It couldn’t have happened at a worse time! Being compelled to stay at home because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) right at the start of spring and the arrival of our breeding birds is a blow. From March 24th, it’s birding from home neighbourhoods or gardens or what can be seen or heard on fitness excursions by foot or bicycle or on a visit to local food stores. On 25th a pair of Common Cranes were seen over a garden in Ely, Jon Heath saw five over his garden in north Cambridge last year and they are examples of what can be seen from an urban home neighbourhood. It’s a good time to see Common Cranes from the fenland breeding population as wandering young birds from last year are ejected from family groups and try to establish their own breeding territories.
Fortunately, our 3-years project to study the wildlife of the City has just ended. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an ongoing garden bird survey – see their website for details: www.cambridgebirdclub.org.uk A birder in the north of the City has recorded 105 species in and over his neighbourhood (plus 18 heard – not seen – from night-time audio recordings). That’s a challenge!
The spring passage is underway; Chiffchaffs are singing across the City: Tenison Road (Martin), Logan’s Meadow (2), Eddington, Huntingdon Rd/Histon Rd footpath and Huntingdon Road, Canterbury St, Hobson’s Park, Long Road (2) and along the river (4). Overwintering Blackcaps are singing a peculiar sub-song before they leave and before the breeding population arrives; a pair on 29th and 30th off Huntingdon Road. Buzzards are over the City and a pair appears to have a breeding territory in the remaining trees at the Milton/A10 roundabout despite the A14 workings nearby – they are just outside our project area.
The City centre Peregrines have been displaying noisily and the male can been seen above the nest site. A Peregrine was seen over Lovell Road on 23rd (Jon). The Newnham Nuthatch, seen on a garden feeder over winter, is still about so is probably breeding nearby (Stella).
Logan’s Meadow has had a tree tragedy. A major willow suffered a terminal split in its trunk and has been felled. I hope it was checked for roosting bats before it was felled. This is a good site for Pipistrelles and Daubentons. The immediate effect is shocking but perhaps some benefit can be had by planting understorey shrubs and allowing the ground flora to recover. Sadly, the two pairs of displaying Great-spotted Woodpeckers and the Tree Creepers have gone. Logan’s Meadow is one of the few, probably the only “wild” woodland site in north Cambridge. I did see a Water Vole in Logan’s Meadow on 19th, that’s new to me there – maybe not to the mammal experts– but some compensation for the wreckage in the wood. Also in Logan’s Meadow, Marsh Marigold and Coltsfoot are in full flower. A Badger sett was found at Eddington.
The rookeries on Hills Road and at Girton College seem to have made complete recoveries from the effects of the February storms Ciara and Dennis. The Hills Road rookery was wiped out but now has 14, possibly 15 apparently active nests (AAN’s) – 10 last year and the Girton College rookery has 38 possibly 40 AANs – 34 last year. It’s difficult to count the Girton College site because of the dense evergreen crowns of the pines and the Sequoia.
My first Brimstone butterfly was on 24th – lock-down day – and by 27th Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas had emerged from their winter torpor. Rhona has photographed a strange-plumaged Wren at Jesus College. Is it part melanism, is it a strange moult or discolouration for some physical reason? Between the bus station at Addenbrookes and the Outpatients Dept. is a shaded grass verge that has a number of Bee Orchid rosettes.
Through this winter I have seen been aware of an evening flight of Jackdaws going due north over my Chesterton home. They must be off to roost but where that is I do not know. I suspect it might be in Histon in the trees around the Church. At dusk one evening I counted 95 flying over.
House Sparrows are part of the background bird life that are never mentioned in any birding websites. But they are a barometer for urban biodiversity. They have recently returned to feed in my garden which means the colony in nearby St Andrews Road has been re-established. In the mid-1970’s, when the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) was in Trumpington so many House Sparrows descended on the ripening cereals trials to feed it was feared the yield results would be compromised. They had a dedicated sparrow killer who chased the birds into a funnel trap and dispatched them. In the early 1980’s the population collapsed and the first House Sparrows recorded at Trumpington Meadows, on the site of the (PBI), was two years ago. I may have told this before!
Cycling along the towpath on 25th and a Common Lizard scurried across the track; I haven’t seen one of these in Cambridgeshire for very many years.
On a lone, fitness, cycle ride to Hobsons Park on 26th there were 5 Little Gulls, the world’s smallest Gull, amongst the 300+ Black-headed Gulls in the colony – they had probably been brought in by the easterly winds. By 30th the colony had consolidated to about 130 birds; a passing Common Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were seen off aggressively. On another cycle ride on 28th a 2nd year Mediterranean Gull was at a site in our project area, this bird was seen with nest material; three had been reported earlier including a pair displaying. I failed to locate it/them a few days later.
There are Lesser Black-backed Gulls over the City centre – will they/are they nesting on a rooftop?
I’m a great fan of Ivy! I dispute the theory it “strangles” trees when it grows up stems and trunks. What it does is add to wind resistance increasing the likelihood of tree fall during exceptional storms. It provides nesting habitats and a berry harvest that lasts through the winter and is important for House Sparrows and other species. I have seen more dead trees caused by a heavy parasitic load of mistletoe than ivy growth.
Best wishes to all during this very difficult time; please stay safe.
Bob Jarman 29th March 2020.