Category Archives: Bob Jarman’s bird-related blogs

One of the best Novembers yet! November 2019

On 22nd November, a Pallas’s Warbler was found in Paradise Nature Reserve. It was a sensational find of this tiny rare migrant warbler inland and a fantastic discovery (Mike Crosby, cbcwhatsabout.com). It’s the second County record. Local naturalists say that it could have been there some days before it was identified. The first County record was a moribund bird found in Peterborough outside the Natural England offices in 1998; it had struck a window. Over the weekend of the 23rd/24th November it attracted about 100 birders. I caught up with it on 25th and 26th November but it was difficult to locate and it moved with speed through the foliage loosely associating with a Long-tailed Tit flock and Goldcrests. The most recent national annual total of this rarity is just 27 in 2017. Inland locations are very rare; overwintering birds are even rarer. This bird ought to be in south-east China by now!

Also seen in the nature reserve were two Chiffchaffs, a Nuthatch (a good find – this bird is rare in our project area), 1/2 Treecreepers, a well-watched Kingfisher fishing and a Woodcock.

The October monthly bulletin of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an item by Simon Gillings about his analysis of October night-time bird calls over his Chesterton home. His findings are remarkable and the practice of analysing overhead nocturnal bird calls adds a new dimension to ornithology – I nearly said bird watching – but it is not “watching”! If I’m reading his tabular summary correctly he has recorded the following October monthly totals (highlights only): Whooper Swan 4; Little Grebe 9 (I don’t think I have ever seen Little Grebe fly more than a foot above the water but migrate and colonise they must and they do!); Turnstone 4; Knot 4; Common Sandpiper 4; Ring Ousel 17 (I have never seen Ring Ousel in Cambs and as I live about ½ a mile from Simon they probably flew over my house!); Redwing 3417; Song Thrush 980; Tree Pipit 9. The numbers and species recorded are …… astonishing and add a new story to the intrigue of bird migration – remarkable! Less vocal species may also pass over such as Corncrakes on their way to the Hebrides and maybe it will unravel the secret westerly migration of Aquatic Warblers too.

During the month, a Common Gull on The Pond at Eddington had a white Darvic leg ring on its right tarsus plus an aluminium? ring on its left. From a number of photos, the ring identification was “JK81”. I contacted the Euroring internet site and received the following details: ringed at the Stavanger ringing centre, Ostfold, Norway on 21 May 2016 as an adult – possibly three years old; seen at Ostfold, Norway in August 2016 and then Eddington on 7th November 2019 – so it’s at least six years old.

A probable Rose-ringed Parakeet (Ring-necked) was seen in Jesus College on 4th November. This non-native escapee is an uncommon bird in Cambs. Bramblings have been present in the Beech Woods since the beginning of the month and Kingfishers can be seen in the small sector of Milton Country Park in our project area (Jon Heath saw 4 there on 6th November).

Eddington is the best place to see Common Buzzards in our project area and nearby in the grounds of Girton College on 10th November one, possibly two Nuthatches and two Tree Creepers amongst the roving tit flock. On 11th November, a Peregrine was over the Market Square and on 15th November, the female and male Peregrines were “jousting” in flight together over the Market Square. I have never seen male and female birds together as well before. The female is larger, bulkier and deeper chested than the male and after aerial spats they often sat together on the corner spires of King’s College. Take a seat for coffee at Don Pasquale’s and wait for the action!

Also seen on the 11th November, at Hobson’s Park, a Water Rail, four Common Snipe and a female Stonechat and on 14th November at Hobson’s 12 Common Snipe (in a wet sector of the area set aside for allotments) and a flyover Peregrine; on 24th November, there was a pair of Stonechats at Hobson’s Park and a Little Egret.

On 16th of November I watched angler Alan Stebbings (he works at Ridgeon’s) land a 10 lb pike near the Mill Pond whilst a nearby Grey Heron waited for him to throw it the disgorged fish bait. Panic amongst pigeons in the Market Square on 22nd November was not caused by a Peregrine but a flyover Kestrel!

