Category Archives: Project Blog

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

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.

Bob Jarman 4th February 2019

January 2019 Sightings

I returned from a tropical holiday, thinking that there would not be many observations for a cold January, but was wrong!  Anita tells me that Paradise pond froze over for the first time this winter (having dried out completely in the summer) and looked lovely. She comments on the beautiful Turkey Tail fungus on some of the cut bits of tree in Paradise.  

Several people have noted Dab Chicks (Little Grebe),which seem to be flourishing in Fen Ditton (Trevor), Newnham (Anita) and Byron’s Pool (Ann L). More exotic was Holly’s sighting on 21st January of a Water Rail on the brook up by Blacklands allotments – a brief glimpse as it skulked in the margins. First sighting for several years here. 

 Winter thrushes are still about, with Fieldfares in Grantchester meadows (Jill)and lots of reports of Redwings, about 30-40 in Jesus woods (Rhona) and flocks near Lime Kiln Hill, also the Beechwoods and in Cherry Hinton Hall (Duncan).                                                  

Redwing        Duncan McKay

At Clay Farm lake (Hobson’s Park) a number of ‘Birders’ with telescopes were sighted!  Assuming that this meant something interesting had flown in, Richard went out and was shown a Jack Snipe along with about 40 Common Snipe.  (A useful guide to the difference can be seen here:  Little Egrets seem to be expanding their range generally and a pair was noted at Clay Farm (Vanessa) as well as on Sheep’s  Green in Newnham (Anita), who also saw Kingfisher,  and commented on the young incompetent Heron, begging fish from the fishermen! A Pied Wagtail plied the pavement outside the Co-op on Perne Road (Monica).

Guy noted the Peregrine, regularly seen perched on the United Reform Church, was feeding on feral pigeon on 21st Jan.  Tawny Owls have been calling in Newnham.  Both Green Woodpeckers (Ann G in Arbury) and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been around, the latter starting to drum, though only occasionally (Pam, Sandra, June).

There are lots of reports of smaller birds, in particular flocks of Long Tailed Tits, mixed with Blue and Great Tits,Goldcrest, Coal Tits. Reports too of Blackcaps at feeders and the return of some finches, which have been very scarce recently.  June reports Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch, Val had a Greenfinch on the feeders and Ann G saw a Chaffinch after none for some time. Then, in the Beechwood Reserve, lots of Bramblings were seen (Duncan, Paul).                  

Female blackcap on Crab Apples     Pam Gatrell

Jonathan led the New Year’s Day Plant Hunt and found 58 species in flower. Several unusual/overlooked ones were noted, including Butcher’s Broom and Persian Ironwood. The former shrub has tiny flowers in the middle of what look like leaves. These develop into red berries.  The Persian Ironwood (a tree) has small red flowers that appear like shrivelled berries.

After the drought of last summer and the mild winter, the autumn-germinating annuals are doing very well on Cambridge’s roadside verges, and in places there are dense swards of Geranium molle and G. pusillum. These support at least three species of parasitic fungi and fungoids including Ramularia geranii, shown as white colonies on the leaves which are discoloured and upturned at the edges. Another fungus which is currently very conspicuous on Cambridge’s roadside verges is the mildew Blumeria graminis, which parasitises grasses, photographed here on New Year’s Day by Chris.

Blumeria graminis             Chris Preston
Ramularia geranii           Chris Preston

Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was flowering on the road verge in Cherry Hinton Road towards the end of the month and the Snowdrops and Aconites are earlier than ever. This is a good time of year to look for Bee Orchid rosettes- there are quite a few city centre monads without sightings, but the plants are quite likely to be there. Please let us know if they are in your lawn and avoid mowing them down! We still have no sightings of Mistletoe in Cherry Hinton or Grantchester.

Muntjac Deer are abundant in Newnham, both by the river and in many larger gardens (Jill, Anita). A Fox was seen in Brooklands Avenue (Ann L) and a couple of Hares in the Fulbrooke Rd allotments (Jill).  Val comments on a grateful Grey Squirrel who loves the bird food.

Finally, Paul found an abundance of 7-spot Ladybirds adorning the buds of trees and even the barbed wire fencing in Beechwoods. Good to see we have not been taken over entirely by Harlequins!  

7-Spot Ladybirds            Paul Rule

Olwen Williams       

NatHistCam and the Dead Sea connection

Jon Heath’s discovery of the Siberian sub-species of  Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) near the Orchard at Milton Country Park (MCP) was a brilliant find and just falls into the north of our NatHistCam project area. Cryptic grey plumage and its distinctive “peep” call, not the usual Chiffchaff “hooeet”, were the clinching identification features. The bird was found on 10thDecember 2018 and last recorded on 2nd January 2019 (Nigel Butcher, I tried looking for it on 6th January in a tit flock but had no luck. Up to four Chiffs (Phylloscopuscollybita collybita) have also been seen.

