Category Archives: Project Blog

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

December 2018 – more astonishing night-time flyovers

Simon Gillings has more astonishing night time recordings of fly-over bird calls from over his Chesterton garden including a Bittern just after midnight on 16th November. I have heard the birds’ peculiar and distinctive “grunty” bark flight call at Lakenheath RSPB reserve on a summer daytime feeding flight. On the night of the 17th November he recorded at least 33 Dunlins flying over and on the 18th, his busiest thrush night so far: over 800 Redwings, 79 Blackbirds, 5 more Dunlins and a Water Rail. @simon_gillings Astonishing! Simon’s and Jon Heath’s “nocmig” recordings have added a new dimension to birding.

Are these birds moving on a broad front over the county and Simon catches just a part of this, are the birds attracted to the City lights or are these birds following a flyway/highway on a NE/SW trajectory following the river Cam valley?

On 11th November a Yellow-legged Gull and a late House Martin at Hobson’s Park (Rob Pople) and on 15th November a single Bearded Tit around the lake at Trumpington Meadows (Iain Webb):

Ten to 15+ Bramblings were in the Beechwoods throughout most of November (Mike Foley, John Raven). I saw only 3-4 on 19th near the entrance but found them difficult to see and managed a poor photograph. On the 19th November, a dead and partially eaten (by Magpies) Woodcock was found in Jesus college grounds (Rhona Watson) and Rhona told me of a male Blackcap in the City and one in Huntingdon Rd on 3rd December. These are the first Blackcap records, this winter; I suspect the weather has not been cold enough to force birds into urban gardens and seek food security from garden feeders.

Brambling – Beechwoods

While having a cup of (Mario’s) excellent coffee at Don’s (Don Pasquale’s) on the Market Square, a Peregrine was seen on roof tops, on 23rd November. I estimate the chances of seeing a Peregrine near/around/over the Market Square about 30%;    astonishing considering the only reliable location to see Peregrines, when I started birdwatching, was a quarry behind Aviemore in the Highlands.

The building of the new cycle way over the river next to the Chesterton railway bridge has, sadly, forced the removal of a mixed species hedge which had breeding Common Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats this year. The majority of UK breeding Lesser Whitethroats nest in hedge-rows.

St Regis, the apartment complex in Chesterton Road which has the biggest breeding Swift colony in the City, is being demolished. Hopefully returning birds next May will move to the Swift Tower on Logan’s Meadow.

Three hundred Golden Plovers flew over the north edge of our project area on 24th November and 4-500 were over the A14/M11 junction on the same day with about 50 Lapwings.

Cormorant, RiversideLapwings, Riverside (left)                                               Cormorant roost (right)

A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the edge of a farm reservoir on the northern edge of our project area on 25th November. Goldcrests rarely make the 75m journey from a neighbouring mature Lellandii to my small Chesterton garden but they did during the coldest day so far this winter on 26th November. On 30th November, a Mistle Thrush was singing outside Murray Edwards College on Huntingdon Road and on 1st December a Common Buzzard over Benson St/Priory Road was mobbed by corvids at roof-top height.

Peregrine from Don Pasquale’s Jesus Lock (left)  Black-headed Gulls – 1st yr. bird 2nd from bottom (right)

Black-headed Gulls are assembling from Jesus Lock to Riverside and Parker’s Piece; the maximum count so far is 98 (270 last year) – of these about 10% are 1st winter birds – i.e. reared from eggs this calendar year. Their main food is earthworms on our riverside greens and water meadows; amongst them have been about a dozen Common Gulls.

On 4th December, a Tawny Owl was heard briefly in Magdalene Street behind St Clement’s Church; the Riverside Cormorants roost was 6 birds; just opposite the Darwin Green development, on sugar beet stubble, a flock of about 200 Linnets and on 5th a Barn Owl over Coldham’s Common c19:15 (Simon Gillings).

Duncan McKay says that six Badger sets are located within a mile radius of the City centre. Polecats have been moving east following the corridors of our major roads; there is a well-established group at Camborne and apparently a pair reared kits in Chesterton 2-3 years ago!

Bob Jarman
10th December 2018

November sightings 2018

At the beginning of the month, Sandie found a Garden Spider blocking her exit from the house. In trying to get a photograph of the beautiful web, she made it look quite scarily large!

Garden Spider

Araneus diadematus

Sandie Mercer


This has been a month of bird sightings and (at last) some fungi.  I have been somewhat dismayed at the absence of small birds locally, but at British Antarctic Survey garden, Goldfinches have returned and in Newnham, Pam reports an influx of birds to feeders in late November: Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits, a few Goldfinches, at least four Blackbirds, males singing loudly in high ash trees, a  very young Robin and ever present Magpies. She also  heard a Wren in Paradise. Then Sue says there were far more Blue Tits than usual on the feeders, so maybe it was a good breeding year for them.  She also has a plague of Pigeons, which have decimated the large holly tree, leaving nothing for Christmas decorations! Mary has flocks of both Goldfinches and Long Tailed Tits in Highsett, while in Petersfield, Val has a visiting garden Wren.  She also noted Little Grebes on the river and Cormorants high in the trees towards Fen Ditton and a smallish flock of Starlings atop the Church on St Matthew’s Street.

 Wren   Paul Rule

Several other garden events were reported: June lives by the Cam in Chesterton and has had  about 14 Swans interested in the windfall apples, also two Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the bird feeder.  Jenny asks, “This morning a large Heron walked up and down on the top of hedge eyeing the pond but did not venture any closer. Do you think the sculpture heron at the pond’s edge really is a deterrent?”  In Eden St, a flock of Redwings appeared in the back garden. Mike looked out one day to see 10 male Blackbirds, presumed new arrivals from the continent.

