This page shows my month by month sightings for last year, 2016. For current sightings see the 2017 web page.

 

 

To find out what birds have been seen recently in the county of Hertfordshire, visit the Herts Bird Club website. What follows relates to my own "local patch" wildlife sightings for last year, 2016.

 See my photos and hear my stories on the Royston Wildlife Blog! The blog went live in January 2015 and offers a more detailed account of my wildlife sightings, both on my "local patch" (separate post for each month) and in the rest of the UK (again a separate post for each month). Admire or ridicule my photos, help me to identify species or simply enjoy the read! The blog can be found at: roystonwildlife.blogspot.co.uk.

The page below gives a brief account of the wildlife that I saw locally in 2016, with most recent sightings at the top of the page.

December 2016

December got off to a good start, as I finally saw the resident short-eared owl at Greys Farm, hunting at dusk, on the 1st. However, despite further sightings by others, I missed out on seeing the wintering hen harrier. At least two bramblings were still present in Fox Covert on a foggy day on the 6th. A long walk, taking in Hatchpen, Wisbridge Farm (two marsh tits again), Therfield and the Icknield Way on the 14th, produced 49 bird species recorded (48 seen), my best total of the year. The highlight was a further sighting of a merlin (a male, seen in flight and perched) in the fields between Duckpuddle Bush and the Icknield Way, where I had my previous two sightings of this bird. Fieldfares were everywhere in small groups and at least 10 corn buntings were present in a huge mixed flock of several hundred birds, mainly comprising skylarks, linnets and yellowhammers, at Hay Farm. A covey of six grey partridges, a flock of 170+ linnets and eight buzzards (seven in the air and one sitting on a hedge) were all seen close to Royston Hospital on the 22nd, when a stoat made a brief appearance at Greys Farm. The final bird of note for 2016 was a barn owl, seen hunting over Greys Farm at dusk on the 27th. With no new species to be added to my 'local patch' bird list in December, I finished with 85 species, one more than my previous best. The species seen, in alphabetical order, were as follows:

 Blackbird, Blackcap, Brambling, Bullfinch, Common Buzzard, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Canada Goose, Greenfinch, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Grey Heron, Jackdaw, Jay, Kestrel, Red Kite, Lapwing, Skylark, Linnet, Magpie, Mallard, House Martin, Merlin, Moorhen, Nightingale, Nuthatch, Ring Ouzel, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Grey Partridge, Red-legged Partridge, Peregrine, Pheasant, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Meadow Pipit, Golden Plover, Raven, Redstart, Redwing, Robin, Rook, Siskin, House Sparrow, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stonechat, Swallow, Swift, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Wheatear, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Wren, Yellowhammer.

