All posts by Olwen W

January Sightings 2021

Well, the Water Meadows certainly came into their own this month! Upstream of the city, there has been widespread and repeated flooding : Paradise, Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green, Skaters Meadows and Grantchester Meadows all turned into lakes. (So far, there has not been enough of an overnight frost to turn them into skating rinks.)  Fulbrooke Wood and allotments suffered from a blocked drain adjacent to the woodland.  The water level in the lake in Hobson Park and in Hobson Brook was also very high. Along with the rain came mud, in large quantities! The riverbank path in Paradise has been closed and most footpaths are uncomfortably muddy.  Cold water and high water levels did not deter a couple of swimmers, however.  Furthermore, all this rain must be good news for the chalk streams and aquifers.


Some decided to stay indoors: David sent this picture of a Christmas present Grow Box for Yellow Oyster mushrooms. Grown in the kitchen indoors, they were from a self-contained kit, and all that was needed was to spray with water – too easy, he says. I hope they tasted good.

Quite a lot of Raptor reports: a Buzzard sitting on top of flagstaff on The Job Centre opposite the Jesus Green footbridge (Liza).  Jesus’ female Kestrel is still around (Rhona).  Peregrines were mentioned by Jeff and by Gleb, who also encountered a Sparrowhawk sitting on the pavement, eating a pigeon. Pam was entranced by the sight of a Red Kite, low over Paradise and heard Tawny Owls calling in Newnham.

Water birds

From being an occasional and notable rarity, Little Egrets are now about as common as Herons. I spotted 4 together on Skaters Meadow and several others also sent reports (Mo, Richard, Rosemary, Jeff, Bob). They seem to be everywhere (but where do they nest? A NatHistCam prize for the first answer to this question.)  However, in addition to the Little Egret, Grantchester has been visited by a Cattle Egret (Gleb) and Bob says there had been about 6 in the Earith/Fen Drayton area. Perhaps they are moving in too?

At Hobson’s Park, the island in the lake has been drastically reduced by the rise in water level. Squashed into this area were at least 100 Snipe, a dozen Lapwings, a pair of Teal, a male Shoveler, Tufted Ducks and several Pochard, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, an occasional Cormorant, Egret and Grey Heron.  And then there were the Geese! Up to 100 Greylags plus plenty of Canada Geese : the roosting birds were unable to practice social distancing on the island, the snipe being forced to roost along the tops of the tree trunks.  (Richard comments that Countryside, the main developer here, failed to cut back the vegetation last year on the eight rafts on the lake, which deprives the birds of roosting space now and of nesting sites later on.)

A female Goosander was seen sleeping with the Mallards in the flooded field opposite Paradise (Pam, Bob, Gleb). There was also an Egyptian Goose in the same place – chased by the local Domestic Geese, who then in turn were charged by a Swan (Gleb). It’s all getting territorial as spring approaches.  Jeff reports about 30 Teal and 3 Shoveler (2 drakes and a duck) in Grantchester Meadows. The Glossy Ibis is also still around, caught here with a rather disgruntled Heron.

The unmistakable  first overhead  honk of a Heron was around 20th January – a week earlier than 2020 (Pam). In Newnham, this signals the end of winter – the change-over from large gatherings of Rooks and Jackdaws as the herons reclaim their nesting territory in the tall trees of Paradise Island. Ionathan comments on a Black-Headed Gull with a pink breast in Logan’s Meadow. (I have never noticed, but apparently it is not uncommon.) Bob saw a Water Rail at Logan’s Meadow.

Plants

With typical under-statement, Jonathan had ‘nothing of real significance’ to report on the botanical front for January and had seen only 314 species in the NHC area during the month, with 111 of them in flower, the most frequent being Common Fieldspeedwell. Monica’s perambulations  turned up a few Sweet Violets in flower along Snakey Path and Aconites at Cherry Hinton Hall. Meanwhile, Bob has been further afield, finding Daphne laureola (Spurge-laurel) flowering in woods between Girton and Madingley.

Bee Orchid rosettes are appearing: at West Pit Cherry Hinton, near Addenbrooke’s hospital and at Nightingale Recreation Grounds. This last site was the scene of spectacular Helleborines last spring – one benefit of lock-down, when children were excluded. Hopefully it will not be repeated this spring.

Countryside birds

The distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘countryside’ tends to blur in the winter, as hungry Fieldfare (Jeff) and Redwings (Stella) invade our gardens. Ionathan (aged 12) says, “You may be interested to know that during the Big Garden Birdwatch I saw a Black Redstart in our garden. It was unmistakable and amazing.”  Certainly unusual!  Stonechats have been reported from 3 sites (Richard, Jeff, Bob) – are they getting more common?  The hedgerows and meadows around Grantchester Rd turned up about 400 Lapwings, 9 Grey Partridges, around 80 Skylarks, 8 Meadow Pipits, 32 Pied Wagtails and 6 Corn Buntings (Jeff), while Bob noted  about 1000 Linnets on crop/trash and stubbles between Impington and Huntingdon Road and 40 Meadow Pipits behind Huntingdon Road.  David reports a flock of 25 Goldfinches near the Coton Footpath.

Garden birds

Lots of reports of Blackcaps visiting feeders (Pam, Liza, Clarke). Less usual were 2 Greenfinches (Clarke), not seen or heard here for a long time: indeed Goldfinches and Chaffinches have also virtually disappeared from Newnham. However, I did see a Bullfinch at the Pembroke allotments and Jeff reports 3 from Fulbrooke area. Then there were 2 Siskin in Paradise, doubtless enjoying the Alder catkins (Jeff). Bob heard a Nuthatch calling around Chaucer Rd – nice to have additional records, away from the Backs. Lots of comments about Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, both sightings and drumming. Jo reports up to 8 Magpies together in Mill Road cemetery. Do we have a magpie boom just now?

Invertebrates

On Jan 26th, Liza says, “The sun is not shining and the air temperature is 3 degrees C, but I have just seen a queen Bombus terrestris visiting flowers of Clematis cirrhosa.” Rhona also reports  Buff-tailed bumblebee on Hellebore.  In Madingley Hall grounds, Peter found a statue with a beautiful ‘tiara’ of hibernating 7-Spot Ladybirds. A small number of early moths – Chestnut & Pale Brindled Beauty – are starting to turn up in moth traps (Paul). Finally, I found a perfect, though dormant, Peacock Butterfly on the kitchen carpet.

Vertebrates

Water Voles have been active at Cherry Hinton Brook (Monica) and Logan’s Meadow (Bob) during the month. (Apparently, they do not hibernate over-winter, but do spend more time in their burrows.)  Jill reports a Fox abroad at night, while Jeff saw a Stoat crossing Grantchester Rd with prey and a couple of Brown Hares in the same area.

Clarke reports 3 Frogs and a Newt in small garden and comments, “Plenty of fodder for the Grass Snake (September sightings) if it reappears in 2021!”  However, I imagine they have disappeared again during our current cold snap.