In Arbury Rd, Colin was peacefully watching football when,  “A dirty great hawk (Sparrow hawk?) bombed down from the sky and completely flattened a poor fat Pigeon that had been safely grazing on the lawn.  It started plucking, then winged off, bearing the remains of its prey in its talons. I was left to ruminate on the fact that in 21 years in Kenya, I witnessed only one kill – of a water buck by a leopard – whereas in Cambridge I can watch kills from my armchair.”

In Empty Common, we had great views of a Little Egret (small white heron with black bill, yellow feet) fishing in Hobson’s Brook and perching in the trees above.  In the woods, a Jay was calling and they seem much more visible in autumn, busy collecting supplies for the winter ahead.  Judith noted one in the garden in Leys Rd – beautiful colours.

Blue Jay

Little Egret

Song Thrush and Wrens have been singing intermittently on the warmer days of the month. The mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks over Paradise Island is deafening at dawn and dusk, 200-300 birds circling the air and calling – wonderful sight and sound.  A spectacular murmuration of 500-600 Starlings has persisted over Bolton’s Pit (the lake in Newnham), circling at dusk, before suddenly settling on the reeds in the middle of the lake. As they settled, I noticed a couple of Bats emerging. November has been quite mild and these had evidently not hibernated yet (Nov 15th).

Starlings over Bolton’s Pit

Olwen Williams Nov 15th


Newnham’s river corridor is home to six species of bat: Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared, Daubenton’s, Noctule and Serotine. There is constant tension between the human need to see, be seen and feel secure and the need to avoid light pollution along the river, for example at the Canoe Club, the Queens’ hostel and the cycle way across Sheep’s Fen.  My own view of cycling here at night is that unless your bike lights are good enough to show you the way, it is safer to use Fen Causeway.  Stud illumination is already in place and for the sake of wildlife, this must not be increased to full lighting. Bats are particularly susceptible to intrusive light.

A small excursion along the Grantchester Meadows turned up the usual Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen, and Black-headed Gulls. More excitingly, there were a couple of Cormorants, a Dabchick (Little Grebe) fishing along the bank and finally a Kingfisher flying upstream.  This meeting was called to discuss the severe and increasing problem of river bank erosion, due mainly to grazing cattle but also punts, people and their dogs. Remedial measures will be needed, with alternative drinking places for cattle.

Kingfisher  Paul Rule

Sue noted a black Squirrel just outside the back door. Melanistic squirrels occur as a dominant mutation of the grey and are fairly common in N. Cambridge. Indeed, they are found in a ribbon across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and in some hot-spots, blacks now outnumber greys, making up an estimated three-quarters of the squirrel population in villages such as Girton.  June reports a large Hedgehog in Chesterton, still active at the end of the month and sadly, a dead young one in Frank’s Lane.

Foxes seem to be doing well. I left food out for the hedgehogs and was surprised that the plastic bowl was disappearing as well as the food. After the third one went, I set the camera and found the fox had stuck his nose through the hedgehog hole in the gate.

Visiting fox                  Olwen Williams

Jenny has had chickens at the bottom of the garden since coming back to Cambridge 3 years ago, but this month acquired a family of Foxes – “They came, they ate and they stayed”. So she won’t be keeping chickens again anytime soon!

Alan reported several small self-sown plants of Sophora microphylla by St Bene’t’s church – a first county record for the species. Then Jonathan reports interesting finds during the CNHS visit to Bramblefields: Royal Mallow (Malva trimestris) growing by a pond – its second record in the county.  That excursion also turned up some fungi, including rare Conocybe plicatella (aka Pholiotina plicatella, Galerella plicatella) in grass just outside the closed-off bit. One other remarkable local occurrence was Leucopaxillus rhodoleucus under one of the cedars near the University Library–it is a south European species with just two or three twentieth-century British records, but now spreading, presumably thanks to warming. In Empty Common, we found Laccaria laccata, The Deceiver Fungus, maroon when wet, but drying to a brown colour. Jill found these Common Inkcaps in Fulbrooke Road.


Common Inkcaps

Jill Newcombe



Olwen Williams               



November 2018 – bird migration north and south in autumn

At the recent Cambridgeshire Bird Club conference on Migration, Simon Gillings described his astonishing night time recordings of birds passing over his Chesterton garden: Little Grebes, including display calls, Barn Owl, Ring Ouzel, Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns – adult and juvenile and on several nights big numbers of thrushes. Overnight on Sunday 4th – Monday 5th November he recorded his “busiest” thrush night ever with at least 850 Redwings, a minimum of 79 Blackbirds, plus five Dunlins and a Water Rail and Fieldfares. @simon_gillings. Astonishing!

As well as providing new insights his records also complement some daytime observations. I have very rarely seen Little Grebes fly – only scurry across open water in a panic – but they have colonised the new lakes at Trumpington Meadows, Hobson’s Park and Eddington so they must arrive on night time migrations. I have seen an adult Sandwich Tern being trailed by a begging juvenile over Vinery Road many years ago. On 31st October Simon recorded a big night time passage of Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Fieldfares; the following morning I saw many Redwings feeding on hawthorn berries along the river to Baitsbite Lock.

It’s not just night time recording that adds to our understanding of bird movements. At the same conference, Dick Newell described a Common Swift, satellite tagged in one of his nest boxes in Landbeach, which was tracked to Mozambique the following winter. This bird almost certainly fed over Cambridge and our project area.

Three wintering Blackcaps caught in the UK and with fitted with geo-locators were found to have come from: 1, Eastern France; 2, Central Germany/N Italy; 3, Western France. Bird No3 must have migrated due north to winter in the UK.

So, where do birds live? Do they live where they breed, where they spend their winter or in the migration locations in between? Bird distribution is governed by food supply. The current thinking is that many species originated in (sub-Saharan?) Africa and moved out to follow seasonal sources of food when their African food supply became limiting; 2.1 billion birds migrate between Europe and Africa.