November 2016

I made a number of visits onto The Heath early in the month, looking for owls, but without success. With the coming of the first cold weather of the autumn bird activity increased, with 45 species being recorded both on long walks to Reed (8th) and to Therfield (15th) and 47 species being recorded on a long walk incorporating both villages on the 24th. Up to three bramblings were seen on three occasions at Park Farm (Therfield), but otherwise obvious winter visitors were restricted to the various thrushes and the three core species of gulls (black-headed, common and lesser black-backed) that make the fields around Royston their daytime home at this time of year. An unidentified butterfly was seen in warm weather on the 15th, when a small flock of golden plover was also recorded. With the possible exception of kingfisher, dipper is just about the least likely UK breeding species of bird that I would expect to see in the Royston area which, with the exception of a few farm ponds, is completely 'dry'. However, a report of a bird at Wellhead Spring in Bassingbourn, which is just three miles (as the dipper flies) from my home, on the 15th attracted my interest and I paid a visit the following morning. I saw the bird twice briefly in flight but was unable to get a view of it perched, or a photograph, so couldn't confirm whether the bird was 'our' race or the continental black-bellied dipper, which sometimes turns up in Eastern England in the winter. Bassingbourn is just 'over the border' in Cambridgeshire. I subsequently learnt that the dipper was of the UK race and had been present in the area since April, but the news had been suppressed. The nearest dipper breeding sites are, as far as I am aware, in the Peak District over 100 miles away so wherever this bird has come from it is definitely off course! Also seen at the site were two very faded common darter dragonflies. Nineteen golden plover flew over the Icknield Way on the 22nd and a nuthatch was heard in the Green Walk Plantation at the bottom of my road on the 22nd and 24th. A visit to Wisbridge Farm (Reed) on the 24th produced sightings of marsh tit (at least two birds in different locations) and a treecreeper. A hen harrier was seen on the Icknield Way mid-month by Sue Shewan. I visited this area on 4-5 occasions during the second half of the month but had no sightings of this bird or of any wintering owls. However, on the 24th I was lucky enough to see a merlin hunting a small bird (chaffinch?) near Duckpuddle Bush. The small bird had a lucky escape because, having had one grab at it, the merlin (presumably) saw me and immediately flew away very rapidly, diving behind a hedgerow. I saw a merlin in almost exactly the same place a year beforehand: perhaps this was the same bird. A small flock of six bramblings was seen at an otherwise very quiet Fox Covert on the 29th. On the 30th I walked up to Hawkins Wood, which is on the Icknield Way between Therfield and Sandon, coming back via Kelshall village. Four marsh tits were seen, three on the Icknield Way between Therfield village and Hawkins Wood and the fourth on the outskirts of Kelshall. The star bird of the day was, however, found at Kelshall village pond - a male mandarin duck! I've never seen a mandarin on my local patch before and, although I couldn't rule out the possibility of it being an 'escape', it behaved like a wild bird when I approached it! The bird was unringed, as can be seen from my photograph on the blog.

October 2016

October started where September had ended, with settled weather and above average temperatures. Nearly all the summer visitors had departed, the exception being a handful of chiffchaffs. With winter visitors still to arrive the area was quiet. A huge (unprecedented?) arrival of yellow-browed warblers had occurred in recent weeks and some of these had headed inland, with one turning up at RSPB Fowlmere in South Cambridgeshire, just a few miles away. I heard what sounded like a 'YBW' in a thick hedge near the reservoir at Wicker Hall, near Royston Hospital, on the early evening of the 3rd. However, after calling twice the bird disappeared and, in the absence of visual proof, I could not confirm its identity. Yellow-browed warblers' calls are similar to those of coal tits, which are quite common in the area although they prefer (usually coniferous) trees to hedges. An unsolved mystery! An over-flying siskin nearby on the 4th was an unusual sighting and a 'devil's coach horse' beetle was seen on The Heath on the same day. A painted lady butterfly, in excellent condition, was a surprise sighting near the hospital on the 6th, when the first local redwings of the autumn were also seen. A walk up to and around Therfield on the 10th produced more redwings (30+), a flock of 63 lapwings and a large covey of 14 grey partridge. Stonechats were moving through our region in the middle of the month: one was reported on The Heath (Tony Cobb) on the 17th and I saw three there when I visited on the 21st. I saw another stonechat at Hatchpen Farm on the 19th. There was much bird activity along and on either side of the Icknield Way on the morning of the 21st. A female brambling was my first local sighting of this species in 2016, at least 4 species of gull were in the fields and large flocks of lapwings (94) and starlings (150+) were moving around. Whilst redwings (mostly just passing through) had become fairly common by mid-month, fieldfares only started appearing from the 21st, when a flock of 30+ birds flew over my garden. A short-eared owl was seen on The Heath late in the month by Tony Cobb.

September 2016

 

