This page is dedicated to wildlife sightings in the Royston area for this year, 2019. 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: roystonwildlife.blogspot.co.uk.

April 2019

April got off to a cracking start when, on opening my bedroom curtains on the morning of the 2nd, I saw a large, bow-winged bird approaching. At first I thought it might be a red kite, but the flight and coloration were wrong, then I considered whether it might be a harrier or a very large gull. However, as it veered away and climbed I realised that it was an osprey! If I had opened the curtains a few seconds earlier or later I would have missed it - how lucky was that! I did wonder whether the bird was heading to Rutland Water: on the 5th 21 ospreys were reported there. The remaining mystery is why the bird was, at least initially, flying so low - there are no suitable lakes for it to fish in around here and I don't think it would be interested in the goldfish in my garden pond.... Thereafter my luck turned back to normal. Good numbers of chiffchaffs and blackcaps had arrived by the first week of April, but there was no sign of passage migrants, with the exception of a swallow on the 5th near Therfield and visible migration of meadow pipits, heading north, in the first week of the month. Ring ouzels were being seen elsewhere in Hertfordshire, but not on my local patch. The weather didn't help: cool north-easterly winds would be ideal for bird passage in the autumn, but were presumably holding up migrants in the spring. At least the pasque flowers were putting on an excellent display on Church Hill. Eventually persistence paid off and, during a very long walk encompassing Royston, Therfield Heath, Therfield and Reed on the 12th I found a male ring ouzel at the southern end of Greys Farm. Amongst an excellent total of 48 species recorded (47 seen) on the walk were another swallow at Reed, at least six lapwings (including displaying birds) at Greys Farm and Heath Farm and a flock of 110 common gulls, also at Greys Farm, presumably on passage but attracted by ploughing activity. Yellowhammers and linnets were far more numerous and obvious than they had been during the winter and little grebes were back at Mardleybury lake/pond (too small for a lake, too big for a pond!) for a third consecutive year. A Canada goose there was the first 'local' bird of this species that I had seen for almost a year.

 Migration became more obvious in the second half of the month, despite unseasonably warm and settled weather with southerly winds (ideal now for unbroken journeys to breeding sites). I found a female ring ouzel in a field behind Royston Hospital on the 16th - the third year in a row that ring ouzels have been seen here! Willow warblers (now, sadly, just recorded on passage) were seen and/or heard in several places from the 16th as well and I saw my first local wheatear (found by Mike Ilett) on the 20th, when at least one female ring ouzel was still present behind the hospital (two females were seen by others). The first whitethroats and lesser whitethroats to arrive for the summer were belting out their songs on the 20th and I witnessed an aggressive dispute by two male whitethroats over a female just beyond the top of the Old Rifle Range, with the males chasing each other round and singing aggressively for several minutes. Blackcaps were still coming in and one bird was performing a peculiar mixture of songs, including doing a very good imitation of a song thrush! I've heard this 'mimicry' before with blackcaps - it can be very confusing and presumably relates to songs heard and learnt ('hard-wired') during their first few weeks of life. A tawny owl woke me in the night of the 16/17th, with its 'kee-wick' calls coming from very close to the house. A male mandarin duck was back at Kelshall pond on the 19th. Not surprisingly the warm, sunny weather had brought out lots of butterflies. New additions to my local year list included orange tip (from the 16th) and speckled wood (from the 18th), making nine species in total. I recorded 50 bird species on a long walk on the 29th. Highlights included two pairs of tufted ducks on Mardleybury pond and at least 17 common whitethroats (mostly singing males) as I travelled through the parishes of Therfield and Reed. Seven lesser whitethroats were also heard and/or seen. A rather late fieldfare was also heard.

 March 2019

A bad back, coupled with inclement weather, reduced my activity in the first half of March. I did manage a walk up the Icknield Way towards Therfield on the 4th, when a flock of about 200 golden plover flew across the track, before flying back again. Much ploughing was being done at Greys Farm. This had attracted several hundred common and black-headed gulls, together with a couple of lesser black-backed gulls, buzzards and kites. Rather disappointingly, however, I couldn't find any of the rarer (for my local patch) gulls. The first half of March is usually a quiet period for wildlife - insects are few and far between and bird migration and passage have yet to get going. Further short walks in (usually) very windy weather yielded little of interest until the 13th, when I flushed a little owl whilst walking through the Newsells Stud Farm estate on the Greenwich Meridian Trail. Little owls used to be regular in this area many years ago: was this a resident bird or was it just passing through? Up at Hatchpen Farm on the same day the number of mallard ducks and drakes on the farm pond had reached an all-time high of 54! An unusual spider, missing one leg, was seen on Therfield Heath (Old Rifle Range - see my blog for an image) on the 15th. Nearby a pair of grey partridges gave better than usual views.