A species of Willow Warbler weighing less than 10gms (the weight of a 50p piece) has been tracked migrating from far Eastern Siberia, where it breeds, to over-winter in Tanzania/Mozambique. This one-way migration of 12-13,000km is the longest recorded amongst songbirds; the following spring it returns over the same distance. This truly is survival of the fittest!

Yellow-legged Gull Hobson’s Park (left)

The pair of Yellow-legged Gulls, one with a red leg ring (below)


Most winters there an influx of an unusual species. Last winter it was Hawfinches, this winter early signs suggested Couses’s (Arctic) Redpolls, Waxwings and/or Rough-legged Buzzards. The few Redpolls that have been found are mainly coastal but a carefully look amongst Lesser Redpoll flocks – in the Alder trees by the guided Busway near the Regional College – is worthwhile, Waxwings in Helsinki is a good early sign they will appear in the UK, but few have turned up. A good spot for Rough-legged Buzzard (R-LB) could be on the rough fallow north of Eddington. There are two R-LBs in the north of the County at the Great Fen project. If Short-eared Owls and a Hen Harrier can occur on the fallow before the construction of nearby Darwin Green, then so could a R-LB turn up here.

A new species for me in our project area was two Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) at Hobson’s park on 6th November. Rob Pople saw them there on 20th October and the same species was there on 26th November 2017, plus one on Emmanuel College Sports pitches (off Wilberforce Road) in July 2015. Other recent records: Coldham’s Common, June 2016 (Carlos Davies); over Cambridge Science Park in July 2018 (Jon Heath); and Hobson’s Park on Sept 19th this year. This species was first recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1987 when it was then considered a sub-species of Herring Gull (Larus argentatus michahellis). One of the recent birds has a red leg ring. The birds were adults, at least 4 years old; the leg ring should have a visible identification number but it was probably put on as a newly fledged chick and the number has faded. It was probably ringed in southern Europe, where they breed and where it is the common summer sea-side gull replacing the Herring Gull. Wintering north of their breeding range is unusual but now regular!

Kestrel at Eddington

Black-headed Gull and Great-crested Grebe Eddington (below right)

Hobson’s Park Reserve (below left)






At Hobson’s Park a relationship between Great-crested Grebes and Black-headed Gulls can be seen: the gulls pick off edible material disturbed by the diving grebes; the same can be seen at Milton Country Park between Coots and Gadwall ducks.

A Common Buzzard over the Market Square on 27th October sent the pigeons scattering; 2 Grey Wagtails over Eddington and two Kestrels were hunting over fallow land to the north of the development on 5th November; a pair of Tree Creepers in Logan’s Meadow on 6th November; a flyover Green Sandpiper was heard near Fen Ditton on 8th November. Hobson’s Park attracts other species: on 9th November 9-11 Snipe around the lake margins is the biggest number of this species I have seen in our project area since they bred, with Redshank, in the wet meadows along the Fen Road up to the mid 1980’s; plus, a Stonechat and a Kingfisher. On 12th November 15+ Bramblings were recorded in the Beechwoods (Mike Foley) and a Bearded Tit at Trumpington Meadows on 15th November (Iain Webb)

Bob Jarman

17th November 2018

October sightings 2018

Many thanks to Jon Heath for his recent Moth Blog! This is an area I have not (yet?) ventured. Paul Rule also uses light traps and in his first season, has clocked up more than 190 species of moth and micro-moth. In addition, all sorts of other beasties turn up there: an 18-spot Ladybird appeared on 5th October – a mature Scot’s pine specialist! An Ichneumon Wasp, Ophion luteus, was another bonus visitor.

18-spot Ladybird 




Ophion luteus Paul Rule



Then there were a couple of Gall Flies, Tephritis divisa and Tephritis formosa.  First recorded in Sussex in 2004, T. divisa would appear to be yet another species expanding its range northwards. This is its first Cambridgeshire record.

Tephritis formosa                            Tephritis divisa        Paul Rule






A tiny Sisyra dalii (a Spongefly) 4mm length, was the next visitor. Their larvae are aquatic and feed on freshwater sponges. Related to lacewings, they were completely new to me.

Spongefly Paul Rule

Next was the Giant Willow Aphid Tuberolachnus salignus (‘giant’ in that the body was 6mm and overall 1.2cm, so pretty large for an aphid!)  Finally a minute 4mm green Spider, Nigma walckenaeri, appears to have taken up residence in the moth trap.

Giant Willow Aphid Tuberolachnus salignus Paul Rule

Nigma walckenaeri (female) Paul Rule



Weather conditions have favoured autumn moths and Duncan reports Barred Sallows, an unusually large number of Blair’s Shoulder-Knots, Green Brindled Crescents and also the spectacular Merveille Du Jour (see Jon Heath). Caddis Flies such as Limnophilus lunatus have been coming to moth traps in good numbers as well.

On 10th a Carrion Beetle Nicrophorus humator – the Black Sexton Beetle was found at Holbrook Rd.  As its name suggests, it buries the mammalian corpses that provide food for its offspring.

Nicrophorus humator Paul Rule

By October, most Dragonflies have gone to bed for the winter, although some are still around,  mainly Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. The once abundant Willow Emeralds have now all vanished.  At the country park in Great Kneighton, a number of very young saplings and shrubs had large white cocoons on the branches, harbouring numerous small caterpillars of the Brown-tailed Moth.

Brown-tailed Moth cocoons      Vanessa Price

On 3rd October, the Friends of Sheep’s Green Learner’s Pool held an open morning for local 9-10 yr olds. Among the activities provided, Guy Belcher was dissecting cow dung pats and demonstrating the various invertebrate inhabitants. Dung Beetles form an important food resource for birds and bats here.

