Sightings

We are fortunate to have some Campus staff who have an interest in ornithology and regularly go out onto the Wetlands Reserve and Campus wide to record the wildlife and birds that are using the area.

If you would like to get involved, consider joining this group. Please contact wetlands@wellcomegenomcampus.org for further information.

When to watch wildlife month-by-month

January wildlife sightings at the wellcome genome campus
January

Christmas is over and the new year celebrations are now a mere hangover. January and February are the core of winter, and Spring feels a long way off. Days are short, but can be crisp and bright.

Look out for:

  • Snowdrops
  • Redwings, fieldfares and waxwings
  • Frogs returning to ponds
  • Thrushes, robins and great tits singing for territories
  • Skylarks
  • Geese, ducks and waders

As the month progresses, the song thrush, with its strident repeated notes, starts to proclaim its territory. On sunny days blackbirds, greenfinches and great tits also sing. In woodlands you may be lucky enough to hear a great spotted woodpecker drumming against a tree.

February sightings wellcome genome campus
February

The month of February can be as harsh as any, with snow and freezing winds. However it is possible to spot hints of better things to come. Although spring is still several weeks away the first signs are there to see. Hazel catkins have started to expand into golden tassels in order to release their pollen to the wind. The female part of the hazel plant, which catches the wind borne pollen, consists of a tiny red cone of red stigmas.

Look out for:

  • Frog spawn in ponds
  • Hazel catkins opening out
  • Mistle and song thrushes

Some birds have already started to sing. Mistle and song thrushes proclaim their territory from lofty perches. On the sunnier days, a great tit may sing its repetitive “tea-cher tea-cher” song.

Colour is returning to the dirty road verges in the form of the green shoots of grasses, nettles and clumps of cowparsley and goosegrass.

March wildlife sightings at the wellcome genome campus
March

Although there can be warm days, March can often remain in the grip of the winter weather. However it is impossible not to feel the mounting anticipation of Spring and notice the new emergent life. As the nights get longer, and at last the clocks change (“spring forward”), there is a renewed optimism for the new season ahead.

Look out for:

  • Mad-March-hares
  • Chiff Chaffs start to arrive
  • First woodland flowers
  • Blackthorn in flower

In March and April bats emerge from their winter hibernation, to hunt out flying insects on which they feed. In towns, the small pipistrelle is the most common species. Bats are very particular in their hibernating sites requiring a stable temperature and humidity.

April wildlife sightings at the wellcome genome campus
April

April is a fabulous month for wildlife, as the trees and shrubs burst into leaf with fresh, vibrant green foliage. The fragile leaves are vulnerable to insect attack, but this early growth is still beautiful perfection. Bird song grows in volume and diversity in April, although it is not until May that all our breeding species arrive back to complete the ensemble. However early morning sleep can be disturbed by a strident blackbird or song thrush. In the countryside on sunny days the chiff-chaff and blackcap will already have been singing for a week or two.

Look out for:

  • Trees and hedgerows in leaf
  • Butterflies emerging
  • Early meadow flowers including orchids
  • Blackbirds, song thrush and blackcap

Wildlife to watch in May at the wellcome genome campus
May

Our summer migrants have all now arrived and their songs and calls mingle with the residents bird species. Summer specialities such as nightingale, cuckoo, swifts and swallows bring a special excitement to wildlife watching.

Warblers fill the woodlands and hedgerows. Blue tits, great tits, robins, blackbirds and song thrushes lead a frantic life seeking food to satisfy the insatiable appetite of their young.

Look out for:

  • Birds nesting
  • Song birds singing – the ‘dawn chorus’
  • Butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies emerging
  • Trees and hedgerows in flower

June wildlife-spotting at the wellcome genome campus
June

In June summer is in full swing, with mid-summer officially heralded on the 21st of this month. The countryside is lush and the hedgerows, meadows and woodlands are bursting with growth. Trees are now all fully in leaf. Most have started to lose their spring freshness by the end of May, with the bright green exchanged for a darker and mellower hue. The hawthorn blossom starts to fade, but the elder blooms light up the roadsides with their big disks of creamy pungent flowers.

This month look out for:

  • Yellowhammers, cornbuntings and goldfinches
  • Butterflies, dragonflies and demoiselles
  • Ox-eye daisy, birds foot trefoil, cowparsley
  • Swifts, swallows and house martins chasing insects

The birds are worth seeking out. One particular favourite is the canary-like yellowhammer from a hedgerow perch. Also the more dowdy corn bunting proclaims its territory with a song like the jangle of a bunch of keys. Linnets, goldfinches and greenfinches all add to the June sounds with their twittering and rasping songs. These residents are augmented by summer visitors such as whitethroats and other warblers.

