling in Pinehurst. The extra long second pair of legs act as feelers.  Paul noted a soldier fly, Banded General Stratiomys potamida on Coldhams Common. This guy looks rather like a very flat wasp – it was regarded as a rarity in the 19th century, but has increased its distribution in recent years. A second Cambridge record this month was seen in Shaftsbury Rd. Paul also noted a Pale Prominent Moth and an Eyed Ladybird. Rhoda found Social Pear Tree Sawfly larvae Neurotoma saltuum on the Medlar tree in Jesus.  Penny was blessed with visits from Hummingbird Hawk-moths.


There were several reports of Water Voles; along Robinson Crusoe island ditch (Guy), at Jesus College (Rhona), in Paradise (Jeff) and Cherry Hinton (Holly), so they are plainly doing well.  The Hares noted in the spring are now all over the fields behind Fulbrooke Road. I continue to release Hedgehogs in Newham, well away from the known Badger hotspots.


One interesting find was Broad-leaved Helleborine on the CNHS visit to Cherry Hinton Lakes.  The last time it had been reported in the Cherry Hinton area was around 1770 (Jonathan).  This does show the value of the NatHistCam project in getting permission to visit sites in the City that are not usually visited. And finally, the line of Oak Trees along the Baulk track in Newnham, planted and replanted over the past four years, are finally burgeoning (Jill).

Broad-Leaved Helleborine

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

June Sightings 2019

Birds.  It has been an excellent year for warblers!  Duncan’s request for Dawn Chorus recordings from mobile phones provided 24 contributions and the outstanding result was that 11 had Blackcaps singing in them. Blackbirds were found on 17 and Wrens on 16. One had a Garden Warbler – fairly unusual, but another one, heard in Paradise, made it onto Radio 4 with Tony Jupiter praising the green spaces of Cambridge. A Willow Warbler was around between 3-7th June on the edge of Trumpington Park & Ride car park (Hugo) and Chiffchaffs are also abundant.

In spite of problems with the male, a city Peregrine was seen carrying feral pigeon prey over Market square (Guy). The out-of-town pair have also done well: by 18th, all 3 chicks were fledged and had left the nest.  They will probably be around for the next few weeks before being driven off by the parents (Norman).  A Barn Owl was seen hunting over Grantchester Meadows on Friday 29 June (Hugo). Also, a Cuckoo was noisily making his presence known on 10th to the South of Trumpington Meadows (Mo).

Grey Wagtail Norman De’Ath

Earlier in the year, a pair of French Partridges turned up in Newnham and recently reappeared with 3 young in tow. At Byron’s Pool was great to see a male Grey Wagtail on the lily pads.

Val’s early morning rowing turned up lots of new arrivals on the river: Herons of various vintages, Swans with Cygnets (3 different clutches of 1, 2 and 5 near Stourbridge Common), Moorhen with 2 teeny babies near The Plough in Fen Ditton, a set of Ducklings (6, newly hatched, 5 brown and 1 yellow) and House Martins hunting over the water. For further entertainment, there was a Bullock in the river, being patiently retrieved by Council workers. She comments that there were far fewer Swifts than before and it does seem to be a bad year for them, though the Owlstone Rd pair are feeding 2 chicks (Pam). 

Mammals On 11th, a nocturnal trip through Paradise produced recordings of 6 species of Bat (Paul). These were Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle (lots), Daubenton’s, Brown Long-eared, Noctule, Serotine.  Other mammal records were the 2 Hedgehogs which returned to Maggie after a 10 month absence and the Muntjac which leapt over Ron’s deer fence yet again!

June N asks, “Does the sighting of a Grass Snake among some ivy near a pond in Chesterton deserve a mention (about the diameter of a good sized thumb)?”  It certainly does – I reckon to see one every 10 years if I am lucky. I did recently disturb a black Toad under the dustbins, though.