I spent the New Year in Jordan on the Dead Sea coast. Chiffchaffs were common in the hotel gardens and I think they were all this Siberian subspecies; single birds called with a plaintive “peep” as if they had been grabbed by their rear body and squeezed! Birds feeding in loose groups of 3-4 birds never called; only isolated individuals. At first, I thought individuals might be Caucasian Chiffs (Phylloscopus lorenzii) but they lacked a clear white supercillum and brown plumage. Future DNA analysis might confer species status to this Siberian race. None of the Dead Sea birds looked as grey as Jon’s bird but all called with a “peep”. Illustrations in two field guides suggest this subspecies is polymorphic but with distinct vocalisation.

Siberian Chiffchaff –
photo by Jon Heath


Chiffchaffs seen in
the Dead Sea hotel gardens

“Why no tweety birds in my garden anymore, just Magpies and the occasional Crow?” said Kate of Sturton Street, as her bruiser of a cat surveyed the garden from her shed roof and another thuggish mog erupted through the cat-flap!

On 10th December, a Merlin was seen over the A14 at Girton (Guy Belcher; This fierce falcon is seen most winters in this area. I once saw a female Merlin near the Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath sitting on a lump of mud, as a Skylark flew over the falcon launched itself turned upside down and snatched the Skylark in mid-air and returned to the same lump of soil with its prey. Two hundred+ Linnets and a mixed flock of 25 Yellowhammers and 15+ Reed Buntings were feeding on sugar beet stubble north of the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road footpath, nearby was a covey of five Grey Partridges on 5thDecember and seven on  14th December and 56 Stock Doves on the latter date. I was shocked to see preliminary building excavations on this land under a planning consent by South Cambs District Council. I thought this land, north of the footpath and immediately south of the A14, was Green Belt. This area is breeding habitat to eight species of Red-Listed farmland birds and a colony of Common Lizards.

On 18th December, a single Pink-footed Goose was amongst the Greylags at MCP (CBC e-Bulletin No. 66 Dec 2018). 

Blackcapshave been appearing: a male and female in a garden off Huntingdon Road and the male in the birdbath on Christmas day. A male also appeared early morning in my Chesterton garden on 6thJanuary soon after a Red Fox made a run round the garden heading, I think, for sanctuary in the churchyard before the dog walkers appeared.

One to two Bramblings have been seen in a garden in Windsor Road (Chris Akhurst) and up to 40+ birds are still present in the Beechwoods (Paul Rule –

I am still/always astonished I can watch Peregrines in the City while having a coffee sitting at Don Pasquale’s in the Market Square. They are now birds of the lowlands as well as specialities of the Highlands; from rarities to new colonists of stunning presence.

Hobson’s Park on 6thJanuary: male and female Stonechats and about 24 Snipe feeding around the lake margins; Teal on the ponds next to Long Road bridge. This time of year, tits start singing. On sunny days, Great Tits ring out with the sunshine; on overcast days, Blue Tits scratch out their repetitive stanzas. Is it me or is it the birds? – Blue Tit song is nothing like the repeated exuberance of Great Tits but a perfunctory effort that’s repeated once or twice and that’s it!

The latest Cambridgeshire Bird Club’s Annual Report for 2017 is now published – if you would like to purchase a copy please contact me and I will arrange delivery, for a fee (not sure how much it is to non-Bird Club members but will let you know). It gets bigger every year with stunning photographs and is full of interest. Two facts from a speed read about our NatHistCam area: Carrion Crow max. count on Parker’s Piece was 86 birds (I had originally put the City population at about 66!); a Black-headed Gull ringed as a first-year in Zuiderhogeweg, Drachten, The Netherlands on 5th January 2004 had its ring read on Parker’s Piece on 6th March 2017 – a distance of 415 Km and aged 13y 2m 1d!

The Annual Report also contains an excellent paper from staff at the RSPB’s Hope Farm at Knapwell on how to manage a profitable conventional arable farm, increase bird abundance and diversify habitats. Winter bird seed mixes are sown and mixed seed food is spread in areas where finches and buntings regularly feed to cover the “hunger gap” from January to April.

Male Teal near Hobson’s Park
Male Stonechat Hobson’s Park

Bob Jarman 10th January 2019

December 2018 Sightings

A very mild December has allowed both late retreats and early arrivals.  On Dec 9th, a Buff-tailed Bumble Bee queen was investigating cyclamen in my window box and on Dec 31st, a Garden Spider was hanging in a web with plenty of small flies still to harvest. Meanwhile, by the end of the month, both Primroses and Snowdrops were already flowering. On Christmas Day, Monica found more than 10 plants in flower.

Mammals: in Baldock Way allotments, a Fox made off with one of Jane’s son’s shoes!  He gave chase and managed to retrieve it. Foxes are always around in Newnham too, scenting in Paradise and scrounging in the back gardens, while Monica encountered one by Cherry Hinton Brook. Ann had delivery of a turkey leg, on Dec 30th, presumed by courtesy of a fox!

