Category Archives: Project Blog

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

May to the first few days of June 2019

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

Arctic Tern
Common Tern at Hobson’s Park 

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

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

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

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

City Centre Peregrine
Reed Warbler

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

Yellow Wagtail
Corn Bunting

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

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

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

May Sightings 2019

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

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

Consolation for the Victor   Pam Gatrell

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

Great Spotted Woodpecker    Duncan Mackay

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

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

Hidden Mallard’s nest   Ann Laskey

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

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

Newly emerged 7-Spot Ladybird

7-Spot Ladybird, after 3 hours 

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

Mayfly    Paul Rule
Salticus scenicus    Chris Preston

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

Cinnamon Bug  Paul Rule

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

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

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

Green Silver-lines Moth    Paul Rule

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

Ichneumon Wasp   Ben Greig
Mating Azure Damselflies    Duncan Mackay

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

4-Spot Chaser   Duncan Mackay

Painted Lady Butterfly    Paul Rule

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

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

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

Fox with young rat in Jesus College     Rhona Watson

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

 Roman Snails   Menage a trois     Norman De’Ath

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

Tadpoles in Barnwell Reserve  Duncan Mackay

Olwen Williams        

April – first few days of May 2019 – Rook revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female Blackcap – bumper spring for this bird

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

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

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

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

April Sightings 2019

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

Chub     Duncan Mackay


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

Roe Deer  Annette Shelford
Midnight Hare   Jill Newcombe

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


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

Blackcap    Rhona Watson

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

Jay    Duncan Mackay
Juvenile Tawny Owl, Girton College    Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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


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

Floating Pennywort   Duncan Mackay

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

Taphrina pruni infection   Rosser  Wiki


Small Tortoiseshell
Paul Ru

Holly Blue        Paul Rule

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

Comma Paul Rule
Female Orange Tip         Rhona Watson

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

Eyed Ladybird 

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

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

Hoverfly  Duncan Mackay
Nursery Web Spider with Hoverfly          
Duncan Mackay

Olwen Williams

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

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

March 2019 – “The Ravens have left the Tower”

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

Rooks at Girton College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skylark– Hobson’s Park
Buzzard over Chesterton

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

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

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

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

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

March Sightings 2019


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

Mating frogs    Simon Mentha
Frog guarding frogspawn    Pam Gatrell

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


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

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


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

Nonea lutea    Liza Steel


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

Other invertebrates include a Hawthorn Shield Bug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale,

Hawthorn Shield Bug     Pam Gatrell

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

Muslin Moth   Paul Rule
Oak Beauty   Paul Rule 

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

Butterflies in March

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

Speckled Wood     Rhona Watson

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

Emerging Hedgehog     Paul Rule

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

Garden Birding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Heath March 2019

February Sightings 2019

An unusually hot month has meant an early season for many things – even reports of Swallows and House Martins arriving along the SW coast, a good month earlier than usual.  Here in Cambridge, Frogspawn was seen in Newnham on Feb 17th (Pam has a tiny pond with between 30 and 40 frogs, including four mating pairs) and towards the end of the month at Mayfield School. 

HAVE YOU SEEN ANY?  Please let us know where and when. You can email me or submit a sighting via the website.

Another query, this time from Chris Preston, who is undertaking a survey of Smuts and Rusts. There is a smut fungus, Antherospora hortensis,  which infects the anthers of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), so you have to look into the flowers to see masses of brown spores, rather than normal pale yellow pollen grains spilling out of the anthers. Although it is widespread in W. Wales and in Richmond (Surrey), he failed to find it in Cambridge last year,so needs help!  A similar smut occurs on Scilla species. This one (Antherospora scillae) on Scilla forbesii was an exciting find in St Giles churchyard.  Please let him ( or me know if you see any more.

Antherospora scillae
Chris Preston
Antherospora hortensis
Arthur Chater

Mammal reports – a dead Badger on Barton Rd was spotted by several people.  In the fields by Grantchester Rd, seven Hares were seen crouched against the grass. The first Water Vole of the year appeared at lunchtime on 14th, in Jesus Ditch. Rhona reckoned it still looked rather groggy, as if it needed a strong coffee after over-wintering underground. Still at Jesus College, a Fox has been sauntering around and seems to have taken up residence.

Water vole   Rhona Watson
Jesus’ Fox       Rhona Watson

At Mayfield School, Amy reports one Rat, one Mouse and a Vixen with 4 cubs.  I have been intrigued by the Moles at Pembroke sports ground. Molehills abound all around the playing fields, but never encroach.  I wonder if this is because there are no worms or grubs to be found there?  There  are no worm casts either.

