This page is dedicated to wildlife sightings in the Royston area for last year, 2017. The most recent sightings are at the top, working backwards in time as you move further down the page - enjoy!

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:

December 2017

A walk across The Heath in very cold weather on the 1st was filled with birds. Two large flocks of linnets were seen at or on the edge of Greys Farm, totalling about 300 birds. Large numbers of (continental?) blackbirds, as well as fieldfares and redwings, were seen in and over the enormous hedgerows along the Icknield Way, a cormorant flew over Royston Hospital and a very brief sighting of a small, hunting raptor may have been of a merlin, although sparrowhawk could not be ruled out. However, the stonechats that had been present on The Heath through most of November appeared to have moved on and I was unable to locate any bramblings in amongst some large flocks of chaffinches. My health had improved sufficiently to resume my 'local patch' walks on the 6th. Once again, good numbers of birds were recorded, as was an impressive variety (49) of species, but rarities were non-existent. Highlights included over 200 fieldfares in the Therfield area, 38 grey partridges in three coveys (my highest count of the year), another over-flying cormorant (my 3rd in a few weeks), a pair of treecreepers with nuthatches and a variety of tits in Reed village, 12 golden plovers flying overhead near Royston Hospital and 48 yellowhammers in loose flocks in the Therfield area. A huge, very distant flock of birds, seen near or beyond the A10 from the Icknield Way, certainly contained lapwings and may also have contained golden plovers, but the flock was too far away to identify individual birds. Several fallow deer were seen on the Wisbridge Farm estate. Snow arrived early on the 10th, causing the cancellation of a planned RSPB trip. Instead I went on another long walk, mainly aimed at taking landscape photos of the wintry weather. However, I did take my binoculars with me as I visited Therfield, Kelshall and Thrift Farm, as well as walking right across The Heath. The mandarin duck was still on Kelshall Pond, together with around 40 mallard, a treecreeper was seen just north of Therfield village along the Icknield Way and 150+ fieldfares were in hedgerows and trees at the other end of the Icknield Way, near Royston Hospital. A herd of well over 100 fallow deer were seen at Thrift Farm. A bright, clear, sunny day on the 18th encouraged me to get out on my final 'local patch' walk of the year, which included some of the woodland on the Wisbridge Farm estate (Reed). Again there were no surprises, but I don't think I have ever seen so many redwings and fieldfares on one of my walks. Although now in smaller flocks, the birds were seen all along the route and must have numbered several hundred individuals. Reed buntings were also present in possibly record numbers, with at least a dozen in the reeds at Reed End pond and 25+ in Therfield alone. Reed buntings are present on my patch throughout the year and breed in or near arable fields (particularly fields of rape), but I often don't see any on my walks. The following day a male blackcap made a very brief appearance in my garden, although it didn't use the feeders. A handful of short local walks in the remaining days of the month failed to throw up any surprises. My 'local patch' bird list totalled 84 species at the end of the year, one short of my best. The undoubted highlight of the year was finding four dotterel between Therfield and Reed End in April: these birds attracted hundreds of birdwatchers from far and wide, including some 'top twitchers'. However, it was disappointing not to see any wintering short-eared or long-eared owls or any harriers in the calendar year - the Royston area will soon be losing its status as the raptor capital of the Home Counties. Highlights of birds that I missed were over-flying hawfinches (David Hatton) and whooper swans (Andy Symes). Butterfly photography took over during the summer - it was good to see dark green fritillary numbers increasing and spreading out from The Heath, as well as a couple of small coppers (a butterfly that I had not seen locally in the preceding two years) on The Heath. Excellent numbers of all four species of orchid that are known to occur on The Heath were also monitored. Here's to 2018, and hopefully lots more interesting wildlife to enjoy locally. Here is my 'local patch' bird list for 2017:

Blackbird, Blackcap, Brambling, Bullfinch, Common Buzzard, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coot, Cormorant, Carrion Crow, Dotterel, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Grey Heron, Hobby, Jackdaw, Jay, Kestrel, Red Kite, Lapwing, Skylark, Linnet, Magpie, Mallard, House Martin, Sand Martin, Moorhen, Nuthatch, Ring Ouzel, Barn Owl, Tawny 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, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Wheatear, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Wren, Yellowhammer (84 species).

