Category Archives: Project Blog

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

April Sightings 2021

April has been colder than normal and very dry – almost no rain for about six weeks.  The last reported winter visitors were 3 Fieldfare seen on 4th (Jeff), while the first Swift arrived extremely early on 24th (Dick, Clarke, Jeff).  Other notable arrivals were a Willow Warbler in Paradise on 25th (Olwen), several reports of calling Cuckoos from 23rd (Becky, Jenny), 4 Swallows on 6th, 2 Terns at Fulbrook allotments (Jill), a Lesser Whitethroat at Eddington 28th April and a Cetti’s Warbler at Fen Ditton 29th (Bob). There have been an abundance of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (Lesley, Becky, Jo, Rhona). 

A second-hand report of a  Ring-necked Parakeet in Grantchester St has not been confirmed. However, I gather they have reached Northhampton and also are around St Ives/Hemingfords, so are getting nearer.  I am not sure how welcome they are, as they are noisy and occupy other species’ nest holes. Other less usual sightings included a pair of Mistle Thrushes in Newnham, a pair of Mandarin Duck at Grantchester Meadows, a Wheatear  and a Ring Ouzel (Jeff), a Green Sandpiper, a Black-tailed Godwit and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers at Eddington (Bob). The Science Park turned up a Firecrest (Pat) and there was a Goldcrest in Paradise. 

A Nuthatch was singing at Girton College and a displaying male Yellow Wagtail at the farm site in north Cambridge (Bob). Fifteen Golden Plover were seen near the M11 (Jeff) and a Lapwing at Eddington (David). Ionathan spotted two Common Cranes flying over about 10.30 at night – these too are getting nearer.   

Nine Heron’s nests are ‘occupied’ at Paradise Island : Mike reports lots of “clacking” of hungry juveniles on 29th.  In Ionathan’s garden, out of 3 eggs laid, two “extremely cute” juvenile Robins have fledged.  His mealworm feeders are very popular with Starlings who queue up, each bird spending up to 30 seconds on the feeder before moving to the back of the queue. Eve says a male Wren checked out a nest site in the shed but went off again. I think they commonly make 2-3 nests and invite the female to choose! And they still find time to sing constantly.

Butterflies have been slow to appear, but towards the end of the month, Speckled Woods (Lesley, Jeff, Rhona),  Green-Veined Whites and Orange-Tips have all been reported (Becky, Jeff).  Rhona was particularly pleased to find Orange-Tips laying orange eggs.

Rhona saw the first Large Red Damselfly of the season on 23rd April in the Botanic Garden. She also reported various bees: Ashy Mining Bee, Grey-patched Mining Bee, Mourning Bee and Paul added Gooden’s Nomad Bee (a nest parasite of other bees), Buffish Mining Bee and Lathbury’s Nomad Bee. The last is uncommon here, being more associated with gorse-clad hillsides, sandy heathland paths and vertical faces of sandpits – it turned up in the Trumpington Community Orchard. From a Churchill College student came a query of an unknown insect, which was identified as yet another bee, a member of the Coelioxzys Sharp-Tailed Bees.

Rhona found masses of Hairy Shieldbugs and also 5 Crucifer Shieldbugs, 1 red form and 4 white form – uncommon in Cambridge. Paul sent a picture of my favourite fly, the Yellow Dung Fly –the male golden yellow and the female greenish.  Any decent fresh dung pat will host up to 100 males, waiting in hope of the female arriving to lay her eggs. However, Paul’s April special were 2 nymphs of the Planthopper Issus coleoptratus in some ivy.   Like all planthopper nymphs, they have a small, gear-like structure on the base of each of their hind legs. These have teeth which intermesh, keeping the legs synchronized when the insect jumps, thus preventing it from spiralling. The insects shed this gear before moulting into adults.  He comments, “It also has strange fibres projecting out of its bottom which are a waxy excretion, but no one seems to know what function they serve.”  I would suggest that like all gears, some lubrication is required and wax might do very nicely.

Purple Toothwort is a non-native parasitic plant which grows on the roots of various other plants and has spread from the Botanic Garden along Hobson’s Conduit in both directions. This patch was growing at head height on a willow branch (or perhaps on the roots of the ivy there) on Coe Fen  (Ben, Paul). 

Magog Down  has been a wonderful place to visit this spring. Richard and Vanessa found a coppiced Willow which had a large number of Crown Galls on its many branches. The bacterium which causes these galls is Agrobacterium tumefaciens.  It apparently has an important role in genetic modification of certain crops, in order to improve resistance to diseases or improve yields – especially useful and important in countries in Africa.

The interconnected Newnham Nature Reserves (Paradise, Sheep’s Green and Coe Fen) have become home to Water Voles, working their way up from Snob’s Brook and along the main River Cam.  Water voles are a priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework, and one of the key reasons for their decline was the non-native North American Mink. In East Anglia, a mink eradication programme which started on the Bourn Brook in the winter of 2010/11 has largely cleared the Cam catchment area, so the remnant population had chance to breed safely in the absence of the predator. Since then, there have been eight breeding seasons when the brook has been free of mink, and being prodigious breeders like most rodents, they have rapidly spread along the entire length of the brook and are now colonising elsewhere.

Susanne witnessed a Heron which had just caught a Water Vole at Logan’s Meadow. David reported a Swan and a Coot incubating eggs on the Lake at Eddington, watched closely by a nearby Heron.  I was happily watching a vole, when my eye was caught by movement on the opposite bank: a Stoat and a Moorhen were in fierce argument over the contents of the Moorhen’s nest by the bank. The stoat even swam in the river briefly and eventually departed with dinner.  Nature, red in tooth and claw maybe, but predators must provide for their youngsters too.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

March Sighting s 2021

As we begin to emerge from a year in lockdown due to the Covid19 pandemic and creep slowly into spring, March 2nd seems to have been a significant turning point. On that day, Ralph reports, “A tiny but indubitable Cowslip, out, in Trumpington Meadows”; Paul says, “Despite the drop in temperatures, the first Frogspawn was laid in the pond”; Ben saw his first Hairy-footed Flower Bee of the year in Arbury; Jeff heard a Blackcap in sub-song in Paradise and I heard a Chiffchaff on Grantchester Meadows.

With the gradual exodus of Fieldfare (last reported on 5th Jeff) and Redwing (reported 13th Sheila and last seen 22nd Rhona) come the summer exchanges: abundant Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (Clarke, Eve, Holly), Wheatear (a passage migrant) (Bob, Jeff), the first Hobby  and three Sand Martins at Washpit Lake in Eddington (Bob). Martin noted 2/3 Cetti’s Warblers singing at Wilbraham Fen.

