Category Archives: Project Blog

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

Mostly birds – August 2020

I’m late with this blog. August is the peak of the wader migration and I have been waiting for the Cambridge Bird Club’s monthly report for August to see what has been recorded from nocturnal migration (“nocmig”) over the City in August. I’ll summarise records next month.

It’s been a good year …..for Swifts! I think it’s been a successful breeding season which means a good food supply for adults and young and access to nest sites. It was probably the many hot summer days that supported high flying insects, especially disbursing spiders. The 13th August was the sixth consecutive day with local temperatures over 34C. Perhaps it was me opening my green bin regularly and wafting the myriads of fruit flies skywards! Drosophila melanogaster – I remember those tortuous days at school mating various phenotypes of fruit flies and examining the progeny to build a genetic map of dominant and recessive traits. Thank goodness genetics can now be analysed by extracting DNA!

I think there were two main departure dates of Swifts from the City: the first on 27/28th July and a second on 4/5th August. But several remained over East and West Chesterton until the end of the month. The latest date was two over Victoria Avenue on 28th. In typical years August Swifts are uncommon. I suspect there was a late arrival of first year Swifts at the end of June; 17,500 were counted over the harbour at Southwold, Suffolk on 29th June. I think some of these birds returned to their natal site, ousting established incubating pairs and successfully rearing late broods that fledged in August.

A first year Marsh Harrier was over Oxford/Windsor Roads on 8th August. And a Barn Owl was roosting in a newly erected raptor nest box on the NIAB’s trials ground in our project area. A Little Egret was around Coe Fen throughout the month.

On 15th August there was a widespread arrival of Pied Flycatchers along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts with 152 reported in Suffolk including 30 in the Southwold area. Few were recorded inland and the only local record was one at the Cambridge Research Park near Landbeach (Jon and David Heath) on 28th August outside our project area.

On August 24th a Chiffchaff was singing in a large garden in Huntingdon Road and in Logan’s Meadow on 24th August 3-4 Blackcaps were eating elder berries and a tit flock had 2-3 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Treecreeper; nearby 2 Whitethroats and a Reed Warbler were in bushes around the stream. A tit flock hit my garden on 27th with at least one Chiff and a female Blackcap was eating my Honeysuckle berries on 28th. Chiffs were widespread across the City. It’s always worth looking through a Long-tailed Tit flock for other species carried along in the hullabaloo! A second? brood of Blackbirds were feeding on Rose hips and a flock of adult and juvenile Starlings were stripping a blackberry bush in Logan’s Meadow in late August.

On several late afternoons I’ve seen Water Voles along the edges of the pools in Logan’s Meadow. Each time they seem to become more confiding. Early one evening an adult Fox ducked back into the long grass – I was surprised to see a fox here during the day because of the number of off–the-lead dogs being walked. A young fox ran down Longworth Avenue into St Andrews Road in the (very!) early hours on 31st as a Tawny Owl was calling near the riverside boat houses.

The 1851 census (year of the Great Exhibition) was the first census to record that urban populations outnumbered rural populations. Towns and cities have become vital in our conservation of wildlife as draft papers to our project are demonstrating and our NatHistCam story will tell.

Bob Jarman 9th September 2020

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

August sightings 2020

This month’s specials

August – a month of comings and (mostly) goings: the city has been full of migrants going south. Aggregations of Swifts, House Martins and Swallows have been reported, with swifts even up to the end of the month.  On two occasions, Jeff noted a single Noctule Bat feeding with the flock of swifts and martins.  He also reported a Common Redstart female along Barton Road, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Whinchat in Newnham.

Tawny Owls have begun calling again in Newnham (Pam), Jesus College (Rhona) and around Histon Road Cemetery (Lesley). Corvids have been coming together in Newnham as well, about 30 Jackdaws and a few Rooks in the evening. The mass arrival of these wonderful birds always signals the end of summer for me. Peregrines (Ben) and Sparrowhawks (Eve) have also been reported. Rhona sent a picture of a baby Stock Dove – one of Jesus’s many residents.

Trumpington Meadows continues to excel. As well as the Small Blue and Small Heath Butterflies, there have been several Clouded Yellow Butterflies there (Mo). Also carried on the warm southerly winds were day-flying Jersey Tiger Moths (Paul).  Gypsy Moths which had been extinct in East Anglia since the early 1900s, are turning up again in small numbers (Paul).

Duncan reports the transition from summer Odonata species to the start of the autumn ones. For the most part, Emperors and Black Tailed Skimmers have gone and Ruddy and Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers have arrived, together with Willow Emeralds. At the start of August there was a huge influx of Lesser Emperors and Southern Migrant Hawkers. Jeff also had a good number of sightings of damselflies and dragonflies, including a few Small Red-eyed Damselflies at Thompsons Park, together with a Black Tailed Skimmer.

 Rhona reports a Seed Beetle Bruchidius siliquastri which is fairly new to Britain. Another probable Cambridge first is the Hot Bed Bug Xylocoris galactinus (!) found in a (very hot) compost bin (Paul) (above). These are tiny predatory plant bugs that like compost.  Other contributions from Paul are a ménage à trois : mating Speckled Bush Crickets with a second male who tried to butt in, but was a bit too late. Then a stunning and quite scarce Gall Fly Merzomyia westermanni found on its food plant, ragwort, at East Barnwell NR and a Blue Shieldbug at Byron’s Pool. He also reports a couple of Spiders from his now famous garden: a Comb-footed Cellar Spider Nesticus cellulanus and a small orb web spider Gibbaranea gibbosa. While neither are particularly rare, these are new records for Cambridge, which is under-recorded for spiders (anyone want a project?!)

Maria saw what she thought was a ladybird pupa, until it walked away! 5mm and very spiky, it was on a thistle in Worts Causeway and turned out to be the larva of a Tortoise Beetle (Cassida sp, probably Cassida viridis). These larvae have twin tail spikes (the anal fork) at the end of the abdomen which they use to carry a faecal shield on their back. This is composed of its frass and bits of old exoskeleton. It is thought it may be used as camouflage or possibly for defence, as it can be raised and lowered and even swung.  (Superb pix Maria – better than anything on line!)

Otters have been travelling up Cherry Hinton brook and fishing in the Cherry Hinton fishing lakes (Duncan). Some large Carp have been taken. This probably explains why Otters have not been seen in the middle of Cambridge this year – they have found a better food source. Also in Cherry Hinton was a Rat near the children’s sandpit by the stream (Val).

Pam and Mary have both found it a good year for Frogs and I’ve also had lots of baby frogs in the garden. Is the tide turning here?  Hopefully they will be feeding the Grass Snakes such as those seen in Storeys Way and Fulbrooke Road (Jill).

And finally, Pam recounts the argument between a couple of foragers, who were busy attacking Paradise’s latest large Chicken of the Woods Fungus and a passer-by who felt they were spoiling its beauty for others.  She angrily defended her right to wild food!