Wool Carder Bee Rhona Watson

Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funesta Rhona Watson

Invertebrates.  Rhona sent a picture of a Wool Carder bee on Lamb’s Ear  – more evidence of Jesus College’s rich diversity. Then a new record for Cambridge, the Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funestaa small chafer probably imported to Jesus College on a rootball. They are common on Continental Europe, but with few UK records (Rhona). A Hummingbird Hawk-moth appeared on my honeysuckle for a few minutes.

Lesser Stag Beetle Annette Shelford

Urophora cardui, a thistle gall fly

Simon Mentha

A Lesser Stag Beetle arrived in a moth trap in Chesterton (Nets) and a fly was snapped in Cheney Way (Simon).  This was identified as Urophora cardui, a thistle gall fly. The female lays her eggs in thistle flower heads, usually Creeping Thistle, causing damage to the seeds. They are sometimes used in thistle weed control.

Dragonflies. In early June, Bill had Broad-bodied Chasers mating over the garden pond. Scarce Chasers were found at Fen Ditton and a colony of Variable Damselfly on Ditton meadows. Eddington lake has now got a good population of Damselflies and Dragonflies while Byrons pool has masses of Banded Demoiselles.

Emperor Dragonfly Duncan Mackay

Butterflies   Trumpington Meadows is a huge success story. The wildflower meadows are superb and besides the recent appearance of Small Blue butterflies, Mo sent the following list:   Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Painted Lady, Common BlueMarbled White butterflies were reported from Coldham’s Common.

Marbled White Paul Rule

Large Skipper Mo Sibbons

Moths  Some recent finds illustrated below (Paul).

Spectacle moth Abrostola tripartita Paul Rule

Glyphotaelius pellucidus Paul Rule

Cherry bark Tortrix Limnephilus lunatus Paul Rule

Fungus From sublime to ridiculous in Paradise?  The mildew Podosphaera filipendulae on Meadowsweet (Chris) and the gigantic Chicken of the Woods on a Willow tree were both observed on the riverside path in May Week, as punters enjoyed the post-exam sunshine.

Chicken of the Woods

David Williams

Podosphaera filipendulae Chris Preston

And finally, a really nice bee orchid on Trumpington Meadows (Norman) and others reported at Nuttings Road (Guy).

Olwen Williams

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

May Sightings 2019

What better sound to welcome the spring than the Cuckoo! Heard in Newnham Riverbank Club on 10th, by the river at Byron’s Pool on 12th, then finally over Trumpington Meadows on 27th. Thanks to John, Jean and Mo, but alas not heard by me – I had to travel to Suffolk for mine.

By May 9th, the Swifts were back in Eden Street (Suki). On 12thDorothea said, “Swifts have just done a fly past over my house – they really lift my spirits!”  By 14th Pam reported swifts in the nest box on camera and a little later, a dramatic 2 hour fight between 2 males: “Male intruder swift fights with resident male. Female on nest variously joins in, yawns, preens, flies off for a while, then goes altogether.  Two hours later, the defeated intruder exits still just alive and the victor rests in the nest for hours. (It is often a fight to the death.)”  Later the female returned and they were both peaceful on the nest.  Eggs were laid on 28thand 29th. Apparently females are faithful to the nest site, but not necessarily to the male, so a victorious male intruder may be accepted by her.

Consolation for the Victor   Pam Gatrell

Guy reports two Swallow nests high up under the Addenbrooke’s Access Rd bridge on Hobson’s Park, but Martin comments how very few swallows there are this season. Mo noted that the House Martins were back nesting on the old MRC building at Addenbrooke’s.

Great Spotted Woodpecker    Duncan Mackay

Nesting Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen on Grantchester Meadow (Jeff) and with young in a hole at Cherry Hinton Hall (Duncan). I also had an unconfirmed report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Paradise in early May – exciting news if so.  Tawny Owls, with 2 chicks, are nesting in a garden in Newnham and a Red Kite was sighted over Newnham mill pond.

Ann sent a picture of a Mallard’s nest beside a friend’s garage in Luard Rd. It was totally camouflaged, but a few days later, 6 ducklings appeared.

