Cambridgeshire Bird Club

Cambridgeshire Spotted Flycatcher Project  2016

The CBC is planning to continue our survey of breeding Spotted Flycatchers into 2016.

Last year's results, and the challenges of Spofling

Over a hundred observers provided records of Cambs Spotted Flycatchers in 2015. My thanks to you all. I tried to follow up most recent breeding records, and a number of us systematically searched traditional sites.

38 pairs were confirmed breeding, either by nests found, or by very recently fledged and dependent young being recorded nearby where a pair had been present earlier. A further four pairs probably bred where they were recorded at the same site on more than one occasion. An additional eight pairs may possibly have bred; this included single birds more than once or pairs just once at suitable or traditional sites. The distribution of pairs was fairly even throughout the county outside of the large towns and cities, with a tendency towards the north and west – Hunts villages along the north-western A14 and A1 corridors scored particularly well.

Flycatchers are now so thinly distributed – only a handful of tetrads had more than a single record – that it will be increasingly difficult for birds to intercept one another. A notable feature of early May records was of birds, presumably returning males, conspicuous or singing at a traditional site for a few days before disappearing. There were perhaps twelve such cases. Equally nests were still being found, and noisy young family parties reported, late into early August. This may suggest that some roving birds do persevere and eventually hook up with a partner. It is possible that such late nests were second broods or repeat attempts, but they could also have been just very late getting started.

Unlike tits, for example, which need to synchronise breeding with a invertebrate food source on a fixed timetable, Flycatchers can successfully raise young all summer long, provided they have a supply of largish prey. In some cases this food supply (butterflies, hoverflies) was provided by just one flowering bush or plant; or by a small stream. Many never ranged further than 50 or so metres from their nest-site. Others fed high in the canopy. Given how unobtrusive and silent the birds can be, it's likely that the species is under-recorded. With a pair on the back of a house or in a large garden you certainly cannot rely on them ever to be audible or visible from the road; though you may just be lucky to get one on some wires or an aerial. Many house-owners don't even know that the birds are there, or if they do what they are. Even when adults are present, RSPB fieldwork suggests that only one visit in three will necessarily detect them. For my part, I have on several occasions visited nests for ringing without seeing either one of the parent birds or hearing alarm calls. In a number of cases birds were present, but couldn't be pinned down despite considerable effort – only for a fledged family to pop up a few weeks later in precisely the same location.

Nests were predominantly found in two categories of habitat: rural village gardens (not necessarily large ones) with good herbaceous plantings and often with some water; and parkland with good nettle or umbellifer patches (pollarded limes make popular nest sites). Searches of mature woodland were often fruitless, but by and large woods are rarely visited by birders in summer, so this could just be a recording bias.

If you just see even a single Spotted Flycatcher after 1 June this year, it will be worth following up. Do you know of a pair nesting near you this year, or of a traditional site which may be being used again?

Please see the list of priority sites and email

with any information you have, including records of single birds; and please provide a map reference, preferably to 100m (as TL000000). Follow your leads up and keep us informed or we can arrange to follow up if you don’t have time yourself.

Michael Holdsworth


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