All posts by Olwen W

November Sightings 2019

November has been mild, although generally rather wet and dreary.  Bats (probably Pipistrelles) were flying on Nov 2nd over the New Bit of Coe Fen and still on the wing in Paradise on Nov 25th (Paul). A Red Admiral Butterfly was seen on Viburnum in the sun on 10th (Olwen) and an Ivy Bee in early November (Pam). 

This month’s specials: read on!

Birds  It has been another exciting month for birds (see Bob’s blog for fuller details). A Peregrine was seen flying over Arbury November 3rd (Ben) and on Nov 14th in Gilbert Rd, May was alerted by the clatter of Magpies and then startled to see a Peregrine kill a woodpigeon in the garden. Ben spotted a Woodcock flying over Arbury. Guy had a lovely view of swimming Water Rail by St Bedes along Cherry Hinton Brook on 13th and on 18th, Alan saw another at Logan’s Meadow Nature Reserve in Chesterton. (I had always imagined they were summer visitors, but I gather that while northern and eastern populations are migratory, they are a permanent residents in the warmer parts of their breeding range and the UK may also have immigrants from Europe.)

Another Nuthatch sighting from the Backs, this time on a lime tree at Clare College, in the Fellows Garden – down the “Tunnel of Gloom” (Kate). Guy spotted a pair of Bullfinches by Byron’s Pool car park, along with a Kingfisher and Brown Rat doing its best impression of a water vole. (It must be hard being the City Ecologist!) Vicky reports a very fine Jay just outside her window in Highsett and Pam has a Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting feeders regularly with Gold Finches and Long Tailed Tits. Val’s small central back garden saw the first Starlings in ages, a male Blackcap and a glimpse of a Woodpecker. U3A naturalists spotted a Treecreeper in Cherry Hinton Hall, on a visit to follow the excellent tree trail there.

Holly’s regular update on Cherry Hinton Brook : Usual passerines along the brook (Tits, Blackbirds, Robins, Wren,) and waterbirds (Moorhen and Mallard), with Kingfisher and Little Egret,  but no Winter Thrushes, Brambling or Siskin yet. However, Penny reports a probable Redwing stripping the neighbour’s holly tree of its berries. In Tenison Road, Martin has male and female Blackcaps feeding on ripe grapes. In Fen Ditton, Trevor had a Jay visiting the nut feeder (but soon altered the mesh to exclude him).  He identified Coal Tits visiting for the first time.

The star attraction this month was the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, which turned up on Nov 21st in Paradise, in company of tits, Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff. These tiny, strongly migratory birds are about the size of a goldcrest and weigh only slightly more than a table tennis ball. Although they are an East Asian species (N. China, migrating to S. China and Indonesia in the winter) they are nevertheless found regularly in Europe and UK and this  may be an alternative migration route. This rare sighting then resulted in a secondary sighting: an invasion of Twitchers with Long Lenses and Large Binoculars, generally arrayed along the river path, sighing heavily.

Fungi  The CNHS fungus foray in the Botanic Garden turned up a good number of species. The highlight for me was the Bird’s Nest Fungus which has arrived with the wood chippings under the new raised ramp. Louise sent these pix, from the West Cambridge Site and as each contain a drop of water, you can see the reflection of sky and trees in the cup.

Orange Peel Fungus was found in the car park area at Cherry Hinton Hall.  Paul spotted Arrenhia rickenii growing in moss on the top of a concrete gate post. They are so tiny, they are probably mostly overlooked! Another tiny, on a twig in Beechwoods reserve, was one of the Crepidotus family (Paul), while bigger and bolder were the Wrinkled Peach fungus, Rhodotus palmatus and Oyster mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus, both found in Newnham on decaying wood.

Orange Peel Fungus Jonathan Shanklin

Mammals    Foxes become ever bolder – one was spotted Kingston Street at about 10pm (Jonathan) and another in broad daylight in the grounds of Churchill College (John).  A pair of Muntjac appear to be living in Histon Road Cemetery: this photo was taken from an upstairs window on Bermuda Row. Lesley comments on increasing numbers of Black Squirrels there and also one was reported from Fen Ditton (Trevor).

Invertebrates  Paul reports a couple of November Moths: Blair’s Shoulder Knot (on the wing from Oct to Nov) and Mottled Umber (males on the wing from Oct to Dec, females are flightless). This Harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosis was basking on a wall at Jesus (Rhona).