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

July Sightings 2020

This Month’s Specials:

Another terrific month! As the blackberries ripen in the hedges, young birds fledge  and dragonflies make merry, it’s difficult to know where to start. There were lots of invertebrates, so….

…for a change, I will start with them. Trevor sent a pic of mating Poplar Hawkmoths (above). A White-Letter Hairstreak was seen at Jesus (Rhona) and there have been lots of Clouded Yellow Butterflies in Trumpington Meadows, migrants on a southerly wind. A Purple Hairstreak was spotted at Empty Common (Martin), another at Trumpington Meadows not far away, and a third in Grantchester (Jeff). There were Glow Worms at Cherry Hinton East Pit (Monica) and also near Teversham Fen (Guy).  A Hornet Moth was sighted in Coe Fen (Jonathan) and a Large Rose Sawfly in Harvey Goodwin Avenue (Ben). Rhona noted a Speckled Wood Butterfly trying to interest a female in mating.  Although he spent some time wafting pheromones over her, she played dead and he was unsuccessful! Another new observation was a Six -Belted Clearwing in Trumpington Meadows (above – Becky).

Jean comments that her Salvia, with hundreds of flowers, all had a hole on the left-hand side of the flower calyx caused by bees robbing the flower of nectar (and avoiding the pollen). Visiting bees were mainly Buff-tailed Bumblebees but also Honeybees. She wonders if other people have observed the same phenomena, and whether bees always attack the flower from the same side, i.e. the left. Any observations?

Jeff reports two Willow Emerald Damselflies at Paradise, and also a couple of Southern Migrant Hawkers, one defending territory there (photographed by Paul). Duncan also noted one of these relatively new arrivals at Ditton Meadows.

There have been a good lot of bird records too. It has been an excellent year for Swifts, especially in Southwest Cambridge. At one point, there were about 60 heading south, but they have now all disappeared. Martin reports three active House Martin nests in Covent Garden. Jeff spotted a female Hobby, a pair of Kestrels, with a fledged female youngster, two Red Kites, four Buzzards, a female Sparrowhawk and a male Peregrine, all in the same week. He also noted a Grey Partridge in Grantchester fields along with a Yellow Wagtail, and a family of Lesser Whitethroat. Colin spotted a Great Crested Grebe on the river at Fen Ditton and a Common Tern was again fishing the river by Grantchester Meadows (Jill).

Hedgehogs have been reported from Chesterton (June), where there seems to be a flourishing population, and also from Highsett (Mary). In Trumpington Mo sent me night camera pictures of both Hedgehog and Badger in her garden. Alas, one of her neighbours found three dead hedgehogs a few days later. This confirms our suspicions that these two species cannot coexist in the city. As always, badgers seem to be extending their range, the latest sighting being in Jesus College.  There were several reports of Foxes, with a family of five playing in a garden every night in Chesterton (Peter).

Moving on, Gleb sent pictures of the fungus Xerocomos subtomentosus near Jesus lock. Although these Suede Boletus are edible, he decided against harvesting it, because of potential pollution from the road.

A large Grass Snake was spotted in a back garden on Grange Road (Rachel).

It has been a good month for Botanical records. Lindsay found spikes of Broad-Leaved Helleborine  had suddenly appeared in her flower bed, only the second Cambridge record of this species since 1770.  (photographed by Paul)

Richard commented on dense patches of  Dittander (Lepidium latifolium) along the busway verge near Hobsons Park.  Monica, exploring the East Pit at Cherry Hinton, located Basil Thyme, and also the rare Moon Carrot. Jonathan reports a bird-sown Crimson-glory-vine (Vitis coignetiae) , which is new for the county.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

Mainly birds – July 2020

Many birders reported a poor arrival of Swallows this year. I have seen very few in our project area – an early bird over my house on 10th April, the pair that regularly breeds under the A14 bridge near Horningsea arrived, a family group were feeding over Hobson’s Park on 21st July, and about 20 birds including young were seen over the horse paddocks at the Vet School off Madingley Road on 29th July; hopefully they bred in the stables.

Until last year I made an annual July visit to Athy, a small agricultural town in Eire and there all three species of hirundines were abundant. The theory is they have moved north and west away from intensive agriculture in southern England where our insect bio-fauna is much diminished by agrochemicals.

Lesser-black backed Gulls are regular flyovers to roost at the Cambridge Research Park off the A10, I suspect. They are regular over the riverside commons – they have either finished breeding and are on a return migration or non-breeding adults looking for easy pickings! An early returning Common Gull was over the A14 on 4th July.

The river has been remarkably clear and free of the mud/silt brought up by punting? – punting recommenced on 4th July. A Common Buzzard regularly watches the traffic from the street lamps at the A14 roundabout near Milton, Nuthatches were reported from King’s Fellows Garden on 7th July and there have been widespread reports of flyover Siskins and Crossbills from the beginning of the month across the county including two Crossbills and a Siskin over north Chesterton on 18th July (Jon Heath www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). A Whimbrel was over Chesterton on 8th July (Simon Gillings www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com), Jays have been seen commonly all month and likewise Peregrines, which can often be seen on King’s College chapel spires. I’m sorry Don Pasquale’s on the Market Square has closed as it was an ideal coffee stop and Peregrine watch point. An adult Peregrine with accompanying juvenile were over Castle Hill/Histon Road on 26th.

I noticed a hay field near the Schlumberger building on the 12th July, which had been cut – I don’t recall a hay field in our project area before! Silver-washed Fritillaries were in a garden in Chesterton Road on 12th July and a pair of Muntjac were feeding on windfall apples in a large garden in Huntingdon Road on the 13th.

St Regis House in Chesterton Road which was demolished in 2018/2019 and had a significant colony of nesting Swifts has been rebuilt, the Swift nest holes have been reinstated and a splendid motif of Swifts decorates the front of the building – well played Clare College!

Common Terns have been were seen irregularly from Riverside to Magdalene Bridge during the month. At least two Reed Warblers were still singing at Eddington on 15th July (what are the contractors doing to the lake at Eddington?); two male Blackcaps seemed to be feeding the same brood on 21st July at Paradise Nature Reserve and across the river one of the fledged Kestrels appeared to fall out of the nest but managed to scramble onto a perch! On the same day an adult Little Egret, in full breeding plumage, was feeding on Coe Fen.

The City Council and Countryside Properties have enhanced the nature reserve at Hobson’s Park with two excellent display boards describing the wildlife that can be seen at the site. Breeding Corn Buntings have been disappointing at Hobson’s Park this year; I suspect dogs have disturbed this ground nesting species.

