Monday 15 April 2024


An impromptu blog post, while the 'Grantchester Meadows - My Cambs Patch' post is slowly being written...

It's been one of the busiest springs of my life yet, with a dissertation and two courseworks to finish before exam finals can be thought too much about. It's also, funnily enough, meant that I've been able to spend more time outside than usual. Less procrastination and time on my phone, more time with a fixed routine of wake up, work 10-4ish, walk/go birding, work from 6:30ish until I finish etc. This has helped stay on top of things mentally, as well as cash in on most classic spring migrants already. The only thing that was missing was that early spring scarcity. 

After a few weeks away from Cambridge, I got back on Thursday the 11th April, which meant that of course - as always happens - a male Woodchat Shrike was found the following day at Beddington. This does genuinely always happen, and so once again, I just assumed that that was the scarcity I'd miss. A morning at Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB on Saturday morning with Joe and Dan Livermore produced a pretty exceptional 85 species including 5 Grasshopper Warblers, but was also just missing that sort of bird to top it off. Of the many lovely birders met over the course of the morning, Alan Hitchings kindly predicted a rarity for Grantchester - we need more of these predictions. 

So Sunday 14th April, having seen the weather, I had a lie in [hayfever+cold=supercold] to rest a bit before heading out late morning. Joe was initially planning to twitch the same Whinchat we'd dipped the day before at Fen Drayton, last minute cancelling and deciding to join me to dig around at the Grantchester Meadows patch. This is a patch I've put a lot of effort into since starting uni in autumn 2021, with 107 species seen over a little over 200 visits. Habitat wise it's quite simple - with the Cam running through, one side is [sometimes water] meadowland, the other grassland, shrubs, hedgerows and rape fields. When we met up, Redstart and Ring Ouzel was the target, but for once we were both optimistic for what more might have come in. Reaching the first fields of the patch, a possible Redstart call from the rape fields running parallel west of the site made us switch from doing the meadows first to instead going along a different route. Briefly splitting to no avail, we rejoined where two paths met near Grantchester Road and dense, low hedgerows enclosed the road. Here a Swallow flew over and a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling its song away. A few steps later, a Whitethroat flew along the road, which we thought to double check. 

As we tracked the Whitethroat, a bird was noted sat at the top of the hedge further along, flicking its tail enthusiastically. We assumed that this would be the/a Redstart, until we got bins onto the bird. Perched ahead of us was a male Bluethroat, it's bright blue chest the first thing we noticed. I think we both did a double take, as it wasn't till I blinked and processed that I noticed more than the blue - the white supercilium, orange breast and thin long legs creating a slim-shaped impression. We both just stood in stunned silence for the 7-10 seconds or so until an irritated Dunnock caused it to dip down low across the road into another hedge. Finally Joe spoke some English to make me realise I wasn't going insane, and we had just seen a Bluethroat, which he thought was White-spotted. I didn't notice a spot, but since it can be conspicuous, that isn't too much of a surprise.

For the next half an hour once locals were alerted, we desperately looked along every field edge and hedge, hoping to see the blue-breasted bandit bobbing around. Even with the help of others, two hours of searching revealed nothing but a likely brief glimpse, with nothing again later on in the evening when we returned with reinforcements. Somewhat expected I guess, but a shame nonetheless for those who came looking. 

Either way, a superb bird to see and one that myself and Joe will long remember. It may have taken 208 trips but it's eventually paid off and as ever, enjoyed in company in lovely weather. It's only mid April so fingers crossed spring continues to produce! 

The rape field running alongside the Bluethroat hedge

The celebratory cake gifted with love by Louis Driver - enjoyed with a pint after!

1 comment:

  1. A fine and interesting account of finding that very special bird, and very well deserved. Thanks for the mention Arjun