I continued photographing butterflies on The Heath until the 2nd. After returning from a week's holiday I found that all the 'blues' had, with the exception of a couple of very tatty common blues, finished although good numbers of 'fresh' comma, small tortoiseshell and (especially) red admiral butterflies were on the wing, with one ivy bush near Wicker Hall hosting nine of the latter on the morning of the 13th. A clouded yellow was seen heading up the Icknield Way towards Therfield, also on the 13th. With temperatures getting up to 30oC in the middle of the month, bird activity and movement was pretty much at a standstill, although several warblers were feeding in hedges and trees along the Icknield Way early on the 11th, following a rare day of rain. These included at least two (presumably migratory) willow warblers and my first local garden warbler of the year. I did hear both tawny and little owls close to the house at night between the 10th and the 12th (sleeping with the windows open because of the heat!) and I flushed a little owl (probably one of the Park Farm breeding birds) from a hedge on the Icknield Way on the 12th. A large flock of gulls 'following the plough' at Greys Farm on the same morning contained at least one herring gull (the vast majority were lesser black-backs, with several juvenile birds suggesting that this species had had yet another good breeding year). Another clouded yellow was seen near Reed on the 22nd, when I went on a long walk. Also seen were my first local peregrine of the year, in a field on Park Farm (Therfield), and a wheatear at Hatchpen Farm, where a shoot was in progress following the recent release of some thousands of red-legged partridges. Visible migration was much in evidence, with small groups of swallows passing me and heading south at regular intervals. I must have seen over 100 meadow pipits on the walk, including a flock of some 65 individuals - also heading south. For a second time in a few weeks I had a brief, tantalising glimpse of a small, dashing raptor with long, thin wings passing by me and disappearing almost immediately. This was very likely a hobby, but I didn't get good enough views to be sure. I also finally solved a perplexing problem: on my walks in the previous few weeks I had on a few occasions seen an orange brown insect, resembling a small fritillary butterfly, fly up from a hedge, swirl around me for a few seconds and then disappear without trace into the same or another hedge. At last I was able to pin one of these insects down (metaphorically) and take a photograph, which revealed it to be a vapourer moth. So now I know! Having been told (David Hatton) that grey wagtails had bred in or close to Royston town centre I went looking for them on the 23rd. Having drawn a blank in town I went to the old cricket pitch near the Sporting Club on Therfield Heath, which is an excellent spot for pied wagtails. Amongst the 30 or so pied wagtails I found feeding there (on the abundant craneflies?) I was surprised to find another species of wagtail, not grey but yellow! At least two individuals were present. A return visit to The Heath in the early evening of the 27th provided further evidence of visible migration, as I watched a party of some 60 house martins and 10 swallows moving very slowly south, feeding on the abundant insect life on another warm day. Also seen were at least 50 pied wagtails (no yellow wagtails this time) on the old cricket pitch, together with 25+ meadow pipits and 10+ linnets. A cormorant (my first local sighting of the year) flew over. A covey of 8 grey partridges was seen nearby at Greys Farm. By the end of the month butterfly activity was coming to an end, with just a handful of red admirals and one or two commas, small whites and speckled woods still on the wing. On the last day of the month a flock of 26 golden plover was seen over Park Farm, although it was unclear whether these were winter visitors or just passing through.

 

August 2016

Holidays took me away from Royston for a good part of August. Whilst I was at home I concentrated on photographing butterflies on Therfield Heath, in particular second generation common blues and brown argus. See my blog for some images of these and other butterflies. After a warm, dry July the weather had became unsettled again at the start of August. Peacock butterflies were seen again on the wing, after a long absence, but chalkhill blues (both male and female) were starting to look increasingly tatty. Unusual butterfly sightings included a clouded yellow, flying at great speed across The Heath on the 26th, and a fresh-looking brown argus seen on a neighbour's front lawn - goodness knows where it had come from! As butterfly activity faded towards the end of what eventually turned out to be a very warm and sunny month I started 'local patch' walks again, looking for interesting birds (including passage migrants). I struggled in this respect, but did manage to record 40 species on a long walk on the 17th, highlights including a spotted flycatcher seen less than half a mile from my house, five yellow wagtails in a sheep field at Hatchpen Farm (evidence of breeding here) and a flock of 17 Lapwings in a field near Reed End. Spotted flycatchers were seen on a number of other occasions at different locations, with at least six (mainly juveniles) being seen at Church Hill on the 15th. However, no passage migrants (such as wheatears and whinchats) were seen or reported in my area during the month. 