I leave you with Val: “What I’ve seen is birds (magpies, robins) rushing about with stuff in their beaks like they are building nests. And the birdsong is getting louder, more frantic and more beautiful.  Is the sap rising?  Snowdrops are coming out – and I saw a daffodil yesterday. 

Oh Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?  (PBS)”

December 2020 Sightings

Pictures of the Month

Jonathan reminded us of the Grand Conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter on Dec 21st, the two planets coming together in the SW sky. Sadly, Cambridge was largely cloudy, but Duncan took this photo at Soham a couple of days beforehand. He says, “You can see the rings of Saturn (and Ganymede is in the middle of the image)”.

A little nearer home, 2020 was one of the top five hottest years on record for the UK and also one of the top ten wettest and the top ten sunniest years (Met. Office). This is a graphic illustration of the ongoing effects of global warming and climate instability (and a warning that neither Brexit nor COVID19 pandemic should take our attention away from climate change – infinitely more damaging than either).

Gleb spotted a Glossy Ibis in the fields S of the A14 – this is no longer considered a great rarity in UK, but is another signal of climate change. Early flowering plants included Snowdrops in the wooded area at Churchill College (John), Primroses and Cyclamen (Eve) and Cowslips (Mo). December has been very wet, with water meadows flooded, and footpaths muddy. (Anita comments that the water seemed very ‘dirty’ – brown and frothy – was this agricultural run-off?) Even the boardwalk in Paradise flooded at one point, while the riverside path had a stream running across it from the central swamp. 

Early Snowdrops at Churchill Katherine Davis Banarse

Birdsong is also early – on 2nd Dec, a Blackbird was in full song. By 20th a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming and Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock and Song Thrush were all singing.  Bird feeders were busy: Blackcaps (Eve, Anita), a huge flock (12-15) of Long Tailed Tits twice a day (Pam), a male Siskin in Cherry Hinton (Holly), in Newnham, a Sparrow Hawk (Gerd), a Jay and several Magpies (Olwen) and in Grantchester Street, Jackdaws shaking a bird feeder and getting enough to feed both the Jackdaws and the local Pigeons (Anita).

Are House Sparrows making a come-back?  In Eden Street, 2 males were squabbling over the birdbath, the first sighting there in four years (Lesley), while in Chesterton Hall Crescent they have also moved in this year – Eve sent this picture of a family of young sparrows feeding on her Pyracantha.

Young House Sparrows on Pyracantha Eve Corder

Other birds: a Newnham garden turned up a Tree Creeper (Gerd), Gleb reports a Little Owl at Waterbeach (outside our target area), Jeff found 13 Pied Wagtails at the Cambridge Rugby Club and a Stonechat in the same area, a Tawny Owl was calling at Pinehurst (Jill) and flock of 10-20 Redwings in Paradise were eating the ivy berries (Rhona).

Sam reports Starlings (50-100) around Parker’s Piece. I spotted a bedraggled Kestrel and then followed a Kingfisher all the way down river through Paradise – a great treat. In Cherry Hinton, Ann had good views of a hunting Peregrine and also reports a Reed Bunting at Great Kneighton. Anita saw a Cormorant catch a fish in the upper Cam. 

There were still some Invertebrates around:  a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee on Dec 1st, feasting on Lonicera flowers (Mo), a Brimstone Butterfly flying about Barnwell East on 17th Dec, and Rhona saw the hoverflies Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade hoverfly) and Meliscaeva auricollis and a Common Green Shieldbug, in its winter colouring.  (They may apparently remain green or turn brown in winter – all good camouflage.) Paul’s moth trap turned up a Winter Moth, fully equipped with fur coat.

Chris became excited at the discovery of the mildew, Erysiphe symphoricarpi on Snowberry plants on Madingley Road (well, you would be, wouldn’t you!?)  He’d been looking for it for the last few years and had eventually found it. Mo was excited for a different reason: even though 3 Hedgehogs had been found dead nearby earlier in the year, the night camera showed one was still visiting her garden in Trumpington.

Another contribution from Chris (at which point I must take the opportunity to thank the various members of the NHC committee for their superb contributions this month). On a memorial in Histon Rd Cemetery are four Serpents, each slightly different, on the sides of the memorial. Chris finds: “Snake: Or, serpent, despite its nefarious reference in the Bible, has come to represent eternity and rebirth. The snake forming a circle and nearly devouring its own tail is known as an oroboros and symbolizes infinity. Also, the ability to shed its skin and be “reborn” in a new body is of significance to spirituality.”  

Although NatHistCam is neither eternal nor infinite, Bob’s declaration of finality (The Last One – December 2020) was premature and I will continue once a month for the time being until our eventual re-incarnation in the form of the book we are preparing (and I hope you will all read). Thanks to all contributors and please keep them coming.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

November 2020 Sightings

Although this month is nearly all about birds, I propose to start with the Ladybirds. At this time of year they hibernate, often in groups. Rhona’s 7-Spot huddle on holly leaves is complemented by John’s double take: 7-spots occupying one cane and Harlequins the other.  (Segregation of species is apparently normal.) All the canes in that area had ladybirds crowded into them.

Less fortunate were Rhona’s Kidney Spot LB, which has Hesperomyces sp. fungi showing on the wing case.  This fungus is known to infect several ladybird species including Harlequins. Then Paul found a dead 7-spot Ladybird with the cocoon of the parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae attached to its underside. The gruesome story here is that this wasp lays a single egg which is planted in the host’s soft underbelly. The wasp larva hatches after 5–7 days into a first instar larva with large mandibles and proceeds to remove any other eggs or larvae, before beginning to feed on the ladybird’s fat bodies and gonads. After a further four larval instars, when it is ready to emerge, the wasp larva paralyses the ladybird before tunnelling out. It pupates in a cocoon attached to the leg of the living ladybird, whose brightly coloured body and occasional twitching deter predation. While the developing wasp is extremely vulnerable, the ‘zombified’ ladybird acts as its bodyguard.

Jeff reports a small, dark Sylvia Warbler over the fields to the west of Grantchester Rd on 7th. There was a prevailing south-easterly airstream.  It was uniformly dark grey, with a red eye ring. He thought it might be a Marmora’s or Balearic Warbler, otherwise perhaps a juvenile Dartford Warbler. Lesley comments on the increasing Starling population in the trees in Histon Road Cemetery. She asks, “They like the high limes rather than the lower sycamores. I’d be interested to know if that’s because they prefer to be high up or because the limes provide more food –  no doubt someone in this group can tell me!”  A winter murmuration of Starlings can be seen over Newnham, the birds roosting on the island of Bolton’s Pit (Penny). A Song Thrush was heard singing 20/21st Nov.

Ben’s ‘Arbury’ Peregrines are still about and hunting the Pigeons above St Luke’s School. Malcolm reports one at close quarters near the river in Newnham.  Jill watched as a male Kestrel dismembered a catch (probably a vole), one foot holding it firm, beak wrenching away. After ten minutes a fat grey squirrel challenged it and it flew off. Sparrow-hawks are regularly seen at St John’s (David) – I hope they don’t find Maria’s Sparrows, seen in numbers on the feeder in S. Cambridge for the first time in 15 years.  David also reports Nuthatches and Treecreepers at St John’s – rare elsewhere.  Many thanks to all who sent accounts of other bird-life, including Goldcrests in the trees along the Burnside allotments (Holly). Like many others, I have enjoyed the flocks of mixed Tits, especially the Long-Tailed Tits.