Ann Laskey

In the Clay Farm country park, Vanesssa saw a pair of Hares – both ‘hared off’ in the direction of Long Road. Dorothea noted her Hedgehogs were restless, with the mild weather interrupting hibernation. Muntjac droppings in Owlstone Road and sightings at the allotments confirm these strange deer are becoming more plentiful. There is a growing Grey Squirrel colony in Newnham College’s grounds some of which are migrating into the gardens across the road. Their presence is marked by small holes drilled at a 1′ spacing across the lawns.

Birds: the Cambridgeshire Bee Keepers Association (CBKA) were subject to a Green Woodpecker attack on a storage shed of their apiary. Although the bird got inside, nothing was attacked there and it presumably exited where it entered! Thanks Bill!                                                                   

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Dec-Green-woodpecker-attack-2-763x1024.jpg
Bill Block

Paul caught another felon in the act – one Sparrowhawk, one less woodpigeon.

Sparrowhawk Paul Rule

Little Egrets were reported from the Botanic Gardens (Mary), Fen Ditton (Trevor) and Grantchester (Ian) – they seem to be well established now, though we still don’t know where they are nesting. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen in Highsett (Mary), Newnham (Pam), Grantchester (Ian) and Trumpington Rd (Ann), while Lesley reports a Green Woodpecker calling in Histon Road Cemetery.  Tawny Owls were heard, looking for partners in Queen Edith’s (Karsten). Kingfishers are back again on Cherry Hinton Brook (Monica) and also seen in Newnham and near Fen Ditton and Elizabeth Bridge (Val).

 My garden Robin has been singing continuously though December. Several people have heard Song Thrush in song, too. In Chesterton, a Blackcap was feeding on berries (Susanne) and another in Newnham on honeysuckle (Anita). Val reports half a dozen Cormorants up in a high tree on the side of the river away from the Museum of Technology. Five were the normal skinny black ones, but one was “bigger, greyer and had a big white tummy”. Dabchick (Lesser Grebe) have been around the Grantchester Meadows for some time and Anita reports one swimming underwater, looked very mammalian.

Fungi: at the Beechwood Reserve, I found Jews Ear (now renamed Jelly Ear), Common White Helvella (Helvella crispa), Funnelcap and Candle-snuff Fungus. In Fen Ditton, Trevor reports Pluteus romellii, a rare fungi for these parts, on wood chippings right beside the front door. Then, on wood chippings at the entrance to Midsummer Common Community Orchard, was a Wood Cauliflower (Sparassis crispa). This was probably imported into the City with the chippings. Thanks Guy for this one!

Wood Cauliflower fungus   Rob Murrison

Moths: There are a number of moths on the wing during December, including Mottled Umber and Pale Brindled Beauty. Paul found one of the latter in the light trap on Dec 28th. This was a freshly emerged male (as with many winter emerging moths, the females are flightless). Adults can be seen from late December through to March and the eggs will lie dormant until hatching in late spring.

Pale Brindled Beauty    Paul Rule

Many thanks to all who sent sightings of smaller / commoner garden birds (Ian, Pam, Jill, Jean, Ann, Vicky.) These are all valuable and indicate what is around – equally what we are not seeing. Several people have confirmed my feeling that finches are genuinely rare at the moment – Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches used to be ubiquitous – now not so (though there were several reports of chaffinches). After such a difficult year, it is not surprising that there will have been winners and losers.

Best wishes for 2019 and please keep them coming!

Blackbirds on Crab Apples    Pam Gatrell

Swans at Byron’s Pool   Jill Newcombe

December 2018 – more astonishing night-time flyovers

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

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

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

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

Brambling – Beechwoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Jarman
10th December 2018

November sightings 2018

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

Garden Spider

Araneus diadematus

Sandie Mercer


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

 Wren   Paul Rule

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

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

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

Blue Jay

Little Egret

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

Starlings over Bolton’s Pit

Olwen Williams Nov 15th


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

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

Kingfisher  Paul Rule

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

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

Visiting fox                  Olwen Williams

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

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


Common Inkcaps

Jill Newcombe



Olwen Williams               



November 2018 – bird migration north and south in autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow-legged Gull Hobson’s Park (left)

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


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

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

Kestrel at Eddington

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

Hobson’s Park Reserve (below left)






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

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

Bob Jarman

17th November 2018

October sightings 2018

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

18-spot Ladybird 




Ophion luteus Paul Rule



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

Tephritis formosa                            Tephritis divisa        Paul Rule






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

Spongefly Paul Rule

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

Giant Willow Aphid Tuberolachnus salignus Paul Rule

Nigma walckenaeri (female) Paul Rule



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

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

Nicrophorus humator Paul Rule

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

Brown-tailed Moth cocoons      Vanessa Price

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

Guy Belcher with dung pat

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


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

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

Skeletocutis (Incrustoporia) semipileata  Paul Rule

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

Meadow Pipit      Vanessa Price

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

Olwen Williams                            






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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Crowing over the flag!

Pre-roost gathering of Carrion Crows

Kestrel over Trumpington Meadows

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

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

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

Bob Jarman 25th October 2018

Cambridge Moths – end of season

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

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

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

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





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

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

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






Jon Heath 15th October 2018