July 2016

My feeders proved very popular in late June and July, with frequent visits from families of blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, goldfinches and starlings. House sparrows, chaffinches and greenfinches also visited and I was pleased to see a song thrush (a rare garden visitor) getting rid of a handful of the many garden snails. A juvenile great spotted woodpecker was also seen on one occasion. The suet balls proved particularly attractive to many birds and, with starlings and jackdaws finding them very much to their liking, these quickly disappeared. I was intrigued to watch starlings feeding their young with suet taken from the feeders - at one point four young were being fed by two adults. After a cloudy and at times cold, wet June there was some improvement in the weather in the first week of July and things started to stir on The Heath. I found a male chalkhill blue near the Therfield Road on the 2nd: surprisingly, it turned out to be the first of this species to be reported nationally in 2016! Dark green fritillary numbers increased, with at least six being seen to the east of the Therfield Road on the 6th, whilst marbled whites and meadow browns became abundant during this period and I enjoyed many hours trying (and failing) to get the perfect photo of a perched specimen of the former on the 4th, 6th and 8th during a concentrated week of insect photography. The first white letter hairstreaks were seen at the usual location on the Icknield Way on the 6th, when the first gatekeepers were also seen. Bizarrely, first generation brown argus and common blue butterflies were still present (albeit looking rather tatty) on The Heath during the first week of July, shortly before the second generation was supposed to emerge! A couple of late evening owl hunts confirmed successful breeding of tawny owls on both the Newsells Stud Farm and Park Farm (Therfield) - little owls also had young at the latter site. A tawny owl was also hooting in the Burloes Farm area early in the month. No quails were heard on these occasions, but plenty of bats were seen in flight. After a poor spring for butterflies July offered much warmer, sunnier weather. Chalkhill blues on Therfield Heath peaked at a few hundred (an average year) and by the end of the month second generation brown argus and common blue butterflies were starting to appear. I discovered a 'new' (they have probably been there for centuries) white-letter hairstreak colony near Therfield village on the 28th. Migrant and southern hawker dragonflies were also emerging by the month's end and I saw several on a (very) long walk from my home via Therfield, Odsey and Litlington on the 28th, when 17 species of butterfly were also encountered. My macro lens worked overtime towards the end of the month as I looked to get decent photos of butterflies on The Heath. Many birds were skulking in the undergrowth and moulting - even the feeders in the garden were being neglected as July came to an end. Swifts are being recorded throughout the UK this year as part of a survey for this declining species. I did my bit by recording Royston's swifts, which hopefully included at least some fledged young, on the evening of the 18th. It's very hard to get a precise figure for these birds as they wheel about the various sites in the old town, where they nest, but I came up with an estimate of 110 individuals. A 'crest' was heard on at least two occasions in the Fox Covert area, but I was unable to see the bird and therefore confirm whether or not it was the firecrest that was present throughout the spring. To my ears, the songs of goldcrest and firecrest are very similar and I can't differentiate between the two unless they are singing together. I guess I'm lucky that I can hear them at all - their vocalisations are out of the hearing range of some of my friends and colleagues. With the start of harvesting operations the first returning lesser black-backed gulls of the autumn were sighted locally at the end of the month. 

 June 2016

 After the excitement of bird passage and arrival in April and May, June is usually a quiet month in which my attentions turn to other wildlife, including insects and plants. However, exceptionally cold, dull and windy weather in the first five days of June grounded insects and discouraged me from getting out and about. Despite the cold weather local birds managed some breeding success, with families of blue tits and great tits very active about the garden feeders and recently fledged goldfinches (with their plain heads) much in evidence. A barn owl (my first local bird of the year) was seen briefly at Greys Farm on the 6th. Warmer weather in the second week stirred the insects into life, with several "second generation" (hibernated as caterpillars) speckled wood butterflies seen on The Heath (the first generation speckled woods, which hibernate as chrysalises, didn't appear at all in the spring). Also seen were a few male common blues and some rather tatty brown argus and small heath butterflies. The first meadow brown butterflies were seen on The Heath on the 16th, when 8 common spotted orchids were found at the usual site. A dusk walk to my closest tawny owl site on the 14th was rewarded with the hissing, begging calls of at least one youngster, although no owls were seen. On the way back, several ghost moths (male and female) were observed (this very common moth sometimes reaches plague proportions in the fields surrounding my estate). After their first appearance on The Heath (Church Hill) for at least 10 years in 2015, fragrant orchids were seen again in the same area, but this time in larger numbers, in the second half of the month. At least a dozen bee orchids were present on Church Hill during the same period. Whilst all the plants on open ground had the same, 'typical', pattern, one bee orchid in a shady area on the edge of Fox Covert had very different-looking flowers (see my blog for images). In 2014 several bee orchids were present in this shady area and all had 'atypical' flowers, presumably because of the influence of their location and/or the soil conditions. An addition to the usual collection of orchids on Therfield Heath was a white (presumably) common spotted orchid, seen on the old rifle range. Butterflies were rather late in emerging, almost certainly as a consequence of the rather cold, wet spring in this area, but I saw my first marbled white butterflies on the 24th. The first ringlet, large skipper and dark green fritillary butterflies were all seen on The Heath on the last day of the month.

