Girton Birdwatch - June 2011
It was all happening at the end of April in Girton. The red kites were making regular appearances; one was floating elegantly over the Physic Therapy Centre on the Oakington Road and a few days later another drifted low over our house in Cambridge Road. My daughter was home from Leeds for the Easter week-end and called me out into the garden as lots of 'house sparrows' had landed in our tree. We don't get 'lots' of house sparrows anymore and neither does anyone else, so I was intrigued. I'm delighted to say that what in fact had arrived was a flock of at least 12 Waxwings, which stayed for several hours apparently feeding on the flowers of our maple tree (we have the photies!) They returned the next day but didn't stay as long, and five made a brief visit the day after that, this time snacking on the catkins of our silver birch. Lots of sightings were still coming in from around the city and county but, with berries exhausted and flowers a poor second best, it was not long before they returned to their nesting and breeding sites in the cold forest lands of the Arctic and sub Arctic. A trip to Fowlmere on Easter Sunday was similarly rewarding as four or five hobbies were out hawking the lake and snatching up the dragon and damsel flies encouraged out by the unseasonally warm weather. I 'dipped' on the honey buzzard which disappeared over the tree line as I was settling into my seat in the hide. Daughter Eleanor claims to have seen it!
I have never seen a honey buzzard, neither have I seen - in this country - an even rarer visitor to Britain: the white stork. However, it is extremely likely that we've recently had one over the village. An ex-resident of Girton, Sue Mann, was pretty sure she'd seen one riding the thermals above the Thornton Close fields the week before Easter. Unsurprisingly, she was not 100% certain, the bird being such an unlikely sight in our skies, but eliminated little egret, as too small, and common crane, as the wrong colour. Given that a white stork was reported as being over Fen Drayton Lakes at 8 am on 4th May and an hour later was spotted over Cow Lane, Godmanchester, the likelihood that we have been visited by this charismatic bird (a much over-used word but appropriate in this instance) must be high. Did anyone else see it?
There are about 125,000 pairs of white stork in Europe, although they are unfortunately declining, but very few find their way here. They are one of those birds which, if we've never seen one in the wild, we are probably very familiar with from folk-lore and fairy stories. They are very tolerant of human beings and nest on roof-tops, in old churches, even on satellite installations, where they give their impressive bill clattering greeting ceremonies, where one or both birds may throw their heads backwards until the bill is upside down and almost touching their backs. They have only attempted to breed here twice: once on St Giles Church in the middle of Edinburgh in 1416, and once, more recently, in West Yorkshire during 2004. They remain irregular visitors to Britain - although reports have come in from all areas of Britain and Ireland - with a maximum of about 50 in any one year. On the Continent, however, the appearance of vast flocks migrating out of Africa at the start of the growing season has established them as a Europe-wide emblem of spring and fertility. This explains their familiarity to the British, not as an often-seen bird, but one encountered in literature and other media as the bearer of human babies. They still feature in nappy adverts and cards greeting the 'new arrival'. Unfortunately their reputation as a general good luck charm did not protect them on their occasional appearances in the Norfolk Broads in previous centuries, when wild-fowlers did not pass up on the opportunity to shoot and kill them.
Whilst on 'local' rarities a white-spotted bluethroat has turned up for the second year in succession at Welney Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. The species has never been recorded breeding here, but last year a single male spent most of the summer there and the staff are still hoping that this bird, apparently the same one and singing its head off, will attract a female. Each spring a handful of white-spotted bluethroat pass through the UK on their migration to Spain and central Europe (the red-spotted also passes through and has been known to breed). It is a perky, robin-like bird that feeds on the ground, usually under cover of dense thickets but which, in summer, will sit openly singing atop a marshy bush or even telegraph wire. It is a very distinctive bird as its brownish plumage gives way to a bright-blue throat (with a white spot in the middle!) bordered by black and red breast bands. It also has a bold white eyebrow (supercilium) and rusty patches at the side of its upper tail. Dave Heath recently shot off to Welney to view the bird and was rewarded with a good 20 seconds 'showing'! While I was talking to him about the bluethroat a call came in from his son saying that a purple heron, another rare visitor, had arrived at Wicken Fen. However, seeing as it was his wedding anniversary, he decided, very wisely, to give this one a miss.