Redwing Rhona Watson

LARGE BIRDS

Mary reported a Red Kite quartering Parker’s Piece and Anna saw two Buzzards mobbing another in Chesterton, so, as predicted, they are becoming a common sight in the city.  Larger and more spectacular were a pair of circling Cranes on 17th (Martin). The Peregrines are continuing their City residency (Jeff, Gleb). Tawny owls were reported from Cherry Hinton (Ralph) and Logan’s Meadow (Gleb). A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noisily displaying in Mill Rd (Jeff) while David had a Jay outside the study window – an added attraction of working from home, he says! Martin noted 2 Marsh Harriers. Holly reports a brief visit from two Common Scoters at Cherry Hinton as well as the Egyptian Geese there.

LESS USUAL SMALLER BIRDS

There seems to be an abundance of Skylarks this year (Ben, Jenny, Jeff). Grey Wagtails are also doing well (Vicky, Paul).  Ionathan reports that the Black Redstart has found a mate and is now courting her. Ralph comments on the now unusual sound of a singing Chaffinch in Cherry Hinton. At the beginning of the month, Jill saw a pair of Serin on alder trees in Paradise. A singing Mistle Thrush near Paradise pond, about 20 Linnets gleaning in a fallow field (Jeff) and Siskin reported from Paradise (Jeff, Bob) confirm Newnham as a splendid bird watching area. To my delight, Greenfinches and Goldfinches have returned here too. However, Jean warns of the dangers of Trichomonas gallinae, which is fatal for so many birds in the UK, and the need to disinfect bird feeders regularly. (If you were to plot the amount of bird food bought for wild birds in the UK against the numbers of native birds, you could be forgiven for wondering whether bird food was actually responsible for the decline…)

But for pure enjoyment, birds are hard to beat. Kingfishers along the Cam between the Elizabeth and Green Dragon Bridges (June), Red-legged Partridge and a Hen Pheasant in a Blinco garden (Jane), five happy young Sparrows having a whale of a time splashing and bathing together (Alec) and 8 Peacocks flying round Jesus College (Rhona). (But did she actually mean butterflies?)

INVERTEBRATES

A couple of nice fat caterpillars were reported: a bright green one overwintering in a greenhouse belonged to an Angle Shade Moth (DavidR) and Tom found another very large one under old bark in Paradise – a Leopard Moth.

Rhona’s Ladybird tally was increased by a Cream-spot and two 10-spot ladybirds.  She also found a variety of bees: Andrena bicolor (Gwynne’s mining bee), Mellecta albifrons (Common Mourning bee) Osmia bicornis and a Bombus lapidarius queen.  Brimstone and Peacock Butterflies are now abundant (Suki, Jeff) and also the first Small Tortoiseshells were seen (Jeff).

Bill Mansfield (County Moth Recorder) found two of the micromoth Pamme giganteana in Jesus on oak. This is a moth formally considered scarce, but now that a pheromone lure has been released, it is evidently not so uncommon.  

Ionathan garden bioblitz turned up a Damsel bug in the garden. See https://www.britishbugs.org.uk/heteroptera/Nabidae/himacerus_mirmicoides.html a Polydesmid millipede and also a tiny Ladybird: the Four-spotted Nephus, Nephus quadrimaculatus. 

HERPTILES

Eve’s Frogs have been and gone (fewer than last year) leaving several floating batches of spawn. She was then visited by a heron who had a frog-fest. Tanya writes, “ Here’s a grass snake enjoying a warm day at the Botanic Gardens on 31 March 2021”.

Grass snake Tanya Procyshyn

PLANTS

Ionathan cleared a small patch of ground in the summer to see what would colonise it. Along with the Dead Nettles, Violets, Daisies and Dandelions, he found a small Pansy – possibly a cultivar, possibly wild.  Jo reports “Violets!  Viola odora  everywhere in everyone’s lawn and on banks and under trees everywhere in all colours.”

Both Butterbur and its cousin, Coltsfoot are in flower this month (Paul).

MAMMALS

Lesley comments on the Black Squirrel population in north Cambridge. A good number of Brown Hares are active between Newnham and Grantchester (Jeff, Jill). Rhona noted a Bank Vole in February and Water Voles are also becoming active, with sightings in Snob’s Brook (Lammas Land) (Paul), Botanic Garden (Stuart) and in the Cam below the city (Anna). All good news: hibernation is over for them (and us?) this year.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

February 2021 Sightings

An icy spell near the beginning of the month briefly set back the onset of spring. Chris found a spectacular icicle swarm around The Waterman on Mitchams Corner: presumably due a combination of freezing cold, burst pipe, an automatic watering system and an empty building during Covid. The cold evening sunset was at the Riverbank Bathing Place in Newnham.

Invertebrates

By the middle of the month, butterflies were being seen : Comma (David), Peacock (Mo, Paul), Brimstone (Ann, David, Becky, Paul) with lots of Bumblebees and Honey Bees becoming active.  A queen Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius was reported by Jean.  There were 3 reports of Pine Ladybirds (Mo, Mary, Paul).  Paul found at least 50 crawling over the trunk of a large Ash tree in St. Andrew’s church yard Cherry Hinton. Ionathan reported the winter-flying Ichneumon Wasp Ophion Obscuratus.

Clear skies and a bright moon are not good for moth trapping, but on a mild and overcast night, Paul caught the first Common Quaker, Hebrew Character and Satellite moths of the year.

Paul’s other find was in the bath : “The most exciting thing I have seen this year”. A Spitting Spider (Scytodes thoracica) (3–6 mm) is an indoor specialist, preferring to make its home in heated buildings, but seldom recorded. It catches prey by spitting a fluid which congeals on contact into a venomous and sticky mass. It is produced by glands in the chelicerae and contains both venom and spider silk in liquid form. The carapace is unusual in sloping upwards towards its rear end, whereas the abdomen slopes downwards. It has six eyes instead of the usual eight.

Jonathan also had some excitement, in the shape of a Woodlouse on the kitchen floor. Clearly a pill woodlouse, he used the FSC “Woodlouse Name Trail”  key and arrived at the Southern Pill Woodlouse (Armadillidium depressum).  This was described as being locally abundant in the SW and rare elsewhere,  with no NBN records from anywhere near Cambridge.  However, it was confirmed by experts and apparently one had been found at the Botanic Garden in 2012. The rear of the woodlouse flares out a bit, unlike the Common Pill Woodlouse.  Next time you find a pill woodlouse have a close look!