November 2017

A visit to Church Hill and Fox Covert on the 1st provided me with my first autumn brambling sighting. Nearby a flock of about twelve siskins flew past. Fieldfares were noticeable by their absence in October, and I had to wait until the 2nd for my first local sighting, along the Icknield Way. After a week away a long walk around my local patch on the 14th produced birds in good quantity (46 species recorded) but the only major shift in pattern was the presence of several fieldfare flocks, totalling over 100 birds, seen in several places along my route. There was no sign of wintering owls - indeed, there have been very few sightings of short-eared owls away from the east coast. The male stonechat, seen in October, had been joined by a female when I walked across The Heath on the 16th, but there was no further sign of bramblings or siskins. Illness prevented me from doing much 'local patch' work for the remainder of the month, but I did note that the two stonechats were still present on the old rifle range on the 23rd and a male mandarin duck had returned to the roadside pond in Kelshall village on the 27th. The best sighting of the month was made by Andy Symes, who saw ten whooper swans flying over Therfield on the 19th. These were almost certainly the same birds that had been seen earlier in the day at both Staines Reservoirs and Hilfield Park Reservoir. Presumably they were heading for the Cambridgeshire Fens, in order to join their compatriots there. Towards the end of the month the weather grew much colder and my garden feeders became increasingly popular. A nuthatch made a brief visit to the fat balls on the 30th.

October 2017

A long walk around my 'local patch' on the 3rd produced a rare sighting of a grey wagtail at Park Farm (Therfield). At least five corn buntings were taking it in turns to drink and bathe in puddles nearby, alongside yellowhammers and linnets. Two house martins were seen at Hatchpen Farm, but otherwise the walk was fairly quiet. A tawny owl was calling from woodland at the bottom of my road at dusk on the 6th. A rare walking visit to the north end of Royston on the 9th was rewarded with a sighting of a male peregrine flying west over Burns Road! I heard my first local over-flying redwing of the autumn on the same day, following a noticeable influx of winter thrushes across the region on the 8th. Two ravens were seen flying over Jubilee Wood on the 12th and the following day a cormorant (locally rare) flew south over Hatchpen Farm. Skylarks and meadow pipits were still much in evidence on The Heath and elsewhere in the second half of the month, as the very warm weather persisted, and I had regular sightings of jays at their most active time of year. A stonechat was seen on The Heath on the 21st and this or a second bird was flying around bushes on the Old Rifle Range on the 23rd, allowing me to get some decent photographs (see my blog). A long walk around the villages on the 24th was rather quiet, although several redwings were seen, either in flight or in trees along the Icknield Way. Stoats were seen in two separate places and at least four reed buntings were hanging around Reed End pond, which has now come to resemble a small reed bed, with very little water left in it. A flock of around 50 yellowhammers was seen between Therfield and Reed End and at least 10 common buzzards (including one with a prominent white rump) were seen in the air. During the second half of October a very large passage of hawfinches from The Continent was recorded across the country. Although I failed to see any, David Hatton recorded two in flight over Royston on the 18th - as far as I am aware, this is the first record of the species in the Royston area. At least two chiffchaffs, which had been in bushes at the bottom of Church Hill since August, were last seen on the 20th. 

September 2017

Following an exciting August, September turned into a bit of a 'damp squib', although to be fair I spent a fortnight away, on holiday in South Africa. Either side of the holiday, local walks failed to turn up anything unexpected. There was (as usual) a very visible southward migration of swallows, whilst meadow pipits (also probably migrants) were widespread throughout the area. Chiffchaffs, whose numbers seem to be growing locally year on year, were the only other remaining summer visitor to put in an appearance on my walks. Chaffinch and skylark numbers were well down on previous years, but a covey of 18 grey partridges, seen on Greys Farm on the 16th, was suggestive of a decent breeding season after two poor years, which had seen numbers drop considerably in the local area. Butterflies were restricted to whites (including another generation of green-veined whites), brimstone, small tortoiseshell and red admiral with the notable exception of a small copper (my second of the year), which was a good sighting on Church Hill on the 22nd. Nearby a common lizard was spotted. On the 25th a walk up the Icknield Way was rewarded with sightings of at least three 'herring-type' gulls, one of which looked good for a near-adult yellow-legged gull. The other two gulls could not be identified.