July wildlife to spot at the Wellcome Genome Campus
July

By July the countryside has taken on a rich uniform green, punctuated with contrasting golden squares, where the hay and silage has been cut, or the barley is ripening. The air has a scent of cut grass and frizzes with insects. Summer relaxes.
This month look out for:

  • Butterflies and dragonflies
  • Goldfinches and blackbirds
  • Swifts, swallows and house martins chasing insects

The hedgerows are full and plump with nettles, the tall upright hedge parsley, burdock, cleavers, creeping thistle, meadow crane’s-bill, and grasses setting seed. Where the verges have escaped being cut false-oat grass and cocksfoot are the most dominant grasses. As the buddleia comes into flower it attracts many insects such as bumble bees, and cabbage white, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock butterflies. Hedgehogs can be found snuffling around in many gardens.

Wildlife to watch in August at the wellcome genome campus
August

If the weather is hot, the countryside starts to look parched and tired, as grasses brown and even tree leaves start to wilt. In the hedgerows the blackberries have already started to ripen, going from green to red then finally black and delicious. Elderberries also ripen and are feasted on by hungry birds such as starlings and blackbirds. Other berries are ripening too, such as hawthorn (‘haws’), sloes and rose hips. These will provide sustenance for many species through the harsh winter months. For now food is plentiful, although the dry ground can cause problems for the ground feeding birds.

This month look out for:

  • Lapwings
  • Dragonflies and damselflies near water
  • Grasshoppers and butterflies

Hot days bring the restful sound of grasshoppers calling (‘stridulating’) from the long grass, advertising their territories. They are difficult to spot due to their green or brown colour, but soon hop to reveal themselves if disturbed, only to disappear again. In Britain the species most likely to be spotted are the common green, common field and the meadow grasshopper.

September wildlife to watch at the wellcome genome campus
September

September is the first month of Autumn, which brings great changes. Many plants die back to their storage roots below ground, overwinter as seeds or remain as a shadow of their former self above ground; deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves to protect them from the winter when the ground may be frozen and water scarce; animals fatten up for their winter hibernation, insect numbers decline massively as adults of many species die to leave the caterpillars or pupae to survive the winter; summer breeding birds move to their wintering grounds in Africa where they can be sure of food, whereas birds from the north descend in their thousands to the countryside, estuaries and even gardens of Britain.
This month look out for:

  • Hedgerows for berries, late butterflies and small birds
  • Dragonflies and damselflies near water
  • Fungi appearing in woodlands and grasslands

By September the horse-chestnut trees (conker trees) have been showing signs of the changing season for several weeks, already with their large palmate leaves browning at the edges. The horse-chestnut also yields up its seeds this month in the form of conkers which drop to the ground in their spiky green cases. Other tree species such as ash, beech and sweet chestnut are also turning with tinges of yellow, orange and light green.

October wildlife to observe at the wellcome genome campus
October

This is the month of the equinox, a marker that highlights the changing seasons. Autumn is in full swing by the time October gets underway and although there can still be warm days, you may also see your breath on a cold morning for the first time since last winter.

Flocking greenfinches are amongst the birds now returning to the garden. They can appear to have an insatiable hunger for the seed feeders and hanging peanuts enjoyed by the blue tits.

Look out for:

  • Greenfinches and Blue Tits
  • Acorns and hazelnuts ripening
  • Fungi in woodlands and grasslands

Wildlife to watch in November at the Wellcome Genome Campus
November

Last Autumn colours in the hedgerows and woodlands.
Look out for:

  • Bird flocks in wetlands and estuaries
  • The arrival of redwings, fieldfares and waxwings
  • Atlantic salmon moving to spawning grounds
  • Fungi in woodlands and grasslands

Although gardens may hang on to late flowers there is very little colour to be seen amongst the native plant species. The last of the summer bird migrants leave but now the trees are bare it is easier to spot the residents and winter migrants. Amongst the most likely birds to be seen in the gardens, woodlands and fields are flocks of roaming tits and finches.

December wildlife to spot at the Wellcome Genome Campus
December

There can be no mistaking that winter is finally upon us in December, as frost grips the countryside and the trees are bare. It is from now until next spring that the battle for survival is at its most extreme for most animals, as food is scarce and temperatures are low. There are a number of tactics to get through this lean period. One is to migrate to a warmer location, another is to stick it out on stored food reserves.

Look out for:

  • Last spring’s bird nests showing in leafless hedges
  • Bird flocks in wetlands and estuaries
  • Redwings, fieldfares and waxwings
  • Baby seal pups on our coasts

This month is, of course, dominated by the run-up to Christmas. It is now, perhaps more than any other time that we bring plants from the countryside into our home. Evergreens such as holly, with its rosy berries (only on the female plants), are used in wreaths, along with ivy and fir cones too.

Wetlands Nature Reserve events' programme

The Wetlands Nature Reserve is run by the Wellcome Trust with support and advice being provided by the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust.

Learn more