Birds

Spring moving on : Peregrine copulation observed on the church opposite Pembroke College (Jeff), Dunnocks collecting nesting material in Cherry Hinton (Holly), Blackcap (Jean, Bob), Chaffinch (Jeff) and Blackbird (Gleb) in full song, Long-tailed Tits pairing up (Paul), Grey Partridge – feisty behaviour, with much calling & pair forming between at least 12 birds (Jeff), hooting Tawny Owls (daytime) St Giles Cemetery, Huntingdon Rd (Bob) and Cherry Hinton (Duncan).  On the other hand, Redwings and Fieldfares were still about, with a flock of about 12 Redwings in St Andrews Road giving communal pre-migration sub-song (Bob). 

Finches seem to be very variable – I am seeing hardly any just now, but Lesley reports a flock of 50+ Greenfinches in the trees in Histon Road Cemetery, with about a dozen in Mill Rd Cemetery (Jeff). (Apparently they are recovering after having crashed because of trichomonosis, but it may now be affecting chaffinches.) Jeff noted about 4 Bullfinches near Pembroke allotments. There were 45+ Lesser Redpolls at Cambridge Science Park (Jon) while David saw around 100 Goldfinches on the West Cambridge site. Perhaps some of these will return to Newnham for nesting.

Less usual birds this month include a Pochard at Hobson’s Park (Gleb), Treecreeper and Goldcrest along Cherry Hinton Brook (Holly), a pair of Mistle Thrushes on mistletoe in Grange Rd (Jean), 2 pairs of Teal Grantchester Meadows (Jeff), a Green Sandpiper near Girton (Bob), 11 Siskins in alders at Lammas Land (Bob), a mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwings on the arable fields next to the Trumpington Meadows (Becky), a Woodcock at Storey’s Field (Bob), a Pink-footed Goose and 4 Barnacle Geese at Hobson’s Park (Gleb).

My latest contributor is Ionathan, aged 12, who tells me that he first became interested in nature when he was about four years old. Then a Year 4 teacher, who liked birds and moths, inspired him and he began to be really fascinated. He has visited many nature reserve in the area but  has particularly focused on Storey’s Field and his own garden. So far, he has identified about 700 species in the garden and 900 in Storey’s Field. He wondered if the Little Egrets were nesting near Stourbridge Common, as he had seen up to 12 birds in the area at one time. (However, Bob thinks it more likely that they come from the Cambridge Research Park Heronry at Landbeach  and had probably dispersed from the large breeding colony on the Ouse Washes (37 pairs in 2019).)

Scrapping Starlings Ionathan

He sent me pictures of creatures found while conducting a pond life survey in his pond and Paul was able to help identify some of them. He also regularly runs a moth trap and sometimes stands for up to 5 hours in front of flowers to watch for pollinators.

Ionathan also sent the hazel flowers and Paul contributed some fungi – some cheerful colour at a bleak time.

Amphibia: Gleb has been on a one-man mission, finding 55 Newts in the ponds at Bramblefields LNR and 39 Toads at Regatta Court.  At Logan’s Meadow there were 72 Frogs and 10 Smooth Newts. He also found first frogspawn at Hobson’s Park. In Paul’s pond, Frogs and Smooth Newts (100+) have returned, amid huge numbers of Daphnia.

Pam Gatrell

Finally, a February rainbow of hope from Pam. A month of very mixed weather.

January Sightings 2021

Well, the Water Meadows certainly came into their own this month! Upstream of the city, there has been widespread and repeated flooding : Paradise, Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green, Skaters Meadows and Grantchester Meadows all turned into lakes. (So far, there has not been enough of an overnight frost to turn them into skating rinks.)  Fulbrooke Wood and allotments suffered from a blocked drain adjacent to the woodland.  The water level in the lake in Hobson Park and in Hobson Brook was also very high. Along with the rain came mud, in large quantities! The riverbank path in Paradise has been closed and most footpaths are uncomfortably muddy.  Cold water and high water levels did not deter a couple of swimmers, however.  Furthermore, all this rain must be good news for the chalk streams and aquifers.


Some decided to stay indoors: David sent this picture of a Christmas present Grow Box for Yellow Oyster mushrooms. Grown in the kitchen indoors, they were from a self-contained kit, and all that was needed was to spray with water – too easy, he says. I hope they tasted good.

Quite a lot of Raptor reports: a Buzzard sitting on top of flagstaff on The Job Centre opposite the Jesus Green footbridge (Liza).  Jesus’ female Kestrel is still around (Rhona).  Peregrines were mentioned by Jeff and by Gleb, who also encountered a Sparrowhawk sitting on the pavement, eating a pigeon. Pam was entranced by the sight of a Red Kite, low over Paradise and heard Tawny Owls calling in Newnham.

Water birds

From being an occasional and notable rarity, Little Egrets are now about as common as Herons. I spotted 4 together on Skaters Meadow and several others also sent reports (Mo, Richard, Rosemary, Jeff, Bob). They seem to be everywhere (but where do they nest? A NatHistCam prize for the first answer to this question.)  However, in addition to the Little Egret, Grantchester has been visited by a Cattle Egret (Gleb) and Bob says there had been about 6 in the Earith/Fen Drayton area. Perhaps they are moving in too?

At Hobson’s Park, the island in the lake has been drastically reduced by the rise in water level. Squashed into this area were at least 100 Snipe, a dozen Lapwings, a pair of Teal, a male Shoveler, Tufted Ducks and several Pochard, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, an occasional Cormorant, Egret and Grey Heron.  And then there were the Geese! Up to 100 Greylags plus plenty of Canada Geese : the roosting birds were unable to practice social distancing on the island, the snipe being forced to roost along the tops of the tree trunks.  (Richard comments that Countryside, the main developer here, failed to cut back the vegetation last year on the eight rafts on the lake, which deprives the birds of roosting space now and of nesting sites later on.)

A female Goosander was seen sleeping with the Mallards in the flooded field opposite Paradise (Pam, Bob, Gleb). There was also an Egyptian Goose in the same place – chased by the local Domestic Geese, who then in turn were charged by a Swan (Gleb). It’s all getting territorial as spring approaches.  Jeff reports about 30 Teal and 3 Shoveler (2 drakes and a duck) in Grantchester Meadows. The Glossy Ibis is also still around, caught here with a rather disgruntled Heron.

The unmistakable  first overhead  honk of a Heron was around 20th January – a week earlier than 2020 (Pam). In Newnham, this signals the end of winter – the change-over from large gatherings of Rooks and Jackdaws as the herons reclaim their nesting territory in the tall trees of Paradise Island. Ionathan comments on a Black-Headed Gull with a pink breast in Logan’s Meadow. (I have never noticed, but apparently it is not uncommon.) Bob saw a Water Rail at Logan’s Meadow.