August 2017

The month got off to a good start on the 2nd, when I walked up to Hatchpen Farm. Following harvesting earlier in the day large numbers of swifts and hirundines were hawking  insects over the fresh stubble. I spent some time looking to see whether there were many of the slightly paler juvenile house martins in amongst the adults. One bird caught my eye - it was pale brown above and lacked a white rump. I had spotted only my second ever local sand martin! This bird, which was presumably on return migration, gave me good views as it fed for a few minutes before heading off south. On the same walk I re-discovered a significant colony of common blue and brown argus butterflies, no more than half a mile from my home. A long walk on the 3rd produced little of interest, although the juvenile spotted flycatcher was still present on the Icknield Way and at least one little grebe was still at Mardleybury Lake. A hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on buddleia close to my house was a rare local sighting. A walk onto The Heath on the evening of the 5th provided some surprises: firstly I heard my first local quail for several years near Wicker Hall and then, as I was trying (unsuccessfully) to see this bird a hobby (my first local sighting for two years) flew over! Unfortunately, things deteriorated after that as I suffered a badly sprained ankle by falling into a hole whilst walking and looking up for passing birds - rather a familiar story for me! Confined to home I was, however, rewarded on the morning of the 7th by seeing 15 bird species (blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long-tailed tit, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch, house sparrow, robin, nuthatch, starling, blackbird, great spotted woodpecker, collared dove and woodpigeon) visit my garden feeders in a half hour period. I heard the distinctive call of a curlew as it passed overhead near Royston Hospital on the 8th - not just my first record of this species in the local area, but my first in Hertfordshire (where it is quite a rare bird, usually just recorded on passage). After a holiday break I went on a long 'local patch' walk on the 20th, recording 45 bird species including six corvids, with two ravens at Reed being my best sighting. Little grebes were still present at Mardleybury Lake which was, however, otherwise devoid of interest. Butterfly numbers predictably fell away towards the end of the month (and the end of the butterfly 'season'), with just a handful of common blues, chalkhill blues and brown argus left on The Heath. I did, however, have a surprise garden visitor in the form of a small heath (a garden 'first') on the 26th. Towards the end of the month return bird migration picked up noticeably, with wheatears being reported locally, and I was lucky enough to find a male redstart at the bottom of Church Hill on the 25th. This bird was in the company of lots of chiffchaffs and at least one willow warbler. With farmers starting to plough their fields towards the end of the month large flocks of gulls (mainly lesser black-backs) returned to the area. On the 23rd I spotted a large, distant herring-gull type in one of these flocks. My images of the bird are still being analysed (see the blog), but it looks like this was either another yellow-legged gull (seen locally in each of the last three years) or possibly a (much rarer) Caspian gull.

July 2017

On my return from holiday I immediately headed for The Heath on the 2nd, where I was able to add Essex skipper, gatekeeper, small white (!) and chalkhill blue to my local sightings list. Best of all, I saw my first local small copper there for 3 years! Second generation common blue and brown argus were on the wing at least a fortnight earlier than usual. I saw 19 species of butterfly during two visits. On the 4th I visited Mardleybury Lake and was astonished by the numbers of dragonflies there, even though I could only identify three species (emperor and black-tailed skimmer dragonflies and common blue damselflies). A 'there and back' walk to Hatchpen Farm on the 8th produced three yellow wagtails, the first I had seen there since early May, as well as some 'fresh' painted lady butterflies. On the 10th I visited Sandon to see the well-publicised laughing dove that had taken up residence next door to the church. Although un-ringed, it is likely that this bird was an 'escape', although the possibility of it having arrived in the UK on a ship (the bird is common in The Americas and is also resident in South East Europe) could not be ruled out. I didn't add it to any of my 2017 lists! A little grebe was still present at Mardleybury Lake on the 14th and a yellow wagtail flew over. A brown hawker in Fox Covert on the 15th (where two spotted flycatchers were still present) was my first local sighting of this dragonfly. A walk around Reed on the afternoon of the 18th, looking for butterflies (purple hairstreak, white admiral, silver-washed fritillary etc.) that don't occur in Royston or on The Heath, was unsuccessful although I did find 17 of the commoner species and a pair of ravens flew over. A swift count in Royston town centre on the same evening produced an estimated 60 birds, although some (many?) may have flown off ahead of an approaching weather front. The weather deteriorated towards the end of the month and my visits to The Heath became less common. However, I was lucky to see a clouded yellow butterfly scooting across the old rifle range on the 23rd - this was the 27th and last (barring something very unexpected) butterfly species for my Therfield Heath year list. Four yellow wagtails were at Hatchpen Farm on the 25th - the first that I had seen there for two months. A single adult spotted flycatcher remained at the Newsells stud farm and, more encouragingly, a juvenile was seen on the Icknield Way between Royston and Therfield. Two little grebes were still at Mardleybury Lake on the same day. On the 31st I found a male Chalkhill Blue of the variant type caeca: see my blog for images.