A Mistle Thrush was singing in Chesterton on 13th November, another was heard near Storeys Way on 19th and Paradise Nature Reserve on 26th; one was defending a Mistletoe clump with berries in Chesterton on 26th November. On 16th November, a male Blackcap was in my Chesterton garden – mid-November is a typical arrival date for overwintering Blackcaps from central Europe. This matches ringing records from Holme Bird Observatory on the Norfolk coast. A female Blackcap, a “browncap”, was seen in a garden in Benson Street on 23- 26rd November feeding on Mahonia nectaries and a male in Tenison Road feeding on the shrivelled remains of grapes on a vine.

A nocturnal Peregrine strike is suspected of killing the Long-tailed Skua that was found in October; perhaps the Skua was too bulky to carry off or the falcon failed to “get-a grip”! Records of Red Kite over Mill Road cemetery in May, June and September this year (Andrew Dobson). This is in the very centre of our NatHistCam project area.

Bob Jarman 30th November 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

The remarkable remarkable! – the autumn passage 2019 continues

On 16th October Shaun Mayes of the St John’s college staff found the fresh corpse of a bird outside Merton House at the junction of Queens Road and Madingley Road. Shaun and his birdwatching colleague David Brown contacted David’s brother-in-law Jonathan Bustard (a good name for a birder)! and the identification was confirmed as a juvenile Long-tailed Skua.

This is a remarkable inland record for this rare migratory sea bird. I think it is the first for our project area and possibly only the 12th record for the County. Previous records have come from Foul Anchor in the north of Cambridgeshire, beyond Wisbech, on the banks of the River Nene five miles south of The Wash. It adds further evidence to the idea that migratory sea birds travel overland to short-cut migration routes. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Graham Easy saw flocks of skuas (Arctic and Great Skuas) passing south west overhead, at great height, in autumn over Milton. He speculated that there were major overland migration routes for skuas and Kittiwakes following the north east/south west trajectories of the Ouse/Cam, Nene and Welland river valleys exiting in the Bristol Channel. Remarkably, these seabirds appear to take an overland short cut on their way to wintering grounds off the coast of Senegal.


The Long-tailed Skua found dead in Cambridge on 16th October
The Long-tailed Skua found dead in Cambridge on 16th October

We know that some skuas on their northerly spring passage fly through the Great Glen from the North Atlantic to exit in the Moray Firth and the North Sea on their way to their breeding grounds in the northern Isles and the sub-Arctic tundras. Watching Skua movements on the North Norfolk coast this time of year and all the skuas appear to be flying west i.e. into the Wash not east which, as you would expect, would take them around the East Anglian coast and then south eventually into the English Channel.

This is a brilliant record – thanks to Shaun and David.

On 6th October, there was a big night time passage of Song Thrushes and Redwings and daylight passage of Redwings over the City. I haven’t seen a Fieldfare yet! On 10th October, there was a Yellow-legged Gull at Hobson’s Park and two there on 15th October. Also at Hobson’s Park on 15th October were 60+ Redwings (over), a Water Rail, 2 Snipe, 4+ Corn Buntings and outside Trumpington a huge flock of 500+ Golden Plovers. The influx of Jays into the country – apparently due to a failure of the acorn crop in Europe – seems to have stopped but they have filtered inland and are common throughout our project area.

The common wagtail in our project area seems to be Grey Wagtails not Pied Wagtails. I see or hear them most days. There is a regular pair on or over the Radio Cambridgeshire building, a male was singing in Regents Street on 16th October and they are often flying over the Market Square and where I live in Chesterton. Also on 16th October was a late Swallow over Mill Road Cemetery.

I discovered a new habitat! Behind the West Cambridge university building there is a balancing pond – a large lake of at least one hectare; it is hidden from view behind the hedges along the Coton/west Cambridge footpath. According to a local angler it’s been there for about 5 years and is full of huge Common Carp – ideal for a passing Osprey.

