This page shows my month by month sightings for the current year, 2018. The most recent sightings are at the top of the page. For last year's 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 the current year, 2018.

 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). I update roughly fortnightly and delete posts after 15-18 months. 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 2018, with most recent sightings at the top of the page.

November 2018

The stonechat was still present on The Heath on the 1st and had been joined by another, which seemed to be making it very happy as they both whizzed around near the rugby pitch, despite very dull weather and persistent rain. The following morning I came back with my camera, hoping to get some stonechat photographs in the sunshine. However, it took me 40 minutes to locate a single bird and it wasn't letting me anywhere near it! Later in the afternoon I walked up to Greys Farm, hoping to see short-eared owl again in calm, clear weather. However, I had to settle for seeing a distant barn owl and hearing a tawny owl near Royston Hospital as I made my way back at dusk. 

October 2018

I walked up the Icknield Way on the 1st and was lucky to see the pallid harrier again, this time from a viewpoint near the Therfield village end. The following day I walked round my local patch (Royston to Therfield to Reed to Royston), recording 41 bird species. The pallid harrier didn't put in an appearance this time, but whilst looking for it at the 'watchpoint' I saw a stoat. Otherwise it was a case of seeing the 'usual suspects'. A small copper butterfly (my first local sighting of the year - in October!) was a surprising find on Church Hill on the 4th. With the country still basking in unseasonably mild weather I also saw single common blue (male), small heath and brimstone butterflies on the wing nearby. The pallid harrier became a bit of a local celebrity, with pictures appearing in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. It stayed around until the morning of the 10th, showing very well at times. My best sighting was on the afternoon of the 7th, when it flew to within about 20 feet and appeared several times without success to take a young rabbit before moving on. Rumour (hopefully unfounded) has it that the bird was being 'baited' by photographers trying to get the 'ultimate' photograph of the harrier. I wish it well, wherever it is now. Also present a little further up the Icknield Way on the 7th were flocks of 15 corn buntings and 20 lapwings.

A tawny owl was calling very close to my house on the 3rd and a redwing (my first of the autumn) was heard passing overhead on the 7th. Other events limited time on my Local Patch in the middle of the month, but redwings and fieldfares were back in the area in big numbers by then and a flock of lapwings at Greys Farm gradually increased in number. Greys Farm was back in the local news when a ringtail hen harrier (probably a juvenile male) was reported on the 22nd. I saw it when I visited on the late afternoon of the 24th and, as a bonus, saw a short-eared owl in the same area. A barn owl was hunting in the same field as the harrier, to complete an excellent trio of raptors - Greys Farm is definitely back on form! I also found my first local golden plovers of the year at Greys farm on the 29th, when a five hour 'Local Patch' walk resulted in 49 bird species being recorded, my highest total of the year. Highlights included a covey of 15 grey partridges seen at Reed End, a cormorant seen flying over Reed cricket ground and three corn buntings seen at Greys Farm. On the following day I saw a stonechat on The Heath (at the bottom of the Old Rifle Range), taking my local sightings year list to a respectable 81 species.  

September 2018

The hottest, driest summer since 1976 continued into early September, although temperatures only reached the 'mid-20s'. The strange effect that the summer has had on our insects was summed up by almost plague proportions of speckled wood butterflies being present, not just on my local patch but everywhere, whilst the 'large browns' (especially small tortoiseshell and peacock) were virtually non-existent. How this will affect our local butterflies in future years remains to be seen. Highlights of a long walk round my 'local patch' on the 4th were a sedge warbler, heard and probably seen, on Reed End pond (which now resembles a reed bed, having hardly any open water left) and a field vole, which was seen wandering along the road near Hatchpen grainstore without a care in the world, apparently unaware of the fact that it is the favourite prey of a wide variety of mammals and birds! Although field voles are very common, I've never seen one out in the open like this before - perhaps it was diseased. At least one juvenile little grebe was still on Mardleybury Lake. In all 45 bird species were recorded on my walk, whilst a common darter dragonfly seen near Royston hospital was the 10th dragonfly species that I've seen on my 'local patch' this year. Large numbers of juvenile goldfinches were using the feeders in my garden, clearly indicating that this species has had a successful breeding season despite the low numbers of first brood juveniles that were seen in the spring. A garden warbler, seen feeding on berries along the Icknield Way on the 6th, was presumably passing through on migration, because as far as I am aware they haven't bred on my local patch for some years. On the following day I had good views of a spotted flycatcher at Church Hill. Visible migration, in the form of small groups of swallows heading south, was seen on the 10th. A migrant willow warbler was seen on the Icknield Way on the same date, when at least eight buzzards were soaring near Royston Hospital. A flock of 78 linnets was seen on wires at Greys Farm on the 12th. A few comma and small heath butterflies were seen on The Heath on the 10th, but a week later only a handful of whites were left, despite 'Indian Summer' weather.