June 2017

A very pale (juvenile?) nuthatch came briefly to my peanut feeder on the 3rd. Up to four recently-fledged blue tits were feeding on the fat balls. Sadly, an adult male great spotted woodpecker was found dead in the garden on the 4th, presumably having collided with a window or door. At least two juvenile tawny owls were heard calling off the Icknield Way near Royston Hospital on the 12th, indicating successful breeding at a site that had not, to my knowledge, been used for years. The following day a long walk (my last until late summer, as my attention turned towards insects) turned up a spotted flycatcher at the Newsells stud farm, between Royston and Reed and less than a mile from my house. A flycatcher was seen in the same area (a horse paddock) on 5 July, suggesting that a nesting attempt was being made. The firecrest in Fox Covert was seen for the last time on the 20th - there was no evidence of breeding this year. A visit to Mardleybury Lake on the 14th produced another surprise in the form of an apparent tufted duck x scaup hybrid. The female bird ('record shot' image on my blog) was consorting with two male tufted ducks. As temperatures climbed towards the middle of the month my attention turned to insects and, in particular, butterflies. I had a series of 'earliest' sightings, including dark green fritillary, half a mile from my home, on the 13th and white-letter hairstreak, on the Icknield Way, two weeks earlier than normal on the 15th. A heatwave in the 3rd week of June saw temperatures of >30C on five consecutive days. On The Heath there was a frenzy of butterfly activity, with around 20 species on the wing by the end of the month. I was on holiday for the final week, departing on the 24th: the day that the first chalkhill blue was spotted on The Heath (by Andy Symes). To my knowledge this is a Hertfordshire record earliest sighting of this species. Finally mention must be made of the amazing variety and quantity of orchids seen on The Heath in June. All five species (white helleborine and common spotted, bee, fragrant and pyramidal orchids) were found, with exceptional numbers of bee orchids, particularly on Church Hill. See my blog for some photographs.