On 18th October, a Chiffchaff was calling in a large garden in Huntingdon Road and there were three Buzzards over Thornton Way. On 19th October, there were eight Common Buzzards over the rough land at Eddington, 12 Linnets and 12 Meadow Pipits. Buzzards are now, probably, our commonest raptor. Twenty years ago, in 1999, they nested for the first time, in great secrecy, in west Cambridgeshire. It is a remarkable turn-round and is likely due to legal protection (thanks to EU law!) and the subsequent lack of persecution.

On 29th October one of the Peregrines was roosting at its regular site in the city centre and on 30th October Gadwell were the commonest duck on the slice of Milton Country Park in our project area; the regular wintering Widgeon had also returned.

Dr Simon Gillings of the BTO has collected the night-time recording device from my garden. It recorded night time calls of birds passing over head from 6pm to 6am and he had placed a number of them across the City. Martin Walters has written a very good “Nature Notes” in the Cambridge Independent (23rd October 2019) about Simon’s project. Simon now plans to download the recordings to survey nocturnal migration (“noc-mig”) over Cambridge.

Bob Jarman 31st October 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

The autumn passage September 2019

Whinchats and a Pied Flycatcher as autumn passage migrants arrived in our study area – see August Blog. A Pied Flycatcher on Coldham’s Common on 1st September (Rob Pople) is only the second I can remember in our study area. Two Whinchats at Hobson’s Park on 3rd September (Peter Bircham) (cbcwhatsaboutblogspot.com). A Wheatear was seen on the bare fields on farmland in the north west of our study area. A Nuthatch in St John’s College gardens (David Brown) is a welcome sighting of a bird that has bred widely in west Cambridge but seems to have disappeared.

There seems to have been an influx of Jays and many are moving through the City. This has coincided with groups seen together at Holme Bird Observatory on the North Norfolk coast with up to 40 present one day. Nine flew together over Chesterton on 29th September.

On the 10th September, a single Little Egret at Hobson’s Park and a flock of 16 Corn Buntings. There were lots of Chiffchaffs throughout the month: 3-4 in and around Logan’s Meadow, at least one ventured across the river to Tesco’s carpark off Newmarket Road. A tit flock in Logan’s had at least one Treecreeper. Towards the end of the month in the warm weather a Chiff could be heard singing regularly in Milton Country Park.

Fifty Golden Plovers over Trumpington (Doug Radford) signals the beginning of winter (cbcwhatsaboutblogspot.com).

Most winters a Woodcock will turn up in a Cambridge garden especially during freezing conditions. I was interested to read of a juvenile bird ringed at Holme Bird Observatory and found dead six years later at Tralee in southern Ireland. British tracked birds have also been recovered in central Asia. Where do our Cambridge birds come from? Redwings have been heard outside the city – it’s only a matter of time before we hear their night-time calls over the city (but, see the PS below!).

I’m never sure what to think of Greylag and Canada Geese in our study area; presumably all originally derived from feral birds. The flock of about 60 Greylags centred around Milton Country Park must have a considerable impact on vegetation on the lake margins. In Suffolk, it’s the breeding feral (?) Barnacle Geese that have multiplied over the last 10 years to flocks of several hundreds. I have seen small groups of Barnacle Geese in our study area in the past presumably from this feral population.

Dr Simon Gillings of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is setting up a number of devices across the City to record the night time migration of birds over the city. Is Cambridge and our study area a major migration highway/flyway? This is one of the most exciting current ornithological projects and is happening here in Cambridge.

PS a major flyover of Song Thrushes and Redwings on the night of Sunday 6th October ahead of the very heavy rain early that morning.

Bob Jarman 6st October 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

Swifts, Painted Ladies and Emeralds – August 2019

Swifts were still around on 26th August despite the major departure from the City a month earlier on 28th/29th July. Fifty high over the City, 15 over the Senate House on 15th August and 10 over Histon Road on 17th August perhaps signalled another local departure. On 26th August two over Trumpington Street and one over the Market Square were probably feeding late broods.

A Wren was feeding young in Logan’s Meadow on 2nd August and Painted Ladies were the commonest butterflies on the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. The Painted Ladies looked in good condition, not ragged migrants, suggesting they had hatched locally. The invasion of Painted Ladies this year has been remarkable. In mid-July, I visited the Malin Head, the most northerly point in the Republic of Ireland, and there was a Painted Lady every 25m.

