An abundance of Blackcaps but where are the Whitethroats?

Seem to be Blackcaps singing everywhere, front gardens and back gardens, anywhere where there is some scrub or overgrown shrubs. But what has happened to Common Whitethroats? At a farm site on the northern edge of our project area I have often counted 10-18 singing males by now but so far have counted just one! I have heard more Lesser Whitethroats this spring than Common Whitethroats. Sedge and Reed Warblers also seem to be in short supply. This spring has been two hot days followed by a thunderstorm then cold and rain. It’s one of the wettest, most dismal, springs I can remember!

The Kingfisher reported over Magdalene Street Bridge in my last blog flew over the bridge, not under it, because the water level under the bridge was too high!

Now is time to look for Wheatears of the Greenland race on Trumpington Meadows and other open fields. They have the longest migration of any European passerine summer visitor and when they leave the UK they head out across the North Atlantic to their breeding grounds in Greenland.

In the latest edition of British Birds (May 2018. Vol 111 pp 250 – 263) there is an article about white feathers in black birds; not just Blackbirds but black birds! The causes might include nutrient deficiency; I have a distinctive male Blackbird in my Chesterton garden with a small white shoulder patch. The photograph below was taken on 2nd April and shows it feeding young in the neighbour’s shrub. The eggs were probably laid 14-16 days earlier when it was very cold; I have not seen any young birds so assume the nest was sadly overwhelmed by the rains. This male Blackbird is distinctive and patrols a territory of about 100 m x 100 m – 1 hectare. It’s is not the only male Blackbird in this area and there are frequent territorial disputes.

Blackbird with white shoulder patch

Portrait of city Kingfisher
by Rhona Watson

I think I have located about 20 Mistle Thrush territories – the most recent from Castle mound. They are early nesters and incubation must have coincided with the heavy rains; I think 1-2 sighting may be duplicates and include birds have disbursed after incubation failure and counted twice at nearby sites.

Mistle Thrush – Jesus College
April 2018 by Rhona Watson

 Adult City Tawny Owl
by Rhona Watson

Common Terns have returned to the pit at Milton Country Park that fringes the northern edge of our project area – they should now be looked for fishing along the river from Horningsea to Riverside and Jesus Lock; Swallows over New Square and Huntingdon Road on 23rd April. Swifts are back in Cambridgeshire but our nesting Swifts in the City don’t usually appear in numbers before 5th May. I worry each year that they may not return and life … will not be the same again!

A pair of our city Sparrowhawks, male top-most (Rhona Watson)

. Peacock butterflies are about

Nightingales would now be rare passage migrants in our project area; in the 1980’s one was singing in the bushes outside the old toilets in Drummer Street and in the 1930’s it was claimed that there were more birds of this species along Trumpington Road per miles than any other stretch of road in England (Bircham 1989). Paradise, riverside in Newnham and college gardens are possible locations. Watch for nesting Lesser-black backed Gulls on the roof tops of ARU and the DAB/Downing Street complex. They have been seen prospecting.

I worry when I hear people talk about “rank vegetation”; rank vegetation to some is a valuable wild life habitat to others. Stinging nettles are condemned as “rank vegetation” on Midsummer Common but are a valuable larval food plant to some of our declining butterfly species such as the Peacock. Orange Tip butterflies are on the wing – the males, with the orange tips, have a reckless, erratic flight that seems to have little purpose – I’m sure it does!

Bircham, P. M. M. (1989). The Birds of Cambridgeshire. Cambridge University Press

Thanks to Rhona Watson for her wonderful photographs.

Bob Jarman

30th April 2018