May 2017

One female dotterel remained between Therfield and Reed End until the 3rd. Drought conditions locally, combined with a nagging, cold, northerly or north-easterly wind and lots of cloud, made life unpleasant for breeding birds and bird watchers alike in the first ten days of May. I saw my first local house martins at Hatchpen on the 2nd. On the way back I flushed a tawny owl near the breeding site that is closest to my home. I saw the first swift on The Heath on the 5th. A garden warbler was singing near the bottom of Church Hill on the same day, not far from where this species used to breed, but I suspect that it was just passing through the area. A long walk on the 8th was conducted in unpleasant dull, cold conditions with a northerly wind blowing and temperatures in single figures. Despite this, I managed to record 51 species and added one more to my local 'life list' in the form of two little grebes, which were seen on the big, fairly new pond at Mardleybury Manor. After initially being rather unproductive, this pond is turning into a 'must visit', as I also had sightings of several mallard plus ducklings (including one likely female mallard x shoveller hybrid), a coot, a moorhen and a pair of tufted ducks. Fortunately for me this pond is well 'off the beaten track' and difficult to access except on foot - my own little water bird paradise (sort of)! Also seen were two yellow wagtails (in the 'dotterel field'), eight corn buntings in various places and a very late fieldfare on Greys Farm (presumably it had been held up by the northerly winds). Butterflies were hunkered down in the cold weather, but occasional bright periods brought out at least three small heaths and a very early brown argus, both on the 5th, on The Heath. At least two spotted flycatchers, the last of our regular summer visitors to arrive, were seen near the entrance to Fox Covert on the 15th, co-incidentally the same day that local goldfinches brought their first fledgling of the year to my sunflower heart feeders. A great spotted woodpecker, presumably breeding nearby, was a regular visitor to my garden during this period. A male common blue was amongst a handful of butterflies on the wing on Church Hill on the 15th, despite the dull, windy weather. Some white helleborines were already flowering in Fox Covert and, amazingly, a few pasque flowers were still flowering on Church Hill in what has been a vintage year for them. Weather conditions changed dramatically around the 20th, with warm then hot sunshine and temperatures in the 'mid twenties'. With bird migration essentially over I turned my attention to insects. On the 23rd I combined a long local walk with visits to both ends of Therfield Heath. Mardleybury pond again proved productive, although the coot and tufted ducks were nowhere to be seen. The little grebes were still present however and a cormorant, which had been loafing at the edge of the pond when I arrived, flew off soon afterwards. Around the sides of the pond, which were thick with wild flowers, I found two male common blue butterflies, a (locally rare) small copper and over a hundred common blue damselflies. Common blue and brown argus butterflies were present in good numbers on The Heath and I was encouraged to wipe the dust off my macro lens and take a few photographs of them (see the blog). Also seen and photographed was a nomad bee, tentatively identified as yellow-legged. A quick survey of nesting house martins in the SE quadrant of Royston on the evening of the 29th revealed just one colony, on Poplar Drive, where at least 23 were feeding in the air. Swifts were, as expected, widespread. A combination of occasional heavy rain and generally warm, humid weather resulted in rapid and abundant plant growth and on the 31st, on a walk right across The Heath, I was surprised to find 4 species of orchid (white helleborine [now nearly finished], common spotted orchid, bee orchid and fragrant orchid) all flowering. Normally these plants only appear around the middle of June! Plenty of butterflies (47 small heath, 24 brown argus, 19 common blue, 5 speckled wood, 3 red admiral, 2 brimstone, 1 green-veined white and 1 large white were counted) were present, including a pair of mating common blues on Church Hill. There was a striking size difference between the (larger) male and the female: at first I thought that the smaller butterfly was a brown argus. At least four spotted flycatchers were seen and/or heard in Fox Covert and the firecrest was still singing near the Therfield Road. Towards the end of the month family groups of blue tits were coming to my feeders, suggesting a reasonably successful breeding season. However, juvenile long-tailed tits and great tits were few and far between.

April 2017 

Warm, bright weather with no rainfall early in the month brought out the butterflies, with 8 species being seen locally in the first half of the month including a holly blue (seen in my garden on the 7th), green-veined whites and an unusually early speckled wood, seen on the Icknield Way on the 11th. The pasque flowers continued to put on a splendid show on Church Hill in early April, covering most of the south side of the hill. Bird activity was low in the first couple of weeks. Blackcaps continued to arrive but, with the notable exception of many chiffchaffs, no more summer visitors were seen until the 11th when a pair of swallows were at Hatchpen Farm and a further swallow was at Reed End. A willow warbler, presumably on passage (they no longer breed on my local patch) was seen at Wisbridge Farm (Reed) on the same day. Also at Wisbridge were a marsh tit and a treecreeper. The first passage migrant that I saw locally was a male wheatear, at Hatchpen Farm on the 14th. I heard a very early lesser whitethroat in a hedgerow along the road between Royston and Barkway on the same day. Nearby, three corn buntings were singing (six were singing at Hatchpen) and several meadow pipits were seen. I should explore this area (between Royston and Newsells) more often - the problem is that the road is very narrow, with lots of bends, steep banks and no verges (not at all pedestrian friendly!). The coot at Hatchpen pond had been joined by another - perhaps romance is in the air! Whilst most birds had still to start nesting I saw at least two fledgling mistle thrushes in Fox Covert on the 12th. Although mistle thrushes are early nesters (and attempt to raise two broods) it was still a surprise to see these young birds in the middle of April! Migrant passage picked up noticeably from the 13th when a male ring ouzel, found by Tony Cobb, made an appearance. It was still present in fields behind Royston Hospital on the 17th, when I finally saw it. Later in the day David Hatton found a second male bird in the same area. These well-watched birds stayed until at least the 19th. Also seen on a long morning walk from my home to the far (west) end of The Heath on the 17th were at least 3 wheatears at Greys Farm. Three willow warblers were recorded: two on the Icknield Way and one near the Therfield Road. The firecrest was singing and showed well for a short while in Fox Covert and a cuckoo sang briefly in the same area. However, I was unable to find this bird - it may have flown on, as cuckoos haven't summered on my local patch for several years. Grey partridge numbers have fallen dramatically in the local area after two consecutive poor breeding seasons, caused by bad weather in late spring. However, one bird was seen not far from where the ring ouzels were. An orange tip butterfly, seen near Royston Hospital, was another 'year tick'. Suddenly, from the middle of the month, wheatears were everywhere! I found four, including a female, when I next visited Hatchpen Farm on the 19th. Also at Hatchpen were the first two 'local' yellow wagtails of the year, both males. A lapwing was seen at Hatchpen Pond and several buzzards were also seen here. The following day three more wheatears were seen at Greys Farm. A short walk up the Icknield Way on the 24th produced four whitethroats and a lesser whitethroat. A long walk on the 26th produced arguably my best local patch find since I started these walks 11 years ago, when I discovered four dotterel in a field between Reed End and Therfield. I had been looking at a wheatear that flew off the path into the field where they were standing, otherwise I might have walked straight past them! The Royston area is a traditional stopping off point for dotterel flying to and from their northern breeding grounds, but I had never seen them on my local patch before, although some birds were present near the Icknield Way for a few days in the autumn of 2014. It was a pleasant change to find a rare species, rather than to see birds found by others. Some images of the birds (two of each sex) are on my blog. I recorded an impressive 52 species on the 8-9 mile walk, including two pairs of tufted ducks on the new pond between Reed End and the Silver Ball café - I had never previously seen a female tufted duck locally before. People who live near rivers and big reservoirs don't know how lucky they are, but I'll still settle for the dotterel over pretty much anything else! The dotterel stayed until the end of the month, proving very popular with local bird watchers and 'twitchers' from further afield - I visited them once more, on the 28th.

