I can just about do it in my hour bicycle exercise: fifteen minutes to get there, half an hour round Hobson’s Park and a fifteen-minute cycle ride back home. I can cycle to most parts of the City and our NatHistCam project area and back within my allotted one-hour exercise with the exception of one day when I fell in the river, with my bike, at Newnham. That’s another story; my camera and binoculars survived but my mobile phone did not!
Blackcaps are singing across the City including Harding Way where I lived as a boy! I have never heard so many. They even made it onto the BBC Radio 4 national news at 7:00 on 25th April – Frank Gardner, their Security Correspondent, is a twitcher and he commented how widespread they are this spring. In Chesterton my ranking order of dawn chorus songsters is: Great Tit, Blackcap, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon then Collared Dove and Robin, often a Green Woodpecker in the background. Chiffchaffs have followed close to Blackcaps in abundance across the City this spring. This has been the sunniest April on record with an unusual sequence of north-easterly winds.
In 2019 Duncan McKay encouraged members of CNHS to send in Dawn Chorus recordings on their mobile phones to identify songsters. The ranking order was Blackbird, Robin, Wren and Blackcap. This year Dawn Chorus Day is Sunday May 3rd – let’s do the same again! The Wildlife Trusts have information on their web site. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club is also asking everyone and anyone to keep a weekly log of their garden birds – see their web site and download the record sheet!
The lock-down and the traffic silence has encouraged me to listen to urban bird song closely. Coal Tits breed just across to road to me but rarely venture onto my feeders – they have two songs. Blue Tits also have at least two songs and one that is only occasionally heard – a hoarse “cheeva..cheeva..cheeva”. I think this is a territorial statement from the male bird of an established pair and the familiar song is to attract a mate. In Germany, Blue Tits have been found with a deadly contagious disease rather like Trichomoniasis in Greenfinches. So far, this infection has not appeared in UK Blue Tits.
Despite trichomoniasis, Greenfinches appear to be having a good breeding season across the City and must have made a recovery from their contagion.
At 4:00am on 2nd April Redwings were passing over in numbers. Buzzards and Red Kites have been seen widely including over the junction of Histon Road with Castle Hill, a Red Kite over Tenison Road (Martin Walters) on 4th and my first Buzzard seen from my house on 5th and another on 26th; a Red Kite over Hobsons Park on 17th April.
A Willow Warbler was singing at Barnwell East LNR on 6th April (Iain Webb, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and one at Coe Fen the next day. Also, on 7th April a pair of Oystercatchers and a pair of Lapwings were at Hobson’s Park and on 15th April an Oystercatcher over Chesterton early morning. On the 9th a Swallow flew low over my Chesterton garden; on the 10th the breeding pair of Swallows were back along the river under the A14 bridge and another Willow Warbler was singing in Milton Country Park.
On 14th April I heard a Grey Wagtail singing by the river at the Doubletree Hotel – I probably have heard them before but this was the first time I have registered and listened carefully to Grey Wagtail song; the bird had been ringed. The song was a tuneful rattle interspersed with call notes. Very different from the woeful “slurp. ..slurp …slurp” song of Yellow Wagtails. (The worst bird song!)
On 18th April the first Corn Bunting was singing at Hobsons Park and on the same day a Chiffchaff and a Greenfinch arrived together in my garden. Both are unusual in my small garden but they arrived together, hung around the feeders together and left together. Maybe we will have a Chiffinch before the season is out!!
At 22:30 on 18th April two male Tawny Owls were challenging each other with quiet alternating hoots; they were close by and were probably more audible because of the much-reduced traffic noise in the lock-down.
On 19th April Rob Pople reported an Osprey (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and at Eddington I heard my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year – but still no Whitethroats (but … first one heard at Baitsbite on 26th)! A pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying over Castle Hill when they appeared to be intercepted by a second displaying pair. The real sensation of the month was on the 22nd April – a White-tailed Sea Eagle reported over Bolton’s Pit, Newnham (James Cadbury: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). It was probably one of the released birds from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme. They have been seen over Greater London and a bird was tracked up the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts during March.
A Mistle Thrush was still singing in Huntingdon Road (they have been singing since November 2019) and a Yellow Wagtail and a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks were over my house in Chesterton. Skylarks were in full song throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and in arable land behind St Giles, Cemetery off Huntingdon Road. The male Peregrine was reliably in attendance on his lookout perch in the City centre throughout April. On 26th April 4 Swifts were seen high over Histon Road.
Male Kestrel at Clay Farm
Two Common Sandpipers were at Hobson’s Park on 24th April (Martin Walters). I have tried to count the Black-headed Gulls at Hobson’s Park but each time I do the number increases; I think there are 100 breeding pairs, a number of non-breeding adults and 12-15 birds in their second calendar year i.e. they were fledged juveniles last year. These birds act as colony guards and look-outs ready to mob the passing Heron or Lesser black-backed Gull but also ready to sneak a crafty copulation with a lone female; no further sighting of the 2nd year Mediterranean Gull there with nest material. Two Common Terns were at Milton CP on 25th just outside our project area. On 28th April Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and two Reed Warblers were at Hobson’s Park. On 29th April, along the Coton footpath, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were singing.
On the 30th a Common Tern over the Mill Pond and three Corn Buntings singing on the ground – which I have not seen before – about 50 House Martins plus Swallows, 3 Sand Martins and a high over Common Tern were all at Hobson’s Park and Nuthatches were calling from a back garden in Chaucer Road (a new Cambridge locality for me). Also on 30th a Red Kite over Castle Hill and a Wheatear, Cuckoo and Cetti’s Warbler at Trumpington Meadows (Jill Aldred: cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com).
I finished my March blog with a comment about House Sparrows. A lone male bird now makes regular visits to my feeders (picture below). House “Spugs” get little press but they are barometers of the health of our urban bird life. During the lock-down more people than ever, especially children home from school, are taking an interest in the wild life around us. In Cambridgeshire, House Sparrows have become almost extinct in the wider countryside because of intensive farming and the loss of over-winter stubbles to feed. They have adapted to western urban environments and rural villages. In eastern Europe to central Asia, Tree Sparrows are the birds of human habitations and House Sparrows are birds of the open countryside.