Late February 2019 – the Heat is ON!

Eighty plus Redwings on Newnham recreation ground, on 12th February, is a typical pre-migration gathering. At this time, they often associate in a tree or dense scrub and engage in a peculiar muted sub-song. Dave the groundsman at the CURUFC (Rugby Club) says there is a regular Barn Owl hunting over the training ground and rough pasture behind the Grange Road pitch. I had a look at this area which is hard farmed arable – good hedges but few headlands – the crops have been drilled right up to the hedges and footpath But, there was a pair of Kestrels and over towards the M11 a pair of Buzzards. A pair of Kestrels opposite Paradise also.

I carry out a regular bird survey for a farm in the north of our project area close to the A14. The most productive hedge is the one illustrated below. I does not look much – a drainage ditch that has become over grown, mostly, with bramble and some hawthorn but it is the 8m field margins on both sides of the hedge that gives it added bird value. It always has several pairs of Yellowhammers, Linnets, Meadow Pipits, occasionally Stonechat and Grey Partridge nearby.

Nuthatch – Lower Wood; Duncan MacKay

I have been looking and listening for Nuthatches! The 1994 Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Cambridge says the “Backs” hold a small population, the most recent Atlas – 2007-2011 – show no confirmed breeding records for Cambridge and our NathistCam project area. I have one recent record from Girton (Stuart Rosell) and that’s it! The habitat around the “Backs” looks ideal, as good any wood such as Buff and Gamlingay, in west Cambridgeshire, but I’ve found none. I have also looked and listened in the Botanic gardens but none there too, just a pair of Muntjacs! Nor can I understand why there are none! Records please!

Brambling in the Beechwoods
February 2018

On the 18th February about 15 Bramblings at the Beechwoods, including a male going into striking summer plumage. I find then difficult to see rummaging in the beech leaf litter – they are always with the Chaffinches.

Brambling Paxton Pits late April 2018

See a Chaffinch and you see the Bramblings even if it’s just their striking white rumps as they fly into the trees. They are serious rummagers and throw the beech leaves about in their search for seeds. The best views were immediately on entering the wood, near and just beyond the cycle rack but here they are most prone to disturbance from dog walkers. They often stay well into April.

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Green Sandpiper at farm reservoir in project area

Sparrowhawks have been displaying over Histon Road, Grange Road and Logan’s Meadow. A Green Sandpiper on a small farm reservoir on 20th February could have been the same overwintering individual I saw in a near by ditch last October. Rhona Watson has recorded active breeding behaviour of Mistle Thrushes in Jesus College grounds and Peregrines have been reported over the out-of-city nesting site.

On 22nd February one singing Corn Bunting at Hobson’s Park and a Jack Snipe. It was only the second time I have seen Jack Snipe on the ground feeding – they have a peculiar “bouncing” gait that presumably agitates worms and grubs nearer the surface. There were also about 200 Black-headed Gulls,some were displaying nesting behaviour.

Credible reports of a Mink running along Greystoke Road and into gardens in Queen Edith’s Way and a dead adult Badger along Barton Road. Roy has seen a Muntjac in the gardens of Gresham Road and a Red Fox walking across the University cricket pitch.

Brian Eversham introduced the recent Monitoring and Research Conference for the Wildlife Trust (Beds, Cambs, Northants). He predicts that Great-spotted Cuckoo would be one of the next new species to colonise due to climate change – they parasitise Magpies (not a bad thing!). He also described a new flora by Sell and Murrell (2018) that treats 62 recognisable forms of Elms as new named species. He described a copse near Cambourne with 12 species of Elms– this is more than the whole of France with just 8 species! I thought/assumed that all elms were dead because of Dutch Elm disease. Not at all; Duncan MacKay has located elms in the College gardens,some of which are the tallest trees in the City. Brian Eversham also mentioned Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, also influenced by climate change, which is a migratory bat; it’s a summer visitor to the UK and returns to the continent to hibernate over winter.

Iain Webb described that transition of Trumpington Meadows from the Plant Breeding Institute (with picture of Dr Francis Lupton next to winter wheat trial plots) to recreational grassland and nature reserve. He also described the Dung Beetle Monitoring Project (DUMP!) which searches for dung beetles in cow pats. John Showers described the Diptera (flies) – there are 7,100 species in the UK alone; the larva of one is vividly called the Rat-tailed Maggot. A summary of the Wetland Bird Surveys (WeBS) by Neil Calbrade showed Gadwall ducks increasing but Mallards declining.

It was only a matter of time before Common Craneswere seen over Cambridge from the expanding Cambridgeshire breeding population – four flying north on 24thFebruary ( 

The first flowering Blackthorn I saw was on 18thFebruary and a Brimstone on the 23rdFebruary. The remarkable hot weather produced a UK “hottest” February temperature of 20.6C on 25thFebruary at Trawscoed in Wales. I used to visit Trawscoed in the late1960’s and early 1970’s to see the Red Kites. 

Red Kite over Orchard Park

This relic population was hanging on after year of persecution and before the reintroduction of Red Kites in the Chilterns in the mid1970’s. To see Red Kites now, in and over Cambridge, is astonishing; one over the A14/Orchard Park on 18thFebruary and one near Darwin Green on 20thFebruary. Years later using DNA technology it was discovered the Welsh population was suffering inbreeding-depression and all shared the DNA of a single female bird of German heritage!

Blackcaps have been heard singing a quiet sub-song before the breeding season get underway off Huntingdon Road and next to the railway bridge over the river in Chesterton. The birch coppice opposite Cambridge North Station that had singing, and probably breeding, Willow Warblers in 2018 is being grubbed out for a prestige office development.

Radio 4 last Sunday On Your Farm: 6:35am– listen to it on catch-up/iPlayer “Farming for Wildlife”:Cambridgeshire (St Neots) farmer Martin Lines describes the Nature Friendly Farming Network and how he actively encourages birdlife and other wildlife and runs a profitable commercial farm.

 BobJarman 1st March 2019