March 2017 

Hatchpen pond had been devoid of life in January and February, but when I walked up to the farm in the late afternoon of the 3rd I found 21 mallard ducks, two moorhens and a coot residing there! The coot was only my second local sighting, having previously seen a bird at the same site in 2015. One firecrest was seen in Fox Covert on the 4th and again on the 13th, when this bird was singing. A blackcap was heard singing about 200 yards from my home at the start of a long walk on the 7th. Given the time of year I strongly suspect that this was an over-wintering bird rather than a very early migrant, which makes me wonder whether it had been present locally all winter without me noticing it. The walk produced 45 bird species, but nothing else noteworthy although I did get close to some fallow deer (see my blog for images). Hatchpen Pond was once again devoid of life, with the exception of the two domestic geese that have been present there since I first started these walks (and my web site) in 2006! A single clump of frogspawn was laid in my garden pond over the weekend of 11-12th. I saw my first local chiffchaff of the year on the 13th, when a walk across The Heath as far as the Therfield Road produced 35 species, including a noisy nuthatch at the bottom of my road. A second chiffchaff was heard and four male brimstone butterflies, as well as an unidentified 'brown', were counted on a warm, sunny morning. Glorious 'shirtsleeves' weather on the morning of the 15th prompted me to spend more time on The Heath. Three chiffchaffs were now singing and I saw around 25 butterflies of at least four different species (brimstone, small tortoiseshell, comma and peacock). I returned briefly to The Heath at dusk, where I heard a pair of tawny owls calling in a small wood as well as the piercing shriek of a barn owl. The coot reappeared on Hatchpen Pond on the 16th. A very early willow warbler was reported ('Birdguides') in Royston on the 20th. A blackcap was heard on The Heath on the 21st, a treecreeper was seen at Park Farm (Therfield) on the same day and a flock of 48 fieldfare flew west overhead near Hatchpen on the 22nd. My garden had an unusual visitor from the 22nd to the 28th in the form of a reed bunting, which took a liking to the suet balls in my feeders. The pasque flowers on Church Hill were putting on a really good show towards the end of the month, and lots of people were taking the opportunity to photograph them (for some images see my blog). Five corn buntings were singing at Hatchpen Farm when I visited on the 31st and a flock of 21 redwings was seen. Later in the day I was lucky to get good views of a water vole when I made my first visit of the year to RSPB Fowlmere.