Guy Belcher with dung pat

Again in Newnham, a neighbour was concerned to see what was digging up the grass in the back garden. Expecting badgers, we set the camera trap, but found only a visiting Fox.


A Hedgehog was seen trundling along Blossom St near Broad St – thanks Val for that one. Then on 8th Oct, Jackie saw a Heron on the towpath near the Jesus lock, which had caught a Rat by the tail.  The rat was squealing and twisting itself around the heron’s beak. The heron was too intent on the victim to notice the gathering crowd, but eventually the rat broke loose and escaped. I am told this particular heron regularly stands behind the fishermen here!

During the October field studies, Oxalis triangularis was found on disturbed ground on a bank at the edge of Stourbridge Common – a county first. It has been a generally poor year for fungi, but maybe the rain will help.  The very distinctive Magpie Mushroom was found in the Botanic Garden – thanks Jonathan. Lactarius pubescens Wooly Milkcap fungus in grass and Skeletocutis (Incrustoporia) semipileata on the stump of a weeping beech tree are both fungi associated with birch. The latter was a tough flat pancake polypore, about 2cm depth and 8cm diameter, oddly with the pores facing upwards.

Skeletocutis (Incrustoporia) semipileata  Paul Rule

There is currently a national survey of Tawny Owls. June reports that the tawny owls always heard in Chesterton since 1974 have sadly disappeared in the last two years. However, reports of a male from Cherry Hinton and both male and female in Newnham are encouraging. At Great Kneighton, a Meadow Pipit flew into the glass surrounds of the new balcony. Stunned initially, it recovered and was released.  Other birds mentioned were Pied Wagtail (Alec) and 3-4 Little Grebes near The Plough at Fen Ditton (Val).

Meadow Pipit      Vanessa Price

6-7 Fieldfares were spotted on 22nd and Starling murmurations over Bolton’s Lake and near the rugby club (Jill). It has been a great harvest year for Sweet Chestnuts and Walnuts and there is a huge crop of Haws for the visiting thrushes, as we prepare for winter.

Olwen Williams                            






October: best month for birding – watch out for Warblers and Raptors

Six hundred and thirty Golden Plovers over Trumpington on 2nd October was a good record (Steve Cooper,; Hobson’s Park is a good place to see overwintering birds. A Chiffchaff was singing in Long Road on 7th October and another bird calling in Logan’s Meadow on the same day. It’s worth keeping ears and eyes alert for rare migrant warblers especially Yellow-browed Warblers that are being found increasingly inland and not just along the east coast in autumn. A probable was heard by Nick Littlewood on 19th October in trees off the Fen Causeway but was not seen or relocated – they like Sycamores. In previous years, they have been seen and heard near Maids Causeway, Castle Hill (photographed) and last year in the trees bordering Stourbridge Common.

Trumpington Meadows on the 9th October had three hunting Kestrels; five Little Grebes on the pond and a confusing first year female Tufted Duck without any sign of a tuft. Trumpington Meadows and Hobson’s Park have been buzzed by drones which certainly disturb wildlife. If you see drones there contact the Wildlife Trust and Cambridge City Council (Guy Belcher) respectively. Disturbance especially during the breeding season could be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

My Robin has stopped attacking its reflection in my windows but Richard Price, whose house overlooks Hobson’s Park, sent me a picture of a stunned Meadow Pipit that had flown into his window; the bird recovered and flew off.



Stunned Meadow Pipit – Hobson’s Park (left)  Male Peregrine – Cambridge (right)

The night time recording of flyover migration by Simon Gillings (@simon_gillings) continues to produce fascinating records: overnight on 1st – 2nd October Pink-footed Geese; 7th-8th October, Common Scoter, Snipe, Redwing; 10th – 11th October, 352 Redwings and 101 Song Thrushes – the last date also saw big numbers of thrushes arrive along the east coast at Holme Bird Observatory. Goldcrests have either arrived from the continent or have disbursed from local coniferous nest sites: two were in the only trees in Thompsons Lane on 13th October – potted Olive Trees – by Jesus Ditch and Beche Road

The more we know about bird migration the more remarkable it becomes – not less! The recording of night time migration at inland locations and the identification of species killed by Peregrines at their inland nest sites has added new dimensions to our understanding as well as satellite tagging and geo-locators, which require catching the birds and attaching these devices to them. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club has a conference on Bird Migration on Saturday 2nd November at Cottenham Village College – all are welcome – details on the Bird Club’s web site.

At Wakefield Cathedral, beneath the Peregrine nest and roost site, the severed head of a Leach’s Petrel has been found! This pelagic species was either an inland vagrant brought in on strong winds (there is some evidence for this) or a strategic overland migration from the North Sea to the Irish Sea and then onwards to the south Atlantic where this species spends our winter. In spring, it returns to breed on the northern isles such as Foula. This bird never made it and was probably killed by a Peregrine at night.

The Cambridge Peregrines can still be seen regularly in the city centre and have been seen along Madingley Road (Robin Cox) and over the junction of Histon Road with Gilbert Road. The photograph shows the male, taken on 18th October – the female is about a third larger with bigger moustaches!

Crowing over the flag!

Pre-roost gathering of Carrion Crows

Kestrel over Trumpington Meadows

Black-headed Gulls began to arrive along the river, in small numbers, from Riverside to Jesus Green in the second week of October; last winter numbers built up to about 275 birds. Grey Wagtails, typically birds of waterside can be seen and heard over any part of the City but two were around Jesus lock on 13th October. A Red Kite was seen over farmland in the north of our project area on 19th October. On the same date a pre-roost gathering of 35+ Carrion Crows assembled in Whytford Close, Chesterton, making an absolute din – a cacophony of crows! This number is probably half the City’s population. I have no idea why or whence they departed. I couldn’t resist photographing one Carrion Crow standing on the top of the flagpole above the Guildhall.