The usual water birds are reported – thanks to Sue for the picture of the Heron. A Water Rail has been seen several times at the end of Burnside along Snakey Path (Holly).  Several folk had seen Kingfishers – Pam for the first time, in spite of living locally for 60 years! It was fishing alongside a Cormorant.

Martin reports a female Blackcap feeding on over-ripe grapes and rowan berries, while Clarke watched one eating mistletoe berries in the garden. He informed me that the BTO had recently drawn attention to a paper on blackcap migration, showing that the UK’s winter blackcaps (rather strangely) migrate in a northerly direction to come here for winter from central Europe, while the ones that breed here in summer head south for winter! It makes me wonder if they greet each other as they pass.  Our winter blackcaps have increased in recent decades and are very good at distributing mistletoe seeds.

Jean comments on the Buff-Tailed Bumble Bees which are still active. A queen (from a second brood) regularly visited her ‘Hot Lips’ Salvia until mid November. Steven Falk notes that “In some areas (especially southern cities) these queens give rise to a third winter-active generation that take advantage of winter-flowering shrubs”.  Most other invertebrates have retreated for the winter, though Paul continues to find new ones – his most recent tally is 503 insect species.

 Gleb saw a small Hedgehog off Church Street – possibly too small to survive the winter – they shouldn’t be out in November.  The Botanic Garden turned up a Water Vole scampering along at the edge of the lake, and a beautiful large Fox which strolled off across the lawns (Sam).

Maria was visited by a Muntjac Deer in her S. Cambridge garden.  She says, “We had just finished breakfast, when it wandered onto the patio, at one point coming right up to the door. It stayed for about 15 minutes investigating the bird food and nibbling a few plants before leaving by the steps to the main garden. There was a cat sitting on top of the steps and the deer calmly stepped over the it: neither seemed bothered, so I don’t know if they have met before!”  It certainly looks a bit skinny and under-fed.

PS I previously asked where to find red toadstools with white spots: Mark says “The reason we do not get Fly Agaric in Cambridge is that it is a strict calcifuge”. The Wildlife Trust says it occurs in Holme Fen and in beechwoods – both presumably acidic soil.

Olwen Williams                                  olwenw@gmail.

October 2020 Sightings

For once I am going to start with fungi. It has been a most magnificent year, especially for luxuriant Honey Fungus, though not good news for gardeners. Mark sent a photo of honey fungus attacking a Holm Oak, which later died. 

On Lammas Land, a full circle of Shaggy Parasols was enjoyed until a passer-by kicked it all down.  Our chairman, Mark Hill says, “Took enough home for two large helpings on buttered toast.  Yum, yum.  According to the WildfoodUK website ‘Shaggy Parasols can cause gastric upsets in about 1 in 25 people. If you are trying some for the first time, cook well and only try a small amount, wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction.’  Clearly I did not do a trial.”  This ring surrounded a Cherry tree and perhaps was introduced on the rootball: a delightful fairy ring in municipal grass, thanks Stella.

The other really prolific family have been the Coprinus (Ink Caps), coming up in great swarms. Although they only last a couple of days before melting into an inky mess, they have been spectacular.  Meanwhile. Gleb found 3 White Star-fungus growing in the garden near the walls of the house and at the birch glade near the nursery at CMS, 3 Woolly Milkcaps – a birch specialist. Another birch specialist was the Birch Polypore on an old birch log in the Botanic Garden. This bracket is also known as Razor-strop Fungus, a reference to its old use in sharpening cut-throat razors.

David writes ‘Because it is so photogenic, a Fly Agaric which was in Knettishall Heath, Suffolk (but I know that’s too far away to include in your blog)’. Not at all – I wish I knew where they grew more locally – can anyone help?  Jill reports the (rather more edible!) Field Mushroom on Grantchester Meadows: thanks Jill, the soup was delicious.

Becky reports lots of Waxcaps at the Wildlife Trust BCN Trumpington Meadows – including Blackening Waxcaps (above) and Splendid Waxcaps. There are some exquisite tiny fungi – I am adding a group of photos, some from Coton (Jonathan) and some Paradise (Paul). The Mycena family are generally small and bell-shaped.

Jonathan reported a Myxomycete (Slime Mould) – Stemonitis fusca – which was remarkable in being pink when first seen, but turned claret within 1½hrs. These are not fungi : they have a fascinating life history in that they can live freely as single cells, but can also aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures, as in this picture.

Several reports of untimely flowering – at Trumpington Meadows, Richard found several Cowslips in flower and Jill reports Horse Chestnut trees flowering again on Victoria Avenue and at Pinehurst. Jonathan records Spiked Veronica (Veronica spicata) growing on the Eddington site.  It is native on Newmarket Heath but at Eddington probably came in as a seed contaminant in the wildflower mix sown.  It is not common in Eastern UK, but is the county flower of Montgomeryshire.

There have been no more snake sightings, but Jane found a Common Newt in the lavatory bowl of a little-used (though indoor) toilet in Blinco Grove and a Common Frog had taken up residence in a washing up bowl in my courtyard.

Badgers and Hedgehogs have been reported to co-exist at Jesus (Rhona) and Trumpington Meadows (Becky), admittedly over large areas. At Trumpington, there are more hedgehogs in the north near the houses and more badgers in the south nearer to Hauxton. Gleb reports hedgehogs from Church St. Mo’s Trumpington night camera showed a visiting fox, also a rat, mice, pigeons and grey squirrel.  Unfortunately nothing as welcome as a hedgehog, but also no badger this month.  Perhaps the rain means they no longer need to dig in soft flower beds.  Pipistrelle Bats were active at dusk along the Grantchester Meadows late in the month.

Birds: Jane noted a Grey Partridge in Blinco Grove, Holly comments on the 4 surviving Cygnets, now becoming independent in Cherry Hinton and Gleb reports Sparrowhawks in Gilbert Rd. In Newnham, Tawny Owls were calling (Jill) while the big flock of Rooks and Jackdaws give spectacular displays morning and evening.  Kingfishers in Cherry Hinton brook and Paradise indicate a continuing, though unobtrusive population. Parkside pool turned up a young Jay on the grass (Val), Ben reports a Red Kite over Logan’s Meadow and a Cormorant resting in the trees opposite the Technology Museum.  A tiny Goldcrest was found in Jesus College (Rhona).

Jeff says, “The ‘set-aside’ fields along the Grantchester Rd held up to 20 Corn Bunting, 40 Skylark & 70 Linnet, with fewer Yellowhammers, but still a good number of Grey Partridge, I think 24 was the max total.” He also noted a male Stonechat along Barton Rd.