The Willow Emerald Damselfly (above) is a species new to our study area. I think Duncan McKay discovered it first. Nationally it is expanding its range and the one photographed by Trevor Kerridge at Milton Country Park – just within our NatHistCam study area – is a new location.

I haven’t seen a Spotted Flycatcher in the City for many years. They used to breed in Whitehouse Lane off Huntingdon Road but when the Elms went so did the flycatchers. There is an excellent article in the latest bulletin (covering June/July observations) of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club by Mike Holdsworth about a three-year study into the distribution of Spotted Flycatchers in the County which have declined dramatically. The College Gardens and the Botanic Gardens look ideal habitats but none have been found in the City.

Keep an eye open for Common Cranes in flight over the City – Jon Heath has seen them. This time of year they gather in numbers and move around the countryside. The Fenland population in 2018 was 53 individuals and is now the largest in the Country and exceeds the North Norfolk population and the reintroduced population in Somerset. I recently visited The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Welney and saw a group of 26 – disappointingly they were all adults with no young birds from the current breeding season.

A recent article in British Birds magazine by Mark Avery describes how forty-three million non-native young Pheasants are released for shoots annually. He questions the impact this might have on local wild bird populations (British Birds, July 2019). Only about 13 million of these are actually shot! This may account for the increase in Buzzards which must be our commonest countryside raptor and probably breeds in our study area. There have even been calls from the shooters to cull Buzzards that are taking some of these released birds or scaring the released game birds onto non shooting land. Most pheasant shooting is carried out with lead shot so there is a knock-on pollution problem. In Denmark lead shot is banned and replaced by steel shot.

A Willow Warbler (above) was in the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. I used to think I could tell Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff apart on their calls. Willow Warblers have a disyllabic “hoo …weet”, Chiffs a monosyllabic “hooeet”. I’m not so sure now! At least two Chiffs in Milton Country Park on 15th August, two Chiffs in Logan’s Meadow on 23rd August were typical tail and wing flicking Chiffchaffs; one heard calling in a private garden in Huntingdon Road on 29th August (identified by call!).

There have been several county records of Pied Flycatchers in the last two weeks of August and lots along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts but none revealed themselves in our study area.

There have also been county reports of Whinchats and Redstarts. Whinchats used to be regular autumn migrants on a farm in the north of our study when I worked there.

An Osprey was seen at Great Kneighton/Hobson’s Park on 26th August – a typical date for this migrant. One of the adult Peregrines was seen near its City centre nest site on 29th August.

Bob Jarman 29th August 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

June bird reports 2019

On Dawn Chorus day (7th May) Duncan McKay cycled across the City and recorded dawn bird song from 17 locations; he also asked other Nat Hist Soc members to record the dawn chorus from their bedroom windows – on their mobile phones – and received replies from 7 other locations. He had the following results from the total of 24 locations:
Blackbird 18/24; Robin 17/24; Wren 16/26; Woodpigeon 13/14; Blackcap 11/24; Carrion Crow 7/24; Chiffchaff 6/24.

In addition, he recorded single Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers along Cherry Hinton Brook. The big surprise that Duncan has confirmed is the widespread presence of Blackcaps and Chiffchaff across the city this year. He emphasises a 7th May dawn chorus is a single time-point in a much bigger time-frame. From late February until mid-April gardens are ringing with singing Great Tits especially on sunny mornings. By the beginning of May, they are feeding broods and feature less in early morning throng. Blue Tits are odd songsters. They have a variety of calls but their song is a strange scratchy effort that is only delivered during a short period in April – and that’s it! Thanks, Duncan – brilliant! Blackcaps are still singing widely until the beginning of July.