Three to four Blackcaps and a Chiff have been singing in Logan’s Meadow and copse all month and on 21st June a Spotted Flycatcher was reported along Hobson’s Brook just beyond the Empty Common allotments. On 21st June the Black-headed Gull colony at Hobson’s Park had almost gone with about 20 adults and still some downy chicks remaining; a Little Egret was also present; ditto on 23rd July. On the evenings of the 22nd to 25th July there were spectacular displays of screaming flocks of Swifts over the city. I think half the City’s population left on 26th to 27th and I think there was another major departure on the 31st July but good numbers remained into August.

I’m intrigued by the Bracken that grows in the corner of St Andrew’s Church cemetery in Chesterton. It’s the only plot of Bracken I know in our project area but there is a small front garden in Montague Road about 400m away that is full of Bracken. Is there a sub-terranean seam of acidic soil that breaks the surface at these two points?

In my June blog I mentioned the abundance of Woodpigeons in the City. Stock Doves (Stock Pigeons) are also an under recognised and appreciated species in the bird landscape of cities. All of our large church cemeteries and heavily wooded gardens have nesting pairs. They are a hole nesting species. It too has benefited from Winter Oilseed Rape as an autumn and early winter food source. They are mostly seen in pairs or small groups but I have seen a flock of 100+ on farmland in the north of our project area and 40+ at Hobson’s Park.

A Water Vole was seen at Logan’s Meadow on 30th and two on 31st. Duncan McKay reports a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly for the second year running at Ditton Meadows. This species is expanding its range since its discovery in Essex in the early 2000’s. On 31st July the UK recorded its third highest recorded temperatures of 37ºC on the day when the Met Office confirmed 2019 as the hottest year on record and that climate change is driving these record temperatures.

Bob Jarman 31st July 2020. bobjarman99@btinternet.com

June Sightings 2020

This month’s special

Southwest Cambridge is becoming a hotspot for Swifts! Pam reports four nesting pairs, with chicks in at least one of the nests, and up to 20 birds in the evenings, some sleeping on the wing. Meanwhile, Jeff reports about 200 feeding over the rape fields. As well as Newnham, nesting boxes in Trumpington Meadows are also occupied. This comeback is a testimony to the people who have made an effort to replace lost nesting sites. Also flourishing are the Peregrines, with five chicks fledged between the two nests.

Mo reports a Jay, an exciting garden visitor.  Robinson College has a resident Mistle Thrush (Guy). On June 22, a Great White Egret came to  the lake at Great Kneighton, however, it was driven away by Black Headed Gulls (Richard). Great Crested Grebes have bred successfully on the Cherry Hinton lakes (Duncan). Barn Owls continue to haunt the Grantchester Meadow Fields (Anita), both parents hunting together at times, while Tawny Owls have bred successfully at Jesus College (Rhona). Holly reports the successful families of water birds, Mallard, Swans, and Moorhen. Jeff confirmed his previous sighting of a Corn Bunting near to Grantchester Road, also a Red Kite there, and a male Tufted Duck in Paradise. Many thanks for all the other observations.

Tawny Owl Chick Rhona Watson

Jill watched a Kestrel’s nest on Stourbridge Common, where the two youngsters were on the point of fledging.  Val’s back garden (urban, tiny and chaotic) has been “Positively throbbing with birds at the well-stocked bird restaurant”. House sparrows are thought to be nesting here. Activity is such that the plant pots below are filling up with a forest of seedlings. “Were birds actually the first to practice agriculture?” she asks.

Anita has noticed Water Vole burrowings in the bank along the river edge in Paradise. Although Hedgehogs are uncommon in the city, Jonathan saw one around 11pm in Parsonage Street. Meanwhile a Badger was seen in Blinco Grove at 4am.

Signal Crayfish Becky Green
Bullhead Fish Becky Green

Becky, a Wildlife Trust Ranger, sent pictures of a Signal Crayfish and Bullhead Fish from the Cam. Several people mentioned Frogs, but I’ve had no recent reports of Grass Snakes.

Several reports of early fungi: Shaggy Ink Cap (Paul), Volvariella bombycina and the Cow Pat Fungus Bolbitius vitellinus both in Paradise growing on wood-chippings (Olwen).

Richard found ripe Blackberries in June (!) along the busway at Foster Road. At Murray Edwards, Jo noted Common Broomrape, while Knapweed Broomrape turned up in Trumpington Meadows. These parasitic plants are brown because they do not need to make their own chlorophyll.  Tree Mallow was found in a wooded belt along leading the Madingley road – unusual and possibly a garden escape. Bog Stichwort, a scarce plant in Cambridgeshire, turned up in the Rush on Sheep’s Green, last seen there 70 years ago. Finally, Jonathan reports Yellow Vetchling in the Coton Reserve, and hopes it may reappear along the Coton footpath.

Several excellent moths – a Scarlet Tiger Moth (sitting on a broadband box on Queens Road (Jill)) an Old Lady Moth, a Privet Hawk Moss (Jane) and a Beautiful Hooktip (Paul).  Then, at 5 minutes to midnight on the last day of June, Paul reached the grand total of 502 species, (mainly from his back garden in 101 days of pandemic lockdown) with a Swallowtail Moth.

The star Butterfly of the month was the Small Blue seen, as last year, in Trumpington Meadows (Mo). Other butterflies identified included Marbled White (Jeff), Ringlets (Becky), Speckled Wood (Pam), and both Small and Large Skippers on Coldham’s Common (Mo). Jeff completed this trio with the Essex Skipper along Bourn Brook. He also reports White-letter Hairstreak in the Elm hedge over M11 footbridge to Bourn Brook.

Dragonflies have also been prolific. A Brown Hawker appeared in Pam’s garden, while others reported Emperor Dragonfly, Banded Demoiselles, 4-Spotted Chaser and Scarce Chaser.

Ann and Rhona both found the larvae of Solomon’s Seal Sawfly. Though not uncommon, it had  not previously been reported from the city. Guy was surprised to find 11 illuminated Glow-worms near the A14 at Teversham Fen. They were also reported from Cherry Hinton chalk pit. A Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee was seen in the Beechwoods Reserve. (At first glance, I took this to be a Buff Tailed Bumblebee, which this species mimics in order to gain entrance to its nest).

Thanks to others for invertebrate photos:

Finally, Simon, relaxing in the garden with a glass in hand, sent a picture of – well look for yourself!

Flaming June 2020 and a mention on Spring Watch 2020!

The weather changed – Locked-down, locked-up, locked-in, locked-away all applied to the effects of the weather at the beginning of the month and the abilities to get out into the wider world from our homes. The 2nd June was the hottest day of the year but from then on, the weather disintegrated into rain and lots of it. Then, more hottest days at the end of the month.