February 2017

A fox, seen at Greys Farm on the 1st, was an unusual local sighting - they are heavily 'controlled' around here. I spend a lot of time in North London, where fox sightings are 'two a penny', but in the countryside where people expect to find them they keep a very low profile. Another visit to Fox Covert and Jubilee Wood on the 2nd was rewarded with a further sighting of a firecrest and my first local sightings of the year of jay and treecreeper. Several goldcrests were also seen and heard. A nuthatch was singing in woods close to the house on the 3rd. The highlight of a long walk on the 6th (48 bird species recorded) was a female brambling, seen at Hatchpen Farm. Two grey partridges seen here were an unusual sighting east of the A10, where the released red-legged partridges are dominant. Eight corn buntings were also seen here. Flocks of yellowhammers (110), lapwings (80) and linnets (60) were seen from paths between Reed End and Therfield Heath. Several common buzzards were seen, including a pale individual that masqueraded as a rough-legged buzzard for a while until I studied its photograph later. I made two trips (on the 8th and 11th) to try to see the great grey shrike that had taken up residence on the edge of Melbourn village, about 4 miles north of my home, but was unsuccessful. On the 13th I took advantage of the first bright weather for some time to visit Fox Covert and try to photograph the firecrests there. I took half an hour to find a single individual and, in the next hour, managed to capture a handful of decent images of the bird - not great, but the best I've managed for this species. See my blog to look at the photos! A dusk visit to Greys Farm on the 14th was rewarded with yet another barn owl sighting and I had a brief sighting of another owl, possibly a tawny, as it flew away from me down the Icknield Way in semi-darkness. A barn owl seen at dusk on The Heath on the 20th was clearly darker than the 'Greys Farm' owl. With reports of two more barn owls roosting near the Therfield Road, it appears that at least four of these splendid birds are hunting and roosting in the area. A marsh tit, my first 'local' bird of the year, was seen at Wisbridge Farm (Reed) on the 21st. Other highlights from a long walk on that day were at least 350 golden plover flying over Park Farm (presumably disturbed by a nearby shoot) and 15 corn buntings (7 at Hatchpen Farm, 8 along the footpath between Reed End and Mill Lane, Therfield with a further 2 near the Icknield Way between Mill Lane and Therfield Heath). A herd of fallow deer and two muntjacs were also seen. I had a surprise on the morning of the 25th when two grey wagtails were seen chasing each other around and perching on the roof three doors down from my house - a new tick for my garden list, although they didn't stay for long. A low-flying red kite passed over the garden on the 27th.

January 2017

A walk round my 'Local Patch' (Royston, Reed and Therfield) on the 3rd was a little uninspiring, but I managed to log 44 bird species, including 4 corn buntings at Hatchpen Farm and around 300 golden plover near Duckpuddle Bush. A further 45 golden plover were seen in flight at Reed End. Several bullfinches and red kites were seen during the walk and I flushed a covey of 8 grey partridges close to the Icknield Way in Therfield. I found a pair of stonechats on The Heath near the Therfield Road on the 13th. A weasel was seen in Fox Covert and not far away, in an area of Jubilee Wood that I don't normally visit, I had a very unusual sighting of a white (albino?) rodent, possibly a bank vole as it appeared to have a short tail (I only had a glimpse of it disappearing!). With so many potential predators in the area I was surprised that it had survived to reach (presumed) adulthood. The sighting is a reminder that so many mammals go about their business unnoticed by people - no doubt if it had been brown rather than white I wouldn't have seen it. At least 40 pied wagtails were feeding in a sheep field on the edge of Jubilee Wood. A late afternoon walk across The Heath on the 16th produced two barn owls - one hunting on Greys Farm and another, which passed within a few feet of me as I walked across the rugby pitch at dusk, was hunting at the east end of The Heath. Another stonechat was seen at the side of the A505 as I drove out of Royston towards Duxford on the 17th and the Greys Farm barn owl (obviously a creature of habit) was seen again hunting in the same field at dusk on the 19th and on the 24th. A second visit of the year to Fox Covert on the 23rd produced a sighting of two firecrests near the Therfield Road. These tiny, super-attractive birds were present here throughout April and May of last year and probably bred or attempted to breed. Their presence so early in the year is a hopeful sign that they may become resident in this woodland. A nuthatch was also seen here. A long walk on the afternoon of the 24th provided limited bird interest, but I did have an unusual sighting of a bat, presumably woken from its roost by unseasonably warm sunshine, flying around the garden of Mardleybury Manor (Reed End)! The annual RSPB 'Big Garden Birdwatch' on the 28th produced 8 species in my garden, with goldfinches (maximum count 9) once again being dominant. Earlier in the week a female great spotted woodpecker had briefly visited a peanut feeder but greenfinches were noticeable by their absence, both in my garden and in the local area, during January.