The photograph of the Roe Deer was taken on 15 October at the Stump, just east of the Fen Ditton/Horningsea Road on the edge of our project area; a good place to see Roe Deer in our project area.

Roe Deer at the Stump Spider season (left)  Garden Orb spider (right)

Bob Jarman 25th October 2018

Cambridge Moths – end of season

During the autumnal months of September and October the moth trapping season begins to wind down. The number of moths caught and diversity of species generally decrease with each recording session. Lower night time temperatures, including the first frosts of the season, as well as the increasing likelihood of rain and stormy conditions mean there are fewer opportunities to run the trap. This October there has been an exceptional spell of mild weather. The temperature in Cambridge on the night of 12/13th reached 18 ºC – perfect conditions for some late season moth trapping and over 50 moths graced the trap the next morning; exceptional for this time of year.

One particular species tends to dominate my garden trap in north Cambridge in autumn – the Large Yellow Underwing. Late August to early September is the peak of the flight season for this big and clumsy moth. At this time, it is not uncommon for over 100 individuals to be filling the trap in a single night’s catch. Accompanying the Large Yellow Underwings are other routine species for early autumn. These include Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Vine’s Rustic, Square-spot Rustic (which comes in an incredible variety of forms) and the oddly named Setaceous Hebrew Character. As we move later into September one of my favourite groups of moth start to appear – the Sallows. These striking moths are generally woodland species, which have evolved a yellow, orange and brown colour mix to their forewings to camouflage against the autumnal senescing leaves. This autumn has been good for this group, with Barred Sallows and Sallows trapped in decent numbers. Dusky-lemon Sallow has so far eluded me this year but I managed to record my first Orange Sallow – a stunner!

A plague of Large Yellow Underwings and Sallows: (Clockwise from top left) Barred Sallow, Sallow, Orange Sallow and Dusky-lemon Sallow

Moving into October and the real autumn specialists start to appear. Generally, moths emerging at this time of year are darker with more brown tones compared with those typical of the summer months. Some of the more regular October species coming to my garden include Black Rustic, Blair’s Shoulder Knot and Lunar Underwing. There is always the chance of something more interesting, and though not too rare, I was pleased to catch Mallow, Feathered Thorn and Yellow-line Quaker in recent nights. White-point is a moth that tends to do very well in the Cambridge area and, despite being marked as Nationally Scare B, turns up in most trapping sessions at this time.





Top to Bottom: Feathered Thorn, Yellow-line Quaker, White-point

Micro moths are much less numerous in autumn compared with the summer months, with only a handful of species recorded in most trapping sessions. There is however always the potential for a few interesting species turning up, especially if there is a mild night. A new micro moth for me this year was the Box-tree Moth. On finding this invasive species in the trap I was amazed to see how big it was; far larger than most micros and even some macro species! These invaders first appeared in the UK in the London area in 2007, and have subsequently spread northwards. There is now a large population in the Trumpington area – much to the dismay of local gardeners. Other interesting micros from my garden in the last 2 months have included: Epiblema foenella, Agonopterix nervosa and Acleris sparsana.

From top to bottom: Box-tree Moth (left), Epiblema foenella & Agonopterix nervosa






Jon Heath 15th October 2018

I got it wrong ….. moving swiftly on to some September records!

The ducks on the edge of Hobson’s Park were not Garganey but Teal; I got it wrong – several birders contacted me …. moving swiftly on!
(left) Teal! Hobson’s Park – 7th September

Cattle Egret – Mare Fen (left)


Confrontational Robin (right)

A Peregrine on St Luke’s Church on 12th September (Ben Greig) was a good find. Disbursed birds from the City’s breeding pairs could be hanging around any of our tall building and, in the past, have been seen on the Catholic Church, St Giles Church, St Andrews and St George’s churches in Chesterton and the Riverside chimney. A female Marsh Harrier over the NIAB’s Trials Ground in the north of our project area on 13th September was unusual and a new bird for the site and probably our project area. It fits the pattern of most adult birds leaving local breeding sites over winter and returning the following spring. A brown juvenile Hobby was also seen there on the same day.

There are still Chiffchaffs about; 13th September was a beautiful day and three were singing along the river between Chesterton and Fen Ditton and one, possibly two, feeding in the tit flock in the rear gardens of the Doctors’ surgery in Fisher’s Lane, Cherry Hinton on 24th September. A Blackcap was in Logan Meadow willows on September 29th.

Simon Gillings tweeted recording night time passage of Tree Pipit, Golden Plover and Robins on September 13th. (@simon_gillings).

The Swallows that bred under the A14 bridge near Horningsea were still feeding over the river on 13th September but had gone a week later on 20th September. Six were over Fen Ditton meadows on October 1st. The first Siskin paid a fleeting visit to the garden feeders on 14th September but I have not seen it since. The confrontational Robin, far from being at ease with him?self, continued to attack his reflected image in the second and third floor bedroom windows. He has given that up and now chases away any other songbird that appears near the garden feeders up to Blackbird size.

A Meadow Pipit, low over Hawthorn Way on 19th September, was unusual. A skein of about 120 Greylag Geese and 25 Canada Geese flew over Fen Ditton towards Milton County Park on 20th September. It’s always worth a look into geese flocks for Barnacle Geese (probably from the feral population that breeds freely on the Suffolk coast) and Pink-footed Geese. Pink-feet have been seen in the north of our project area in the past and will be wanderers from North Norfolk. Olwen saw a distant ring-tailed harrier opposite the Beechwoods on 19th September; it was probably a Hen Harrier but two ring-tailed Pallid Harriers have turned up not far away: one at the Wildfowl and Wetlands reserve at Welney and one in nearby Herts around Therfield Heath and Greys (Cambridgeshire Bird Club Autumn Bulletin 2018).