A press release sent out publicising our NatHistCam project and Paul Rule’s remarkable total of 573 species identified in his Cambridge garden received airplay on Radio Cambridgeshire, then on the BBC’s web site and then a two-minute mention on Spring Watch on 4th June. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-52840241

The latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club (CBC) monthly (May) bulletin continues with a list of nocturnal migrants sound recorded and identified in May. The species list includes: Little-ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper (7), Whimbrel (7), Bar-tailed Godwit, Tree Pipit (2) and adds to the remarkable story of night time migration over our City.

On 1st June two male Yellowhammers were singing in Trumpington Meadows, Small Blue butterflies were about and the clump of gorse near the bridge over the M11 had finally stopped flowering – more about this below! Also, on 1st June a Whitethroat was singing in my small Chesterton garden – I suspect it was the Logan’s Meadow bird I saw in May – but it soon headed off towards the recreation ground. On 2nd June a young Peregrine – with down on the top of its head – perched on the parapet near the nest site surveying the city life below while the male bird kept a noisy watch above. Two fledged birds were seen on 11th June.

The Cambridge Independent (June 17-23, 2020) had an article describing how two of the three chicks had fallen from the nest site and were recovered and cared for by the Raptor Foundation, based near St Ives, and were then reunited with the parents. The second site in the City had three youngsters.

On 3rd June a Hobby was reported over the Chesterton allotments. The Common Terns have been in evidence along Riverside this year, one was near Victoria Road bridge on 5th and a bird was fishing at Riverside on 19th and there were more regular sightings to the end of the month. On 10th and 15th June up to four Corn Bunting were singing at Hobson’s Park and a flock of 40+ Stock Doves were in the area set aside for allotments. The Great-crested Grebe’s nest looked as though it had been predated by the patient Lesser-black backed Gull seen close-by in May and lots of juvenile Black-headed Gulls were about and all appeared as competently aggressive as the parent birds! A Little Egret was stalking the pond next to Long Road bridge.

Stonechats are a conundrum! They are often present in apparently suitable nesting sites such as Hobson’s Park and Trumpington Meadows up to the end of March but then they disappear. I think the key to nesting Stonechats is Gorse. There are at least two small areas of Gorse in our project area, next to the M11 bridge at Trumpington Meadows and at Hobson’s Park but both are probably too small to sustain nesting Stonechats. This gorse was possibly brought in as seeds in builders’ sand. Visit the Suffolk coastal gorse heaths and there are the breeding Stonechats – find the Stonechats and close by there are often Dartford Warblers.

On 11th June 62 Carrion Crows were hanging around not-so-isolating groups of picnickers on Parker’s Piece.

No-mow-May has resulted in Pyramidal Orchids in a front garden lawn in Huntingdon Road and Pyramidals and Bee Orchids in a small wayside verge at Addenbrooke’s and has encouraged the City Council to leave a weedy headland round Chesterton Recreation ground – thank you! At Hobson’s Park on 15th June a Black-headed Gull was perched in a tree! and two parent birds were tragically protecting their drowned chick from the mayhem of the colony and voracious lunging adult gulls after carrion.

Lots of Skylarks are still singing at Trumpington Meadows, Hobson’s Park and the development areas round the periphery of Darwin Green and Eddington. Nearby on 20th June at a farm site in the north of our project area three pairs of Yellowhammers were active, a pair of Yellow Wagtails were probably breeding and the new kestrel box had been taken over by a roosting Barn Owl.

A fantastic record of a Bee-eater, heard (only) over Nuttings Road on 21st June (Iain Webb, www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). At Logan’s Meadow on 25th June four Blackcaps, three Whitethroats and a Chiffchaff were still singing, +/- six pairs of Swifts were nesting in the Tower and Jon Heath recorded a Siskin over his garden (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) on 26th June.

Woodpigeons are part of our avian background that are rarely noted unless in huge flocks. I usually end up checking distant lone Woodpigeons in flight for a raptor at least 10-12 times a day when out birdwatching – usually for a possible Sparrowhawk (I often keep a count!). Birds have no problem – I do! From the late 1970’s when growing winter sown Oil Seed Rape (OSR) expanded as part of winter farm crop rotations the population of Woodies exploded – c150% increase between late 1970’s – 2010. OSR was a food source that guaranteed pigeons’ winter survival. As a result, Woodpigeons moved into our towns and cities to breed where lawns, parks and gardens offer them a food supply during the breeding season as OSR crops grew too tall on which to feed. There is a nest in my neighbour’s eucalyptus tree (the first was blitzed by Magpies).

Woodpigeon in the bird bath

Then came the crunch. Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB) became a devastating pest of OSR seedlings due to repeated planting in winter crop rotations, destroying germinating seedlings and forcing a reduction of 10% in winter drilled OSR in autumn 2019.

It was the widespread use of systemic neonicotinamide insecticides (“neonics”) to kill CSFB that many blame for the dramatic decline in our insect biodiversity.

As I left home early on the 9th June to do a bird survey in the Great Fen Project south of Yaxley, near Peterborough there were 12 Woodies sitting in the middle of my road – true townies! My survey took two and a half hours in deep countryside – real Woodpigeon country and I only saw three Woodies! They do migrate. My oldest bird book by David Seth-Smith – Birds of our Country and Empire – says: “The Wood-pigeon remains here all year round but swarms of foreign specimens come from the north in the autumn.” A paper in a recent Holme Bird Observatory’s annual report described autumn/early winter influxes of Woodpigeons from the continent. Perhaps we should observe Wood Pigeons more closely.

Last record for the month: a Silver-washed Fritillary found in Huntingdon Road on 30th June was probably brought in on the strong winds.

Bob Jarman 30th June 2020.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

May 2020 Sightings

This month’s specials

On May 4th at 5.45am (Pam was watching!) the first of her Swifts returned to its internal nest box  and appeared on CCTV.  It had 4 days to wait before its mate appeared and an excited reunion was witnessed. All very astonishing, as they fly back separately from Africa.  A few weeks later, she reports a total of 8 nesting swifts, two eggs in the first nest; the drama of a fierce fight with a male intruder lasting 6 hours and one grounded swift, which misjudged the box entrance, hit a window, landed on the door mat and took off from the ground. (Apparently young strong swifts can do this – it’s the older, weaker ones that need re-launching.) Newnham’s skies are now filled with the screams of hunting swifts.  These early arrivals were picked up by Jeff on 4th, who later noted  about 100 swifts (with  ~10 House Martins) feeding in high winds over the oilseed rape fields along Grantchester Rd on 23rd.

Also in Newnham, there have been frequent daytime sightings of Barn Owls along the Meadows, including one sitting on the “Private No Mooring” sign post (Jill). Last month, I mentioned a scarcity of Collared Doves and others have agreed with this (Mary, Sue). However, they are present elsewhere (Lesley). On the other hand, it has been a bumper year for Cuckoos, which started at the end of March, went on through April and continued in May (15th in Skaters Meadow (Sandie), 20th and 27th in Newnham (Bob) and at 21st in Grantchester (Jeff)).

