Ornithology

I have been an avid birdwatcher from a very young age. I previously trained as a ringer to perform population studies, and before arriving in Cambridge I frequently carried out voluntary work on RSPB nature reserves.
An interest in birds is an ever-present part of one's sub-conscious, immediately identifying calls heard nearby or unthinkingly glancing towards movement in tree. Hopefully this page will help me to apply more of my conscious mind to these efforts. (Photo above is one that I took of one of the Cambridge peregrines)
For details of my ongoing computational research into seabird migration, see here.

Recent notable sightings

  • 25/09/2017
    • Swallows and house martins - Easily 100 swallows and a few house martins congregating over a pond near Overton, probably gathering before leaving for Africa.
  • 27/07/2017
    • Kingfisher - One kingfisher seen emerging from a disused pipe in the river bank in St. John's College, right in the centre of Cambridge.
  • 08/06/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - Both adults seen calling and then circling together in a tight pattern above the nest site, probably in response to the 3 buzzards drifting past overhead.
  • 08/06/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - Two chicks seen this time, one flapping its wings in the nest. Again adult female seen perched nearby.
  • 29/05/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - first sighting of fluffy little chicks at the Cambridge nest site. Adult female also seen nearby.
  • 08/05/2017
    • Swift - First two swifts of the year in Cambridge.
  • 06/05/2017
  • 30/04/2017
  • 26/04/2017
    • Barn swallow - Second sighting of the year just outside Cambridge.
  • 14/04/2017
    • Barn swallow - first of the year seen near Cambourne
  • 11/04/2017
    • Sparrowhawk - Flying high over the Cam at Ditton corner, being mobbed by a flock of jackdaws.
  • 06/04/2017
    • Sparrowhawk - I was initially alerted to something going on outside by a comotion from the local breeding pair of jays. When I looked out of the window I realised there was a sparrowhawk sitting in a nearby tree eating a fresh kill, and the jays were hopping around the tree screeching at it furiously. This went on for some time before the sparrowhawk finally flew away. Quite a spectacle to witness.
  • 02/04/2017
    • Blackcap - First blackcap of the summer seen and heard singing at the entrance of the RSPB Lakenheath reserve.
  • 25/03/2017
    • Chiffchaffs - the first chiffchaffs of the year. At least two heard singing near Toft.
    • Peregrine falcons - male sat alone on the church while the female circled nearby
  • 25/03/2017
    • Peregrine falcons - another wonderful scene with both adults sharing a pigeon.
  • 20/03/2017
    • Sparrowhawk - flying across Midsummer Common, colouration beautifully highlighted in the evening light.
  • 19/03/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - a wonderful sighting of both the male and female together, creating quite a cacophony whilst flying from perch to perch, apparently sharing a dead pigeon. I managed to take some photos through my binoculars.
    • Sparrowhawk - drifting above the neighbourhood causing visible panic in nearby blackbirds.
  • 15/03/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - male sat alone on the usual perch.
  • 14/03/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - on the usual perch. The male, I think, which I attempted to photograph through my binoculars with my iPhone, but it didn't come out particularly well. I was informed that a friend saw the pair mating atop this perch earlier in the day, but I only saw the male.
  • 10/03/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - on the usual perch atop the church opposite Pembroke College.
  • 07/03/2017
    • Sparrowhawk - flying high overhead being mobbed by a crow.
    • Two male blackbirds fighting for a long time outside my window.
  • 25/02/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - having now worked out the peregrine pair's regular haunts, I was able to borrow my mother's good camera and obtain some wonderful photographs.
  • 15/02/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - seen for the 3rd day running on church opposite Pembroke.
  • 15/02/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - on the church opposite Pembroke college again as I cycled past.
  • 14/02/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - finally seen through binoculars becauase I have started taking my binoculars into town. Once again peregrine sat on church opposite Pembroke.
  • 13/02/2017
    • Sparrowhawk - unusually good view of a sparrowhawk as it flew slowly over the river.
  • 07/02/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - once again seen perched on the church opposite Pembroke College.
  • 05/02/2017
    • Bohemian waxwings - First ever sighting of waxwings; a flock of 14 seen in the Cambridge Science Park.