Greys Farm and the area of land on either side of the Icknield Way between Therfield and Therfield Heath has been, in my opinion, the best spot in the Home Counties for seeing birds of prey and owls over the last 12 years. In the last couple of years, however, things have been rather quiet. That all changed on the 18th when a juvenile female pallid harrier, a 'first' for Hertfordshire, was found just north of Therfield. As luck would have it this was the day I flew out for a week's walking holiday in Mallorca, so I missed all the excitement. Amongst other species seen in the area by visiting bird watchers whilst I was away were merlin, peregrine, short-eared owl and even a corncrake! Fortunately the harrier was still around when I returned and, after a frustrating morning visit, I returned to the Greys Farm 'watchpoint' in the late afternoon of the 26th and was rewarded with several sightings of the bird, including a very close fly-by. A few butterflies were still on the wing in the warm early autumn sunshine on the 26th, including a couple of brimstones and at least one peacock, but otherwise the area was quiet.

August 2018

A morning visit to The Heath on the morning of the 1st was rewarded with a decent view of a spotted flycatcher, the first I've seen anywhere since the end of May. Plenty of butterflies were still around, although no marbled whites remained and only one very worn dark green fritillary could be found. Common blues were…. well, common. On my way home I noticed what turned out to be a female common blue nectaring on plants on a neighbour's lawn. Whilst I was looking a hummingbird hawkmoth arrived and briefly took nectar from some garden plants. I am still awaiting the arrival of either of these species in my garden! A visit to Church Hill the following evening proved to be fruitful. Whilst photographing a chalkhill blue variant I noticed a magnificent female wasp spider nearby. I've seen wasp spiders in France and Spain, but this was my first UK sighting - and on my local patch! Wasp spiders arrived in the UK about 12-15 years ago and are now fairly widespread, but are still uncommon. The males are much smaller than the females and risk being eaten when they attempt to mate. My spider appeared to be consuming a grasshopper or similar food item.

Following a week's holiday I was back on Therfield Heath on the 10th. A spotted flycatcher was again on the Old Rifle Range and several migrant hawker dragonflies were on the wing. Butterfly numbers were, predictably, falling considerably and my thoughts started to turn back towards bird watching, fuelled by finding a juvenile marsh harrier close to the Icknield Way on the 13th. Marsh harriers (adult females and juveniles) used to be regular visitors in late summer to the Chiltern Ridge that runs from Barkway in the east to Baldock in the west, but sightings had dried up in the last few years, so this was a welcome sighting. Three days later this or another juvenile bird was seen to the south of Reed village. The returning flocks of lesser black-backed gulls (which I believe come mainly from the continent) always turn up locally around harvest time. This time they brought with them a yellow-legged gull which was seen on the 16th, east of the Icknield Way at Park Farm. The little grebes were still present on Mardleybury lake and had raised at least two young to 'full size'. A final visit to Church Hill to photograph butterflies on the 17th produced only a handful of rather tired specimens - see my blog for some butterfly images taken in August.

Later in the month a rich harvest of berries, including blackberries and elderberries, proved to be irresistible for the local warblers (blackcaps, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats). On the 30th I counted at least 8 whitethroats along the Icknield Way and on the Old Rifle Range, with many juveniles suggesting a successful breeding season. A spotted flycatcher was also seen briefly on the Old Rifle Range on this date - the absence of family groups on The Heath in August suggests that the breeding attempts by this species were unsuccessful in 2018. Butterfly numbers continued to decline towards the end of the month, with only the latest generation of small heath and speckled wood butterflies 'bucking the trend'