The Herons feeding along the river at Riverside can be very confiding if not intimidating! I have seen an adult walking on the concrete embankment just meters from pedestrians and cyclists. On 29th September, I saw a Carrion Crow killing and eating a Woodpigeon on Midsummer Common. I have never seen predation by a crow like this before; it grimly stabbed it to death with its bill. Perhaps the pigeon was sick or injured or had been stolen by the crow from a Sparrowhawk but there was no sign of one.

A raptor survey on the edge of our project area on 22nd September produced no visible bird of prey passage but a strong southerly movement of about 100 House Martins in the allocated one-hour watch.

On 23rd September Chris Brown saw a flock of 19 Spoonbills flying over Stetchworth Ley heading west towards our project area ( At some point, they changed direction and turned south and were next recorded in Greater London in the Beddington area (! Six Cattle Egrets have been present on the Wildlife Trust reserve at Mare Fen, between Swavesey and Over, for much of the month and are probably part on the recent influx into southern England. They seem to have disbursed and are quite likely to turn up around the cattle on our riverside commons; the bird found by Jon Heath in April 2016 with cattle off the Fen Road was probably the wandering long staying bird from a site in Suffolk.

Simon Gillings recorded overflying night migration of Sandwich Terns on five occasions during the month including at 21:33 on 22nd September and 04:51 the following morning (@simon_gillings).

Redwings are now arriving from Scandinavia and their nocturnal flight call were heard on September 26th. There is an excellent website – – that has recordings of bird songs and calls.

A recent report from the RSPB proves that persecution of raptors continues and is widespread; we know this – one of our local Peregrines was shot and injured last year but was taken into care at the Raptor Foundation near St Ives and recovered and was released. If you want an excellent a day out with the children/ grandchildren/by yourself/with another visit the Raptor Foundation.

The BTO wants Tawny Owl hooting records – I have records from five probable breeding sites in our project area and plan to submit these. The popular “toowit toowoo” rendition – is, I think, an amalgamation of the female “keewick” and the male hooting “towooo” calls.

Small Copper  (left)


Migrant Hawker (below)


Honey Bee? (below) feeding on Ivy flowers

I’m a great fan of Ivy – except growing up my house walls! There is a fine tree in Ainsworth Street shrouded in ivy – the City Council claims the tree is unstable and must come down. Ivy certainly does increase wind resistance during storms but is a wonderful late pollen and berry source for insects and birds especially city House Sparrows. It would be better to trim the ivy rather than fell the tree. There is a full wall of ivy behind the Cherry Hinton Doctors surgery that was full of bees during mid-September. The best House Sparrow nest colony in the City was in the ivy covering the front of a house in Radegund Road but it was removed and the sparrows were forced to move on.

The fine weather also brought out Small Copper butterflies in our project area which, it seems, have had a bad year and Migrant Hawker dragonflies in our sector of Milton Country Park.

Bob Jarman

1st October 2018

September Sightings 2018

What do plants and their leaves do in autumn? Mostly, change colour, go spotty and fall off, I hear you say. Therein lie a number of interesting stories. Sam reports, “I found galls of the mite Aceria tristriata on Walnut Juglans regia in Chesterton. This is a very local species, and apparently new to Cambridgeshire, according to the British Plant Gall Society.” I was curious about the term “mite” and found they were minute maggoty things, indeed arachnids, but with only 2 pairs of legs. (In the first picture A. tristriata has caused the smaller pustules, while the larger brown patches are remnants of galls of a much commoner mite, Aceria erinea.)

Galls of the mites Aceria tristriata  and A. erinea on Walnut leaves         Sam Buckton


Aceria tristriata mites

UKRBIN (Ukrainian Biodiversity Network)


Then Mark Hill found Gymnosporangium sabinae (European Pear Rust) in Cavendish Ave. It produces very conspicuous yellow, orange or red leaf spots on the upper side of the pear leaf, with bumps followed by conical structures below. Chris Preston has since found it in a few other sites in Cambridge and there is some in Newnham. Can you they can find any on your local pear trees before the leaves fall? A photo with details of the site would be great, either to me or him (<>). It is one of the rusts with an alternation of hosts, two stages of the life cycle on pear and two stages on junipers (usually cultivated bushes). Does anyone have has any experience of it on juniper, where it produces gelatinous orange masses on old twigs (most conspicuous when wet)? These are probably produced in spring but there are very few British records from juniper and none from Cambridgeshire. (The only juniper I can think of is in the Botanic Garden, but there must be more.)

Gymnosporangium sabinae on pear    Olwen Williams

It has been a strange year for many plants. May found a mature Rowan (Mountain Ash) tree had lost half of its leaves by June, but with some watering it revived and in the middle of September burst into bloom at the same time as the fruit was ripening.

Rowan fruiting and in bloom          May Block

It has also been a great year for apples, hops and particularly walnuts, where even the crows and the squirrels are overwhelmed.  Sue reports an oak tree where nearly all the acorns have been turned into Knopper Galls – a parasitic wasp is the culprit here.

This lovely moth (Angle Shades Phlogophora meticulosa) was found indoors and released, while the Goat Moth caterpillar (Cossus cossus) was ambling across the towpath. Thanks Peter for these.

Angle Shades Moth                            Goat Moth caterpillar                       

Peter Woodsford 

Pam noted a Speckled Wood butterfly and a late dragonfly in the garden at the end of the month. I had a visit from a Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis).  This Leaf-footed Bug resembles a shield bug, but is much bigger and has expanded hind tibias, hence the name. It is another new-comer, a US native only found in UK since 2007. Its larvae attack the immature cones of several conifer species.