An article in the current British Birds Journal summarises work by the BTO looking at garden bird feeding. As a nation, we spend between £200m and 300m on bird feeding products annually (I’m at least £50 of that!) and this has contributed to significant changes since the 1970’s – Goldfinches and Woodpigeons in particular have become much more common. I’m not convinced about Goldfinches; I remember often coming across “charms” of Goldfinches in north Cambridge with my friends as schoolboy birders in the early 1970’s. Woodpigeons, yes! Modern farm rotations have included winter Oilseed Rape since the late 1970’s and this has produced a benign environment for Woodpigeons in the countryside – it’s becoming full up with Woodpigeons so they have moved into urban areas!. They raid my fat balls and often browse the grass and weeds in my small lawn and on the nearby park.

Broomrapes – Chesterton
Goldfinch – Chesterton

I have had my differences with Cambridge City Council over their use of Community Payback teams clearing vegetation. I came across a team who were using sticks to thrash the vegetation to shreds to clear the pathway along Hobson’s Brook. The thrashing of path-side vegetation seemed completely indiscriminate and included a thicket where I had seen a pair of Chiffchaffs building a nest in May close to the path…I did not see or hear the Chiffchaffs again. I also questioned the Council commitment to conservation after all the nettle clumps on Midsummer Common were strimmed – nettles being an important larval food plant for several of our declining butterfly species.

Lastly an Osprey over Trumpington Meadows on Friday 21st June (Iain Webb – www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). This blog may go quiet in the next month as I recover from hip surgery.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com – 2nd July 2019

Winter in Mozambique or catching pigeons in the Market Square?

One of our most exciting spring migrants is the Hobby, a swift-shaped falcon. Satellite tagging has shown they spend their winters catching termites in Mozambique. One or two pairs probably breed on the edges of our project area; hunting birds are often over the City and were recently seen over Huntingdon Road and Chesterton. In the early 1960’s this species was confined to the New Forest and Dorset heaths. Slowly, it expanded its range and by 1964 there may have been 1-2 pairs nesting in Cambridgeshire. Until the 1960’s this species was a target for bird nesters. It uses disused crows nests and is faithful to suitable breeding sites; a breeding site in the north of our project area has probably been used for the last 25 years. It nests late and entire clutches were stolen to order. Once taken the birds did not usually lay again and if they did the eggs were often stolen for a second time.

The ban on egg collecting and more importantly enforcing the ban enabled the Hobby to expand from its New Forest strong-hold. Crows were less persecuted so the number of potential nest sites increased. The extraction of gravel in the Home Counties and into Cambridgeshire created open water gravel pits for it to feed on one of its favourite prey items – dragonflies.

While Hobbys are away in winter chasing termites in southern Africa, the City’s Peregrines are catching feral pigeons in the Market Square or wildfowl on the Ouse Washes.

The male Peregrine of our city centre nesting pair on watch some distance from the nest on 15th May – it’s a good sign! The heavy rain the next day on the 16th is a worry as the nest was partially water-logged last year and one chick was lost.

Common Terns have returned and are regularly fishing from Jesus Green to Riverside to Horningsea and Bait’s Bite. Where they breed is a mystery but in August young birds can be seen harassing the adults for food.

The Common Terns below Elizabeth Way Bridge; one of them swallowing a fish about half the size of the bird itself!

There are at least two singing Whitethroats in bushes along the river on Logan’s Meadow. It’s probably our commonest “scrub” warbler; its pleasant short scratchy song is often the prelude to a towering song flight, a rather clumsy hover and then parachute descent into a bush. Nearby are Treecreepers nesting in one of the nest boxes put up by the Council.

 Male Yellow Wagtail                                Whitethroat

Yellow Wagtails are much less common than they used to be. They are birds of meadows and damp pasture. This bird was photographed in a wet puddle near the Histon Rd/Huntingdon Road footpath on the 11th May. They have adapted to agricultural arable crops and occasionally nest in oilseed rape in the north of our project area. A study by Bill Jordan for the Cambridgeshire Bird Club found fenland birds often nested in potato and pea crops.

Male Yellow Wagtails have (probably) the dullest song of all our passerines: “slurp, slurp, slurp” or if you are lucky: “slurp, slurp, slurp, slurp”, but their striking yellow plumage says it all!

So far no definite sight or sound of Black Redstarts in the City.