A walk on the west side of The Heath on the 18th included a visit to Church Hill, where I was surprised to find that not only were a significant number of pasque flowers blooming, but some were already 'past their best'! I guess that the first flowers must have appeared during the exceptionally warm period in late February. Two pairs of goldcrests were very active in Fox Covert (adjacent to the Therfield Road), but there was no sign of any firecrests. Later in the morning I visited the dung heaps between Ashwell and Eyeworth, where a wheatear had been reported on the 17th. I couldn't locate the wheatear or any water pipits (I saw one here at around this time of year in 2018), but a migratory white wagtail was amongst about 10 pied wagtails and 20 meadow pipits seen. On the 19th I ventured out for my first full (Royston - Therfield - Reed - Royston) 'Local Patch' walk since the end of January. Four singing chiffchaffs were recorded on the way round and a treecreeper was a good sighting in Reed Village, whilst eight corn buntings (including a flock of five and a singing bird) were at Hatchpen Farm. Brimstone butterflies were on the wing in warmer weather. Blackthorn was starting to flower and lesser celandine and violets were also in bloom. My bird list of 44 species (41 seen) was, not surprisingly, the best of the year so far. However I paid for my efforts as the back problem reared its ugly head again and forced me back indoors.

A blackcap was singing in the woodland at the bottom of my road on the 26th, as was a chiffchaff. A holly blue butterfly near the hospital was a surprising find - I don't recall seeing this species so early in the year before. Less surprising were sightings of brimstone, peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies in the same area. The following day I walked up to Hatchpen Farm. Several hares were seen as I passed through Newsells Stud Farm and one gave very good views as it stopped a few feet in front of me. Three fallow deer, including a 'white' animal, were also seen here.

 February 2019 

February started with snow on the ground on the 1st, but by the final week record high February temperatures were being recorded for Scotland and Wales, whilst in Royston daytime temperatures reached 17C in glorious, unbroken sunshine! Nevertheless, February was a quiet month for wildlife in the Royston area. Birds were largely static, with the exception of a small movement of meadow pipits back onto The Heath and the loss of most of the redwings as the temperature continued to rise in the second half of the month. Fieldfares took the form of a single flock, 150 to 200 strong, that I regularly encountered along the Icknield Way between Therfield Heath and Therfield village. Lapwings, which had been prominent on Greys Farm in January, appeared to move east to Hatchpen Farm, where at least 50 were seen on the 18th. The four regular birds of prey (kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard and red kite) were all much in evidence but there were no sightings of January's hen harrier or of any owls. A flock of at least 250 skylarks was seen at Park Farm on the 1st, but by the 22nd individual skylarks were singing all around the Royston area. Joining the 'song fest' were great tits, song thrushes and mistle thrushes, whilst even chaffinches were tuning up in ridiculously warm weather. A nuthatch was a surprise visitor to my garden feeders on the 13th. Coveys of grey partridges were breaking up to form pairs and smaller groups and the males were calling from several places as I walked along the Icknield Way on the early evening of the 21st. A very early bat flew past me near Wicker Hall at dusk on the 21st and I noted a pair of frogs in amplexus in the garden pond, later in the evening! 

January 2019

I recorded 45 bird species on the 2nd on my first 'Local Patch' walk of 2019. There were no surprises, but it was great to see all five local tits (a marsh tit was seen in Reed village), large numbers of red kites (including one flying over my house), 11 grey partridges and a big flock of golden plover (I counted 148 from an image that I took of them in flight) at Greys Farm. A wintering male stonechat was on the Old Rifle Range on the 5th and a female was seen there on the 8th. Both birds have probably been present since late September 2018, although surprisingly I have only seen them together on one occasion. Also on the 8th a peregrine, my first local sighting for over a year, put all the gulls up at Greys Farm. I had a productive walk on the west side of The Heath on the 11th, connecting again with the roaming brambling flock (around 20 strong) in Fox Covert and also adding treecreeper to my year list. A long walk on the afternoon of the 15th, which was both literally and metaphorically very dull, was enlivened by a surprise sighting of a chiffchaff on the edge of my estate. The bird, which didn't hang around, was seen near a huge flock of tits, finches, dunnocks and robins. Wintering chiffchaffs have been seen at Royston sewage works, a couple of miles to the north, but this is only the second that I have encountered close to my home (the first was seen on a snowy morning in early February, several years ago). A week later, on a cold but sunny morning, a walk up the Icknield Way and onto The Heath provided my first local skylarks of the year, another sighting of the female stonechat on the Old Rifle Range (but still no sign of the male) and a flock of 19 corn buntings sitting in a tree. The following day I did a "there and back" afternoon walk up into Therfield village. On my way back down the Icknield Way I met a couple coming up the hill who had just seen a hen harrier. I was unable to find it, but as consolation did have good views of a hunting barn owl on Greys Farm. I had better luck on the 28th, when a 'ringtail' hen harrier hunting at Greys Farm gave good views before moving off north east in the direction of Heath Farm just before sunset. Half an hour later a barn owl was hunting in the usual field at Greys Farm. Earlier in the day I had seen female stonechats at both ends of The Heath and at least one female brambling in Fox Covert.