Hidden Mallard’s nest   Ann Laskey

Holly reports from Cherry Hinton brook: Little Egret, perhaps breeding on the lakes, lots of warblers: Blackcap,Chiffchaff, Cetti’s and Reed Warbler, but no recent Willow Warbler.  Lots of Whitethroat around this year. There have been several broods of Moorhen and one of 7 Mallard ducklings on the Brook, doing well in spite of the Sparrow Hawk!

It has been a good month for invertebrate records. Sam noted a bright lemon yellow Ladybird  with no spots and wondered if it was newly hatched. After emergence from the pupa, 7-Spot Ladybirds are indeed yellow and spotless, the colours changing over the next 3-4 hours.  

Newly emerged 7-Spot Ladybird

7-Spot Ladybird, after 3 hours 

Jean found a 3mm 14-Spot Ladybird in Trumpington Meadows. Another 1 showed up in my garden and there are Mayflies about on the river: this one is Ephemera vulgata.

Mayfly    Paul Rule
Salticus scenicus    Chris Preston

Arachnophobes look away now! This tiny jumping spider, Salticus scenicus, loves warm walls and may well jump onto your hand or even come indoors – thanks Chris. Those eyes always remind me of aviator goggles.

Cinnamon Bug  Paul Rule

Paul lists his haul from a short visit to Byrons Pool / Trumpington Meadows: Cinnamon bugs, Corizus hyoscyami, and Black-and-Red Froghoppers, Cercopis vulnerata, the Soldier Beetles Cantharis decipiens and C. Pellucida, Phyllobius pomaceus (Green Nettle Weevil) and Byturus ochraceus (Pollen Beetle),  with large numbers on buttercup flowers.

Black and Red Froghopper  Ceropsis vulnerata     Paul Rule
Cantharis decipiens   Paul Rule

Hobson Park has had a series of infestations of Brown-tail Moth caterpillars affecting young specimens of willow, hawthorn and other deciduous species, which are being defoliated. Vanessa found the ‘tents’ (which looked as if made of a tough white polythene) on various young shrubs last autumn and Richard rather unwisely opened one with his bare hands to reveal many ‘hibernating’  caterpillars. (Fortunately he did not develop the nasty persistent rash which can occur with this species.)

Green Silver-lines Moth    Paul Rule

Paul’s moth trap caught 75moths, (22 species, including 5 new garden records) in one night, of which the most spectacular was a Green Silver-lines. Ben’s moth trap turned up an intruder – a red Ichneumon Wasp, most probably a Netelia species. These are parasitic, laying their eggs inside a caterpillar.

Ichneumon Wasp   Ben Greig
Mating Azure Damselflies    Duncan Mackay

In response to warmer temperatures and night time temperatures in double figures in mid May, there has been a huge hatch of Dragonflies all over Cambridge. Duncan found Hairy Dragonfly, Broad Bodied Chaser, 4-Spot Chaser, Variable Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, and Red Eyed Damselfly. More recently, Banded Demoiselle have also appeared (Jeff, Paul, Mo).

4-Spot Chaser   Duncan Mackay

Painted Lady Butterfly    Paul Rule

Butterflies have also appeared in good numbers,including a Small Blue Butterfly inTrumpington Meadows, Sunday 26th May.  This species has been ‘extinct’ in Cambridgeshire for 15 years and is now breeding in Trumpington Meadows. Thanks Mo for that one! Paul reports the first migrant butterfly: a lone Painted Lady on the Coldhams Common survey on May 30th.

Tree Bumblebees Bombus hypnorum are again appearing in numbers – variously looking to make their home in a nest box on a tree and in an old watering can which was stuffed with straw in the hope of attracting robins.