On this theme, Duncan comments: “One interesting thing that is causing the College head gardeners a lot of pain at the moment is the Crows attacking their lawns and eating Cockchafer grubs. This also happens on Parker’s Piece. I counted on Parker’s piece – there were 60 Carrion Crows and 20 Herring Gulls and  I think  both species were after the cockchafers.” He speculates how they locate the grubs, which are generally feeding on grass roots below the ground and wonders if they make ultrasound noises as they eat and the birds are able to hear in this frequency. He intends to take a bat detector to investigate!


Susanne reports Redwing in Chesterton at the beginning of the month and while winter migrants have not yet departed, the weather has encouraged lots of birds to start singing.  On 9th, I was delighted to hear Greenfinch and on 19th Goldfinch. After last summer, they had both disappeared altogether.  On 11th I heard a Song Thrush in full song and also a still- subdued Blackbird. In Paradise, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Robin are all competing for air space. The large winter flock of Rooks and Jackdaws has now dispersed, with just a few of each remaining. Meanwhile, the Herons have moved back in and are noisily restoring their nests.

Walking back from Grantchester along the headland path parallel to Grantchester Rd, we saw a male Yellowhammer on the hedge, then 2 Grey Partridges.  

Yellowhammer Paul Rule
Little Grebes   Paul Rule

These are a red list species, so nice to see in Cambridge. There were also Skylarks singing over the fields. On the river, 3 Little Grebes were diving but (not yet) displaying.  On 17th, Duncan noted a Blackcap singing along Cherry Hinton Brook, also a Little Egret and fighting Moorhens. Then a Water Rail was spotted in the brook, adjacent to the reed beds at the end of the lakes – not a common sight in the city. These allotments have two branches of the brook beside them. One goes underground at Birdwood Rd and the other passes beside the lakes and on past Sainsbury’s. Charles Turner has pointed out that this area used to be Cherry Hinton Moor and once had a very acidic plant community growing on it. So this very curious split drainage system may have been the way of draining it, to allow all the houses to be built.

On 17th, Pam heard Tawny Owls are calling in Newnham.  On 22nd Mistle Thrushes were noted on the top of a plane tree in Jesus College.  Liza spotted a Peregrine flying over Alpha Road. She also has male Blackcap feeding regularly, along with a beautiful pair of Song Thrushes which love grapes and pears! Then the lucky children at Mayfield School were able to see a Heron eating a frog and to film a Sparrowhawk catching and demolishing a Wood Pigeon.

Sparrowhawk with pigeon    Amy Ellis


My first Brimstone butterfly was in Newnham on Feb 17th. Lots of Bees have been reported: Mahonia blossom seems to be a good nectar source.

Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee  
Paul Rule

Early Honey Bees  (Amy, Paul), Buff-Tailed Bumblebee (Paul, Guy on 6th Feb, Duncan on 17th), and on 26th Feb, Rhona reports Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee (Bombus barbutellus)a social parasite of the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortensis). She says, “It is locally widespread, but ‘There are indications of a significant decline in many areas’ (Falk & Lewington,2015). Females don’t usually emerge until late April! Nice to see a NFS bumblebee in Jesus.”
Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee   Rhona Watson
Epissyphus balteatus     Paul Rule

She also spotted several Hairy-Footed Flower Bees since 21st Feb.  Occasional Queen Wasps have been seen and also a couple of common hoverflies, Eristalis tenax (drone fly) and Epissyphus balteatus. Both are rather dark specimens, possibly due to the time of year they have emerged.

Drone Fly       Paul Rule

Adult moths can be found throughout the winter months, but the warm spell at the end of the month has seen an unusually high number attracted to light traps at various locations across the city. Over 10 species seen in all, with Common Quakers appearing in the largest numbers. Good numbers of Hebrew Characters, March Moths and Clouded Drabs have also been captured. Star moth of the month has to be the Oak Beauty captured in Annette’s Girton garden.

Oak Beauty       Annette Shelford

Finally, an oddity.  A collection of fluffy twigs on a large Willow appear to be the remnants of last year’s Mossy Willow Catkin Gall.  “This gall is actually an abnormally distorted catkin, and is probably caused by a virus or phytomplasma, but the precise causer has not yet been identified.”

Mossy Willow Catkin Gall    Paul Rule

Olwen Williams

Late February 2019 – the Heat is ON!