A Red-Green Carpet Moth, 22-Spot Ladybird and a Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax)(Rhona) were among the invertebrates seen. (The Drone Fly is a convincing Drone Bee mimic, hence the name, but note the single pair of wings, large eyes and short antennae which distinguish Diptera from Hymenoptera.) Jeff also reported a male Southern Hawker Dragonfly at the Paradise pond on the 6th and also 3 Willow Emerald Damselfly, a tandem pair of Migrant Hawker, & numerous ovipositing Common Darters.

As we travel into winter, please keep your records coming.

Olwen Williams                      olwenw@gmail.com

September Sightings 2020

The best sighting of the month was undoubtedly Vic’s battered Swallowtail in Cherry Hinton, which nearly caused her to crash the van! (She assumed it was a migrant from a European population, though it might have been raised locally: Wicken Fen has tried to re-introduce them.)  I gather: “The British race is the subspecies Papilio machaon britannicus, which is confined to the fens of the Norfolk Broads. This is partly due to the distribution of the sole larval food plant, Milk-parsley. In some years, there are reports of the P.m. gorganus subspecies arriving from the continent. This is less fussy and will use many kinds of Umbellifer as the larval food plant.”

Other butterflies include Jeff’s Small Copper, Brimstone and Common Blue; Mary’s Speckled Wood, Guy’s Small Copper, Small Heath and probable Small Blue and best of all, Paul’s Clouded Yellow, the last few all being at Trumpington Meadows.

Dragons and Damsels are still around: Jeff reports a Brown Hawker and at least 3 Willow Emerald Damselflies at Paradise pond (also present along Jesus ditch). The Botanic Garden is a hotspot for Odonata and the pond is full of nymphs of different species. The most interesting find here was an Emperor Dragonfly nymph, with its black and white banding (Duncan).

The BioBlitz at the Botanic Gardens was a great success. Dr Lynn Dicks, a visiting researcher from UEA Department of Zoology, pointed out all the different bees and wasps to be found there.  Colletes hederae, the Ivy bee, were in the Systematic Beds, the females burrowing into the bare soil around the plants.  Though solitary nesters, they aggregate, nesting close together.  These bees first turned up in 2001 in the South of the UK and are now widespread.

A Grange Rd garden turned up a splendid but unwelcome Scarlet Lily Beetle and a splendid and most welcome Cream-spot Ladybird (Paul); also, a small Soldier fly – the Dull Four-Spined Legionnaire.  Sam reports  a Silver-Y Moth and there are increasing sightings of the dreaded Boxmoth: beautiful but deadly!  Better news was a Humming-bird Hawkmoth in Newnham (Pam).

Rhona (Jesus  College) is always on the lookout for something new: this month a very rare medium-sized Ground Bug Raglius acuminatus with striking red-brown and white markings on the forewings and rear third of the pronotum.  A couple of other bugs turned up: a Brassica Shiedbug Eurydema oleracea (nymph) and this bright coloured Cinnamon Bug which startled its host (Andrew).  Finally, Paul warns of the dangers of long grass, sending a picture of a Deer Tick before  a feed. Although tiny (2-3mm) they may transmit Lyme’s Disease. (This one was (out of our area) at Fulbourn Fen.)

Hirundines gradually reduced in numbers over the first half of the month. Swifts, always the first to go, were last seen on 4th, a few House Martins lingered until 10th and Swallows until 24th (Jeff).  Guy reports a Cetti’s Warbler in song and I heard Chiffchaff calling. This seems to happen in the autumn – are they looking for company for the voyage or (someone suggested) is it more to do with the day length being the same as spring? Jeff reports other migrants: 2 Whinchat, 10 Blackcaps, juvenile Lesser Whitethroats along Barton Rd and a couple of Willow Warblers.

Grantchester Rd fields seem to be a good place for Grey Partridges (20) and Jeff saw 80 Linnets there too. Guy noted 5 Gadwall, Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Ducks at Cherry Hinton Lakes.  There has been a gradual build-up of Rooks and Jackdaws in the tall trees of Paradise Island – always a sign of autumn for me.  St Luke’s Church has been a good spot for Peregrine watching: one harried a flock of pigeons for 5 minutes before effortlessly snatching one mid-air (Ben).  Holly’s list of 21 species in Cherry Hinton includes Greenfinches (returning after an absence of several years) and 6 out of 7 surviving Cygnets.  My local Swans (new parents) had only one, which has survived and lives with Mum, Dad seemingly bored with parental duties. At Jesus Lock, Rufus saw a young male Swan apparently deliberately slide down the weir! 

A few mammal reports: a Water Vole in the brook along “Snakey Path” (Holly), 3 Hares and a Stoat at Nine Wells LNR, a Weasel at Barnwell West and a Field Vole at Hobson’s Park (Guy). Jenny says, “Not an exotic visitor, but I now know who is ripping the heads off the sunflowers I leave to go to seed in the garden for the birds”.

Jonathan says, “Probably the most exciting Botanical find this month was in the River Cam along Stourbridge Common.”  There are two species of Water-milfoil that are commonly seen in Cambridgeshire.  The Whorled one, Myriophyllum verticillatum produces “turions”, vegetative growths that allow the plant to survive over winter, whilst the other does not.  Both are threatened species in Cambridgeshire.  Using a small fallen branch as an improvised fishing rod, he fished some out, finding some Water-milfoil with two large turions.  Why the excitement? – this plant hasn’t been reported in the NatHistCam area for over 100 years. 

Other Botanical highlights included Fox and Cubs Pilosella aurantiaca (Monica), the Small Teasel Dipsacus pilosus, and an alien Goosefoot Chenopodium gigantium on Empty Common (Liza).

Guy reports 3 Grass Snakes in the contractors yard at Hobson’s Park. Meanwhile, in Milton, Clarke has been adopted by one. At the end of July, he found it inside the ‘barn’ – it put on a ‘threatening’ display and hissed at him! A week later, a kerfuffle just outside the back door found the Snake on the patio chasing a Frog, which it caught and proceeded to eat over a period of 11 minutes. Later in September, he found it swimming in the small pond. At some points, there were almost daily sightings, though none now since 15th September 2020. He hopes it will return.

Another enchanting story: Gleb was visited by a Frog, which availed itself of the invitation of an open door, hopped inside and began climbing the staircase! Although escorted outdoors, it stayed put on the grass. A week or two later, it was again in the porch – looking rather menacing, with glowing white eyes.  (I told him he had missed the opportunity – he should have kissed the frog in order to turn him back into a handsome Prince.)

Olwen Williams     olwenw@gmail.com

August sightings 2020

This month’s specials

August – a month of comings and (mostly) goings: the city has been full of migrants going south. Aggregations of Swifts, House Martins and Swallows have been reported, with swifts even up to the end of the month.  On two occasions, Jeff noted a single Noctule Bat feeding with the flock of swifts and martins.  He also reported a Common Redstart female along Barton Road, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Whinchat in Newnham.

