Autumn thugs and the gentle passage to Winter

Skuas (Jaegers in the USA) are the dark mean-looking gull-like thugs of the seas that terrorise  gull and terns into regurgitating food for their own consumption. From 1990 to 1995 local birdwatchers staked out the rivers Ouse and the Nene mouths at the south of the Wash to observe Skua passage. Hundreds were seen passing south down the rivers.

The theory is that they migrate overland at a great height following the north-east/ south-west trajectories of the Ouse/Cam and the Nene river valleys to the Severn estuary – a migration short cut. The theory suggests they pass over our project area but too high to be visible.

Arctic Skua (courtesy Bill Schmoker) (above)

Great Skua (right)

Illustration by Graham Easy of Skua migration over Cambridgeshire (1990 Annual Report of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club No 64)

Graeme Easy produced a very evocative drawing of Skuas over Milton (left)

Recently birds have been seen passing overland through the Great Glen in Scotland on a path from the Irish Sea to the North Sea on their way to their breeding grounds in our northern Isles and Scandinavia. Look up on a stormy day with strong NE winds! On 14th September this  year (2017) Jonathan Taylor saw 62 Great Skuas heading south into Cambridgeshire at Foul Anchor, north of Wisbech. There is at least one record of a Skua in our project area: a juvenile Arctic Skua at a local farm reservoir in January!

Ten Common Buzzards high over Huntingdon Road on 6 October were probably passage birds; a Chiffchaff singing in Logan’s Way had probably lost its way! Redwings heard over Cambridge on 1st Oct and a Brambling over Cambridge on 8th October (reported by Jon Heath) are early winter visitors; a Common Redstart was seen at Eddington.

(Grey) Herons are tough cookies! There is one heronry in our project area in Newnham. Little Egrets often breed in heronries but where our local Little Egrets breed is an enigma. Garden ponds stocked with ornamental fish are regular targets for herons, especially young birds.

Grey Heron (left)  watchful, waiting, for the chance and poised to fly down to a garden pond in Chesterton (below)

The Tawny Owl survey in our project area has found 5 nest sites, 4 in west Cambridge in the Newnham/Grange Road area. Please send me any records of breeding or single birds. Sparrowhawks (see September blog) are now probably commoner in urban areas than the wider countryside where farmland birds have declined.

October 2017