  • 04/02/2017
    • Red kite - two red kites again seen near Chrishall Grange
  • 24/01/2017
    • Peregrine falcon - Seen perched on a spire of the Emmanuel Reformed Church opposite Pembroke College
  • 22/01/2017
    • Red Kite - One red kite seen floating over a field near Chrishall Grange, just across the county border in Essex
    • Lapwings - A flock of lapwings alongside the road near where the red kite was seen. Tried to stop for a photo but they flew away when I stopped cycling.
  • 23/12/2016
    • Sparrowhawk - flying along a line of trees next to the Cam.
    • Little Grebe - on the Cam. Not usually seen here so perhaps a winter migrant.
  • 10/12/2016 At RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes
    • Redwings
    • Fieldfares
    • Kestrel
    • Lapwings
    • Bullfinch
    • Long-tailed tits
    • Tufted ducks
  • 05/12/2016
    • Mistle Thrush - in a tree opposite the Caius boathouse.
  • 25/11/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - seen flying over King's Parade, landing on Great St. Mary's Church, waiting a while, and then flying away over Market Square.
  • 19/11/2016
    • Kestrels - beautiful close up views of many kestrels.
    • Fieldfares - flock in a hedgerow near Cambourne.
    • Lapwings - big flock in a field near Cambourne.
  • 05/11/2016
    • Lapwings - in a field somewhere near Ely.
  • 03/11/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - seen again on the Pitt building this evening. Clearly this pair are not migrating anywhere any time soon.
  • 09/10/2016
    • Red kite - seen drifting over a field near Saffron Walden whilse I was out cycling. Was not aware that red kites had spread this far.
  • 26/08/2016
    • Sparrowhawk - lone sparrowhawk, possibly a juvenile owing to brownish colour, seen fighting with a group of magpies in the garden before flying away.
  • 23/08/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Whilst working in Caius library I heard the unmistakable calls of a peregrine and rushed to the window in time to see one fly away over the university old schools building.
  • 17/07/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Pair initially heard calling to each other and then seen directly overhead swooping around in mid-air together, calling and interlocking claws. Possibly exchanging food, but it was hard to see to be sure. After a minute or two they dispersed and flew away separately.
    • Blackbirds - A large family of fledglings seen curiously investigating and foraging in the garden.
  • 17/07/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - One falcon seen flying away with something in its claws near Harvey Road.
  • 12/06/2016-08/07/2016 Santa Fe, New Mexico. More details in a coming blog post.
    • American Robin
    • Bushtit
    • Northern mockingbird
    • Curve-billed thrasher
    • Spotted towhee
    • Canyon towhee
    • Western scrub jay
    • Western wood peewee
    • Lesser goldfinch
    • Tree swallow
    • House finch
    • Pine Siskin
    • Black headed grosbeak
    • Cordilleran flycatcher
    • House wren
    • House finch
    • Broad-tailed Hummingbirds
    • Black-chinned hummingbirds
    • Northern flicker
    • Cooper's hawk
    • Northern rough-winged swallow
    • Red-winged blackbird
    • Violet-green swallow
    • Evening grosbeak
    • Bullocks oriole
    • Virginia rail
    • Brown-headed cowbird
    • Mourning dove
    • Black billed magpie
    • White breasted nuthatch
    • Raven
    • Mountain chickadee
    • Turkey vulture
    • Western bluebird
    • Common nighthawk
  • 25/05/2016
    • Marsh Harrier - Seen floating lazily over the reed beds at Earith while out on a bike ride.
    • Kestrel - Multiple kestrels seen while out on the same ride.
  • 25/05/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - My regular stake outs at the nest site in Cambridge finally produced a wonderful moment as I saw the male fly in carrying a dead pigeon, followed by both adults tumbling through the air to exchange the pigeon and the female carrying it away while the male remained and sat at the egde of the nest for a while.
  • 21/05/2016
    • Hobby - Very confident of this ID. I was out cycling amongst the farmland to the west of Cambridge when a falcon flew past nearby. It formed a dark silhouette against the sky, with extremely long, narrow, sickle-shaped wings and a short tail. I stopped immediately but it flew behind some trees and wasn't seen again. My first thought was hobby, maybe kestrel, but further research since returning home has ruled out kestrel and given me great confidence that it was indeed a hobby.