 July 2018

With the blisteringly hot weather continuing well into July and with apparently no local or national birds of interest to find I decided to spend some time looking around the local area in late June and July for butterflies that don't occur on Therfield Heath but may be present in surrounding woodland. I started at Scales Park, near Anstey and six miles from my home. I have visited this wood 'out of season' as it is part of a walk that my partner and I regularly do. With its many rides, a good variety of deciduous trees and open aspect it seemed ideal for woodland butterflies and I was lucky to find several purple hairstreaks and silver-washed fritillaries on my visit. A big added bonus came in the form of a fly-by male purple emperor, who briefly showed off his iridescent plumage. All these species have been reported from Scales Park in the past (Andrew Wood: "Butterflies of Hertfordshire and Middlesex"), but it was great to see them fairly close to my home. Emboldened by this (re)discovery I looked in woodland closer to home. I drew a blank at Earls Wood, near Barkway, but did find several previously unreported sites of purple hairstreak in the woodland between Reed and Barkway, which incorporates good numbers of mature oak trees. It is good to know that this species is doing well within 3-4 miles of my home! I should add that the woodland in South Cambridgeshire, which I have not investigated in any detail, holds good numbers of silver-washed fritillaries (I counted 30+ at Eversden Wood on the 1st) and other woodland species, also fairly close to my home.

White-letter hairstreaks appear to have had a particularly good year in 2018 and I counted at least 5 sites along the Icknield Way between Royston and Therfield. These are known sites, so I decided to look at a few elm trees in Royston itself and discovered a further four sites - two in the Green Walk Plantation (including, rather embarrassingly, one at the bottom of my road!) and two in the Stile Plantation. Wych elms (but not oak trees!) are quite common in the Royston area, so there are doubtless many more local white-letter hairstreak sites to be discovered.... On Therfield Heath there was much insect activity. Chalkhill blues (including a mating pair), Essex skippers and gatekeepers seen on the 2nd took my 2018 Royston list up to 24 species, with just small copper (very rare) and the migrant painted lady and clouded yellow butterflies to be seen. A summer chafer beetle on the 2nd was my first ever local sighting, whilst a hummingbird hawk moth seen on the 9th was somewhat unexpected. By the 9th peacock butterflies were on the wing and an estimated 500+ chalkhill blue butterflies were spread across The Heath. A single 'first generation' female common blue was still on the wing: three days later the first second generation male common blues were sighted.

 When visiting Mardleybury Lake on the 3rd I was surprised but happy to see that the little grebes, which had been on the lake for the last two summers, had two tiny young. Huge numbers of black-tailed skimmers and common blue damselflies were around the lake and in nearby vegetation and I also saw emperor and four spotted chaser (the latter a local 'first') dragonflies. A badger was seen near Therfield at dusk on the 6th. There are lots of badger setts in the area but I rarely see the animals, even when out late in the evening. A long walk on the 12th took me to Reed, Barkway, Newsells and Barley. A few corn buntings were seen near Reed and also near Barley, whilst around 25 swifts were circling over Barley in the early evening. Swifts were also nesting again at Reed church. The following evening I did a quick survey of the swifts over Royston town centre. The swifts nest in the old buildings that remain, along a north-south axis. It is nigh impossible to get an accurate count as they swirl about and my estimate of 85 in flight was probably rather conservative. 

 Following a week's holiday I was back on The Heath from the 22nd. Numbers of chalkhill blues were falling and those that remained were starting to look a little 'tired'. Only a handful of marbled whites, skippers and dark green fritillaries remained, but numbers of second generation common blue and brown argus butterflies continued to increase, both on The Heath and in the fields between my house and Hatchpen Farm (Reed). A few 'fresh' painted ladies were on the wing on The Heath towards the end of the month. Towards the end of the month the weather became increasingly hot and oppressive and it was a relief when rain and cooler temperatures arrived over the weekend of 27-29th.  

June 2018

This year's totally bizarre weather continued as, with the exception of a couple of light showers early in the month, not a drop of rain fell in Royston in June. Furthermore, a heatwave developed with the second half of the month producing temperatures in the '80s (or, if you prefer, the high 20s Celsius). After the first few days (see below) bird activity ground to a halt and my attention turned firmly to insects.

The coal tits that had been nesting in my garden fledged at least four young early on the morning of the 1st. By the time I surfaced there was a cacophony of noise in and around the garden, as the blue tits from a neighbour's garden had fledged at least seven young on the same morning, I had two recently-fledged blackbirds hopping around the garden with their parents in attendance and a goldfinch was feeding a newly-fledged youngster in a nearby tree. The coal tits soon moved away to the woodland at the bottom of my road, but the family returned occasionally to feast on the suet blocks that had been so well-used whilst the young were in the nest. Life in the garden was very quiet without them!

