Category Archives: Project Blog

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

Late autumn and early winter bird report

Cormorant numbers are building up slowly! Four were roosting in the Riverside willows in late October. The anglers don’t seem to mind, although this is an ideal spot for them to nest. Numbers of Robins in our gardens have been boosted by a huge influx of birds from abroad. Most of our home bred Robins move south for the winter and are replaced by birds from Europe, particularly from eastern Germany and Poland.

Winter Robin in Fulbrooke Road Allotments

How many Blackbirds frequent your garden over the winter – 3 or 4, 5 or 6 at the most? That’s what a Norfolk birdwatcher thought until he ringed Blackbirds in his urban garden with individual combinations of coloured rings; he counted over 70 individuals!

Black-headed Gull numbers are now building up along Riverside. They are now in winter plumage without their black (actually brown!) heads. Amongst them are the larger Common Gulls without any head markings and a greenish bill. These can often be watched closely, as one cycles across Parkers Piece. Look for any  coloured plastic leg rings with alphanumeric numbering, designed to be read through binoculars or a telephoto camera lens. Details of where and when the birds were ringed are available on the internet.

If you are in the Cambridge Market Square and the pigeons are flying around in a panic, there is probably a Peregrine Falcon hunting. Peregrines now nest in the City; they were once thought of as birds of mountains, cliffs and moorland but Cambridge City now has as many breeding pairs as Shetland! If it’s warm enough, sit outside at Don Pasquali’s on Market Square with a coffee (and one of their excellent pizzas!) and watch the skies!

Large numbers of Waxwings have arrived along the east coast and are beginning to filter inland. These spectacular birds nest in the Scandinavian conifer forests but move south in winter searching for berries especially Cotoneaster, Mountain Ash, Wild Rose hips and Yew. Most years they are rare but there are occasional influxes; hundreds roamed Cambridge in the winter of 2012/2013. Please keep watch for them. They are often remarkably tame and like urban areas.



Waxwings in Longworth Avenue Chesterton 2013

October 2016 has been one of the most spectacular autumns on record for rare birds along the east coast, due to the prolonged period of easterly winds bringing in vagrants from central Asia. Yellow-browed Warblers from central Russia have appeared in exceptional numbers and many have continued a southerly migration inland. Several have been recorded in Cambridgeshire and one or two birds have been seen (and heard) at two locations around Stourbridge Common. They are small very energetic greenish leaf warblers that are best located by their call – a plaintive rising “sooeet”.

Yellow-browed Warbler – by Simon Stirrup

Bob Jarman

(Please send me any records of birds in the City and I will forward them to the County recorder)

October update

After a long and mostly hot summer, temperatures are now dropping, especially at night and we can anticipate some autumn colours in the trees.

Walking through the Paradise Local Nature Reserve, I came upon a kingfisher moving ahead of me. Several times, he perched and then splashed down into the water in search of dinner. Kingfishers are the ultimate specialists, in terms of both diet (fish) and nesting place (a hole excavated in a steep bank, out of reach of rats and other predators). I remember that one year, there was a nest in an old drainpipe in the river wall of Clare College, right in the centre of Cambridge.

My cat brings me a variety of ‘presents’! On one occasion a live kingfisher was handed over unharmed and I was able to take it back to the river, where it flew off with an indignant squawk. This week, I found a Convolvulus Hawk-moth on the mat. A night flyer, I would probably never have seen it resting during the day, its grey speckled wings and pink and black abdomen blending perfectly with tree bark. These large moths are autumn migrants from Africa.

This year has been a spectacular year for snails and slugs. Under a pot in the garden, I found several large Black Slugs, Arion ater (which can be brown, yellow or even white) busy with their autumn egg- laying, after which they will die. Between August and October, each individual may lay multiple batches of up to 150 eggs, so if, as a gardener, you want to reduce next year’s population, clear as many eggs as possible! Otherwise leave slugs as part of the ecosystem, as they clear detritus and even dog mess and provide food for hedgehogs and others. I notice my slugs are parasitised by slug mites, Riccardoella limacum, tiny white creatures which run around the outside of the slug and into the lungs via the pneumostome. It reminds one of the rhyme, “Big fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ’em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on, ad infinitum.”


11th October

Even the most urban parts of our city can hold wildlife.  October 10th was warm and sunny. Whilst walking through the underpass and the centre of the roundabout connecting Newmarket Road and Elizabeth Way, I noticed how alive with insects the rosemary was. Although I only definitely identified Honey Bee and Common Wasp, the sheltered nectar was clearly very popular with wildlife, providing a food resource in a somewhat concrete part of town.

Louise Bacon

Intro to the project by Olwen Williams

Cambridge City Natural History


The city of Cambridge includes grand buildings, new and old houses, streams, lakes, cemeteries, water meadows, gardens and recreation areas. The river Cam runs through the centre, forming a focal point for residents and visitors alike.  It is a small city, roughly eight kilometres square, densely populated but full of green spaces. Nowhere are you far from the countryside and even within the city, wildlife abounds.


This project, planned to last for 3-4 years, aims to increase public awareness of the diversity of plants, animals and fungi within the city and to involve everyone in documenting Cambridge’s natural history heritage. As part of the programme, a garden will be chosen in each square kilometre across the city and surveyed intensively.  Initial studies show that as many as 70 native plants may be present in an average garden and moth trapping in north Cambridge turned up a beautiful privet hawkmoth.


Just now, the season is turning from summer to autumn.  Tawny owls – two males and a female – were calling last night from the tall trees.  Other birds are quiet, in autumn eclipse.  There is no longer the noisy racket from the heronry by the river, suggesting that this year’s young have at last fledged.  The horse chestnut trees, whose leaves are attacked by the larvae of a moth, have turned brown and prematurely shrivelled. Although this moth only arrived in the UK in 2002, it has spread rapidly northwards.  Spiders abound – the webs of the garden spider lace the bushes. Butterflies, bumble bees and dragonflies persist, but in smaller numbers than before. A mating pair of Willow Emerald Damselflies were seen in the Botanic Garden on Sept 4th. This species was first recorded breeding in the UK in 2007 and seems to be expanding its range