  • 19/05/2016
    • Mistle Thrushes - 3 adults seen flying overhead at the Cavendish Laboratory, identified by their rattling alarm call.
    • Goldfinches - Several sat adorably in a line along the edge of a roof at the Cavendish Laboratory.
  • 18/05/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Adult (looked like the female) seen leaving the nest site in the centre of Cambridge.
  • 16/05/2016
    • Grey wagtail - bobbing around in Gonville Court.
  • 15/05/2016 Went for a long bike ride early on this Sunday morning to the west of Cambridge and saw the following:
    • Possible Montagu's harrier - This is uncertain but it fitted every description. I have filed a report with the RSPB so we'll see what they say.
    • Kestrel - One kestrel sat on a telegraph pole next to the road looking very cold.
    • Yellowhammer - Probably a female; sat on a telegraph wire overlooking the road. Others heard singing but not seen.
    • Buzzards
    • Blackcaps - Many heard singing.
    • Willow warblers - Many heard singing.
    • Chiffchaffs - Many heard singing.
    • Whitethroats - Several seen doing their short song flight alongside the road.
    • Bullfinch - One sat on a telegraph wire next to the road.
    • Skylarks - Heard but not seen.
    • Goldfinches - Too many to mention.
  • 09/05/2016
    • House martins - first house martins of the year seen flying above Caius.
  • 07/05/2016
    • Bullfinch - one individual seen in a tree at Isle of Ely rowing club.
    • Whitethroat - one individual seen in a tree at Isle of Ely, singing constantly and occasionnally flying out from the tree whilst singing before darting back in after a few seconds.
    • Cuckoo - heard but not seen across the river from Isle of Ely rowing club.
    • Sedge warbler - heard along the river in the reed beds.
    • Reed warbler - heard along the river in the reed beds.
  • 06/05/2016
    • Blackcap - heard singing in a nearby tree at the Cavendish lab so I stopped for a while to look for it. I did eventially see it and even took this audio recording of its song.
  • 05/05/2016
    • Whilst eating lunch by the pond behind the Cavendish Laboratory (University of Cambridge Physics department) I saw or heard the following species:
    • Long-tailed tits - a pair visibly collecting large numbers of insects in their beaks before flying off purposefully in the same direction and returning moments later. They must have a nest with nestlings nearby.
    • Blackcap - several singing nearby.
    • Swallows
    • Chiffchaffs
    • Chaffinches
    • Great tits
    • Robin - came and watched me while I ate for a while.
    • Wren
    • Moorhen
    • Blackbird
    • Grey wagtail
    • Carrion crow
  • 04/05/2016
    • Blackcap - again heard singing as I sat in the grad room of the Caius library.
  • 03/05/2016
    • Blackcap - heard singing somewhere outside from the grad room in Caius library.
    • Swift - first swift of the summer seen above the garden at Harvey Road.
  • 27/04/2016
    • Goldcrest - singing it's heart out in the garden ay 5:30.
  • 26/04/2016
    • Grey wagtail - a couple of individuals seen along the river Cam below Baitsbite lock.
  • 25/04/2016
    • Goldfinch - heard singing in the Caius master's garden from my spot in the Caius library.
  • 24/04/2016
    • Coal tits - Pair of adults seen in the tree outside my window; one fluttering its winds constantly whilst the other went to and fro bring back food for the former.
  • 23/04/2016
    • Goldfinches - Seen in the garden behind the houses of parliament.
    • Ring-necked parakeets - Seen in Kensington Gardens.
  • 16/04/2016
    • Blackcap - Heard singing but not seen in the garden of Harvey Road. Required reference to my "Bird Sounds on CD" album in order to confirm the identification.
  • 16/04/2016
    • Willow warblers - Pair of willow warblers watched in the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens, appropriately enough in a willow tree. Male seen singing.
    • Chiffchaffs - Pair of Chiffchaffs seen in a small bush in the Botanic Gardens. Male seen singing.