Plants

With typical under-statement, Jonathan had ‘nothing of real significance’ to report on the botanical front for January and had seen only 314 species in the NHC area during the month, with 111 of them in flower, the most frequent being Common Fieldspeedwell. Monica’s perambulations  turned up a few Sweet Violets in flower along Snakey Path and Aconites at Cherry Hinton Hall. Meanwhile, Bob has been further afield, finding Daphne laureola (Spurge-laurel) flowering in woods between Girton and Madingley.

Bee Orchid rosettes are appearing: at West Pit Cherry Hinton, near Addenbrooke’s hospital and at Nightingale Recreation Grounds. This last site was the scene of spectacular Helleborines last spring – one benefit of lock-down, when children were excluded. Hopefully it will not be repeated this spring.

Countryside birds

The distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘countryside’ tends to blur in the winter, as hungry Fieldfare (Jeff) and Redwings (Stella) invade our gardens. Ionathan (aged 12) says, “You may be interested to know that during the Big Garden Birdwatch I saw a Black Redstart in our garden. It was unmistakable and amazing.”  Certainly unusual!  Stonechats have been reported from 3 sites (Richard, Jeff, Bob) – are they getting more common?  The hedgerows and meadows around Grantchester Rd turned up about 400 Lapwings, 9 Grey Partridges, around 80 Skylarks, 8 Meadow Pipits, 32 Pied Wagtails and 6 Corn Buntings (Jeff), while Bob noted  about 1000 Linnets on crop/trash and stubbles between Impington and Huntingdon Road and 40 Meadow Pipits behind Huntingdon Road.  David reports a flock of 25 Goldfinches near the Coton Footpath.

Garden birds

Lots of reports of Blackcaps visiting feeders (Pam, Liza, Clarke). Less usual were 2 Greenfinches (Clarke), not seen or heard here for a long time: indeed Goldfinches and Chaffinches have also virtually disappeared from Newnham. However, I did see a Bullfinch at the Pembroke allotments and Jeff reports 3 from Fulbrooke area. Then there were 2 Siskin in Paradise, doubtless enjoying the Alder catkins (Jeff). Bob heard a Nuthatch calling around Chaucer Rd – nice to have additional records, away from the Backs. Lots of comments about Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, both sightings and drumming. Jo reports up to 8 Magpies together in Mill Road cemetery. Do we have a magpie boom just now?

7-spot Ladybirds Peter Woodsford

Invertebrates

On Jan 26th, Liza says, “The sun is not shining and the air temperature is 3 degrees C, but I have just seen a queen Bombus terrestris visiting flowers of Clematis cirrhosa.” Rhona also reports  Buff-tailed bumblebee on Hellebore.  In Madingley Hall grounds, Peter found a statue with a beautiful ‘tiara’ of hibernating 7-Spot Ladybirds. A small number of early moths – Chestnut & Pale Brindled Beauty – are starting to turn up in moth traps (Paul). Finally, I found a perfect, though dormant, Peacock Butterfly on the kitchen carpet.

Vertebrates

Water Voles have been active at Cherry Hinton Brook (Monica) and Logan’s Meadow (Bob) during the month. (Apparently, they do not hibernate over-winter, but do spend more time in their burrows.)  Jill reports a Fox abroad at night, while Jeff saw a Stoat crossing Grantchester Rd with prey and a couple of Brown Hares in the same area.

Clarke reports 3 Frogs and a Newt in small garden and comments, “Plenty of fodder for the Grass Snake (September sightings) if it reappears in 2021!”  However, I imagine they have disappeared again during our current cold snap.

I leave you with Val: “What I’ve seen is birds (magpies, robins) rushing about with stuff in their beaks like they are building nests. And the birdsong is getting louder, more frantic and more beautiful.  Is the sap rising?  Snowdrops are coming out – and I saw a daffodil yesterday. 

Oh Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?  (PBS)”

December 2020 Sightings

Pictures of the Month

Jonathan reminded us of the Grand Conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter on Dec 21st, the two planets coming together in the SW sky. Sadly, Cambridge was largely cloudy, but Duncan took this photo at Soham a couple of days beforehand. He says, “You can see the rings of Saturn (and Ganymede is in the middle of the image)”.

A little nearer home, 2020 was one of the top five hottest years on record for the UK and also one of the top ten wettest and the top ten sunniest years (Met. Office). This is a graphic illustration of the ongoing effects of global warming and climate instability (and a warning that neither Brexit nor COVID19 pandemic should take our attention away from climate change – infinitely more damaging than either).

Gleb spotted a Glossy Ibis in the fields S of the A14 – this is no longer considered a great rarity in UK, but is another signal of climate change. Early flowering plants included Snowdrops in the wooded area at Churchill College (John), Primroses and Cyclamen (Eve) and Cowslips (Mo). December has been very wet, with water meadows flooded, and footpaths muddy. (Anita comments that the water seemed very ‘dirty’ – brown and frothy – was this agricultural run-off?) Even the boardwalk in Paradise flooded at one point, while the riverside path had a stream running across it from the central swamp. 

Early Snowdrops at Churchill Katherine Davis Banarse

Birdsong is also early – on 2nd Dec, a Blackbird was in full song. By 20th a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming and Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock and Song Thrush were all singing.  Bird feeders were busy: Blackcaps (Eve, Anita), a huge flock (12-15) of Long Tailed Tits twice a day (Pam), a male Siskin in Cherry Hinton (Holly), in Newnham, a Sparrow Hawk (Gerd), a Jay and several Magpies (Olwen) and in Grantchester Street, Jackdaws shaking a bird feeder and getting enough to feed both the Jackdaws and the local Pigeons (Anita).

Are House Sparrows making a come-back?  In Eden Street, 2 males were squabbling over the birdbath, the first sighting there in four years (Lesley), while in Chesterton Hall Crescent they have also moved in this year – Eve sent this picture of a family of young sparrows feeding on her Pyracantha.

Young House Sparrows on Pyracantha Eve Corder

Other birds: a Newnham garden turned up a Tree Creeper (Gerd), Gleb reports a Little Owl at Waterbeach (outside our target area), Jeff found 13 Pied Wagtails at the Cambridge Rugby Club and a Stonechat in the same area, a Tawny Owl was calling at Pinehurst (Jill) and flock of 10-20 Redwings in Paradise were eating the ivy berries (Rhona).

Sam reports Starlings (50-100) around Parker’s Piece. I spotted a bedraggled Kestrel and then followed a Kingfisher all the way down river through Paradise – a great treat. In Cherry Hinton, Ann had good views of a hunting Peregrine and also reports a Reed Bunting at Great Kneighton. Anita saw a Cormorant catch a fish in the upper Cam. 