Western Conifer Seed Bug        Olwen Williams


Paul reports Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae) enjoying the late flowering Ivy. This solitary bee was new to science in 1993, arrived at UK in Dorset in 2001 and has been slowly spreading north since then. It is the latest solitary bee to emerge and on the wing as late as November. Mark reports seeing dozens, burrowing into a steep bank. So if you have nearby ivy in flower, check it out – you will find all sorts of other insects there too.

Ivy Bee    Paul Rule

A quiz from Mary: which one of these is a Hornet (Vespa crabro) and which the hornet mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonanaria? Both were feeding on ivy.  V. zonanaria is the largest hoverfly in the UK, another fairly recent addition to the UK fauna, very rare before the 1940’s, but now common in the SE and spreading northwards. CLUE The Hoverfly has much bigger eyes and smaller antennae than the Hornet (also has no sting, but then male hornets don’t have a sting either).

Mary Wheater

A dead young Badger on Grange Rd and the presence of a badger latrine on one of the local playing fields reminds us that these nocturnal mammals can flourish in suburbia. Newnham college has had a colony for some years and several of the College Head Gardeners say that they have been seen in the grounds.

We should not forget the river. Guy reports that electrofishing the Rush Stream (Sheep’s Green) produced two mature Brown Trout 260mm, so potential breeders! Also a 600mm Eel on her way to the sea, Spined Loach, Bullhead and lots of Roach, Perch, Minnow, Chubb and Dace of all ages. Kingfishers were seen taking advantage of this lovely small stream and its other new inhabitant is a Terrapin! A recent bat punt through Sheep’s green and Paradise detected two Noctules, several each of Soprano and Common Pipistrelles and four Daubentans, with a bonus of a bat-hunting Sparrowhawk low over the punt. However, I gather that the Cambridge Angling and Fish Preservation Society have given up having matches in the Cam because the fish have all gone – they blame this on the recovery of the Otter population, which have even found their way into Robinson College lake to feed on Swan Mussels.

    Brown trout  Guy Belcher

For many years, there has been a flock of white (feral domestic) Geese in Newnham. Originally more than 20, they are now down to about 10, with one succumbing to a recent killing and BBQing on the bank. The scorched remains were not a pleasant sight. They are quite inbred, some with a genetic wing disorder preventing flight. Val reports the dramatic appearance of a male Sparrowhawk, which landed on the balcony while they were still in bed. I heard an Osprey calling from the other side of the Cam, but did not get a view. Then the next day, out at Beechwood Reserve in Wort’s Causeway, I saw a Hen Harrier, perhaps on migration, quartering a field of stubble. Never mind all these big raptors! Susan reports the sight of a flock of around twelve Long Tailed Tits, together with four juvenile Blue Tits descending on the feeders, where they fed feverishly for about ten minutes and then flew away, never to be seen again. A similar wave of mixed tits swept over my breakfast chair in the back garden today.

On the local river, Swans with five cygnets had spread themselves over the footpath in Paradise. But the best news is that the Paradise Rooks are back! At 6.23am on Sept 23rd, the first winter flock appeared and summer is officially over.

Olwen Williams            





New Bird Species for Cambridgeshire over our Project Area

Sound recording night time migration over the City has produced sensational results (see August Blog: NocMig). Jon Heath set up his recording equipment in his garden in north Cambridge on the night of 28th August. The next day when he played back the recording, there appeared to be the call of an Ortolan Bunting at 02:57am. He set it up again the next night and, incredibly, recorded another set of Ortolan Bunting calls. He checked with other experienced bird call recordists and all agreed: Ortolan Bunting. This is likely the second and third records of Ortolan Bunting for Cambridgeshire and our project area after Simon Gillings, of the British Trust for Ornithology, recorded the first from his east Cambridge garden last year. These records add to the theory that Cambridgeshire and the skies above our project area may be an important migratory flyway highway for birds.

Ortolan Buntings breed in central Europe and Scandinavia and are rare east coast migrants, mostly in autumn. They have never been seen in Cambridgeshire; these are the very first records. Ortolan Bunting is known to be a nocturnal migrant and an autumn flight path over southern England was suspected after a sequence of recordings over Dorset in 2016. Both Simon’s and Jon’s records have yet to be ratified by the Rarities Committee of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club.

Whitehall contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit has been named after another bunting – Operation Yellowhammer.
Yellowhammers have become one of our most threatened farmland birds; I assume the names of the Whitehall operation and the status of Yellowhammers are intended! There are three breeding territories of Yellowhammers near the Histon Road/Huntingdon Road footpath close to the Darwin Green Development.




Garganeys – Hobson’s Park 7th Sept 2018 (above)

Local patch birding is a new enthusiasm amongst bird watchers …. as well as chasing rarities on the Norfolk coast! If I lived nearer to Hobson’s Park that would become my local patch. It’s a brilliant park in our NatHistCam study area, with a nature reserve established by the Cambridge City Council. It’s the best place I know for Corn Buntings and nearby, on 7th Sept, in small ponds by Long Road Bridge, there were two Garganeys; an unusual species for an urban location.

There were also two Yellow Wagtails, House and Sand Martins, the House Martins presumably from the Addenbrookes colony. What I like about Hobson’s Park is the “big sky”: Addenbrooke’s in the distance looks like a nuclear power station and the new low-rise development of Great Kneighton is on the opposite horizon!

I have a new and very territorial Robin (left) in my garden. It spent two days attacking its own image in the kitchen window and eventually flew into the kitchen to sort out this competitor. He (probably not a “she” as the sexes cannot be separated easily) flew out of the kitchen in terror and now lives at ease with his own image …. very male!