The first meadow brown butterflies were seen on The Heath on the 6th, with large skippers present from the 13th and marbled whites and dark green fritillaries from the 18th. Huge numbers of small heath butterflies were present throughout (I counted 127 in the Old Rifle Range area on the 11th and 143 on the 18th). No doubt numbers would have been even higher but for the attentions of at least two pairs of common whitethroats that were nesting nearby.... Common blue and brown argus butterflies were declining in numbers, but a few of the former were present throughout the month.

By the middle of the month wild orchids were showing well, with common fragrant orchids (36 spikes seen on 13 June, including a particularly attractive white alba variant) putting on a particularly good display this year. I also counted 24 bee orchids and 12 common spotted orchids on the 13th, by which time the white helleborines in Fox Covert (which also put on a good show in late May) had just about finished. Several colonies of white-letter hairstreak butterflies were on the wing (or, at least, flitting around the tops of elm trees) along the Icknield Way on the 22nd, when the first local ringlets and small skippers of the year were also seen. A return journey on the 25th produced my only bird watching surprise of the month, in the form of a reed warbler which was seen and heard at Greys Farm. It's not the first time that I've found reed warblers in seemingly unlikely habitats, although it wasn't too far from the Buntingford Brewery reed bed, where this species occasionally breeds. This or another bird was heard earlier in the month near the Royston waste disposal site (David Hatton)! A number of dusk walks close to home produced evidence of breeding at only one of the known tawny owl sites, in the form of a single juvenile (heard) and an adult bird seen on the 24th. This species appears to have had a poor breeding season, presumably caused by the 'extended' winter. House martins (at least three pairs) were nesting again at Hatchpen Farm and a few were seen over their traditional nesting area near Royston town centre, but numbers were well down on previous years. Good numbers of swifts were seen around Royston and they were also nesting again at Reed church. I was away for the last few days of June, so missed the opportunity to be the first in Hertfordshire to see the appearance of chalkhill blue butterflies (recorded by Andy Symes on the 30th). 

 

May 2018

The highlight of a long local walk on the 1st was a little owl, my first local sighting for two years, at what used to be (and presumably still is) a traditional site at Park Farm in Therfield. Nearby a group of no fewer than five wheatears (two males, three females) was seen. Yellow wagtails (two males) were back at Hatchpen Farm, where two lesser whitethroats were singing. Two pairs of lapwings were present there. I also saw my first orange tip and large white butterflies of the year at Hatchpen. Several common whitethroats were seen and/or heard on the walk. At least two recently-fledged blackbirds were using the garden early in the month and coal tits were nesting here for the first time. Great tits were also nesting nearby, judging by the regularity of their appearances. I have holly and (lots of) ivy in the garden, so it was no surprise to see holly blue butterflies there. Swifts were reported back in Royston on the 6th (a day late) and they were heard over the garden on the 7th and seen on the 8th. However, spring migrant passage appeared to be over by the end of the first week of May, as Royston basked in temperatures of up to 26C. On the 12th I finally saw a turtle dove nearby at RSPB Fowlmere on my third visit there in a week. After nearly an inch of rain fell on the afternoon and evening of the 12th the weather finally turned 'springlike', with pleasant, warm, often sunny days. Butterflies took the hint and started to emerge, with first generation small heath, common blue and brown argus all spotted in good numbers at both ends of The Heath on the 21st and 22nd. Two 'squeaky' male spotted flycatchers were present on The Heath near the Therfield Road on the 21st. During a long walk on the 23rd I finally saw house martins at Hatchpen Farm and later in Reed village, completing the list of (expected) summer visitors to my local area. Two little grebes were back at Mardleybury Pond, as were a pair of coots that had somehow managed to build a nest on the lake, near to my walking route - it will be interesting to see if their breeding attempt succeeds!