There were still some Invertebrates around:  a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee on Dec 1st, feasting on Lonicera flowers (Mo), a Brimstone Butterfly flying about Barnwell East on 17th Dec, and Rhona saw the hoverflies Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade hoverfly) and Meliscaeva auricollis and a Common Green Shieldbug, in its winter colouring.  (They may apparently remain green or turn brown in winter – all good camouflage.) Paul’s moth trap turned up a Winter Moth, fully equipped with fur coat.

Chris became excited at the discovery of the mildew, Erysiphe symphoricarpi on Snowberry plants on Madingley Road (well, you would be, wouldn’t you!?)  He’d been looking for it for the last few years and had eventually found it. Mo was excited for a different reason: even though 3 Hedgehogs had been found dead nearby earlier in the year, the night camera showed one was still visiting her garden in Trumpington.

Another contribution from Chris (at which point I must take the opportunity to thank the various members of the NHC committee for their superb contributions this month). On a memorial in Histon Rd Cemetery are four Serpents, each slightly different, on the sides of the memorial. Chris finds: “Snake: Or, serpent, despite its nefarious reference in the Bible, has come to represent eternity and rebirth. The snake forming a circle and nearly devouring its own tail is known as an oroboros and symbolizes infinity. Also, the ability to shed its skin and be “reborn” in a new body is of significance to spirituality.”  

Although NatHistCam is neither eternal nor infinite, Bob’s declaration of finality (The Last One – December 2020) was premature and I will continue once a month for the time being until our eventual re-incarnation in the form of the book we are preparing (and I hope you will all read). Thanks to all contributors and please keep them coming.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

The last one – December 2020

I have never seen as many local foxes before and never before so close up: an early morning visitor to St Andrew’s Road/Longford/Whytford Place, St Giles Cemetery, a large garden in Huntingdon Road and one fearless individual in the underpass of the roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road and East Road one Saturday morning at 10:30am.

Song Thrushes have been singing but rarely seen and Mistle Thrushes have been defending a berry-laden clump of female Mistletoe in Chapel Street, Chesterton.

Song Thrush – Paradise

Despite the rise in the levels of the river Water Voles can be easy to see in Logan’s Meadow. Vince Lea (Lea, 2020) has written an excellent paper in the latest edition of British Wildlife magazine about the eradication of Mink to enable Water Voles to flourish again. It’s working, Bourne Free, the eradication of Mink in the Bourne Brook, a tributary of the Cam, has been a great success.

I have a soft spot for House Sparrows – the antithesis of twitching! They are locals and tell us about our relationships with birdlife in cities and the wider countryside. Sunny days in December are when colonies noisily congregate before disbursing to nearby nest sites from January/February onwards; Fen Road, Union Lane, Coldham’s Lane and a big assembly in Newmarket Road opposite Pizza Express have all attracted interest from passers-by.

There was a very interesting Wildlife Trust zoom talk on Turtle Doves by Guy Anderson of the RSPB. Turtle Doves have declined by 95% in the UK from a combination of reasons including lack of seed feed when they arrive and over-hunting on their migration routes. Political and conservation pressures in France have reduced the hunting bag of Turtle Doves from 92,000 in 2013 to 7,000 in 2020 and the Spanish hunting season has been reduced by 85% to relieve pressure on Turtle Dove populations. There is hope for this emotive species that is now confined to breeding in the UK only in the south-east of England.

In most winters there is an influx of an uncommon species – Waxwings, Hawfinches, Parrot or Two-barred Crossbills; this year it is grey geese with White-fronted Geese turning up in numbers with single or small groups of Bean Geese. Flyovers have been heard over our project area but it’s worth looking on any yet-to-be-harvested sugar beet fields or even large sports fields.

A pair of Stonechats seem to be staying over winter on the NIAB’s Trials Ground on the edge of our area. I have seen them there as passage singles before, but this year there is an exceptional area of crop trash and weedy stubbles that have been left which has attracted overwintering Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and offers the chats insect food.

Our NatHistCam project has now finished. What remains is perhaps the hardest part, editing the contributions which will document the diversity of wildlife in Cambridge and its immediate hinterland. Cambridge is undergoing exceptional growth from new housing and business developments. It is important we measure and catalogue what is here so that we can monitor future changes. Since the 1950’s and in every decade since, the north and north east of the City have experience major new building developments from Arbury to Eddington, The Meadows and Orchard Park to Cambridge North Station, new business parks and soon new housing on the site of the former sewage works and the old Sewage Farm.

Visit Milton Country Park (MCP) during the school holidays and you will find it full of families and dog-walkers. It illustrates the need for open space and countryside, for a bit of the wild-side! It cannot take much more. Relying on MCP to provide recreational space for a nearby development of 8,000 homes and 20,000 people will destroy MCP. More open space is needed. In my view every new development should include a biodiversity action plan – a commitment to include wildlife in all new developments and improve the biodiversity of the site. The Sewage Works development is an opportunity to recreate Chesterton meadows and perhaps return breeding Snipe, Redshanks and Lapwings to riverside pastures that have been drained and over-grazed as well as build new homes.

The Covid crisis has shown that we need open space and wildlife. Riverside, and Paradise/Coe Fen are full of families, couples and dog walkers on any day (when it’s not raining!) enjoying a brief experience in or near wild-space. Contact local politicians about biodiversity and contentious building developments and the result is – silence. I know I have tried!

Over the last four years the blogs I have written and the piece I have prepared for our publication have given me much pleasure. Birdwatching is about the experience of birdlife and wildlife and wild-space, the analysis of data, historical comparisons to monitor and measure change and watching the emergence of new observations and ideas.

“Noc-mig” – the sound recording and identification of migrating birds at night – is revealing species we would never imagine passing over our urban gardens. I was always intrigued that even small areas of open water areas were quickly colonised by Little Grebes – how? – it’s obvious with “noc-mig” – they fly over at night, find them and colonise them. In a (near!) lifetime of birdwatching I’ve never seen a Little Grebe fly more than about 50feet and about 2feet above the water! “Vis-mig” – watching birds and identifying flyovers from a garden, or park or any open space in our NatHistCam area has revealed passage Cranes and Harriers and Crossbills, big movements of thrushes and corvids and gulls going to roost and Short-eared Owls and a Bee-eater. “Vis-mig” can be done by us all.

Our book about the Natural History of Cambridge is in preparation. Most contributions are complete and await editing. The energy and drive of Mark Hill is gathering together a comprehensive inventory of the wildlife of Cambridge in all its diversity in a single publication. It has generated interest from local radio stations, the local and regional press to Chris Packham and the crew of Spring Watch.

That’s it for now!

Best wishes

Bob Jarman

Lea, V. (2020) Is Mink control for ever? Prospects for eradication in East Anglia. British Wildlife 32,3.