Ortolan Bunting in Greece – Jon Heath (left); Corn Bunting – Hobson’s Park Spring 2018 (right)

I often wonder what lives on Elder (Sambucus nigra). The larvae of some moths do but I never see any evidence of eaten leaves. Text books say it’s especially frequent near rabbit burrows and badger sets because both species find elder distasteful. The berries often go uneaten but I saw a bush behind the Grafton Centre completely stripped of berries by a mob of Starlings, which I have never seen before. Maybe that accounts for its distribution as seedling and saplings appear everywhere presumably from flyover bird droppings.

During this (hottest on record) summer I often heard crickets. On a mid-August evening, I heard one on Castle Hill and then another outside my house in Chesterton, which I recorded. I matched the recording with an excellent free app called: iRecord Grasshoppers and related insects. They were non-native House Crickets (Acheta domesticus) and have been heard in Cherry Hinton, Trumpington and Grantchester. I have heard them before at Addenbrooke’s by the heating systems. I understand they are escaped food for pet reptiles and this hot summer has brought them out from torpor.

Watch flocking Long-tailed-Tits. The frenzy of the flock often attracts other bird species and its always worth a look to see what else has been drawn in. Flocks usually have a lead species – in the UK it’s often Long-tailed Tits and flocks may circulate around a feeding territory as a “bird wave”. In the tropics and semi-tropics these flocks draw in both aerial feeding species and ground feeders.

The Common Lizard colony at Orchard Park has a stay of execution. Development of the site may not now take place until spring 2019 and hopefully a translocation site will be found.

Bob Jarman

10th September 2018

August sightings 2018

On August 10th after two full months of drought, there was rain at last, a couple of inches altogether over a week. The vegetation has responded vigorously, nettles sprouting anew and the grass green again.

I am constantly amazed by the variety of wildlife reported to us – many thanks to everyone! It seems to have been a good (or perhaps bad?) year for bats. A dead Pipistrelle in my kitchen was followed by an email from a neighbour, saying she had found a dead bat in the house too. However, the accompanying photo showed the most enormous ears and it turned out to be a Brown Long-eared Bat – equally tiny, but the ears almost as long as the body. Mo also reported some from Trumpington : they are reasonably common but new to me.

Brown Long-eared Bat Olwen Williams

Red Underwing Moths have been abundant : Peter found this one indoors and released it outside. Duncan also noted Old Lady and Vine’s Rustic Moths. Paul’s micromoths have become too numerous to comment on, but he has promised a moth blog sometime!

Red Underwing Moth Peter Woodsford

Liza reported three Oak Bush Crickets in Alpha Rd.  Until the last three years, they had been regular since 1981,  often coming into the house on warm nights when windows are open. She was very pleased to see them again.

On August 13th, Colin, “Woke to see a Fox moseying around in the bushes a few yards outside my window. Rather small and dowdy with a bushless tail.” Then on August 14th, “Different fox this morning (5.36am) – bigger and silvery-bushy-tailed lolloping across my lawn. We’re infested!” (West Chesterton)

We have been doing a survey of the College Gardens and on a visit to Queens’, Duncan was introduced to a huge Chichester Elm Tree. Propagated by Gilbert White’s brother in 1770 it is undoubtedly one of the largest surviving elms in the country. Steve Tyrell, the head gardener, is standing by the trunk.

Chichester Elm Queens’ College Duncan McKay

From huge to tiny – weeds flourish even in the city centre! Valerian Verbena officinalis grows beside John Lewis in Downing St and there is Gallant Soldier Galinsoga parviflora (a small-flowered daisy family plant) in several locations including Mud Lane (off Parkside) and on Trumpington Road alongside the Botanic Garden.

Along Cherry Hinton Brook, there have been two reports of a Kingfisher and several sightings of Water Vole. Still on a watery theme, Colin reports swimming at the Newnham Riverside Club (balmy at 19 degrees C, as it has been for much of the summer). However, at the top of the steps he saw a floating dead Fish, about four inches long and lying on its side, quite motionless. Not liking the idea of it rotting in the river, he dipped his hand in to hoick it out, when it suddenly sprang to life, wriggled free and disappeared into the depths. What, he asks, was it doing – sun-bathing? My reply was that I had no idea! Any suggestions welcome! However, while I was talking to a lady by the learners pool, her daughter brought a dead Wasp which she had fished out of the pool with a net. I picked it up, inspected it, showed it to them and put it in the top of my thermos for proper Id at home. When I opened the top, a perfectly alive-and-well wasp walked off along the counter. Colin’s comment, “I must introduce your wasp to my fish – they are clearly soul-mates!”

Paul writes, “Late August is a great time to look for spiders. Many species have reached maturity and males can be found roaming around looking for a mate. Lots of spiders hide away during the daytime, so a night time search of your garden is likely to throw up species you never knew you had. Here are a few I found in my garden recently.”

A male Zygiella x-notata was found courting a female who had made her home at the base of a bird feeder. These spiders make very distinctive webs, very similar to the familiar common garden spiders webs, but with a triangular section missing (which is why they are called Missing Section orb web spiders).

Male and female Zygiella x-notata  Paul Rule

Nuctenea umbratica (Walnut Orb-weaver Spider) spends the day hiding in any convenient crevice. This one is living under the window frame of the shed.

Nuctenea umbratica Paul Rule

This Pholcus phalangioides  (Daddy long legs spider) was found on the outside of the shed, but they are mainly found indoors and responsible for most of the webs found on your walls. Despite the webs they are good to have around as they eat insect pests.

Pholcus phalangioides  Paul Rule

And finally, a couple of really beautiful spiders! A Big Butterfly Count at the end of July turned up a Cucumber Green Orb-weaver (Araniella cucurbitina) in the Meadow of British Antarctic Survey site.

Cucumber Green Orb-weaver Spider

Then this amazing Wasp Spider is living on Ditton meadows –  another species moving steadily northwards as the climate warms.

 Wasp Spider Duncan McKay

Olwen Williams          August 2018