Eighty plus Redwings on Newnham recreation ground, on 12th February, is a typical pre-migration gathering. At this time, they often associate in a tree or dense scrub and engage in a peculiar muted sub-song. Dave the groundsman at the CURUFC (Rugby Club) says there is a regular Barn Owl hunting over the training ground and rough pasture behind the Grange Road pitch. I had a look at this area which is hard farmed arable – good hedges but few headlands – the crops have been drilled right up to the hedges and footpath But, there was a pair of Kestrels and over towards the M11 a pair of Buzzards. A pair of Kestrels opposite Paradise also.

I carry out a regular bird survey for a farm in the north of our project area close to the A14. The most productive hedge is the one illustrated below. I does not look much – a drainage ditch that has become over grown, mostly, with bramble and some hawthorn but it is the 8m field margins on both sides of the hedge that gives it added bird value. It always has several pairs of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Meadow Pipits, occasionally Stonechat and Grey Partridge nearby.

Nuthatch – Lower Wood; Duncan MacKay

I have been looking and listening for Nuthatches! The 1994 Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Cambridge says the “Backs” hold a small population, the most recent Atlas – 2007-2011 – show no confirmed breeding records for Cambridge and our NathistCam project area. I have one recent record from Girton (Stuart Rosell) and that’s it! The habitat around the “Backs” looks ideal, as good any wood such as Buff and Gamlingay, in west Cambridgeshire, but I’ve found none. I have also looked and listened in the Botanic gardens but none there too, just a pair of Muntjacs! Nor can I understand why there are none! Records please!

Brambling in the Beechwoods
February 2018

On the 18th February about 15 Bramblings at the Beechwoods, including a male going into striking summer plumage. I find then difficult to see rummaging in the beech leaf litter – they are always with the Chaffinches.

Brambling Paxton Pits late April 2018

See a Chaffinch and you see the Bramblings even if it’s just their striking white rumps as they fly into the trees. They are serious rummagers and throw the beech leaves about in their search for seeds. The best views were immediately on entering the wood, near and just beyond the cycle rack but here they are most prone to disturbance from dog walkers. They often stay well into April.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is GreenSandpiper-1.jpg
Green Sandpiper at farm reservoir in project area

Sparrowhawks have been displaying over Histon Road, Grange Road and Logan’s Meadow. A Green Sandpiper on a small farm reservoir on 20th February could have been the same overwintering individual I saw in a near by ditch last October. Rhona Watson has recorded active breeding behaviour of Mistle Thrushes in Jesus College grounds and Peregrines have been reported over the out-of-city nesting site.

On 22nd February one singing Corn Bunting at Hobson’s Park and a Jack Snipe. It was only the second time I have seen Jack Snipe on the ground feeding – they have a peculiar “bouncing” gait that presumably agitates worms and grubs nearer the surface. There were also about 200 Black-headed Gulls,some were displaying nesting behaviour.

Credible reports of a Mink running along Greystoke Road and into gardens in Queen Edith’s Way and a dead adult Badger along Barton Road. Roy has seen a Muntjac in the gardens of Gresham Road and a Red Fox walking across the University cricket pitch.

Brian Eversham introduced the recent Monitoring and Research Conference for the Wildlife Trust (Beds, Cambs, Northants). He predicts that Great-spotted Cuckoo would be one of the next new species to colonise due to climate change – they parasitise Magpies (not a bad thing!). He also described a new flora by Sell and Murrell (2018) that treats 62 recognisable forms of Elms as new named species. He described a copse near Cambourne with 12 species of Elms– this is more than the whole of France with just 8 species! I thought/assumed that all elms were dead because of Dutch Elm disease. Not at all; Duncan MacKay has located elms in the College gardens,some of which are the tallest trees in the City. Brian Eversham also mentioned Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, also influenced by climate change, which is a migratory bat; it’s a summer visitor to the UK and returns to the continent to hibernate over winter.

Iain Webb described that transition of Trumpington Meadows from the Plant Breeding Institute (with picture of Dr Francis Lupton next to winter wheat trial plots) to recreational grassland and nature reserve. He also described the Dung Beetle Monitoring Project (DUMP!) which searches for dung beetles in cow pats. John Showers described the Diptera (flies) – there are 7,100 species in the UK alone; the larva of one is vividly called the Rat-tailed Maggot. A summary of the Wetland Bird Surveys (WeBS) by Neil Calbrade showed Gadwall ducks increasing but Mallards declining.

It was only a matter of time before Common Craneswere seen over Cambridge from the expanding Cambridgeshire breeding population – four flying north on 24thFebruary ( 

The first flowering Blackthorn I saw was on 18thFebruary and a Brimstone on the 23rdFebruary. The remarkable hot weather produced a UK “hottest” February temperature of 20.6C on 25thFebruary at Trawscoed in Wales. I used to visit Trawscoed in the late1960’s and early 1970’s to see the Red Kites. 