In Highsett, Leslie reports a Jay, and both Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, thriving on the many snails in her garden.  Perhaps the same Mistle Thrush was seen by Sam the other side of the railway tracks. Jean witnessed her local female Blackbird smashing Banded Snails Cepaea hortensis, on the stone path. This thrush-like behaviour may perhaps have been provoked by the extreme drought through April and May, making earthworms inaccessible.

The hedges above Grantchester Meadows are alive with small birds and on 4th a Corn Bunting was singing, as well as the Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats heard earlier. Common Terns returned to the river from 1st May,  and Grey Wagtails were seen, along with Nuthatch and Tree Creeper at St John’s college (Sue, David). However, their most notable record was on 6th May when a Common Sandpiper was sighted by the river (David). A Cormorant (Jill) and Kingfishers were reported flying along the river.  Also there was an unconfirmed report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker earlier in the year at the Riverbank Club in Newnham – exciting if so, as they have become very rare (Ted).

The city Peregrines have at least one chick (Alan) and the second pair probably 3. One adult landed outside the kitchen window near Barton Rd (Veronica)!  Many thanks to all who reported their regular garden and wayside birds: tits and finches, thrushes and woodpeckers, corvids, swans and mallards, sparrows and dunnocks, warblers including Reed Warblers and Cetti’s Warbler along the Cherry Hinton brook. It is a tremendous year for Chiffchaff and Blackcaps! (Holly, Suki, Val, Maria, Bernie, Alec).

Lesley’s comment (April sightings) that there were fewer Moorhens around Jesus Ditch than usual led to a considerable discussion about chemical pollution, litter, predation, poor water flow, overgrowth of pond weed until….. 6-7 very young moorhen babies were spotted emerging from a nest (Alison). Hopefully, all is well after all.

Invertebrates

Maria report “Kissing flies” : the Signal Flies Platystoma seminationis (Platystoma means big mouth). A mating pair kept turning a complete 360 degrees on the spot, the female rhythmically moving her mouth parts up and down : they may also push their large mouthparts together (kiss!) as part of the mating behaviour. These flies feed on nectar and pollen and breed in decaying matter.

Ann discovered  Mullein Moth, Cucullia verbasci, caterpillars  munching the Verbascum. Veronica records large infestations of Brown Tail Moth caterpillars on a hawthorn hedge.  These caterpillars strip the young bushes bare and the webs cover the trees. Cockchafers are spectacular insects – David found one on the allotment in Trumpington.

Meanwhile, the ‘mothers’ have also been busy. Paul’s spectacular Puss Moth was followed by a Privet Hawk Moth, the largest native species. At the other end of the scale was Annette’s tiny (8mm) Tortrix Moth which came to the light trap in a Chesterton garden on 19th May. This is the first VC29 record of Phtheochroa schreibersana since 1920, and likely to be the first ever record of the species for the city. Also, lots of butterflies now: Holly Blues (David, Alec), Small Heath (16th), Brown Argus (21st) Common Blue (25th).

Odonata are now emerging by the day: a Four-spotted Chaser was first seen on 8th and the Banded Demoiselle (Jeff) are a constant delight through the summer at the Riverbank Club. Here are a selection of Duncan’s pictures.

Thanks for all the other pictures of invertebrates.

Vertebrates

Veronica says a young Grass Snake turned up in the pond and there were plenty of tadpoles, so it was presumably after the Frogs there.  This Riverside Toad seems to be surveying the traffic with some indignation, after a month of virtually none.

Veronica reports a Fox’s den at the bottom of the garden in Barton Close.  A litter of four young cubs play in the garden in the early morning until about 8am (presumably home schooling starts after that!)  For the second year in a row, they have dug up a bumble bee nest, but they do seem to have kept the Muntjac at bay, with more of the vegetables surviving. Colin saw Cat and Fox in a stand-off! – neither looks ready to back down. Mo was not so thrilled to have a Badger visiting her Trumpington garden.  Jill saw a very small Human child in the river edge, up to his waist, playing with and covered with squelchy mud.  Mother was relaxing and enjoying the scene – she, possibly the most impressive sighting of all!

Plants

In Hobson Park it is hard to know what survives from the original flora before the park was created and what has been introduced in the “wild flower” mixes and other plantings when the park was created. The area was intensively farmed before the park was created, so perhaps not much survived the annual herbicide applications.  This year looks good for Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor) whose job is to suppress the grasses, allowing other plants to thrive.


In one of the ditches and along the W. boundary of the lake, Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) is in flower, along with a surprise – Common Cotton-grass (sedge) (Eriophorum angustifolium). It is considered to have been planted here, but interestingly, it is flourishing in presumably alkaline waters. Although a sedge, the stem is not triangular along the whole length. Swathes of Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) are everywhere and there is plenty of Hemlock (Conium maculatum) in flower.

The botanists have been out and about. Chris found Whorl-grass Catabrosia aquatica on Ditton Meadows, Jonathan noted Common Valerian Valeriana officinalis on a wall in Brooklands Avenue (apparently last seen in the city in 1860) and Corn Spurrey Spergula arvensis by Queen Edith’s Way roundabout (last seen here in 2004). The first NatHistCam record (and the first for TL45 since 1997), Bristly Stonewort Chara hispida was found in one of the Adams Rd Sanctuary ponds.  The older pond has Chara virgata, so it is quite a good site.   

It has been a superb year for White Helleborine! Nearly mown down by the gardener at Murray Edwards College (Jo); in both the old and newer parts of the Beechwood Reserve and flourishing by the hundreds in Nightingale Recreation Ground (Maria).  They have been recorded there before, but as the pandemic has put the playground out of action, have not been trampled this year.

Last month mystery object was a germinating Mistletoe seed. The (virtual) prize was shared between Chris Preston, Janet Bayliss and Clarke Brunt. Clarke tells us, “The Blackcaps don’t usually carry them far before coming back for another one – sticking them to the same mistletoe plant as the seed came from is common”.  I hope for lots of suggestions for this month’s mystery object.

Mystery object

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

Birds May 2020

The weather in May has followed April – a prolonged period of high pressure with diminishing northerly winds over southern England, days with temperatures of 25C+ and the lowest May rainfall on record – just a ten-minute heavy shower on May 23rd. I suppose that’s good during this period of lock-down then partial lock-down, but we do need some rain. My garden is desperate for rain.

The April Cambridgeshire Bird Club (CBC) monthly bulletin has lists of nocturnal migrants recorded and identified by Simon Gillings and Jon Heath. The species list is remarkable including Bittern, a variety of waders including Bar-tailed Godwits, Avocet, Stone Curlews; Common Scoters, Tree Pipits …! The overland Scoter migration from the west coast eastwards on their return passage to their Arctic breeding grounds has been widely tracked this year. Join the CBC even if it’s just to read about “nocmig”! Astonishing!