November 2020 Sightings

Although this month is nearly all about birds, I propose to start with the Ladybirds. At this time of year they hibernate, often in groups. Rhona’s 7-Spot huddle on holly leaves is complemented by John’s double take: 7-spots occupying one cane and Harlequins the other.  (Segregation of species is apparently normal.) All the canes in that area had ladybirds crowded into them.

Less fortunate were Rhona’s Kidney Spot LB, which has Hesperomyces sp. fungi showing on the wing case.  This fungus is known to infect several ladybird species including Harlequins. Then Paul found a dead 7-spot Ladybird with the cocoon of the parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae attached to its underside. The gruesome story here is that this wasp lays a single egg which is planted in the host’s soft underbelly. The wasp larva hatches after 5–7 days into a first instar larva with large mandibles and proceeds to remove any other eggs or larvae, before beginning to feed on the ladybird’s fat bodies and gonads. After a further four larval instars, when it is ready to emerge, the wasp larva paralyses the ladybird before tunnelling out. It pupates in a cocoon attached to the leg of the living ladybird, whose brightly coloured body and occasional twitching deter predation. While the developing wasp is extremely vulnerable, the ‘zombified’ ladybird acts as its bodyguard.

Jeff reports a small, dark Sylvia Warbler over the fields to the west of Grantchester Rd on 7th. There was a prevailing south-easterly airstream.  It was uniformly dark grey, with a red eye ring. He thought it might be a Marmora’s or Balearic Warbler, otherwise perhaps a juvenile Dartford Warbler. Lesley comments on the increasing Starling population in the trees in Histon Road Cemetery. She asks, “They like the high limes rather than the lower sycamores. I’d be interested to know if that’s because they prefer to be high up or because the limes provide more food –  no doubt someone in this group can tell me!”  A winter murmuration of Starlings can be seen over Newnham, the birds roosting on the island of Bolton’s Pit (Penny). A Song Thrush was heard singing 20/21st Nov.

Ben’s ‘Arbury’ Peregrines are still about and hunting the Pigeons above St Luke’s School. Malcolm reports one at close quarters near the river in Newnham.  Jill watched as a male Kestrel dismembered a catch (probably a vole), one foot holding it firm, beak wrenching away. After ten minutes a fat grey squirrel challenged it and it flew off. Sparrow-hawks are regularly seen at St John’s (David) – I hope they don’t find Maria’s Sparrows, seen in numbers on the feeder in S. Cambridge for the first time in 15 years.  David also reports Nuthatches and Treecreepers at St John’s – rare elsewhere.  Many thanks to all who sent accounts of other bird-life, including Goldcrests in the trees along the Burnside allotments (Holly). Like many others, I have enjoyed the flocks of mixed Tits, especially the Long-Tailed Tits.

The usual water birds are reported – thanks to Sue for the picture of the Heron. A Water Rail has been seen several times at the end of Burnside along Snakey Path (Holly).  Several folk had seen Kingfishers – Pam for the first time, in spite of living locally for 60 years! It was fishing alongside a Cormorant.

Martin reports a female Blackcap feeding on over-ripe grapes and rowan berries, while Clarke watched one eating mistletoe berries in the garden. He informed me that the BTO had recently drawn attention to a paper on blackcap migration, showing that the UK’s winter blackcaps (rather strangely) migrate in a northerly direction to come here for winter from central Europe, while the ones that breed here in summer head south for winter! It makes me wonder if they greet each other as they pass.  Our winter blackcaps have increased in recent decades and are very good at distributing mistletoe seeds.

Jean comments on the Buff-Tailed Bumble Bees which are still active. A queen (from a second brood) regularly visited her ‘Hot Lips’ Salvia until mid November. Steven Falk notes that “In some areas (especially southern cities) these queens give rise to a third winter-active generation that take advantage of winter-flowering shrubs”.  Most other invertebrates have retreated for the winter, though Paul continues to find new ones – his most recent tally is 503 insect species.

 Gleb saw a small Hedgehog off Church Street – possibly too small to survive the winter – they shouldn’t be out in November.  The Botanic Garden turned up a Water Vole scampering along at the edge of the lake, and a beautiful large Fox which strolled off across the lawns (Sam).

Maria was visited by a Muntjac Deer in her S. Cambridge garden.  She says, “We had just finished breakfast, when it wandered onto the patio, at one point coming right up to the door. It stayed for about 15 minutes investigating the bird food and nibbling a few plants before leaving by the steps to the main garden. There was a cat sitting on top of the steps and the deer calmly stepped over the it: neither seemed bothered, so I don’t know if they have met before!”  It certainly looks a bit skinny and under-fed.

PS I previously asked where to find red toadstools with white spots: Mark says “The reason we do not get Fly Agaric in Cambridge is that it is a strict calcifuge”. The Wildlife Trust says it occurs in Holme Fen and in beechwoods – both presumably acidic soil.

Olwen Williams                                  olwenw@gmail.

This could be the last …or almost the last! November 2020

A Woodcock erupted from cover in Logan’s Meadow on 2nd November and was the second record for the site (the first was a past record over the river nearby (Rob Pople)). There was a second, and quite remarkable, Woodcock record on 8th November when one was disturbed from an enclosed terraced garden in Petworth Street. The habitat is unusual but this is the second record from exactly the same location – the first was on 1st November 2017 (Salim Algailani). Coincident location and +/- dates suggest a returning bird to the same spot. (A similar record from Bishop’s Stortford – a Woodcock in a small garden of a terrace house on a new estate).

Feathers left behind by the Woodcock in Petworth St (Salim Algailani)

Single Kingfishers have been recorded from Logan’s Meadow, East Chesterton, and the Mill Pond through the month and Sparrow-hawks were hunting over residential parts of the City: Charles Street, Longworth Avenue, St Kilda Avenue, Cherry Hinton Road, Logan’s Meadow, Fishers Walk – Cherry Hinton and Gilbert Road/Stretton Avenue.

Tawny Owls have sounded an occasional presence near the top of Castle Hill. It’s a regular site but whether they stay to breed is uncertain as there are periods during the breeding season when they remain silent. A Little Egret was in the Weeping Willows of Logan’s Meadow on 5th November overlooking the “Tesco’s Bridge” and one was seen regularly on Coe Fen during the month.

Little Egret – Logan’s Meadow

Two Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hobson’s Park on 6th November. Also on the 6th November one of two squabbling Grey Herons landed in the middle of the road at Riverside causing cyclists to swerve round it and enabled passers-by to photograph it close-up!