    • Greater spotted woodpecker - Female seen at the top of a very tall tree in the Botanic Gardens.
    • Buzzard - Random buzzard flew overhead while I was walking in the Botanic gardens.
  • 07/04/2016
    • Willow warbler - Seen and heard singing in the tree at the front of the Harvey Road house.
  • 07/04/2016
    • Willow warblers - Several heard singing along the banks of the Cam.
  • 07/04/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Another confirmed sighting finally. Floating lazily over John Lewis and Emmanuel college in Cambridge, to widespread panic among nearby sparrows.
    • Swallow - first swallow of the summer seen by the river in Ely.
  • 07/04/2016
    • Possible Peregrine - Heard calling on Regent Street, near where I have seen the peregrine before, and where there are often large flocks of panicked pigeons. Unfortunately didn't have time to stop and confirm the source of the calls.
    • Chiffchaffs - Heard in the centre of Cambridge by the mill pond for the first time this year.
  • 03/04/2016
    • Possible Marsh Harrier - Seen flying over the river near Ely. Originally assumed it was a buzzard but then realised that the wings held in a V shape and lazy flapping were more characteristic of a marsh harrier, which are not that uncommon in the area.
    • Chiffchaffs - Lots of chiffchaffs heard singing, which must all have recently arrived from Africa.
  • 02/04/2016
    • Possible Hobby - Some sort of falcon seen flying over the river near Littleport. Initially assumed it was a kestrel but it gave the impression of being too long in the wing for a kestrel, which made me question this assumption. Its flight seemed to have an unusually high rate of flapping for its fairly steady forward pace. Seemed very dark in colour, although seen against the sky so hard to be sure. These factors led me to think it might have been a hobbby, which are known to nest in the fens and like wetland areas like the river.
    • Willow Warbler - First of the year, heard singing, appropriately in a willow tree, by the marina in Ely.
    • peregrine - Seen flying low over the river between Ely and Littleport.
    • Goldfinches - Large charm seen up close outside Ely.
  • 01/04/2016
    • Goldcrest - heard singing and seen flying between trees in the back garden of Harvey Road.
  • 27/03/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Another possible sighting from my window. Large falcon-shaped bird flying lazily near a panicked flock of pigeons.
    • Chiffchaff - First of the summer heard singing near Toft outside of Cambridge.
  • 21/03/2016
    • Greenfinch - Seen in the garden of Harvey Road. First one in a while. Somehow less common than goldfinches.
  • 21/03/2016
    • Ring-necked parakeets - many parakeets seen by the Tideway in London. Not rare there but somehow still amazing to me.
  • 20/03/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - Seen from my window on Harvey Road flying away being mobbed by a crow.
    • Buzzard - seen from train to Ely at about 8am.
  • 19/03/2016
    • Little egret - 2 adults seen along the river bank upstream of Ely.
    • Skylark - one heard singing upstream of Ely.
  • 18/03/2016
    • Mistle thrush - Heard singing near the Caius sports field on Barton road. Distinguished by repeated "phrases" as opposed to song thrush's repeated "words".
  • 15/03/2016
    • Goldcrest - Heard singing in the garden of Harvey Road.
    • Goldfinches - Decent sized charm seen at the front and back of Harvey Road house.
  • 15/03/2016
    • Treecreeper - 2 treecreepers in the same tree next to the Jesus Green Lido. One (female?) higher up the tree than the other.
  • 13/03/2016
    • Goldfinches - several charms seen throughout the day.
    • Reed buntings - several pairs seen in the fog by the river in Ely at about 8am.
    • Sparrowhawk - One seen at junction of station road by the botanic gardens.
    • Mistle thrush - One seen feeding on the ground in the meadow to the west of the botanic gardens.
    • Goldcrests - Heard singing and seen in the conifer across the road from the Leys school.
    • Long-tailed tits - Seen up close in the fog in Ely.
    • Song thrushes - Many heard singing in Ely in the morning.
  • 07/03/2016
    • Peregrine falcon - One adult (possibly female owing to size) seen flying to, resting on, and then flying away from the Pitt Building in Cambridge, opposite Fitzbillies.

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