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Birdwatching in Cambridge (1 Viewer)


Gleb Berloff

Just would like to do a roundup of what I have seen and encountered in Cambridge bird-wise, amidst some interesting flora and, in one case, a beautiful celestial visitor.
First of all, the birds

The peregrines in the city centre are doing great, with three fledged chicks out of three. This year the impossible happened, and for the first time ever one chick had a successful first flight. All of the others who tried ended up crashing. They always attract crowds, which is the reason I never visit them anymore.

The peregrine in the chalk pits are doing great as well, with again 3 fledged chicks. These are wonderful to observe, and spend most of their time flying and chasing each other whilst squeaking. And there are hardly any people around! There is something magical about sitting down and observing these schedule 1 birds without a license on or near the nest as I just lied down about 80 meters away and watched them pass overhead. I have also seen deer, rabbits and a red kite flying over from here. A fox once accidentally got within 6 meters of me, and bats and male glow-worms were flying around at dusk. There seem to be pyramidal orchids around as well.

Still holding the record for the most elusive bird I have ever seen, third only to the golden oriole and cuckoos, the sparrowhawk gets on your nerves when you live literally 50 meters from its nest and NEVER see it with your camera ready! It flew overhead at Hurst Park a few days ago and literally hung in the wind overhead. The last time I took a picture of them was the start of last year. The birds are beautiful.

Behaving like a real ghost, the barn owls eluded me twice as I tried to see them at Newnham meadows. Maybe I wasn't looking well enough, maybe they were full from a super-feast last time. I confused a heron with it. Despite the aves failure, the flora was a pure success. This was the first time I located beautiful orchids, one white, one purple, growing in the wild near Skater's Meadow. Common spotted orchids should have faded by now, so I don't know what were these ones. They looked wild. I am fine with sharing the location because when I visited I immediately noted to myself I had a very low chance of actually seeing it. If you try you will also immediately realise why. There seemed to be a hyperactive tern with an ENORMOUS red bill as well. And, despite this, I was hearing strange calls during the latter half of my visit. Had I heard that in the dark I would have likely had a heart attack.

There is also one pair at Byron's pool. they can be seen if one looks towards the weir and to the clearing beyond, just past the place where the canal branches off from the main river. Again, comfortable about sharing, because good luck getting to that meadow on foot.

The big surprise was me finding out that there were breeding tawny owls in Jesus college. I am completely fine with sharing this, because the college is closed to the public now and I have permission to visit, and even then nobody's going to do anything bad in college grounds. There are 2 adults and 4 chicks on territory now. I was running all over the place looking for them, but the owls won this time. Despite this, I have narrowed the place down to literally one clearing... and there are also sparrowhawks here, and a fox nest as well. the green woodpecker laughing at you after failing to find the owls gets on your nerves after time. The owls get SO incredibly loud at night as I am writing this I seem to have heard a call from Jesus college. This is almost a kilometer away. They scream so loud a porter at Jesus college complained about the noise levels!

I also know of a 20+ entrance badger sett on college grounds, but am not comfortable with sharing the location. As I am not sharing the location of a breeding long-eared owl pair (!), also on college grounds.

A buzzard was seen over the city center which exacted immediate retribution from the peregrines, but they ended up orbiting each other. The kestrels on Stourbridge common have been succesfull as well.

A red-legged partridge visited my garden during the lockdown.

Edible fungi have always been bleak for me outside Thetford forest, but this year was great with 7+ edible mushrooms found in Beechwoods. I hope to eventually find penny buns here. In addition, I love dispelling the myth that Lactarius torminsus is poisonous, collect them outside CMS and then cook them, Russian-style. Tastes wonderful, but if not prepared properly it's probably going to be worse than scorpion butch T sauce overdose. There has been a day, barely within my memory, where a family member found a massive orange birch bolete in the paradise LNR.

I have been chasing orchids for a month now, arrived too late for the common spotted orchids in Skater's Meadow. I seem to have seen pyramidal orchids as well, but these things are so unorchid-like I don't know if I have the correct flower! Prime target was bee orchid, but I seem to have failed this year. Both species can be found near Addenbrooke's, on a roadside verge.

Now, in the skies
I have seen noctilucent clouds three times this year from my house. The third time was easily the most impressive time, but I can't share it here due to filesize restrictions. The first time it was a barely-visible line, the second whispy whirls of silvery cloud. The third was a complex structure which is extremely difficult to describe. This picture should describe it better:
This year was good for comets. There is a chance there might be a massive sungrazer later on this year, as well.
i was eagerly awaiting comet ATLAS's apparition. I was extremely impressed by its brightness, 2 months before perihelion. Before it flew apart into fragments. The comet, which I thought would become as bright as the full moon, faltered.
Next up was comet SWAN. I sat in wait on its closest approach just when it was at minimum earth distance, but thought its maximum height over the horizon was too small. The next time I tried it had disintegrated as well, and on one image it showed up as a barely-visible green smudge.
Comet Lemmon was too difficult for me.
And then it was Comet Neowise, the Great Comet of 2020. It is an incredibly beautiful comet, which reached magnitude -2 at perihelion, something surpassing even Hale-Bopp and the brightest in the entire world since Comet Lovejoy in 2011. At its prime performance it developed four tails, one golden dust tail, 2 blue gas tails and one red neutral sodium tail. My camera was only powerful enough to capture the dust tail. The comet at its peak was easily visible to the naked eye. I noticed it immediately when I turned my eyes to its location. It looked like a faint star with a faint but rather long tail.
The best image I could manage:
Now it has faded and is much harder to see to the naked eye but still discernible ever so slightly. Its coma is glowing green as well.
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Well-known member
Hi Gleb
I found some Bee Orchids in Cambridge earlier this summer - first time I've ever seen them I think. They were along Newmarket Road in the short grass where a cycle path runs past the airport, near to the turn off towards Teversham. I was walking back from birding at Teversham and Little Wilbraham Fens, where I had been visiting a lot during lockdown - best birding spot within a relatively short walk from my house.

Gleb Berloff

Hi Gleb
I found some Bee Orchids in Cambridge earlier this summer - first time I've ever seen them I think. They were along Newmarket Road in the short grass where a cycle path runs past the airport, near to the turn off towards Teversham. I was walking back from birding at Teversham and Little Wilbraham Fens, where I had been visiting a lot during lockdown - best birding spot within a relatively short walk from my house.

Thank you for the information. I have recently found an unflowering bee orchid rosette with the remnants of flowers on a roadside verge at Addenbrooke's. I have also found a tremendous amount of unflowering white helleborine orchids in Nightingale rec. grounds.
I have heard a lot about that place. Might visit sometime.

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Thanks for a great round up Gleb and good to know raptors are thriving on campus. I have a range of interesting fungi regularly popping up in my garden (and lawn) but they get progressively nibbled (by my resident family of squirrels I imagine). I won’t be eating any of them myself though ;)


Well-known member
United Kingdom

A great round up. Barn Owls have been seen flying high over the city several times on recent bat surveys, so if you can get a vantage point and scan - say Castle Hill, you might just pick one up.

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