Couldn’t resist a couple of butterfly pics; a Brimstone, left, on a Primrose and a rather battered Speckled Wood that had probably emerged from hibernation; both taken near Histon Road.

Bob Jarman

17th May 2017

The Unloved 2 – Pigeons and more on Corvids!

What’s the point of Woodpigeons? What do they do? What are they for? The UK breeding population increased by 169% between 1967-2010 (Bird Atlas 2007-11, Balmer et al) probably because of agricultural intensification and boosted by the move to winter oilseed rape and winter cereals from the late 1970’s. The UK population is estimated at 5.4 million pairs and its abundance is probably because of the birds’ ability to survive on green vegetation unlike other granivores (BTO Birdtrends 2014)

More recently Woodpigeons have become dominant garden birds (RSPB Garden Birdwatches) probably as countryside habitats become “full” of resident birds. Despite this their breeding biology and ecology are poorly studied.

        Woodpigeons nesting in
Dorchester town centre

Woodpigeon left;
Collared Dove right

 

A maize stubble field in the north of our study area attracted a flock of 1,480 (counted from photographs) in winter 2015/16. UK birds are almost entirely resident but Woodpigeons in northern Europe do migrate and movements of autumn birds have been noted on the north Norfolk coast. Woodpigeons to birdwatchers are an irritating fact of life! Lone birds can resemble Sparrow Hawks and distant flocks can look like Golden Plovers.

Stock Doves (or Stock Pigeons) are smaller discrete versions of the clattering, bulky Woodpigeon and lack the white wing and white neck patches. They are usually seen singly or in pairs but, unusually, a flock of c100 were feeding on Oil seed Rape stubble from harvest 2016 awaiting spring barley 2017 drilling in the north of our project area.

Feral pigeons: escaped homers, urban vandals, building defacers – these general nuisance birds are thought to derive from wild Rock Doves which are now confined to rocky northern and western cliffs on the very margins of the UK.

These feral birds should now be controlled by urban Peregrines. Cambridge has its own nesting Peregrines (see below); London has 26-30 breeding pairs – the second highest urban Peregrine population in the world behind New York.

Hopefully Peregrines will breed again in the City this year; the female is more strongly barred and bigger than the male by about an additional 1/3rd; they have been seen mating.

Male Peregrine (above)

Female Peregrine (right)

Corvids – the crows – are also unloved (see March blog). The local newspaper in Royston, Hertfordshire is the “Royston Crow” but the crow on the paper’s logo is not the corvid we are familiar with – it’s a Hooded Crow. Hooded Crows used to be considered conspecific with the Carrion Crow but have been granted species status. They used to be frequent winter visitors in flocks of 30+ in Cambridgeshire but are now exceptionally rare – 1 or 2 per year in Norfolk and occasional single strays into the north of Cambs.

Hooded Crows replace Carrion Crows in Ireland and central to northern Scotland and are the common crow in much of Fennoscandinavia and central Europe. Milder winters have probably resulted in these birds remaining resident with little need to move south or west, to the UK, to avoid freezing conditions.

A scruffy Hooded Crow!

The Rook survey in our NatHistCam project area is now 108 (apparently) active nests. Rather like House Sparrows the biggest numbers are in the Cherry Hinton area.

Another corvid is the Jay. This woodland species is a resident and predator of nests and nestlings and eater of slugs and snails. In Chesterton, breeding birds are summer visitors and the first arrived back on March 17th.

May 2017 Bob Jarman

 

 

 

Mob arrival of Warblers!

In mid April there was a mob arrival of our common woodland warblers. At present Blackcaps are singing across our project area in shrubby gardens and hedge rows. Our recent CNHS visit to Coldham’s Common found Blackcaps singing their rich 6 second warble in the bushes every 100 metres and Chiffchaffs singing their repetitive “chiff chaff” song also every 100 metres between the Blackcaps. Occasionally there is a Willow Warbler with its “beautiful descending sequence” (Martin Walters, Cambridge Independent April 2017); most are probably passage birds moving north. They can turn up anywhere and two were recently seen and heard in the street trees in Ditton Fields.