Red Kite over Orchard Park

This relic population was hanging on after year of persecution and before the reintroduction of Red Kites in the Chilterns in the mid1970’s. To see Red Kites now, in and over Cambridge, is astonishing; one over the A14/Orchard Park on 18thFebruary and one near Darwin Green on 20thFebruary. Years later using DNA technology it was discovered the Welsh population was suffering inbreeding-depression and all shared the DNA of a single female bird of German heritage!

Blackcaps have been heard singing a quiet sub-song before the breeding season get underway off Huntingdon Road and next to the railway bridge over the river in Chesterton. The birch coppice opposite Cambridge North Station that had singing, and probably breeding, Willow Warblers in 2018 is being grubbed out for a prestige office development.

Radio 4 last Sunday On Your Farm: 6:35am– listen to it on catch-up/iPlayer “Farming for Wildlife”:Cambridgeshire (St Neots) farmer Martin Lines describes the Nature Friendly Farming Network and how he actively encourages birdlife and other wildlife and runs a profitable commercial farm.

 BobJarman 1st March 2019

Hobson’s choice or Hobson’s Park!

If I have a choice where to go its Hobson’s Park ………at the moment!. It used to be called Clay Farm. Countryside Properties who,I think, are the agents/builders of Great Kneighton (the “e” before the “i”!) have created a recreational area and nature reserve between the new village and the railway line. The nature reserve will eventually be handed over to the City Council, as will, I expect, the area set aside for allotments. From Chesterton to Hobson’s Park on the southern edge of our NatHistCam project area is an easy cycle ride for me mostly along the guided bus routes out into “big-sky-country” and also to the nearby chalky arable escarpment of Nine Wells.

John Meed has been studying Nine Wells for several years as it is threatened by the expansion of Addenbrookes. He has counted: 33 pairs of Skylarks, 17 pairs of Linnets, 15 pairs of Grey Partridges (73 birds there in November 2017 – Cambridgeshire Bird Club Annual Report No 91, 2017), 14 pairs of Yellowhammers, 6-7 pairs of Corn Buntings and 1-2 pairs of Yellow Wagtails – all Red Listed bird species. It is a remarkable list of threatened farmland birds on the edge of our City.

Corn Bunting Hobson’s Park 
Linnet at Hobson’s Park 

Hobson’s Park looks as though it might extend the habitats at Nine Wells with the addition of a wetland nature reserve. Corn Buntings are already singing there on sunny days so too are Skylarks; 12 Linnets seem to be resident and a pair of Stonechats can be seen on most visits (see December 2018 blog). On/around the wetland site are +/- 60 Common Snipe, 4-5 Jack Snipe (several observers), a male Bearded Tit (since mid-November) which gives the best views of this species you could wish for (but it can be elusive and often feeds on the ground at the base of the reeds), 3 Little Egrets, Kingfisher,Water Rail, Kestrel and an assortment of ducks. A Jack Snipe was also seen at Eddington on 24thJanuary (Boris Delahaie,

Water Rail – taken at Welney

Bramblings are uncommon winter visitors to Cambs. According to Iolo Williams on Winter Watch there has been a Brambling invasion into the UK this winter due to a shortage of beech mast in Europe. Beech mast is their staple winter food. The Brecklands around Brandon have big flocks most winters and reported numbers in Cambs, this winter, have been about average – the flock of 40+ in the Beechwoods is unusual but not exceptional. In January 2018, I spent the New Year in 2017/2018 in Israel and saw large flocks of Bramblings on the very southern limit of their winter range in the Golan Heights and along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee – a bird I did not expect to see there – and not a Beech tree in sight!

The cold weather in the last week of January and the first few days of February has brought winter thrushes – Fieldfares and especially Redwings – into the city to feed on berries. On the 1st February, there was a flock of 150+ over the Elizabeth Way roundabout at the junction with Newmarket and East Roads – I could not work out where they had been feeding. Large numbers of Redwings were also“casing” Orchard Park for berry bearing street trees and bushes on Saturday 2ndFebruary. Signs of a Hedgehog around my garden were good but also bad because it should have been hibernating.

Song Thrush at Orchard Park 
Redwing at Orchard Park

A male Blackcap was in Tenison Road on 1stFebruary (Martin Walters), 60+ Skylarks on part of the Darwin Green development that is still mown pasture and waiting for the JCB’s, and a Red Fox behind the gardens in Tavistock Road.

Shoveller at Eddington

Bob Jarman 4th February 2019