Considering the lack of water in the Royston area, it supports a wide variety of birdlife.

 

Four hundred years ago King James 1 and his entourage could have been seen hunting on Therfield Heath for Wild Boar and Great Bustards. Sadly the Bustards have long since gone, as have the Corncrakes, Stone Curlews, Red-backed Shrikes and Hooded Crows that were once common here (Hooded Crows gave rise to a derogatory description of us Roystoners and are still referred to in the name of a local paper, the "Royston Crow").

Nevertheless, Royston and its surrounds still support a wide variety of birdlife. Farmland birds, such as Yellowhammers and Linnets, are doing well here and the rapidly-declining Corn Bunting still has a foothold in the farmland surrounding the town, as do summer visitors such as Yellow Wagtail and Lesser Whitethroat. Sensitive countryside management, in particular at Greys Farm to the south-west of the town, has also led to a big increase in Grey Partridge numbers. On the other side of the A10, large numbers of Red-legged Partridges are released each year for shooting, so my 'local patch' is probably the best in the country for seeing both our partridge species! The grain which the Partridges and Pheasants feed on also attracts mice and voles, which in turn encourages raptors such as Kestrels, Owls and Buzzards. Short-eared Owls are an almost annual winter visitor to the area, whilst there is a roost of Long-eared Owls in some winters. In common with many other nearby sites, Red Kites have now become easy to find and, with the occasional appearance of Marsh Harriers in the early autumn and Hen Harriers in the winter, I reckon that The Royston area is the best site for viewing raptors (particularly in winter) in the Home Counties! Small numbers of Lapwings breed on the ridge between Barkway and Weston.

Not surprisingly, water birds are in short supply here. However, the area is an important stopping off point for migrating birds (especially wheatears, redstarts and ring ouzels) heading north in the spring. Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs all breed in the area but sadly Willow Warblers, common until very recently on The Heath, no longer breed here due a combination of factors including poor habitat management. The area between Royston and Baldock is the best in the country for seeing or (more likely) hearing Common Quail.

Since I started bird watching on my 'local patch' I've found quite a few rare birds, including at least four Firecrests, a Rough-legged Buzzard, several Yellow-legged Gulls and, most recently, a 'trip' of four Dotterel in April 2017. Other rare birds that have been found locally in recent years include Great Grey Shrike (which over-wintered for two consecutive years in the Therfield area), Red-backed Shrike and Montagu's Harrier. My 'local patch' bird list currently (October 2017) stands at 119 and I'm confident that it will expand, albeit slowly, over the coming years. For recent sightings and a list of the birds that I have seen within a 2 mile (3 km) radius of my home in south Royston, see "What's About?" for the current year.