Tawny Owls have begun calling again in Newnham (Pam), Jesus College (Rhona) and around Histon Road Cemetery (Lesley). Corvids have been coming together in Newnham as well, about 30 Jackdaws and a few Rooks in the evening. The mass arrival of these wonderful birds always signals the end of summer for me. Peregrines (Ben) and Sparrowhawks (Eve) have also been reported. Rhona sent a picture of a baby Stock Dove – one of Jesus’s many residents.

Trumpington Meadows continues to excel. As well as the Small Blue and Small Heath Butterflies, there have been several Clouded Yellow Butterflies there (Mo). Also carried on the warm southerly winds were day-flying Jersey Tiger Moths (Paul).  Gypsy Moths which had been extinct in East Anglia since the early 1900s, are turning up again in small numbers (Paul).

Duncan reports the transition from summer Odonata species to the start of the autumn ones. For the most part, Emperors and Black Tailed Skimmers have gone and Ruddy and Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers have arrived, together with Willow Emeralds. At the start of August there was a huge influx of Lesser Emperors and Southern Migrant Hawkers. Jeff also had a good number of sightings of damselflies and dragonflies, including a few Small Red-eyed Damselflies at Thompsons Park, together with a Black Tailed Skimmer.

 Rhona reports a Seed Beetle Bruchidius siliquastri which is fairly new to Britain. Another probable Cambridge first is the Hot Bed Bug Xylocoris galactinus (!) found in a (very hot) compost bin (Paul) (above). These are tiny predatory plant bugs that like compost.  Other contributions from Paul are a ménage à trois : mating Speckled Bush Crickets with a second male who tried to butt in, but was a bit too late. Then a stunning and quite scarce Gall Fly Merzomyia westermanni found on its food plant, ragwort, at East Barnwell NR and a Blue Shieldbug at Byron’s Pool. He also reports a couple of Spiders from his now famous garden: a Comb-footed Cellar Spider Nesticus cellulanus and a small orb web spider Gibbaranea gibbosa. While neither are particularly rare, these are new records for Cambridge, which is under-recorded for spiders (anyone want a project?!)

Maria saw what she thought was a ladybird pupa, until it walked away! 5mm and very spiky, it was on a thistle in Worts Causeway and turned out to be the larva of a Tortoise Beetle (Cassida sp, probably Cassida viridis). These larvae have twin tail spikes (the anal fork) at the end of the abdomen which they use to carry a faecal shield on their back. This is composed of its frass and bits of old exoskeleton. It is thought it may be used as camouflage or possibly for defence, as it can be raised and lowered and even swung.  (Superb pix Maria – better than anything on line!)

Otters have been travelling up Cherry Hinton brook and fishing in the Cherry Hinton fishing lakes (Duncan). Some large Carp have been taken. This probably explains why Otters have not been seen in the middle of Cambridge this year – they have found a better food source. Also in Cherry Hinton was a Rat near the children’s sandpit by the stream (Val).

Pam and Mary have both found it a good year for Frogs and I’ve also had lots of baby frogs in the garden. Is the tide turning here?  Hopefully they will be feeding the Grass Snakes such as those seen in Storeys Way and Fulbrooke Road (Jill).

And finally, Pam recounts the argument between a couple of foragers, who were busy attacking Paradise’s latest large Chicken of the Woods Fungus and a passer-by who felt they were spoiling its beauty for others.  She angrily defended her right to wild food!

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

July Sightings 2020

This Month’s Specials:

Another terrific month! As the blackberries ripen in the hedges, young birds fledge  and dragonflies make merry, it’s difficult to know where to start. There were lots of invertebrates, so….

…for a change, I will start with them. Trevor sent a pic of mating Poplar Hawkmoths (above). A White-Letter Hairstreak was seen at Jesus (Rhona) and there have been lots of Clouded Yellow Butterflies in Trumpington Meadows, migrants on a southerly wind. A Purple Hairstreak was spotted at Empty Common (Martin), another at Trumpington Meadows not far away, and a third in Grantchester (Jeff). There were Glow Worms at Cherry Hinton East Pit (Monica) and also near Teversham Fen (Guy).  A Hornet Moth was sighted in Coe Fen (Jonathan) and a Large Rose Sawfly in Harvey Goodwin Avenue (Ben). Rhona noted a Speckled Wood Butterfly trying to interest a female in mating.  Although he spent some time wafting pheromones over her, she played dead and he was unsuccessful! Another new observation was a Six -Belted Clearwing in Trumpington Meadows (above – Becky).

Jean comments that her Salvia, with hundreds of flowers, all had a hole on the left-hand side of the flower calyx caused by bees robbing the flower of nectar (and avoiding the pollen). Visiting bees were mainly Buff-tailed Bumblebees but also Honeybees. She wonders if other people have observed the same phenomena, and whether bees always attack the flower from the same side, i.e. the left. Any observations?

Jeff reports two Willow Emerald Damselflies at Paradise, and also a couple of Southern Migrant Hawkers, one defending territory there (photographed by Paul). Duncan also noted one of these relatively new arrivals at Ditton Meadows.

There have been a good lot of bird records too. It has been an excellent year for Swifts, especially in Southwest Cambridge. At one point, there were about 60 heading south, but they have now all disappeared. Martin reports three active House Martin nests in Covent Garden. Jeff spotted a female Hobby, a pair of Kestrels, with a fledged female youngster, two Red Kites, four Buzzards, a female Sparrowhawk and a male Peregrine, all in the same week. He also noted a Grey Partridge in Grantchester fields along with a Yellow Wagtail, and a family of Lesser Whitethroat. Colin spotted a Great Crested Grebe on the river at Fen Ditton and a Common Tern was again fishing the river by Grantchester Meadows (Jill).

Hedgehogs have been reported from Chesterton (June), where there seems to be a flourishing population, and also from Highsett (Mary). In Trumpington Mo sent me night camera pictures of both Hedgehog and Badger in her garden. Alas, one of her neighbours found three dead hedgehogs a few days later. This confirms our suspicions that these two species cannot coexist in the city. As always, badgers seem to be extending their range, the latest sighting being in Jesus College.  There were several reports of Foxes, with a family of five playing in a garden every night in Chesterton (Peter).

Moving on, Gleb sent pictures of the fungus Xerocomos subtomentosus near Jesus lock. Although these Suede Boletus are edible, he decided against harvesting it, because of potential pollution from the road.

A large Grass Snake was spotted in a back garden on Grange Road (Rachel).

It has been a good month for Botanical records. Lindsay found spikes of Broad-Leaved Helleborine  had suddenly appeared in her flower bed, only the second Cambridge record of this species since 1770.  (photographed by Paul)

Richard commented on dense patches of  Dittander (Lepidium latifolium) along the busway verge near Hobsons Park.  Monica, exploring the East Pit at Cherry Hinton, located Basil Thyme, and also the rare Moon Carrot. Jonathan reports a bird-sown Crimson-glory-vine (Vitis coignetiae) , which is new for the county.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

June Sightings 2020

This month’s special

Southwest Cambridge is becoming a hotspot for Swifts! Pam reports four nesting pairs, with chicks in at least one of the nests, and up to 20 birds in the evenings, some sleeping on the wing. Meanwhile, Jeff reports about 200 feeding over the rape fields. As well as Newnham, nesting boxes in Trumpington Meadows are also occupied. This comeback is a testimony to the people who have made an effort to replace lost nesting sites. Also flourishing are the Peregrines, with five chicks fledged between the two nests.