May 2016

Let's hear it for the Royston nightingale! For the 4th consecutive spring this bird turned up in bushes behind the Tesco filling station, where its beautiful song could just about be heard above the din of traffic on the adjacent A505. What an amazing feat of navigation for the bird (and I assume that it is the same one) to return to exactly the same spot year after year, after flying thousands of miles from Sub-Saharan Africa! We know from ringing studies that many species are incredibly loyal to specific sites, but what makes this bird so special is that the nearest regular nightingale breeding sites are many miles away. Has he ever found a partner? He usually sings until the end of May, suggesting that his gorgeous song has been ignored. I wish him luck this time, particularly as I paid a dusk visit on the 10th to his bushes and was lucky enough to see him for a few seconds, the first time I have seen, as opposed to heard, a nightingale (just!) in Hertfordshire. A very warm, settled spell of weather at the start of the month resulted in the arrival of our remaining summer visitors, a little earlier than usual. Swifts were back in town by the 3rd, spotted flycatchers were back at Fox Covert by the 8th (where the firecrest continued to sing) and 7 house martins were flying over the only breeding area that I am aware of in town on the 10th. Two days later they were flying into and out of (last year's?) nests. On the evening of the 5th I visited Reed village, where barn owls have been regularly reported, and identified a nesting site where two owls were recorded. A tawny owl was hooting nearby, but there was no sign of the little owls. Orange tip, small and green-veined white, brimstone, small tortoiseshell, peacock and holly blue (including a regular male in my garden, where both their food plants occur) butterflies were regularly seen on the wing during the first half of the month, but there was no sign of speckled woods or commas. On the 19th a long walk produced 52 recorded bird species, including my second local sedge warbler of the spring (heard singing at Reed End). The date is rather late for this species to be on migration, so maybe it had decided to stay in the thick hedge and sing for a mate - I wish it luck! With bird migration complete I switched my attention later in the month to looking for interesting nesting birds, orchids, butterflies and other insects. On the 23rd a walk across The Heath produced my first 2016 sightings of brown argus butterfly and common lizard (both on Church Hill) and the male firecrest was still present, singing and collecting insects. It seems very likely that this bird is nesting, although I was unable to track down the nest site at the time or on the following day, when two spotted flycatchers were seen in the same area (near the Therfield Road). The first small heath butterflies (several) were seen on The Heath on the 24th and a male common blue butterfly was seen on the old rifle range on the 26th, along with several (mainly female) brown argus butterflies. Holly blue butterflies were very common, but comma and speckled wood butterflies continued to be noticeable by their absence until the month's end.White helleborines were flowering in Fox Covert, from or before the 23rd. Active green and great spotted woodpecker nest holes were found near my home on the 30th. 