Dawn Chorus Day – Sunday 3rd May: my urban list is rather feeble: Blackbird (started at 04:10), Robin, Great Tit, Blackcap (distant), Woodpigeon, Collared Dove!

Blackcaps are abundant this year and still singing across the City including the gardens in the roundabout underpass at the junction of East Rd/Newmarket Rd/Elizabeth Way. I used to think that you could distinguish Garden Warbler from Blackcap by habitat – Garden Warblers like open scrub and hedgerows and Blackcaps prefer woodier habitats. Not so! I A Blackcap was singing in the neat hedge around Marshall’s airfield well away from any trees. If in doubt it’s a Blackcap singing!

A Garden Warbler was singing in Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits on 1st May and along the Coton footpath on 7th May but I have not heard any around the shrubby margins of Coldham’s Common this year (60+! Garden Warblers were counted at RSPB Fen Drayton on 9th May – Hugh Venables www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). Three Buzzards were over Chesterton, a Yellow Wagtail was singing on the northern edge of our project area and a Whimbrel flew over Chesterton at 18:25 all on 2nd May.

Lesser Whitethroats have been singing since mid-April but there was a mob arrival of Common Whitethroats in the first week of May and the ratio changed from 1:1 to 4:1 in favour of Commons. A Common Whitethroat singing in Logan’s Meadow on 18th is, I think, the first I have recorded there. I did not see the usual Common Terns feeding along the river in early April and feared their non-arrival but three flew high over Chesterton towards the City on 3rd and one was feeding opposite the pump station on 18th May. I think Martin (Walters) is right that they breed on the TA Pit at the end of Coldham’s Lane; there are no terns breeding this year at Hobson’s Park.

On 4th May the male Peregrine brought in a kill to the female at the city centre nest site who seized it and flew to the church to eat it. Despite the presence of these two predators there are always plenty of feral pigeons on and around the tower, unfazed (or unaware?) of the deadly raptors’ presence. On 22nd May the Peregrines at the second nest site had at least three young. On 5th May a pair of Grey Partridges were in a spring barley field close to the Newmarket Rd.

Swifts appeared in ones and twos but there was a big arrival overnight on 6th May; I think numbers are down on previous years. Eachard Road is the best road in the City for House Sparrows! Goldcrests were singing from the isolated Leylandiis in Histon Road and dense ivy in the willows on Coe Fen (not a conifer in sight) during the month.

Common Wheatears have been seen at Trumpington Meadows and Hobson’s Park on 2nd and 12th May respectively (Jill Aldred/Andrew Dobson www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). These later passage birds are often of the Greenland race which make a trans-Atlantic flight to arctic Greenland and northern Canada – one of the longest migrations of any passerine.

During the applause for NHS workers at 8pm on 14th May a Little Egret flew over Chesterton, two over Barnwell East LNR on 17th May, one at the Mill Pond on 22nd May and one flew over the roundabout at East Rd/Newmarket Rd/Elizabeth Way junction on 23rd May – all possibly failed breeders from the nearest nesting colony, probably along the Ouse Washes or Wicken.

A Cetti’s Warbler was singing along the brook behind Coldham’s Lane, Sainsbury’s on 17th May and the same bird or another at the Cherry Hinton end of the Snakey Path on 22nd May; a Tawny Owl was hooting, probably from Murray Edwards on the 18th and again in Benson Street gardens on 29th and a Mistle Thrush was singing (still!) and several flyover Sparrowhawks were seen across the City on 18th May.

A Cuckoo was heard at Trumpington Meadows on 19th and King’s Hedges on 21st May (Mark Jackson www.cbcwhats about.blogspot.com). A Kingfisher flew fast past King’s College on 20th May and another Buzzard passed low over St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton on 21st.

The Hobson’s Park Black-headed Gull colony has calmed down since the hullabaloo in April. Then I overestimated its size and now reckon c35-40 nests all on the wooden platform islands; the first young were visible on 21st May. A male Pochard was unusual on 22nd May and around the edge of the lake and the periphery of the park five Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler (not many of them about this year?) were singing in mid-May. Corn Buntings are present at Hobson’s but far less prominently than last year.

A pair of Lesser black-backed Gulls were hanging around Jesus Lock during mid-May. Why? One was floating close to a Great-crested Grebes nest at Hobson’s Park hoping, I think, to predate the eggs the moment the incubating grebes left the nest unattended. I wonder if they breed on rooftops in the City centre, I have never confirmed this but birds are around most springs/summers. I have seen them migrating north over the Atlantic in a fierce westerly gale and they are as competent, confident and graceful as any Shearwater. I once saw one walk up to a feeding feral pigeon stab it to death with its bill then eviscerate it and swallow the entrails!

On 27th May a Red Kite flew low over Halifax Road (Lisa’s Dad – he has often seen them in the Cotswolds) and on 31st a territorial male Yellowhammer was singing in farmland near our project boundary close to the A14.

Bob Jarman 31st May 2020. bobjarman99@btinternet.com

April Sightings 2020

April Sightings 2020

This month’s specials!

Although (or possibly because) we are still in pandemic lock-down, I have had a huge response to my request for sightings again. Who needs walks into the countryside when so much turns up on your doorstep?!  Highlights were reports of Grass Snakes (one at the Sanctuary Reserve (Paul), one in Paradise (Vic) and one swimming in the brook near the Burnside allotments (Holly)), a rare Snail and a Weasel.

Mammals

In the spring warmth, bats are out of hibernation : Richard’s detector picked up six species flying around the house at Hobson’s Park: Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, Noctule, Lesser Noctule and Serotine. My sighting of the month was a couple of views of a Weasel playing around the hedge near Skaters’ Meadows. Jill reports Water Vole in Hobson’s Brook at Empty Common and also noted a Hare crossing Grantchester Road.  Muntjac are ubiquitous as ever: one was spotted in a garden off Newmarket Road (Sarah). Rhona’s Jesus College Foxes are perhaps suffering marital discord with the lock-down.  The Vixen was seen carrying cubs, (at least 4) one by one, across College and out along Jesus Lane and Manor Street.  It seems she has taken them to a new den in Christ’s College gardens.  Meanwhile, the Dog Fox is still seen in Jesus grounds most days.  Vanessa sent a lovely video of a young Rabbit family in Hobson’s Park, greatly enhanced by the background of a Lark singing and a contribution from a Cuckoo.

Birds

Besides this Cuckoo heard in Hobson’s Park on 4th Apr, several others have been around this month. In Newnham, they were calling between Apr 28th to May 2nd (Jill, Penny, Olwen), in Highsett on 3rd May (Vicky), Cherry Hinton on several mornings (Holly) and in Trumpington Meadows on 19th April (Mo). Mo also spotted a migrating Wheatear in Trumpington Meadows on 22nd and  Maria reports an Oystercatcher on the lake in Hobson Park – this is turning out to be a magnificent place for birds.

