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.
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