April 2016

A male siskin made a brief appearance at my bird feeders on the evening of the 1st. This bird, which was presumably passing through Royston on migration, was my first garden sighting for 3 years. April is arguably the most exciting month of the year for local bird sightings, as passage migrants stop off for short periods in the area and summer visitors arrive. As a period of intensive study kept me close to home in the first half of the month I was out walking on most days and found some good birds, starting with a male firecrest which was seen at Fox Covert, on the edge of the Therfield Road, on the 2nd and stayed throughout the rest of the month, allowing other local bird watchers to connect with it. This was the third firecrest that I have found locally in the last 10 years (no others have been reported during this time) and it was in exactly the same location as the first one! I encountered my first swallows and willow warblers of the year, both in Reed, during a long walk on the 5th when I recorded an impressive 52 species of bird. A little owl, seen in the "Alpaca Field" off the Barkway Road on the outskirts of Royston on the 7th, was my first Royston sighting for 2 years. These owls have been seen at this location in the past and this bird was perched on what I had assumed was a kestrel box (a kestrel was seen here earlier in the year), so I will be watching events with interest in the coming weeks. Also of note on the 7th was a pair of nuthatches, seen only a few hundred metres from my home. A walk across The Heath on the 14th proved eventful as I found both a male redstart and a male ring ouzel at Greys Farm (near the water tower). Both birds are passage migrants through our area, with ring ouzels being an annual visitor whereas redstarts are only occasional visitors. I also saw and/or heard 3 willow warblers (almost certainly on passage, since there is no suitable habitat left for these birds on The Heath following the destruction wrought by The Conservators and "Natural England", who seem intent on turning The Heath into a bowling green). A swallow was also at Greys Farm, a stoat was chasing rabbits here and several blackcaps were singing. My first lesser whitethroat of the year was found on the Icknield Way in Royston on the 18th and was followed by several others seen and/or heard locally on the 19th and 20th, but whitethroats were late arriving, with just a single bird seen near Reed End on the 20th. However, by the end of the month whitethroats had established several territories along the Icknield Way. A little owl was again seen at Park Farm (Therfield) during a long walk on the 20th, but unfortunately this bird had lost one eye. It appeared to otherwise be in good condition, but its long term survival chances must be low. Another ring ouzel (this time a female) was seen at Greys Farm: several birds were reported in the local area by others. Strangely, despite a very good and protracted passage of ring ouzels this spring, wheatears have been in short supply with none seen by me locally in April. A male yellow wagtail was back at Hatchpen Farm on the 20th and this or another male was seen in the area on two later visits, but there was no evidence of any females.. The long-eared owls, which had been roosting at a local site through the winter, finally departed during April. Two dead common shrews were noted on paths close to my home on the 22nd. Cold weather from the 21st reduced butterfly activity to practically zero, but an orange tip was seen in Therfield on the 19th and two unidentified "whites" were seen in flight on the 20th. A sedge warbler, seen and heard at Hatchpen on the 29th, may have been making its way to RSPB Fowlmere, just up the road.

March 2016

Surprisingly, a male sparrowhawk seen close to the centre of Royston on the 2nd was my first local sighting of this species in 2016. A trip to Fox Covert and surrounding woodland on the 4th produced my first local treecreepers and nuthatches (two of each) of the year. A long walk, taking in Reed, Barkway, Newsells and Barley on the 7th, produced more nuthatches (thinly distributed on my local patch) and a large, unidentified, first winter (probably herring) gull seen in flight, but little else of interest. A short-eared owl was again seen at the north end of Greys Farm towards dusk on the 10th. A bullfinch was seen near the house on the 15th and there were regular sightings from the garden of red kite and buzzard. A sparrowhawk was soaring over the woodland at the bottom of my road on the 22nd, when a walk onto The Heath produced huge numbers of skylarks and meadow pipits, the latter already engaging in display flights. Lapwings were also displaying on Greys Farm. Spring migrants were late, held up by poor weather in Southern Europe and a blocking high pressure system over the UK. However, I saw my first singing chiffchaff in Reed village on the 25th, as I walked round my "local patch". On the walk (46 species recorded) I was also lucky enough to see little owls at the two breeding sites (one in Reed, one in Therfield) that I am aware of in my local area. I am not aware of any sites in Royston now; one former site is occupied today by a new housing development. A brimstone butterfly was seen close to the house as I returned from the walk. Chiffchaffs were back in big numbers by the end of the month, with one seen at the side of the house on the 28th and two singing in nearby woods on the following day. A wheatear was reported on The Heath on the 26th and I saw two (a male and a female) when I visited the Old Rifle Range on the morning of the 29th. A blackcap was singing locally on the 31st, when several small tortoiseshell butterflies were recorded.