Barn Owls are back in Newnham, flying low over the meadows both morning and evening, in broad daylight (Sandie, Dorothea).  Red Kites are becoming more regular (Vicky) and Martin noted numerous Buzzards over the city, including three above Fenner’s cricket ground recently.

Lots of folk mentioned their garden birds: using nest boxes, coming to feeders or just being around (Bernie, Jane, Loic, Maria, Jean, Holly). Thanks for all these. Bird song has been deafening this year, perhaps because of the lack of traffic noise. I found myself wondering whether they had increased their volume over the years and would sing more quietly if all the cars went for ever – sadly this hypothesis will not be tested. Val notes “The 8pm Thursday NHS clapping startles all the birds, who fly off in alarm”.

Spring migrants continue to arrive. Martin saw his first Swift on 28th April, earlier than usual.  Common Terns have been seen in Newnham (Olwen) and Hobson’s Park (Richard). Swallows arrived by 9th April (Jeff) and on 29th a cloud of House Martins joined them over the Hobson’s Park lake feasting on insects (Richard). Reed Warblers were heard in Trumpington Meadows on 19th (Mo). Jeff reports Sedge Warblers (2 on 15th) by the Cam in Grantchester Meadows and 3 Whitethroat and a Lesser Whitethroat on 19th, all singing along Grantchester Road. There are large numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps almost everywhere and last year’s Cetti’s Warbler have returned to Cherry Hinton lakes (Holly).

What else?!  Grey wagtails in Grantchester and Newnham, (Loic, David): a Nuthatch in a Newnham garden (David), Jackdaws sitting on the Cardoon seed heads, scavenging fluff for their nests (Jane), Reed Buntings in Trumpington Meadows (Mo), Tree Creeper in Byron’s Pool woods (Vanessa), Buzzards circling over the city (Jean), Peregrine on URC in the city (Vicky), a pair of Partridges exploring an abandoned building-site at Homerton College (Sam), a male Tawny Owl in Histon Road Cemetery (Lesley), Jays (Colin, Holly), Little Grebes nesting on Trumpington Meadows pond (Duncan) and Jeff’s list which included Marsh Harrier (1st summer female), Red Kite, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear female in Grantchester Road.  A spectacular haul.

I have been struck by the scarcity of Collared Doves and Jane also says theirs seem to have disappeared.  Another non-sighting – a troubling lack of Moorhens on Jesus Green, where previously there used to routinely be ten or a dozen, but recently barely any (Lesley). Then a complaint from Richard! Canada Geese invaders are breeding at Hobson’s Park. I remember the Colleges had this problem on the Backs and invested in a mock Coyote – effective apparently.

So much for the birds – what about the bugs?

Maria send a pic of a Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana). Originating from south Europe, it has become established in Britain since the late 1990s. Paul’s garden continues to produce an amazing array of invertebrates: first 14-spot Ladybird of the year and the bug Mocydia crocea. The harvestman Platybunus triangularis was in the Sanctuary Reserve and Shieldbugs Dock Bug, Hairy Shieldbug and Juniper Shieldbug all turned up in Trumpington (Mo).

Large Red Damselflies appeared through the month and Duncan has been waiting to see the first Hairy Hawker dragonfly. More and more butterfly reports (Brimstone (Alec), Speckled Wood (Karsten), Orange Tip (David), Red Admiral (Jeff), Holly Blue (Val)) – thanks to all who sent these.

Ben’s highlight for April was finding Hairy-footed Flower Bees in the garden.  Bill’s experience was not so good – while some of his Honey Bees were flourishing, he had a nasty attack of Wax Moth (Galleria sp.) pupae in a bee hive.  Pam has been carrying “Bee Saviour” Cards, with which she was able to rescue a damp and bedraggled Queen Bumble Bee.  After probing the sweet spot, it warmed up, did a buzz and a short flight, then zoomed off!  Wasps are also emerging: Paul snapped a Common Wasp queen, who after drinking in the pond flew to the greenhouse to preen herself and have her portrait taken. He also found Marsham’s Nomad Bee, a new species for his garden list. All nomad bees are wasp mimics and kleptoparasitic, entering the nests of a host and laying eggs there, stealing resources the host has collected.  John asked about another “Bee”- actually a fly pretending to be a bee –the Bee Fly Bombylius major.  Another parasite of bees and wasps, its eggs are laid in the nest and the larvae eat the host larvae. 

Lesley sent a picture of my favourite snail, Cepaea nemoralis, the banded snail, This extremely variable snail is much studied by geneticists. The pattern of banding and the underlying colour are all quantifiable genetic characters. This one was “yellow” (there are also “pink” and “brown” ones) and of the potential 5 rows of bands, it seems to have 2 and would be scored as 1-0-3-0-0. Even better, this guy does not attack your plants, living mainly on detritus – so don’t squish him!

Paul also had a snail adventure. On Worts Causeway on the way up to the Roman Rd, he found several small (~15mm) snails. His initial identification was Kentish Snails Monacha cantina , but an expert identified it as the much smaller and far rarer species Monarcha cartusiana Cartusian Snail. (In 1999, this was only known from a total of  fifteen 10-km grid squares in coastal areas of South Eastern England. It was probably introduced to Britain from Southern Europe as a “weed” of cultivation by prehistoric farmers (Susan Hewitt).)

Plants

We mustn’t let the animals have all the attention – the plant hunters have had fun too.

Paul found large clumps of White Ramping Fumitory in flower in Coleridge recreation ground, Chris noted a very pale Green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens on River Cam opposite Jesus Green. Jill came across a ditch full of Water Crowfoot behind the rugby club. Although recently dredged, this is stagnant water.  Vanessa found Three-cornered Garlic, Allium triquetrum on the guided busway in Trumpington – an introduced plant from the W. Mediterranean.

More complaints from Richard! Hoary Cress or Curse-of-Kent Lepidium draba, an aggressively rhizomatous species thought to have been introduced to the British Isles with fodder or straw, is spreading ominously into Hobson Park. Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens is forming ‘extensive monocultures’ with a ‘strong negative impact on most of the native species’ that it replaces on banks and beneath hedges. A garden escape, comparatively rare as recently as the 1960s, it is now naturalised and spreading widely. I am certainly aware of this taking over my allotment and other places locally. Himalayan Balsam (Policeman’s Helmet) Impatiens glandulifera seedlings are emerging near the entrance to Byron’s Pool LNR. It forms high dense stands probably restricting the growth of native species. This has been fought by the Wildlife Trust up and down the region’s minor waterways and clearly the battle is not yet won.

