May birds (not May Balls)!

An Oystercatcher over Cambridge Station during morning rush hour on 8th May was unusual and seeing three flying south over Nuttings Road on May 26th (Iain Webb) was even more unusual. They might be visiting the new open water site at Hobson’s Park near Great Kneighton.

Two Common Terns flew over King’s Parade on 12th May but only one of the returning pair that often feed along Riverside and the river straights to Fen Ditton appears to have returned this year; it seems to have lost its partner over winter or during the return migration. The bird has now moved on and we may have lost our Common Terns this year. First year birds remain on their wintering grounds off West Africa and return in their second year so birds may be back next year.

Blackcaps are very common singing throughout our project area but Common Whitethroats are scarce this year. I have heard as many Lesser Whitethroats in our project area as Common Whitethroats – this is very unusual; in Ditton Meadow in the path of the Chisholm cycle trail a hawthorn bush has both species singing. The web site is an excellent source of recorded bird song.

Swifts were later to return this year but by mid-month had arrived in numbers; I have an irrational fear that one year they just might not return and life will never be the same without them!

The House Martin colony at Addenbrooke’s Hospital is in full swing. It’s difficult, at this stage, to work out how many nests are being actively used but a watch in mid-May counted 73.

A Black Kite over Clarendon Street on 20th may not be as unusual as seems; not far away one was claimed over Bar Hill Golf Course on Friday 11th May. Kites over our study area are not unusual and have bred. A Red Kite was seen trailing a Peregrine that had a pigeon kill over the junction of Gilbert Road with Histon Road at roof-top height. The Kite was hoping the Peregrine would drop its kill so it could sweep down and claim the carrion.

The City Peregrines were filmed feeding two chicks in mid-May (twitter: @CambPeregrines) and the other breeding pair has at least one chick. A Kestrel that roosts against the chimney pots at the top of Benson Street occasionally hovers over the rear gardens of the terraced houses and Histon Road Cemetery.

The female peregrine at the City Centre site – the male is about a third smaller
with bars on its breast that do not reach across its chest

Part of Midsummer Common has been mown but the nettle patches have been left intact as a food source for the larvae of some of our declining butterfly species such as Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Similarly, the grass cutting in St Andrews Church graveyard in Chesterton has left patches of the Wild Clary (Salvia verbenaca) standing.

Crow finds bread in Hawthorn Road

Crow drops bread in nearby puddle to make it easier to digest!

Spotted Flycatchers are a seriously declining summer visitor. The Cambridgeshire Bird Club is surveying them across the County (any sightings, please, to: They used to breed off Huntingdon Road and in the Botanic Gardens in the 1980s but disappeared when the Elms went. There is perhaps one pair in the very south east of our project area but they seem to be absent from other suitable locations – College gardens, riverside woodlands and large private garden in the south of our study area.

Brown Hares at a farm site in the north of our project area

Wild Clary in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Chesterton

A small remaining population of Common Lizards in the north of our project area in Orchard Park (formerly Arbury Park) is under threat from building development. It is hoped that the builders will hold off so that as many lizards as possible can be caught and transferred to a site about a mile away to live in the stone boulder supports of a farm road over the A14.

An adult Cormorant of the continental race in the Cam at Fen Ditton with its grey neck “shawl”. This race has colonised the south of England in recent years. The native race is all black and breeds on the sea cliffs in the north and west of the UK. The continental race nests in trees but none, as yet, in our project area. It is this race that roosts in winter in the willows along Riverside.

Bob Jarman

29th May 2018