My garden lies on the northern boundary of Cambridge. The garden is a decent size; containing a pond, mature shrubs/trees, with also a fair amount of visible sky. It is surrounded by further residential areas to the south and the rapidly developing Cambridge Science Park to the north. Over the past 20 years I have watched and documented the birds coming into and flying over the garden. Recently this has also included monitoring migrating birds flying over at night in the spring and autumn (‘nocmig’). To date (March 2019) my garden list stands at 105 species, with an additional 18 species ‘sound-recorded only’.
The key to garden bird listing is to learn which time of year / weather conditions are best and then to concentrate observation effort at these important points. Autumn is generally the most the productive time of the year. Late August and early September sees the best chance of finding unusual garden warblers; including Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. Late September through to early November is the key time to observe visible-migration (‘vismig’). On days with preferable conditions (overcast with light northerly or easterly winds) hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of Redwing and Fieldfare can pass over. Common migrants moving with the thrushes will often include Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Pied Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. There is, however, always the chance of something a bit rarer passing over, and at this time in the past few years Hawfinch and Merlin have been seen over.
Winter generally provides a more standard set of garden birds. There is often little change, though regular watching of feeders can turn up Redpoll or Siskin, or better yet a Brambling. Blackcaps are now fairly common winter visitors to Cambridge gardens, and are frequently attracted to cut apples. Harsh winter weather can produce unusual species such as Fieldfare turning up in the garden, while it’s also a good time to look for weather-displaced birds flying over such as Lapwing and Golden Plover, or even Woodcock.
Migration kicks in again with the onset of Spring, with it now the time to listen out for singing migrants including Chiffchaff and Blackcap and then Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat later in the season. Last year I was lucky enough to hear my first Cuckoo singing in the distance. Warm, sunny spring days are often the best time to ‘sky-watch’ for soaring raptors. Buzzards are now very regular, with Red Kites becoming increasingly common and Marsh Harriers nearly annually seen. One spring sky watching session miraculously provided a high-flying Short-eared Owl and warm conditions in the past week produced another new garden addition – 4 soaring Common Cranes!
Jon Heath March 2019