On brighter notes, Jo found Nonea lutea, a rare weed, growing at Murray Edwards College, probably introduced with top soil. Simon likewise found Musk Storksbill Erodium moschatum,  a long way from its designated habitat! Horse Chestnut ‘candles’ have been magnificent. I learned that the centre of each flower changes from yellow to red after it has been pollinated. Apparently all flowers will eventually turn red, but pollination speeds up that process by a day, giving a traffic light signal that directs pollinators to fresher, unpollinated flowers. (Thanks Paul).  Cowslips have also been magnificent everywhere this year.

Last month’s mystery (above) was a Hoverfly pupa, Epistrophe eligans.  Louise Bacon (the only contender!) came very close. This month’s puzzle picture was taken in Churchill College – below. Who will be the first this time?

Let’s keep going! April 2020

I can just about do it in my hour bicycle exercise: fifteen minutes to get there, half an hour round Hobson’s Park and a fifteen-minute cycle ride back home. I can cycle to most parts of the City and our NatHistCam project area and back within my allotted one-hour exercise with the exception of one day when I fell in the river, with my bike, at Newnham. That’s another story; my camera and binoculars survived but my mobile phone did not!

Blackcaps are singing across the City including Harding Way where I lived as a boy! I have never heard so many. They even made it onto the BBC Radio 4 national news at 7:00 on 25th April – Frank Gardner, their Security Correspondent, is a twitcher and he commented how widespread they are this spring. In Chesterton my ranking order of dawn chorus songsters is: Great Tit, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon then Collared Dove and Robin, often a Green Woodpecker in the background. Chiffchaffs have followed close to Blackcaps in abundance across the City this spring. This has been the sunniest April on record with an unusual sequence of north-easterly winds.

In 2019 Duncan McKay encouraged members of CNHS to send in Dawn Chorus recordings on their mobile phones to identify songsters. The ranking order was Blackbird, Robin, Wren and Blackcap. This year Dawn Chorus Day is Sunday May 3rd – let’s do the same again! The Wildlife Trusts have information on their web site. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club is also asking everyone and anyone to keep a weekly log of their garden birds – see their web site and download the record sheet!

The lock-down and the traffic silence has encouraged me to listen to urban bird song closely. Coal Tits breed just across to road to me but rarely venture onto my feeders – they have two songs. Blue Tits also have at least two songs and one that is only occasionally heard – a hoarse “cheeva..cheeva..cheeva”. I think this is a territorial statement from the male bird of an established pair and the familiar song is to attract a mate. In Germany, Blue Tits have been found with a deadly contagious disease rather like Trichomoniasis in Greenfinches. So far, this infection has not appeared in UK Blue Tits.

Despite trichomoniasis, Greenfinches appear to be having a good breeding season across the City and must have made a recovery from their contagion.

At 4:00am on 2nd April Redwings were passing over in numbers. Buzzards and Red Kites have been seen widely including over the junction of Histon Road with Castle Hill, a Red Kite over Tenison Road (Martin Walters) on 4th and my first Buzzard seen from my house on 5th and another on 26th; a Red Kite over Hobsons Park on 17th April.

A Willow Warbler was singing at Barnwell East LNR on 6th April (Iain Webb, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and one at Coe Fen the next day. Also, on 7th April a pair of Oystercatchers and a pair of Lapwings were at Hobson’s Park and on 15th April an Oystercatcher over Chesterton early morning. On the 9th a Swallow flew low over my Chesterton garden; on the 10th the breeding pair of Swallows were back along the river under the A14 bridge and another Willow Warbler was singing in Milton Country Park.

On 14th April I heard a Grey Wagtail singing by the river at the Doubletree Hotel – I probably have heard them before but this was the first time I have registered and listened carefully to Grey Wagtail song; the bird had been ringed. The song was a tuneful rattle interspersed with call notes. Very different from the woeful “slurp. ..slurp …slurp” song of Yellow Wagtails. (The worst bird song!)

The Chiffchaff and the Greenfinch

On 18th April the first Corn Bunting was singing at Hobsons Park and on the same day a Chiffchaff and a Greenfinch arrived together in my garden. Both are unusual in my small garden but they arrived together, hung around the feeders together and left together. Maybe we will have a Chiffinch before the season is out!!

At 22:30 on 18th April two male Tawny Owls were challenging each other with quiet alternating hoots; they were close by and were probably more audible because of the much-reduced traffic noise in the lock-down.

On 19th April Rob Pople reported an Osprey (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and at Eddington I heard my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year – but still no Whitethroats (but … first one heard at Baitsbite on 26th)! A pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying over Castle Hill when they appeared to be intercepted by a second displaying pair. The real sensation of the month was on the 22nd April – a White-tailed Sea Eagle reported over Bolton’s Pit, Newnham (James Cadbury: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). It was probably one of the released birds from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme. They have been seen over Greater London and a bird was tracked up the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts during March.

A Mistle Thrush was still singing in Huntingdon Road (they have been singing since November 2019) and a Yellow Wagtail and a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks were over my house in Chesterton. Skylarks were in full song throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and in arable land behind St Giles, Cemetery off Huntingdon Road. The male Peregrine was reliably in attendance on his lookout perch in the City centre throughout April. On 26th April 4 Swifts were seen high over Histon Road.

Male Kestrel at Clay Farm

Two Common Sandpipers were at Hobson’s Park on 24th April (Martin Walters). I have tried to count the Black-headed Gulls at Hobson’s Park but each time I do the number increases; I think there are 100 breeding pairs, a number of non-breeding adults and 12-15 birds in their second calendar year i.e. they were fledged juveniles last year. These birds act as colony guards and look-outs ready to mob the passing Heron or Lesser black-backed Gull but also ready to sneak a crafty copulation with a lone female; no further sighting of the 2nd year Mediterranean Gull there with nest material. Two Common Terns were at Milton CP on 25th just outside our project area. On 28th April Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and two Reed Warblers were at Hobson’s Park. On 29th April, along the Coton footpath, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were singing.

On the 30th a Common Tern over the Mill Pond and three Corn Buntings singing on the ground – which I have not seen before – about 50 House Martins plus Swallows, 3 Sand Martins and a high over Common Tern were all at Hobson’s Park and Nuthatches were calling from a back garden in Chaucer Road (a new Cambridge locality for me). Also on 30th a Red Kite over Castle Hill and a Wheatear, Cuckoo and Cetti’s Warbler at Trumpington Meadows (Jill Aldred: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).

Local House Spug

I finished my March blog with a comment about House Sparrows. A lone male bird now makes regular visits to my feeders (picture below). House “Spugs” get little press but they are barometers of the health of our urban bird life. During the lock-down more people than ever, especially children home from school, are taking an interest in the wild life around us. In Cambridgeshire, House Sparrows have become almost extinct in the wider countryside because of intensive farming and the loss of over-winter stubbles to feed. They have adapted to western urban environments and rural villages. In eastern Europe to central Asia, Tree Sparrows are the birds of human habitations and House Sparrows are birds of the open countryside.