Chiffs and Willow Warblers are both small, very similar unobtrusive greenish warblers; Chiffs are usually duller with darker legs with a nervous habit of flicking their tail downwards. Just occasionally there is a “wiffwaff” ! These are Willow Warblers but with “chiff chaff” inserted into their song. There is one on Coldham’s Common at present (follow the path from Newmarket Road past the football stadium to where the bushes cross the path and on the left – in the bushes behind the allotments). This Willow Warbler has the “chiff chaff” notes at the end of its song; a bird at Little Paxton Local Nature Reserve near St Neots has clear “chiff chaff” notes at the beginning of its song. Both birds show the plumage characters of typical Willow Warblers.

Tony Fulford, Behavioural Ecology Group,University of Cambridge is studying these Willow Warblers with aberrant songs to see if it helps teach us why birds sing. If you come across one such bird please contact tonyfulford@gmail.com with location details.

Willow Warbler                                             Chiffchaff  

In the same area on Coldham’s Common is a much less common marshland warbler – a Cetti’s Warbler. These birds are resident; they first bred at Radipole Lake near Weymouth in the late 1960’s but have now spread north to Lancashire and can survive our warmer winters. They look like Reed Warblers and nest in similar habitats. Reed Warblers are parasitised by Cuckoos but Cetti’s Warblers lay red eggs which Cuckoos cannot yet mimic – they have beaten the Cuckoo trap (see the excellent book Cuckoo Cheating by Nature by Nick Davies, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, University of Cambridge). Cetti’s Warblers are birds of dense reedy cover and are difficult to see but they have an unmistakable explosive song – a loud “chet chet cherweoweeoo”!

Although they are mainly resident – Cetti’s Warblers have distinctive stumpy short wings not designed for long distance migration unlike Reed Warblers – but a Cetti’s Warbler ringed at the Great Fen near Peterborough was re-caught at Leighton Moss in Lancashire.

Look out for Swifts – they are here!

Bob Jarman 6th May 2017

The Hirundines – Swallows and Martins

The Hirundines – Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins – are some of our earliest summer migrants to return from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in the UK. Sand Martins are often amongst the very first with birds appearing from mid-February onwards, followed by Swallows from the end of March, then House Martins from the beginning of April. Unusually House Martins were recorded on the Suffolk coast in the first week of March this year.

These birds are the background to our summers and a reminder that, despite the weather, our annual seasonal cycles are constant and reassuring. But these birds are disappearing from England! House Martins have declined in England by 14% between 1995-2010 (BTO Atlas 2011) and are now a species of conservation concern. Regional variations are striking with a 26% decline in south eastern England. Sand Martins used to nest along Riverside in Cambridge but have long since disappeared. All three species are moving north east into Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Ireland experienced a 23% increase in House Martins between 1998-2010.

Why is this? Most believe these changes are driven by temperature, humidity and therefore food availability. All three species are insect eaters, catching prey on the wing, and our drier summers combined with agricultural insecticides may have reduced food availability. The disappearance of pasture and grasslands from eastern England that support insect communities, maybe another factor. The absence of available wet mud for nest building near favoured communal nesting sites may also affect House Martin distribution.

House Martins collecting wet mud for nest building

House Martins also present another dilemma. They nest under the eaves of houses and other buildings and make a mess! In the 1960s there was a large House Martin colony under the eaves of the old Milton Road infants and junior schools at the junction of Milton and Gilbert Roads (now that’s going back!). The nests were destroyed and the birds never returned.

As delightful as these birds maybe there comes a time when property owners have to paint/repair, and may even remove nests to facilitate building maintenance. This is the issue at the Addenbrooke’s site, Cambridge, on the University buildings opposite Out-Patients. This has one of the largest House Martin nesting colonies in Cambridgeshire with over 100 nests. There are alternative to nest removal. Some nests can be retained, intact, to keep the core of the colony and encourage returning birds to rebuild breed and return again; artificial nests can be installed. Ideally, the work should have been started – and completed – in winter, well before the birds were likely to return. As a species of conservation concern House Martins have protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Members of the Natural History Society, alarmed by the destruction of nests at the Addenbrooke’s site have spoken to staff about their serious concerns who in their turn have undertaken to keep any nest removal to an absolute minimum.