My garden hedgehog weighed in at 978 gms so it is hibernation ready – any hogs less that 400 gms apparently need feeding! On 7th November a pair of Stonechats were on stubble and crop trash on the NIAB’s Trials Ground just within our project area. I suspect they may over-winter there if the crop residues and arable weeds remain and numbers of insects on which they feed are maintained. Stonechats on open arable farmland are unusual but there is now a trend for minimum tillage to improve soil health by allowing leguminous weeds to establish, fix and return nitrogen to the soil, encourage mycorrhizal associations and reduce carbon loss. A Red Kite passed over and Red Listed farmland species were present nearby: Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits. Twenty-four Meadow Pipits were in a flock, next to the Histon Rd/Huntingdon Rd footpath on 30th November.

There is a regular evening flypast of Jackdaws going to roost over St Andrew’s recreation ground in Chesterton. They appear to be flying due north; my highest count is 326 and they are all coming from the south of the City – I suspect from Petersfield/Romsey Town (and beyond) where they nest in chimneys of the Victorian terraced houses. Jon Heath has counted c400 over Lovell Road which is due north from St Andrews Rec. and the feeling is they are heading to roost with the Rooks at the Cambridge Research Park off the A10 near Waterbeach.

At the same time as the Jackdaw passage 400+ (mainly) Black-headed Gulls pass over Chesterton going NNW (count on 16.11.20) probably heading to the roost at RSPB Fen Drayton.

On 9th November a Buzzard was sitting in a tree in Storey’s Way and Roger Horton tweeted that two Red Kites and a Buzzard were over his garden and Cherry Hinton Hall. A Buzzard over Fisher’s Walk, doctors’ surgery on 28th. Seventeen Fieldfares flew over Huntingdon Road on the 11th (my first in our study area this year) and a single Brambling flew over Nuttings Road on 14th (Iain Webb cbcwhats about.blogspot.com).

The daytime Cormorant roost on Riverside is active with up to eight individuals. Grey Wagtails are a recent addition to the Red List of birds. I’m surprised as I see or hear regular flyovers across the City often well away from the river. It has become much commoner in recent years and two were feeding on farmland on 7th near Darwin Green.

The release of 50+ million non-native game birds, Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, for shoots has been questioned. I usually see native Grey Partridges on the chalky arable fields opposite the Beechwoods. Not on 18th November when I counted three coveys of Red-legs with a total of 22 birds. On the north side of the City I used to count two coveys of Greys but no longer – they too seem to have been replaced by Red-legs and the Greys are nowhere to be seen.

There was no mast in the Beechwoods so no feeding Bramblings or Chaffinches. Wintering Blackcaps have made their November arrival with a male in Lovell Road feeding on Cotoneaster berries, a female in Tenison Road feeding on Rowan berries and grapes and two males and a female in a garden near Histon Road feeding on Honeysuckle berries and Mahonia nectaries.

Peregrine(s?) have been seen in the City centre (no more sitting in Don Pasquale’s watching the Peregrine action from the Market Square as the café/restaurant has sadly closed for good) and one was round the Riverside chimney on 21st November. A Great White Egret was seen over the City on 22nd (James Littlewood, cbcwhatsabout.clogspot.com); on 23rd a Chiffchaff was in the All Saints Cemetery off Huntingdon Road.

Song Thrushes were singing in Chesterton at the end of the month. The next new record for our NatHistCam project area could be Glossy Ibis – birds have been seen at RSPB Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton in November.

Bob Jarman 30th November 2020

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

October 2020 Sightings

For once I am going to start with fungi. It has been a most magnificent year, especially for luxuriant Honey Fungus, though not good news for gardeners. Mark sent a photo of honey fungus attacking a Holm Oak, which later died. 

On Lammas Land, a full circle of Shaggy Parasols was enjoyed until a passer-by kicked it all down.  Our chairman, Mark Hill says, “Took enough home for two large helpings on buttered toast.  Yum, yum.  According to the WildfoodUK website ‘Shaggy Parasols can cause gastric upsets in about 1 in 25 people. If you are trying some for the first time, cook well and only try a small amount, wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction.’  Clearly I did not do a trial.”  This ring surrounded a Cherry tree and perhaps was introduced on the rootball: a delightful fairy ring in municipal grass, thanks Stella.

The other really prolific family have been the Coprinus (Ink Caps), coming up in great swarms. Although they only last a couple of days before melting into an inky mess, they have been spectacular.  Meanwhile. Gleb found 3 White Star-fungus growing in the garden near the walls of the house and at the birch glade near the nursery at CMS, 3 Woolly Milkcaps – a birch specialist. Another birch specialist was the Birch Polypore on an old birch log in the Botanic Garden. This bracket is also known as Razor-strop Fungus, a reference to its old use in sharpening cut-throat razors.

David writes ‘Because it is so photogenic, a Fly Agaric which was in Knettishall Heath, Suffolk (but I know that’s too far away to include in your blog)’. Not at all – I wish I knew where they grew more locally – can anyone help?  Jill reports the (rather more edible!) Field Mushroom on Grantchester Meadows: thanks Jill, the soup was delicious.

Becky reports lots of Waxcaps at the Wildlife Trust BCN Trumpington Meadows – including Blackening Waxcaps (above) and Splendid Waxcaps. There are some exquisite tiny fungi – I am adding a group of photos, some from Coton (Jonathan) and some Paradise (Paul). The Mycena family are generally small and bell-shaped.

Jonathan reported a Myxomycete (Slime Mould) – Stemonitis fusca – which was remarkable in being pink when first seen, but turned claret within 1½hrs. These are not fungi : they have a fascinating life history in that they can live freely as single cells, but can also aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures, as in this picture.

Several reports of untimely flowering – at Trumpington Meadows, Richard found several Cowslips in flower and Jill reports Horse Chestnut trees flowering again on Victoria Avenue and at Pinehurst. Jonathan records Spiked Veronica (Veronica spicata) growing on the Eddington site.  It is native on Newmarket Heath but at Eddington probably came in as a seed contaminant in the wildflower mix sown.  It is not common in Eastern UK, but is the county flower of Montgomeryshire.

There have been no more snake sightings, but Jane found a Common Newt in the lavatory bowl of a little-used (though indoor) toilet in Blinco Grove and a Common Frog had taken up residence in a washing up bowl in my courtyard.

Badgers and Hedgehogs have been reported to co-exist at Jesus (Rhona) and Trumpington Meadows (Becky), admittedly over large areas. At Trumpington, there are more hedgehogs in the north near the houses and more badgers in the south nearer to Hauxton. Gleb reports hedgehogs from Church St. Mo’s Trumpington night camera showed a visiting fox, also a rat, mice, pigeons and grey squirrel.  Unfortunately nothing as welcome as a hedgehog, but also no badger this month.  Perhaps the rain means they no longer need to dig in soft flower beds.  Pipistrelle Bats were active at dusk along the Grantchester Meadows late in the month.