On 15thMay, a Newnham Bat walk in Paradise found both Common and Soprano Pipestrelles, also Daubentons Bats flying low over the river. (We were surprised by a fly-by of a couple of Herons at 10pm, calling loudly in the dark.) I get regular updates on visiting Hedgehogs, including a new sighting in Trumpington. Foxes continue to do well, especially at Jesus college, also one with 3 small cubs at the back of St. Phillip’s Primary School, off Vinery Road and one in the Botanic Gardens, where Mary also saw a Muntjac.

Fox with young rat in Jesus College     Rhona Watson

At the Stapleford Pit (a nature reserve just under Magog Down) we found large numbers of Roman Snails, in a very active state! They were introduced here about 80 years ago and continue to flourish. (This site is marginally outside our study area, but too good to miss.)

 Roman Snails   Menage a trois     Norman De’Ath

Finally, Jeff spotted a Grass Snake in the Paradise pond – what luck!  Perhaps it will find the masses of tadpoles flourishing this year – this batch was at East Barnwell Reserve.

Tadpoles in Barnwell Reserve  Duncan Mackay

Olwen Williams        

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

April Sightings 2019

Spring– the best I can remember – has given us a long period of fluctuating warm and cold spells, with enough rain to keep things moving.  This has prolonged the emergence of leaves and spring flowers.  Duncan reports fish are migrating into small streams to spawn and sends a picture of two large Chub in the ditch around Jesus college.

Chub     Duncan Mackay


Colin was sitting on a bench by Baits Bite Lock (April 1st) when approached by a weasel which came right up to the toe of his boot: very small with body under six inches long and no black tip to tail. Larger mammals in the city are also reported: the Jesus College Foxes have made it on to national media ( and Nets saw a Roe Deer in her Chesterton back garden. Jill caught a hare in Fulbrooke Wood on a night camera.

Roe Deer  Annette Shelford
Midnight Hare   Jill Newcombe

Bats have emerged in the last couple of weeks (one dead Pipistrelle on my mat, sadly) and lots over the new lake at Hobson’s Park. Alec noted a brown Rat in the shed, which then declined and a day later was found dead. However, Duncan was witness to the birth of a Muntjac fawn and managed to film the mother as she cleaned it up.  (


 Lots of reports of the arrival of spring migrants: Swallows on 2nd (Bob) and 14th (Holly), Cetti’s Warbler singing in scrub by lakes across from St Bedes crescent, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing all along the brook (Holly), Blackcaps in Jesus College (Rhona) and on feeders in Newnham (Jean), Willow Warbler (17th Holly, mid-April Martin Tenison Ave, 27th Olwen Grantchester Meadows).

Blackcap    Rhona Watson

Jays seem to be doing well: Duncan reports the beech woods are full of them and I saw 5 flying together over the playing fields. Judith noted a part-albino Blackbird on 4th, at Christ’s Pieces and the first baby Moorhen brood was seen on 17th April. A Tawny Owl chick was spotted at Girton College.

Jay    Duncan Mackay
Juvenile Tawny Owl, Girton College    Duncan Mackay

Sue notes. “Our lawn has been dive bombed by Starlings over the past week – up to around two dozen. We haven’t seen a starling for about five years, so I am not sure what has attracted them”.

Mike reports that the Paradise Heronry has 12 “Apparently occupied nests” to date and that numbers are still stable despite some favoured trees blown down in recent years.  This was in contrast with the other large colony in the area (Stapleford), which was down from 10-15 pairs to only one in 2017, then totally abandoned in 2018. He believes that a gang of super aggressive Rooks,that were displaced from their usual site, harassed the herons so much in the early spring of 2017 that they departed.  (In Paradise, the Rooks gather in the winter, but depart as the herons arrive leaving only some Jackdaws from the big winter flock.)

 A couple of unusual sightings: on 18th Nets was unpacking the moth traps at the Botanic Garden at 08.20am when an Oystercatcher flew over calling loudly. She presumed it had been grounded by the fog. Then on 19th, I saw a pair of Mandarin Ducks on Pembroke playing fields. But where are all the Nuthatches? They seem to have vanished from all their former city sites, including the Beechwoods reserve. Have you seen any?