February 2016

I returned from holiday on the 11th and, six hours after my return, ventured up the Icknield Way to get some exercise. I heard shooting in the direction of Greys Farm and was surprised to find, when I arrived there, at least 3 and probably 4 short-eared owls hunting over the farm. At least one of the birds was calling: the first time that I've ever heard a short-eared owl! On two subsequent visits I failed to see any trace of the owls and I couldn't find any reports of the birds in the area, so I can only imagine that they had been flushed by the shooting. A long walk on the 17th produced 46 recorded species 

but nothing of great interest, unless you count five Canada geese (rare in the Royston area!) grazing the edge of a newly-dug small lake to the south of Reed End. A male blackcap was still coming to the garden feeders and a friend on my estate mentioned that some unwanted bacon, put out for the birds in his garden, had been taken by a red kite! Given how low the kites fly over my estate I suspect that he may not be the only one who is (intentionally or otherwise) feeding them! Later in the month a low-flying kite was seen on a number of occasions from my garden.

On the 25th I walked from my house along the Icknield Way to Hawkins Wood, a Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust reserve located between Therfield and Sandon. To the south of Therfield I encountered a tawny owl in a bush, being furiously mobbed by a variety of birds including a bullfinch and a marsh tit! I rarely see tawny owls during the day, but this is the second time recently that I have found one as a result of being attracted to its presence by mobbing birds. Another marsh tit was recorded between Therfield and Sandon, suggesting that a fairly healthy population of this species occurs along the ridge between Barkway and Baldock, even though I've only ever seen one within a two mile radius of my Royston home. I returned via Kelshall, recording 46 bird species during the nine mile walk.

January 2016

 I ventured out locally for the first time on the morning of the 4th, wandering up onto The Heath. My walk was quite productive, with 31 species seen including reed bunting and meadow pipit. On my return, I found a variety of birds in the garden including a male blackcap (my first of the winter) which visited the fat balls and feeders. Jackdaws were devouring the fat balls at a great rate and a great spotted woodpecker paid a visit. In all, 15 species were seen in the garden in an hour but I couldn't tempt a redwing in a neighbouring tree to land, despite putting out some chopped up apples on the lawn to lure it in. Blackcaps continued to use my garden. At first I thought that a single male was visiting, until I saw two males together. I then started to puzzle about why only males had visited my garden over the years when a female blackcap appeared! With Alan Beale reporting two blackcaps in his garden a mile away it appears that a mini-invasion of this species has occurred in Royston! I was surprised on the 7th to see a flock of about 150 linnets going to roost near Royston station - presumably they had been feeding on wild flower seeds beside or near the railway line. A "there and back" walk up to Hatchpen Farm on the 8th provided me with an amazing five species of gull in a single field on the Newsells Stud Farm! In addition to the usual black-headed, common and lesser black-backed gulls at least two adult or near-adult herring gulls (a rare species locally) were present and a large immature bird was later identified from a photograph (see my blog) as a yellow-legged gull. I also saw my first corn buntings of the year at Hatchpen. A tawny owl was hooting in the Green Walk Plantation on the evening of the 10th. A very long walk taking in Therfield, Wisbridge Farm and Reed on the 13th provided me with 48 recorded species. Highlights included a marsh tit and chiffchaff in Reed and around 40 corn buntings with 80 yellowhammers along the hedge that leads from the Icknield Way towards Duckpuddle Bush. However, the undoubted highlight of the walk was a sighting of at least two long-eared owls, accidentally disturbed at a roost site. This was my first sighting of long-eared owls anywhere for two years and the first time I have seen two or more together since they stopped roosting on islands at Fisher's Green in Essex many years ago. To avoid disturbance I will not mention the location of this roost site. Further highlights in January included a stonechat (1st winter male) seen on the golf course at Therfield Heath on the 14th and a pair of ravens seen in the Fox Covert area on the 18th. I was alerted to the latter by a strange call that sounded not unlike a cross between somebody snoring and a pig grunting. Only when the bird making these strange noises took to the air did I recognise it as a Raven. These birds are becoming increasingly regular in the Royston area. Given the time of year they may have been looking for suitable nesting sites - I wonder whether they will attempt to breed locally? I was on holiday from the 20th, but I understand that little happened on the wildlife front during my absence.