April 2018

After a cold, wet and miserable March we were treated to more of the same in the first half of April. Indeed, as fog descended on Royston from the 11th to the 13th the days had a very 'Novemberish' feel to them. On the one sunny day during this miserable period (on the 5th) I ventured out to walk across The Heath and was amazed to find a male ring ouzel near Royston Hospital, no more than half a mile from my home. This was my earliest ever local sighting of ring ouzel, although a number had been reported elsewhere in the country in early April. After I had alerted 'Birdguides' several other bird watchers were able to catch up with this bird on the day, although it was not subsequently reported. A blackcap (my first of the year!) was singing on The Heath on the same day but, with the exception of a few singing chiffchaffs, there was no sign of any other passage migrants or summer visitors locally and this situation continued until the middle of the month. A female siskin made a brief but welcome appearance on my garden feeders on the 7th. Normally siskins pass through the area in March, but presumably the very late spring has held them back this year. Despite the mist and gloom on the 11th I again walked onto The Heath and was amazed to find not one but two more ring ouzels near the Old Rifle Range! These birds stayed until the 15th. A great spotted woodpecker came to my feeders on the 12th, a garden 'year tick'. A long walk round my local patch on the 16th provided me with my first local wheatear of the year (on Therfield Heath). Several swallows had returned to their nesting sites on farms in the area and a handful of lapwings were displaying over the fields. Five corn buntings (four singing males) were seen at Hatchpen Farm and a pair of marsh tits was seen at a traditional nesting area on the Wisbridge Farm estate. With the exception of a single black-headed gull there was no sign of winter visitors amongst the 47 species recorded during the walk. I recorded two lesser whitethroats on a walk up the Icknield Way in hot weather on the 19th and was lucky also to see a singing willow warbler (now just a passage migrant in the Royston area) nearby. However, my biggest surprise was seeing a white wagtail on the Therfield Heath golf course. This nominate species of European wagtail (of which our pied wagtail is a sub-species) is seen annually on passage in Hertfordshire, but this was (I think) my first ever local sighting. On my return from a week in Scotland (see my blog for details) common whitethroats had arrived in big numbers, with two males having a song battle on the Old Rifle Range. A lesser whitethroat was still singing along the Icknield Way and three corn buntings were singing nearby.

March 2018

The 'Beast from the East' gave the UK its coldest ever March day on the 1st and deposited snow in the Royston area on the 2nd. The poor weather in late February and early March at least gave me the chance to have a good look round my local patch in a series of walks, leaving the car at home. On the 1st a walk through drifting snow on the Icknield Way revealed upwards of 400 linnets and 50 fieldfares searching for food on Greys Farm. I put out some apples in the garden for the thrushes and, in common with many other people in the area, was lucky enough to attract a desperately hungry fieldfare on the 1st. This or another bird stayed to polish off further apples on the 2nd and 3rd. It was noticeable how tame fieldfares became during this period as the need to find food to stay alive took priority over the risks of predation. Two marsh tits were seen on a walk round Reed village on the 5th, but there was no sign of the lesser redpolls seen at the end of February. Two Canada geese were still at Hatchpen pond on the 8th. Having not seen a mallard there since the start of the shooting season last autumn I was surprised to see no fewer than 39 (and an 'Aylesbury Duck') on the pond as well. A pair of treecreepers was seen in Fox Covert on the 15th, but there was no sign of any bramblings in the area. The highlight of my first full 'local patch' walk for several weeks on the afternoon of the 16th was a barn owl, seen hunting at the southern end of Greys Farm (my first local sighting of this species for almost a year). Two little grebes were back at Mardleybury pond - these birds have the ability to completely disappear when I approach the pond, giving me no opportunity to photograph them. I don't know where they go to, as they don't fly away and there is minimal pond-side vegetation. Also seen here were four Canada geese, with the Hatchpen population of this species having also doubled to four. A corn bunting was seen at Hatchpen and a lesser redpoll was heard trilling in Reed village. Three chiffchaffs and a treecreeper were singing within half a mile of my home when I next ventured out locally on the 23rd. A corn bunting and a pair of Canada geese were still at Hatchpen Farm, along with at least 40 yellowhammers and a reed bunting. The weather deteriorated again towards the end of a miserable month, with rain nearly every day and single digit temperatures. There was no sign of any new passage migrants or summer visitors in my area and very little bird movement UK-wide. I had to make do with my first ever garden sighting of raven (two birds flying towards the centre of Royston) on the 29th. According to my rainfall gauge, March 2018 was the second wettest since I started keeping records in 1992 and it was almost certainly the coldest March as well.