Richard reports drama on Hobson’s lake at Great Kneighton. He witnessed a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls systematically removing and eating Greylag Goose eggs on the islands in the lake, while Black Headed Gulls mobbed the larger gulls.  Then on 9th April, four Common Terns visited, disappeared and then reappeared on 24th April and have stayed since then, catching insects and feeding on fish robbed from the Great Crested Grebes! Their technique is to hover and then swoop on the grebe, forcing it to dive again and abandon the fish. A juvenile Black-Headed Gull appeared to be watching this and when the Grebe emerged from another dive with a fish, it used the same tactics.  However, the grebes seem to be flourishing in spite of all this and at least one pair has, on several occasions, started (but not completed) their wonderfully elaborate courtship display.  Finally, a pair of Canada Geese were seen shepherding six goslings around the perimeter of the lake – the first hatchlings of the year. Evidently more successful than the Greglags in keeping off the predators!


The ongoing battle against Floating Pennywort continues, this picture showing more in the Cam at Fen Ditton this month. If you see any, please hoick it out!  On 6th,we spotted a plant which turned out to be Annual Mercury, Mercurialis annua  in Mill Rd Cemetery – a new one for me, but apparently fairly common.  Many flowers now coming out -particularly noticeable is the Bulbous Buttercup, with its turned down sepals, which is turning meadows yellow.

Floating Pennywort   Duncan Mackay

Jean reports the first small plums appearing on the many Cherry Plum trees (Prunus cerasifera) around Cambridge, a legacy of the Edwardian’s use of this species for hedging.  Last year a wide-spread infection by Taphrina pruni affected all these trees, destroying their fruit.  This fungal plant pathogen of Blackthorn(Prunus spinosa) causes the Pocket or Bladder Plum gall, a chemically induced distortion of the fruit,which becomes swollen on one side, resulting in a deformed and flattened fruit gall without a stone. The twigs on infected plants may also be deformed with small strap-shaped leaves. This year, the infection is still present on these trees and signs of the fruit deformation already visible.

Taphrina pruni infection   Rosser  Wiki


Small Tortoiseshell
Paul Ru

Holly Blue        Paul Rule

Everything is waking up fast, the first Peacock butterfly of the year on 1st April (Pam, Olwen) Holly Blues in good numbers from 1st April (Duncan, Paul, Rhona), Orange Tips (Duncan, Pam), Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone (Pam) and Comma (Paul).

Comma Paul Rule
Female Orange Tip         Rhona Watson

There are also lots of 7-spot Ladybirds, and Jonathan spotted the rather uncommon Eyed Ladybird in Robinson College.  Sightings of others welcome!

Eyed Ladybird 

Penny reports “An insect with a very long proboscis on a patch of Aubretia. It was the size of a large bumble-bee with caramel coloured wings, a grey head and black and white back end. The long proboscis went into each individual aubretia flower while the wings were flapping so fast that it reminded me of a hummingbird”. This was confirmed as a Humming-bird Hawk-moth, now probably resident in UK.

The earliest damselflies appeared April 23rd. Jeff saw 2 female Large Red Damselflies in Newnham and then a male on 26th April. More were seen over the Easter weekend: Banded Damoiselle on the Cam near Baits Bite Lock and a Large Red Damselfly in the pond at Cherry Hinton hall (Duncan). Hoverflies are also appearing –this Nursery Web Spider has just caught one and if you hold your hands up in a sunny glade in a wood it is quite likely you can get a hoverfly to land on your fingertips…

Hoverfly  Duncan Mackay
Nursery Web Spider with Hoverfly          
Duncan Mackay

Olwen Williams

PS I have had the Newnham Riverbank Club sightings for 2018: they include Kingfisher, Heron, Snipe, Common Tern, Red Kite, Little Egret, Green Plover (Lapwing) and Otter footprints.

River Temperatures ranged from 0.5C on Mar 2nd– 23.0C on June 25th.T

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?