Beast from the west meets the beast from the east

Ravens were once vilified by sheep farmers as lamb killers that plucked they eyes out of their victims leaving them to die in agony. As a result, they were heavily persecuted. We now know they are mainly carrion feeders. Ravens around a lamb carcass are feeding on a still birth or after-birth. They are expanding their range from west to east and two recent articles in national dailies (the i-newspaper and The Times) have carried articles about this (“Beast from the West”/”Black is Back”). Two to three pairs breed in west Cambridgeshire. They have been seen displaying, a tumbling/rolling aerial display, over Madingley and in February 2017 a pair were seen on the northern edge of our project area flying over Impington. This February a pair were seen heading out of Histon towards Oakington, just outside our study area. They are early nesters (February/March) and it’s likely these were young birds nest site prospecting.

The Rooks nesting at Girton College have returned to repair winter damage to their rookery – it’s the only rookery in the city using conifers to nest.

The city Peregrine that was shot last autumn and taken to the Raptor Foundation near St Ives is recovering, but staff are unsure of its ability to hunt for itself. When the weather warms Sparrowhawks will begin their aerial displays; I guestimate 10-15 pairs across the City. The first year Kestrel on Coldham’s Common looks set to stay, but the pair that had three young near the Darwin Green housing development between Histon Road and Huntington Road, which is now being built, will have to move on. The bird seen at Eddington may be one of these.


Golden Plover, Hobson’s Park  Peregrines return to City centre (see Olwen’s February blog)

Red Kite  was seen over Regent’s Street on February 20th (Rhona Watson).

A Kittiwake flying south over Chesterton on 2nd March (Simon Gillings) is very unusual and could be just one of a bigger cold weather movement of this species.

Duncan’s photos of the Little Egrets on the Snakey Path from Brookfields (end of Mill Road) to Cherry Hinton Hall park are stunning – walk along the path and you may get the best views of Little Egrets you will ever see!

The edge of the Dickinson Pit at Milton Country Park just comes into our project area. There is a female Scaup there (found by Jon Heath). This uncommon sea duck was probably making an overland passage from west to east and back to its Scandinavian breeding grounds when it was stalled by the “beast from the east”.

A large flock of about 600 Golden Plovers were on farm land in the north of our project area on 12th February and about 150 Linnets on nearby stubble feeding on meadow grasses, mayweeds and groundsel that have been flowering and seeding over the winter. Also two flocks totalling about 60 Golden Plovers, on Hobson’s Park near Great Kneighton (I always thought the “i” came before the “e” except after “c”!).

Six Siskins feeding on sunflower hearts in a Chesterton Garden in early December are still coming daily; the male has been singing – will they stop to breed? Blackcaps are toughing out the cold by staying close to fat ball feeders; one bird has been present during the cold period from 8:00am to 4:30 most days and sees off blackbirds and tits but slips away when the robin arrives. Female Blackcap seen over several days in John Street (Mary Seymour). The snowy silence was broken on Wednesday morning 28th February by a singing Robin keeping warm by the gas boiler exit flue!

The cold “Beast from the East” and settled snow causes real problems for birds approaching their breeding seasons. Fieldfares and Redwings have come into the city looking for remaining berries, cherries and crab apples but most have already been taken by resident Blackbirds. I have 12 records of territorial Mistle Thrushes – the Midsummer Common bird has been singing since November – Mistle Thrushes are also early nesters. Redwings will soon muster in numbers for their pre-migration gatherings. I have seen flocks in Cherry Hinton Hall grounds where they sing together as a chorus their curious subdued sub-song.

Fieldfares forced into gardens for food during the cold period Winter Blackcap staying close to its food source

A solitary Chiffchaff in Chesterton on 2nd March in a leafless street tree looked doomed in the freezing temperatures. Soon time for the first Brimstone butterflies.

Robert Brown of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club is surveying Grey Wagtails, especially breeding birds. They can often be seen by The Rush, the cut across Coe Fen. Last year, a pair were feeding young on the roof of the M&S building on the Market Square and a pair nested in the river wall 100m upstream from Magdalene Street bridge. Please send any records to him at:

5th March 2018

Bob Jarman