February 2018

In over 30 years of living in Royston I had never visited the Royston sewage works, which are situated just over the county boundary in Cambridgeshire but are less than two miles from my home, despite the works having had the reputation in the last century as an excellent stopping off place (the only one in the local area) for a variety of migrating wading birds. However, news of some interesting bird sightings there in late January encouraged me to pay a brief visit on the morning of the 3rd. Approaching along a footpath (marked on 1:25000 maps) from the Bassingbourn end and looking through the perimeter fencing from the west side I was able to identify at least one grey wagtail and several meadow pipits and pied wagtails, but, armed with only my binoculars, I was unable to identify many of the other small brown birds that were picking off the insects that are normally associated with these plants - I must bring my telescope next time! Since I had not seen a meadow pipit in Hertfordshire at the time I had achieved a new 'first' of a bird appearing on my 'local patch' year list that was not on my Hertfordshire year list!

It was encouraging to see three greenfinches on one of my sunflower heart feeders on the 2nd - this species is still in short supply in the Royston area. A treecreeper was seen in the Jubilee Wood / Fox Covert complex on the 5th. A long walk on the 8th was rewarded with sightings of spectacular numbers of finches, including a single flock of at least 350 linnets at Greys Farm and around 160 chaffinches feeding on spilt grain at Hatchpen grain store. I also saw my first local lesser black-backed gulls of the year at Newsells stud farm, some of which were in the same field as a young grey heron. Aconites and snowdrops in Therfield were a welcome sign of approaching spring. Two ravens were seen and heard over Greys Farm on the 12th. A tawny owl was heard, calling in mid-afternoon, nearby. A female brambling was again seen in my garden on the 14th and the 16th. Co-incidentally I found at least 45 bramblings in at least three groups on a walk through the woodland to the south of Fox Covert on the 14th. This is easily my record count for this wintering species on my local patch! February was an unusually cold month and the weather got even colder towards the end of the month, with sub-zero daytime temperatures, a biting easterly wind and snow showers. I decided to stay close to home during this period and explore my local patch in some detail, with long walks in the Therfield/Kelshall area (26th), right across Therfield Heath and back (27th) and a loop from my house up to Reed village and Wisbridge Farm on the 28th. The first two walks were uneventful, with just a flock of 13 corn buntings in woodland at the far western end of The Heath on the 27th being worthy of note. However, things livened up for the Reed walk on the 28th. On the way up through Hatchpen Farm in blizzard conditions a lonely couple of Canada geese were seen (my first local sighting of this species for two years) and in Reed village I found a small flock of lesser redpolls using one of the many garden feeding stations in the village. A marsh tit was also using the same feeding station and two more marsh tits were seen at different locations around the village. Fieldfares were everywhere in small groups. Lapwings had obviously given up on finding food in the area because I saw several small flocks flying over in a southerly or south-westerly direction, presumably looking for ground that wasn't frozen (I fear that they might have had to fly a long way). Four golden plovers also flew over heading south, the first that I've seen in the county this year. I recorded 44 species on the walk, which featured many short blizzards and a wind chill of approximately -10C!

 January 2018

 The New Year brought little change in the weather (cold, wet or windy or a combination of two or more of these) or wildlife. Bird migration is virtually non-existent at this time of year, so it was no surprise to see a continuation of a rather familiar species list as I walked round my local patch on the 5th and the 22nd, although the hordes of reed buntings seen just before Christmas in and around the villages had moved on or hidden themselves away. The local raptors (sparrowhawk, kestrel, buzzard and red kite) were very active, but there was still no sign of any harriers or wintering owls. A female brambling was a surprise visitor to my garden on the 12th, although it didn't stay around long enough for me to photograph it. Encouraged by this I walked across The Heath on the same day and found at least eight more bramblings in a mixed flock with chaffinches in the Fox Covert / Jubilee Wood area. Also encountered then were three corn buntings, an over-flying flock of 67 lapwings near Royston Hospital and a flock of 175+ fieldfares at Greys Farm. Five corn buntings were found at Hatchpen Farm on the 22nd and these birds or another flock of five were seen a couple of hours later at the side of the Icknield Way (Therfield). A large covey of at least 25 grey partridges was seen nearby at Park Farm. Highlights of my 'Big Garden Birdwatch' on the 27th (eight species seen) were five each of jackdaw (feeding on suet balls), blackbird, woodpigeon and goldfinch.