Bob Jarman 11.3.17

bobjarman99@btinternet.

More on Rooks, Peregrines, a museum of Waxwings and Blackcaps …!

In 1928 – the year of the first Cambridge Bird Club’s Annual Report – 662 Rooks nests were counted within a mile radius of Market Square, Cambridge. Numbers are much less now due to poisoning from agricultural pesticides (some deliberate), agricultural intensification and persecution. In 1975 it was estimated that 65% of Rooks nests in Cambridgeshire were in Elms and many nest sites were lost to Dutch Elm disease. Monica Frisch remembers young Rooks being sold on the game stall at Newcastle-upon-Tyne market about 25 years ago for Rook pie! Attitudes to Rooks today are more benign. It is still a common countryside bird and many local villages have a rookery in trees on the village green e.g. Cottenham, or in trees surrounding their parish church e.g. Teversham and Histon.

Rooks are now considered more a friend than foe to farmers. They probe for leather jackets, slugs, snails and worms but they do have a habit of taking cereal and field bean seedlings, as I know to my cost. When I worked at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), Rook Protection of our high value specialist cereal tests and trials cost me tens of thousands of pounds in Rook Protection netting, caging and labour.

In our NatHistCam project area we have counted 78 nests so far in four rookeries … we are still looking. Counts were made before and a week after storm Doris and the numbers remained the same. Please send any records of Rookeries in the NatHistCam project area to: Olwen Williams – olwenw@gmail.com

Museum of Waxwings opposite Vindis (left)

The museum of Waxwings (museum is the collective name for Waxwings!) may still be hanging around the guided busway but they have moved further along from the Vindis garage end towards the Cambridge Regional College.

Peregrine Cambridge City 4th March 2017

You may have noticed fewer pigeons in the Market Square recently. For the last three years Peregrines have nested in central Cambridge. Sit outside at Don Pasquales, have a cup of Mario’s excellent coffee, look out over the market square and you stand a good chance of seeing a hunting Peregrine Falcon. One has been seen chasing pigeons down Petty Cury. Peregrines used to be considered birds of open moors and rugged cliffs but we now have more pairs of Peregrines nesting in our NatHistCam project area than in the Shetland Isles (2!). If you think you know of, or find the site of, a Peregrine’s nest please keep it confidential and contact the County recorder, Louise Bacon, direct: cbcrecorder@gmail.com

Male Blackcap (left)

In 1993 one of the County’s leading birders, Graham Easy, noted that Blackcaps had become increasingly common over winter; one of the first in our project area was in Manhatten Drive, Cambridge in 1993. The wintering Blackcap survey for 2017 has produced records from 23 locations in our project area, 22 within Cambridge City gardens. Two locations in built-up areas seem to have resident year-round birds that are probably nesting. Thank you all for sending me your records – they will be forwarded to the Cambridgeshire Bird Club Recorder – Louise Bacon (see above) and be duly credited. Keep them coming. I will end this “winter” count at the end of March 2017 – returning birds should be arriving in numbers by mid-April.

Male Black Redstart

The project is also keen to obtain any records of breeding Black Redstarts in the City.

Vince Lee, Chair of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club suggested this would be a valuable project. Birds were seen last year around the central city University buildings – The Old Schools and Pembroke College – and so far this year a bird has been seen on the roof of St Botolph’s Church in King’s Parade. Some years ago a juvenile bird was seen behind the Primark store in Burleigh Street and Anglia Ruskin seems a possible site too.

They have a distinctive two part song: a melodic part usually followed by a “scratchy” part – like small stones of gravel being dropped over a cheese grater! There is a good recording on Radio 4 Tweet-of-the-Day which is available on the BBC website with commentary by Bill Oddie. Black Redstarts like feeding and nesting around large buildings and an early morning cycle ride round the city centre, or wherever you live, listening for birds singing in the dawn chorus maybe a good way of locating them.

Bob Jarman 6.3.17