Mo reports a Jay, an exciting garden visitor.  Robinson College has a resident Mistle Thrush (Guy). On June 22, a Great White Egret came to  the lake at Great Kneighton, however, it was driven away by Black Headed Gulls (Richard). Great Crested Grebes have bred successfully on the Cherry Hinton lakes (Duncan). Barn Owls continue to haunt the Grantchester Meadow Fields (Anita), both parents hunting together at times, while Tawny Owls have bred successfully at Jesus College (Rhona). Holly reports the successful families of water birds, Mallard, Swans, and Moorhen. Jeff confirmed his previous sighting of a Corn Bunting near to Grantchester Road, also a Red Kite there, and a male Tufted Duck in Paradise. Many thanks for all the other observations.

Tawny Owl Chick Rhona Watson

Jill watched a Kestrel’s nest on Stourbridge Common, where the two youngsters were on the point of fledging.  Val’s back garden (urban, tiny and chaotic) has been “Positively throbbing with birds at the well-stocked bird restaurant”. House sparrows are thought to be nesting here. Activity is such that the plant pots below are filling up with a forest of seedlings. “Were birds actually the first to practice agriculture?” she asks.

Anita has noticed Water Vole burrowings in the bank along the river edge in Paradise. Although Hedgehogs are uncommon in the city, Jonathan saw one around 11pm in Parsonage Street. Meanwhile a Badger was seen in Blinco Grove at 4am.

Signal Crayfish Becky Green
Bullhead Fish Becky Green

Becky, a Wildlife Trust Ranger, sent pictures of a Signal Crayfish and Bullhead Fish from the Cam. Several people mentioned Frogs, but I’ve had no recent reports of Grass Snakes.

Several reports of early fungi: Shaggy Ink Cap (Paul), Volvariella bombycina and the Cow Pat Fungus Bolbitius vitellinus both in Paradise growing on wood-chippings (Olwen).

Richard found ripe Blackberries in June (!) along the busway at Foster Road. At Murray Edwards, Jo noted Common Broomrape, while Knapweed Broomrape turned up in Trumpington Meadows. These parasitic plants are brown because they do not need to make their own chlorophyll.  Tree Mallow was found in a wooded belt along leading the Madingley road – unusual and possibly a garden escape. Bog Stichwort, a scarce plant in Cambridgeshire, turned up in the Rush on Sheep’s Green, last seen there 70 years ago. Finally, Jonathan reports Yellow Vetchling in the Coton Reserve, and hopes it may reappear along the Coton footpath.

Several excellent moths – a Scarlet Tiger Moth (sitting on a broadband box on Queens Road (Jill)) an Old Lady Moth, a Privet Hawk Moss (Jane) and a Beautiful Hooktip (Paul).  Then, at 5 minutes to midnight on the last day of June, Paul reached the grand total of 502 species, (mainly from his back garden in 101 days of pandemic lockdown) with a Swallowtail Moth.

The star Butterfly of the month was the Small Blue seen, as last year, in Trumpington Meadows (Mo). Other butterflies identified included Marbled White (Jeff), Ringlets (Becky), Speckled Wood (Pam), and both Small and Large Skippers on Coldham’s Common (Mo). Jeff completed this trio with the Essex Skipper along Bourn Brook. He also reports White-letter Hairstreak in the Elm hedge over M11 footbridge to Bourn Brook.

Dragonflies have also been prolific. A Brown Hawker appeared in Pam’s garden, while others reported Emperor Dragonfly, Banded Demoiselles, 4-Spotted Chaser and Scarce Chaser.

Ann and Rhona both found the larvae of Solomon’s Seal Sawfly. Though not uncommon, it had  not previously been reported from the city. Guy was surprised to find 11 illuminated Glow-worms near the A14 at Teversham Fen. They were also reported from Cherry Hinton chalk pit. A Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee was seen in the Beechwoods Reserve. (At first glance, I took this to be a Buff Tailed Bumblebee, which this species mimics in order to gain entrance to its nest).

Thanks to others for invertebrate photos:

Finally, Simon, relaxing in the garden with a glass in hand, sent a picture of – well look for yourself!

May 2020 Sightings

This month’s specials

On May 4th at 5.45am (Pam was watching!) the first of her Swifts returned to its internal nest box  and appeared on CCTV.  It had 4 days to wait before its mate appeared and an excited reunion was witnessed. All very astonishing, as they fly back separately from Africa.  A few weeks later, she reports a total of 8 nesting swifts, two eggs in the first nest; the drama of a fierce fight with a male intruder lasting 6 hours and one grounded swift, which misjudged the box entrance, hit a window, landed on the door mat and took off from the ground. (Apparently young strong swifts can do this – it’s the older, weaker ones that need re-launching.) Newnham’s skies are now filled with the screams of hunting swifts.  These early arrivals were picked up by Jeff on 4th, who later noted  about 100 swifts (with  ~10 House Martins) feeding in high winds over the oilseed rape fields along Grantchester Rd on 23rd.

Also in Newnham, there have been frequent daytime sightings of Barn Owls along the Meadows, including one sitting on the “Private No Mooring” sign post (Jill). Last month, I mentioned a scarcity of Collared Doves and others have agreed with this (Mary, Sue). However, they are present elsewhere (Lesley). On the other hand, it has been a bumper year for Cuckoos, which started at the end of March, went on through April and continued in May (15th in Skaters Meadow (Sandie), 20th and 27th in Newnham (Bob) and at 21st in Grantchester (Jeff)).

In Highsett, Leslie reports a Jay, and both Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, thriving on the many snails in her garden.  Perhaps the same Mistle Thrush was seen by Sam the other side of the railway tracks. Jean witnessed her local female Blackbird smashing Banded Snails Cepaea hortensis, on the stone path. This thrush-like behaviour may perhaps have been provoked by the extreme drought through April and May, making earthworms inaccessible.

The hedges above Grantchester Meadows are alive with small birds and on 4th a Corn Bunting was singing, as well as the Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats heard earlier. Common Terns returned to the river from 1st May,  and Grey Wagtails were seen, along with Nuthatch and Tree Creeper at St John’s college (Sue, David). However, their most notable record was on 6th May when a Common Sandpiper was sighted by the river (David). A Cormorant (Jill) and Kingfishers were reported flying along the river.  Also there was an unconfirmed report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker earlier in the year at the Riverbank Club in Newnham – exciting if so, as they have become very rare (Ted).