Birds: Jane noted a Grey Partridge in Blinco Grove, Holly comments on the 4 surviving Cygnets, now becoming independent in Cherry Hinton and Gleb reports Sparrowhawks in Gilbert Rd. In Newnham, Tawny Owls were calling (Jill) while the big flock of Rooks and Jackdaws give spectacular displays morning and evening.  Kingfishers in Cherry Hinton brook and Paradise indicate a continuing, though unobtrusive population. Parkside pool turned up a young Jay on the grass (Val), Ben reports a Red Kite over Logan’s Meadow and a Cormorant resting in the trees opposite the Technology Museum.  A tiny Goldcrest was found in Jesus College (Rhona).

Jeff says, “The ‘set-aside’ fields along the Grantchester Rd held up to 20 Corn Bunting, 40 Skylark & 70 Linnet, with fewer Yellowhammers, but still a good number of Grey Partridge, I think 24 was the max total.” He also noted a male Stonechat along Barton Rd.

A Red-Green Carpet Moth, 22-Spot Ladybird and a Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax)(Rhona) were among the invertebrates seen. (The Drone Fly is a convincing Drone Bee mimic, hence the name, but note the single pair of wings, large eyes and short antennae which distinguish Diptera from Hymenoptera.) Jeff also reported a male Southern Hawker Dragonfly at the Paradise pond on the 6th and also 3 Willow Emerald Damselfly, a tandem pair of Migrant Hawker, & numerous ovipositing Common Darters.

As we travel into winter, please keep your records coming.

Olwen Williams                      olwenw@gmail.com

I told you so! – October 2020

Easterly winds from across in the first and second weeks of the month brought in an exceptional number of far-eastern vagrants to the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Many more must have filtered inland, a Radde’s Warbler was a brilliant find in north Cambs (see below) but many more probably passed unnoticed and some even through our project area.

The 3rd October was the wettest day in the country since records began in 1891 with an average of 1.24” or 31.7 mm nationwide. It was ideal rare bird migration weather with a low pressure over eastern England and a high pressure on the continent. Sure enough exceptional numbers of Radde’s Warblers arrived (I did catch up with the one in the overgrown corner of Southwold’s campsite) and Dusky Warblers followed. A first for the County, Radde’s was found at Peakirk on 4th October. Then – perhaps the most sought-after autumn rarity showed – Red-flanked Bluetails along coastal Norfolk and the remarkable occurrence of the Rufous Bush Chat (Robin) (eastern race syriaca) that was mob-twitched* at Stiffkey.

These arrivals followed a period of NE winds from central Europe. Perhaps just as remarkable was the influx of Goldcrests that arrived overnight on 14th/15th October: 400+ were at Holme Bird Observatory (HBO) and I saw 100+ around Southwold town. A further arrival was recorded at HBO on 26th October. They were not just in the conifers; every Sycamore – with or without leaves – was alive with Goldcrests feeding desperately. I rarely see them in my garden but hear them daily in the Leylandii just 50 m away where they stay put; even isolated conifers in the city – Coldham’s Lane, Roseford Road, St Andrew’s cemetery in Chesterton – have their own “endemic” Goldcrests. At Southwold they were feeding almost exclusively in the Sycamores and occasionally on the ground for insects after their North Sea migration flight. They will filter inland. How this tiny bird – weighing just five to six grams – makes this migration over the North Sea and at night is quite remarkable.

Migration is not without fatalities. I saw a Starling pitch into the sea just 75 m from land and was swallowed whole, alive and flapping by a Great Black-backed Gull. An exhausted Fieldfare landed on the beach to be instantly chased as prey by a mob of gulls; it made it to safety.

There is an excellent article on the latest Bird Guides web site by Simon Gillings of the BTO about “noc-mig” – the night time recording of overflying migrants and the identification of species by their calls. Simon cites the Tree Pipit which is a county rarity but he has recorded it 29 times over Chesterton in the last three years. On 23rd October Simon recorded Hawfinch, Brambling and Lesser Redpoll over his Chesterton home (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). (There is a very good web site – Xeno-Canto – with recording of bird calls and songs).

On 5th October Simon Gillings had a Gannet over Newmarket Road heading towards the City centre! and 12 Crossbills over Chesterton (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). On 7th October a late Swallow was over Huntingdon Road and on 10th October Jon Heath photographed a fine male Hen Harrier over his house in north Cambridge.

I told you so! I expected that Great (White) Egret would be the next new bird (tick!) in our project area (blog September 2020) – sure enough Jon Heath recorded one flying over his north Cambridge garden on 15th October. Little Egrets** were seen at Hobson’s Park and Coe Fen during the month and one flew over Elizabeth Way on 29th heading towards the city centre.

Great White Egret

On 7th October the first few overwintering Black-headed Gulls were around Jesus Lock and by 22nd October numbers has increased to about 55; on the same day there were 100+ at Hobson’s Park. These appeared to have had a poor breeding season with only 2-3% first-year birds but the Black-headed Gulls at Milton Country Park numbered 55 with 9 first calendar year birds.

During the month Nuthatches were seen/heard in the Botanic Gardens, along “The Backs” and in Chaucer Road.

Water Voles were seen regularly at Logan’s Meadow and a Hedgehog is now regular into my small garden after I cut a gap in the base of my garden gate (for the cat!). The City Council have a project “Hedgehog Highway” that offers to cut access points for hedgehogs in enclosed gardens. On 23rd October about 20 Siskins were feeding in the Alders on Newnham Recreation Ground.

Coal Tits, like the Goldcrests stick to the nearby Leylandii and rarely make it into my garden; when they do its always single birds, a quick snatch of a sunflower seed then up and away back to the cover of the Leylandii. Two Red Kites were on the northern edge of our project area near Histon on 25th October and a Grey Heron was standing on the chimney pot of a three stores house on Mitcham’s Corner on 26th October! Two to three Buzzards were seen at Eddington throughout the month, one to two over the Milton/A14 roundabout and the Cormorants’ roost in Logan’s Meadow is active.

A red-head Goosander was at Milton Country Park on 28th October (Jon Heath).

*Twitching/to twitch/a twitch – travelling distance to see a new/rare bird – was a late 1960’s humorous turn-of-phrase. It originated in Norfolk from a birder called Dave? who exhibited a tweak/twitch in his cheek when told of a rare bird he had not seen! **In those days Little Egrets were twitched as exceptional rarities! Two London birders travelled to South Wales overnight from Cley, Norfolk on a Lambretta 175 scooter to “twitch” a Little Egret.

Grey Herons are becoming very confiding along the river.
(picture from a punt by Seun Oratokhai)

Bob Jarman 31st October 2020
bobjarman99@btinternet.com