The city Peregrines have at least one chick (Alan) and the second pair probably 3. One adult landed outside the kitchen window near Barton Rd (Veronica)!  Many thanks to all who reported their regular garden and wayside birds: tits and finches, thrushes and woodpeckers, corvids, swans and mallards, sparrows and dunnocks, warblers including Reed Warblers and Cetti’s Warbler along the Cherry Hinton brook. It is a tremendous year for Chiffchaff and Blackcaps! (Holly, Suki, Val, Maria, Bernie, Alec).

Lesley’s comment (April sightings) that there were fewer Moorhens around Jesus Ditch than usual led to a considerable discussion about chemical pollution, litter, predation, poor water flow, overgrowth of pond weed until….. 6-7 very young moorhen babies were spotted emerging from a nest (Alison). Hopefully, all is well after all.

Invertebrates

Maria report “Kissing flies” : the Signal Flies Platystoma seminationis (Platystoma means big mouth). A mating pair kept turning a complete 360 degrees on the spot, the female rhythmically moving her mouth parts up and down : they may also push their large mouthparts together (kiss!) as part of the mating behaviour. These flies feed on nectar and pollen and breed in decaying matter.

Ann discovered  Mullein Moth, Cucullia verbasci, caterpillars  munching the Verbascum. Veronica records large infestations of Brown Tail Moth caterpillars on a hawthorn hedge.  These caterpillars strip the young bushes bare and the webs cover the trees. Cockchafers are spectacular insects – David found one on the allotment in Trumpington.

Meanwhile, the ‘mothers’ have also been busy. Paul’s spectacular Puss Moth was followed by a Privet Hawk Moth, the largest native species. At the other end of the scale was Annette’s tiny (8mm) Tortrix Moth which came to the light trap in a Chesterton garden on 19th May. This is the first VC29 record of Phtheochroa schreibersana since 1920, and likely to be the first ever record of the species for the city. Also, lots of butterflies now: Holly Blues (David, Alec), Small Heath (16th), Brown Argus (21st) Common Blue (25th).

Odonata are now emerging by the day: a Four-spotted Chaser was first seen on 8th and the Banded Demoiselle (Jeff) are a constant delight through the summer at the Riverbank Club. Here are a selection of Duncan’s pictures.

Thanks for all the other pictures of invertebrates.

Vertebrates

Veronica says a young Grass Snake turned up in the pond and there were plenty of tadpoles, so it was presumably after the Frogs there.  This Riverside Toad seems to be surveying the traffic with some indignation, after a month of virtually none.

Veronica reports a Fox’s den at the bottom of the garden in Barton Close.  A litter of four young cubs play in the garden in the early morning until about 8am (presumably home schooling starts after that!)  For the second year in a row, they have dug up a bumble bee nest, but they do seem to have kept the Muntjac at bay, with more of the vegetables surviving. Colin saw Cat and Fox in a stand-off! – neither looks ready to back down. Mo was not so thrilled to have a Badger visiting her Trumpington garden.  Jill saw a very small Human child in the river edge, up to his waist, playing with and covered with squelchy mud.  Mother was relaxing and enjoying the scene – she, possibly the most impressive sighting of all!

Plants

In Hobson Park it is hard to know what survives from the original flora before the park was created and what has been introduced in the “wild flower” mixes and other plantings when the park was created. The area was intensively farmed before the park was created, so perhaps not much survived the annual herbicide applications.  This year looks good for Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor) whose job is to suppress the grasses, allowing other plants to thrive.


In one of the ditches and along the W. boundary of the lake, Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) is in flower, along with a surprise – Common Cotton-grass (sedge) (Eriophorum angustifolium). It is considered to have been planted here, but interestingly, it is flourishing in presumably alkaline waters. Although a sedge, the stem is not triangular along the whole length. Swathes of Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) are everywhere and there is plenty of Hemlock (Conium maculatum) in flower.

The botanists have been out and about. Chris found Whorl-grass Catabrosia aquatica on Ditton Meadows, Jonathan noted Common Valerian Valeriana officinalis on a wall in Brooklands Avenue (apparently last seen in the city in 1860) and Corn Spurrey Spergula arvensis by Queen Edith’s Way roundabout (last seen here in 2004). The first NatHistCam record (and the first for TL45 since 1997), Bristly Stonewort Chara hispida was found in one of the Adams Rd Sanctuary ponds.  The older pond has Chara virgata, so it is quite a good site.   

It has been a superb year for White Helleborine! Nearly mown down by the gardener at Murray Edwards College (Jo); in both the old and newer parts of the Beechwood Reserve and flourishing by the hundreds in Nightingale Recreation Ground (Maria).  They have been recorded there before, but as the pandemic has put the playground out of action, have not been trampled this year.

Last month mystery object was a germinating Mistletoe seed. The (virtual) prize was shared between Chris Preston, Janet Bayliss and Clarke Brunt. Clarke tells us, “The Blackcaps don’t usually carry them far before coming back for another one – sticking them to the same mistletoe plant as the seed came from is common”.  I hope for lots of suggestions for this month’s mystery object.

Mystery object

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

April Sightings 2020

April Sightings 2020

This month’s specials!

Although (or possibly because) we are still in pandemic lock-down, I have had a huge response to my request for sightings again. Who needs walks into the countryside when so much turns up on your doorstep?!  Highlights were reports of Grass Snakes (one at the Sanctuary Reserve (Paul), one in Paradise (Vic) and one swimming in the brook near the Burnside allotments (Holly)), a rare Snail and a Weasel.

Mammals

In the spring warmth, bats are out of hibernation : Richard’s detector picked up six species flying around the house at Hobson’s Park: Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, Noctule, Lesser Noctule and Serotine. My sighting of the month was a couple of views of a Weasel playing around the hedge near Skaters’ Meadows. Jill reports Water Vole in Hobson’s Brook at Empty Common and also noted a Hare crossing Grantchester Road.  Muntjac are ubiquitous as ever: one was spotted in a garden off Newmarket Road (Sarah). Rhona’s Jesus College Foxes are perhaps suffering marital discord with the lock-down.  The Vixen was seen carrying cubs, (at least 4) one by one, across College and out along Jesus Lane and Manor Street.  It seems she has taken them to a new den in Christ’s College gardens.  Meanwhile, the Dog Fox is still seen in Jesus grounds most days.  Vanessa sent a lovely video of a young Rabbit family in Hobson’s Park, greatly enhanced by the background of a Lark singing and a contribution from a Cuckoo.

Birds

Besides this Cuckoo heard in Hobson’s Park on 4th Apr, several others have been around this month. In Newnham, they were calling between Apr 28th to May 2nd (Jill, Penny, Olwen), in Highsett on 3rd May (Vicky), Cherry Hinton on several mornings (Holly) and in Trumpington Meadows on 19th April (Mo). Mo also spotted a migrating Wheatear in Trumpington Meadows on 22nd and  Maria reports an Oystercatcher on the lake in Hobson Park – this is turning out to be a magnificent place for birds.

Barn Owls are back in Newnham, flying low over the meadows both morning and evening, in broad daylight (Sandie, Dorothea).  Red Kites are becoming more regular (Vicky) and Martin noted numerous Buzzards over the city, including three above Fenner’s cricket ground recently.

Lots of folk mentioned their garden birds: using nest boxes, coming to feeders or just being around (Bernie, Jane, Loic, Maria, Jean, Holly). Thanks for all these. Bird song has been deafening this year, perhaps because of the lack of traffic noise. I found myself wondering whether they had increased their volume over the years and would sing more quietly if all the cars went for ever – sadly this hypothesis will not be tested. Val notes “The 8pm Thursday NHS clapping startles all the birds, who fly off in alarm”.

Spring migrants continue to arrive. Martin saw his first Swift on 28th April, earlier than usual.  Common Terns have been seen in Newnham (Olwen) and Hobson’s Park (Richard). Swallows arrived by 9th April (Jeff) and on 29th a cloud of House Martins joined them over the Hobson’s Park lake feasting on insects (Richard). Reed Warblers were heard in Trumpington Meadows on 19th (Mo). Jeff reports Sedge Warblers (2 on 15th) by the Cam in Grantchester Meadows and 3 Whitethroat and a Lesser Whitethroat on 19th, all singing along Grantchester Road. There are large numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps almost everywhere and last year’s Cetti’s Warbler have returned to Cherry Hinton lakes (Holly).

What else?!  Grey wagtails in Grantchester and Newnham, (Loic, David): a Nuthatch in a Newnham garden (David), Jackdaws sitting on the Cardoon seed heads, scavenging fluff for their nests (Jane), Reed Buntings in Trumpington Meadows (Mo), Tree Creeper in Byron’s Pool woods (Vanessa), Buzzards circling over the city (Jean), Peregrine on URC in the city (Vicky), a pair of Partridges exploring an abandoned building-site at Homerton College (Sam), a male Tawny Owl in Histon Road Cemetery (Lesley), Jays (Colin, Holly), Little Grebes nesting on Trumpington Meadows pond (Duncan) and Jeff’s list which included Marsh Harrier (1st summer female), Red Kite, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear female in Grantchester Road.  A spectacular haul.

I have been struck by the scarcity of Collared Doves and Jane also says theirs seem to have disappeared.  Another non-sighting – a troubling lack of Moorhens on Jesus Green, where previously there used to routinely be ten or a dozen, but recently barely any (Lesley). Then a complaint from Richard! Canada Geese invaders are breeding at Hobson’s Park. I remember the Colleges had this problem on the Backs and invested in a mock Coyote – effective apparently.

So much for the birds – what about the bugs?

Maria send a pic of a Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana). Originating from south Europe, it has become established in Britain since the late 1990s. Paul’s garden continues to produce an amazing array of invertebrates: first 14-spot Ladybird of the year and the bug Mocydia crocea. The harvestman Platybunus triangularis was in the Sanctuary Reserve and Shieldbugs Dock Bug, Hairy Shieldbug and Juniper Shieldbug all turned up in Trumpington (Mo).

Large Red Damselflies appeared through the month and Duncan has been waiting to see the first Hairy Hawker dragonfly. More and more butterfly reports (Brimstone (Alec), Speckled Wood (Karsten), Orange Tip (David), Red Admiral (Jeff), Holly Blue (Val)) – thanks to all who sent these.

Ben’s highlight for April was finding Hairy-footed Flower Bees in the garden.  Bill’s experience was not so good – while some of his Honey Bees were flourishing, he had a nasty attack of Wax Moth (Galleria sp.) pupae in a bee hive.  Pam has been carrying “Bee Saviour” Cards, with which she was able to rescue a damp and bedraggled Queen Bumble Bee.  After probing the sweet spot, it warmed up, did a buzz and a short flight, then zoomed off!  Wasps are also emerging: Paul snapped a Common Wasp queen, who after drinking in the pond flew to the greenhouse to preen herself and have her portrait taken. He also found Marsham’s Nomad Bee, a new species for his garden list. All nomad bees are wasp mimics and kleptoparasitic, entering the nests of a host and laying eggs there, stealing resources the host has collected.  John asked about another “Bee”- actually a fly pretending to be a bee –the Bee Fly Bombylius major.  Another parasite of bees and wasps, its eggs are laid in the nest and the larvae eat the host larvae. 

Lesley sent a picture of my favourite snail, Cepaea nemoralis, the banded snail, This extremely variable snail is much studied by geneticists. The pattern of banding and the underlying colour are all quantifiable genetic characters. This one was “yellow” (there are also “pink” and “brown” ones) and of the potential 5 rows of bands, it seems to have 2 and would be scored as 1-0-3-0-0. Even better, this guy does not attack your plants, living mainly on detritus – so don’t squish him!

Paul also had a snail adventure. On Worts Causeway on the way up to the Roman Rd, he found several small (~15mm) snails. His initial identification was Kentish Snails Monacha cantina , but an expert identified it as the much smaller and far rarer species Monarcha cartusiana Cartusian Snail. (In 1999, this was only known from a total of  fifteen 10-km grid squares in coastal areas of South Eastern England. It was probably introduced to Britain from Southern Europe as a “weed” of cultivation by prehistoric farmers (Susan Hewitt).)

Plants

We mustn’t let the animals have all the attention – the plant hunters have had fun too.

Paul found large clumps of White Ramping Fumitory in flower in Coleridge recreation ground, Chris noted a very pale Green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens on River Cam opposite Jesus Green. Jill came across a ditch full of Water Crowfoot behind the rugby club. Although recently dredged, this is stagnant water.  Vanessa found Three-cornered Garlic, Allium triquetrum on the guided busway in Trumpington – an introduced plant from the W. Mediterranean.

More complaints from Richard! Hoary Cress or Curse-of-Kent Lepidium draba, an aggressively rhizomatous species thought to have been introduced to the British Isles with fodder or straw, is spreading ominously into Hobson Park. Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens is forming ‘extensive monocultures’ with a ‘strong negative impact on most of the native species’ that it replaces on banks and beneath hedges. A garden escape, comparatively rare as recently as the 1960s, it is now naturalised and spreading widely. I am certainly aware of this taking over my allotment and other places locally. Himalayan Balsam (Policeman’s Helmet) Impatiens glandulifera seedlings are emerging near the entrance to Byron’s Pool LNR. It forms high dense stands probably restricting the growth of native species. This has been fought by the Wildlife Trust up and down the region’s minor waterways and clearly the battle is not yet won.

On brighter notes, Jo found Nonea lutea, a rare weed, growing at Murray Edwards College, probably introduced with top soil. Simon likewise found Musk Storksbill Erodium moschatum,  a long way from its designated habitat! Horse Chestnut ‘candles’ have been magnificent. I learned that the centre of each flower changes from yellow to red after it has been pollinated. Apparently all flowers will eventually turn red, but pollination speeds up that process by a day, giving a traffic light signal that directs pollinators to fresher, unpollinated flowers. (Thanks Paul).  Cowslips have also been magnificent everywhere this year.

Last month’s mystery (above) was a Hoverfly pupa, Epistrophe eligans.  Louise Bacon (the only contender!) came very close. This month’s puzzle picture was taken in Churchill College – below. Who will be the first this time?