Blair’s Shoulder Knot        Mottled Umber                      Harvestman
              Paul Rule                             Paul Rule                           Rhona Watson

Plants In the now wooded chalk pit at Limekiln Close, Sharon found a small patch of the beautiful Common Tamarisk-moss Thuidium tamariscinum. This is indeed a common woodland moss in the west of Britain, but has become increasingly rare in Cambridgeshire’s ancient woods.  Maybe is now starting to spread again, as it was found in 2017 in Barnwell East LNR and near Fen Ditton earlier this year.   

For a couple of years, Charles had admired the annual Claytonia perfoliata, Springbeauty, growing between house wall and pavement in Milford Street, only to find that, although very little grows in these rather barren streets, anything green had been sprayed with weedkiller. Happily, a few fresh seedlings of Claytonia have now reappeared.

Olwen Williams                                     olwenw@gmail.com

October sightings 2019

The David Attenborough Building’s “Green Roofs” were planted with Sedum and other species and in order to increase habitat, there are wood piles and sandy areas.  Recently two species of Fungi were found there – not part of the original planting scheme (Monica)! From photos, they have been provisionally identified by Helene Davies as Melanoleuca melaleuca and Clitocybe dealbata or C. rivulosa.

Checking on M. melaleuca, I found, “It is difficult to distinguish from other related species firstly because it is variable, secondly because the taxonomic criteria are often based on characteristics which have later been found to be variable and thirdly because there is much disagreement between authorities as to exactly how the species should be defined.” This seems to sum up fungus identification very neatly.

However, it has been an excellent year for them. In East Pit, were Meadow Coral, an Earthtongue, Parrot Waxcap, Blackening Waxcap and Lawyers Wig (Jonathan). David spotted Inkcaps and some others in Coe Fen. Jean reports two large clumps of Stropharia aeruginosa, a vivid blue-green on the wood chipping path. Check out any rotting wood, compost piles and other slimy places!

While clearing up the remains of Woodpigeon wings, Ann was puzzled to see many sprouting Bean Seeds on the same patch of lawn. This is a regular fox run and presumably the beans must have come out of a pigeon’s crop. Wiki says a woodpigeon’s crop can hold “As many as 200 beans, 1,000 wheat grains and 15 acorns”. (I’m not sure if this is all at once??) 

Beans from Woodpigeon Crop Ann Laskey

Thanks to everyone who sent in invertebrate sightings. Ben saw a large Hawker Dragonfly (?Migrant Hawker) at Adams Rd bird Sanctuary on Oct 5th and Karsten spotted a Devil’s Coach-horse Beetle (Ocypus olens) in Queen Edith’s. She says, “Looking like a mixture of a giant ant, short-legged locust and black beetle, it’s one of the most awesome looking beetles, especially when it turns its head around and looks up at you”.  Steve sent a picture of a large Wasp (Queen German wasp Vespula germanica?) which had just eaten another wasp, leaving only the head. Queen wasps do have a varied diet including insects, but it’s an interesting observation of wasp eating wasp.

Ocypus olens
Wasp eating wasp!
Steve Elstub

Buff-tailed Bumble Bees continued foraging on Pam’s purple salvias every day, even in light rain. Justin’s Peterhouse biodiversity survey turned up a Pseudoscorpion Roncus lubricus (the Reddish Two-eyed Pseudoscorpion). These tiny arachnids are inconspicuous, favouring dry leaf litter and moss in woodland. This species is restricted to the southern half of England, parts of Wales and Northern Ireland. A contributor (who preferred to remain anonymous) found 2mm Cigarette Beetles Lasioderma serricorne infesting food in his cupboard.

Two interesting moth caterpillars were reported : a Pale Tussock Moth Calliteara pudibunda at Churchill College and a Double Striped Pug Gymnoscelis rufifasciata at Jesus College.

The Newnham winter flock of Rooks and Jackdaws has now grown to about 400. For a while, they were separate flocks, the jackdaws arriving and departing earlier than the rooks, but now there is one big mixed bunch at 6.30am and 4.30pm, dispersing to feed in the day and collecting up to return to Madingley in the evening. The murmuration of Starlings over Bolton’s Pit also has precise timing, the  birds settling to roost on the island 12 minutes before sunset. Then several people reported feeding flocks of small birds, tits and others including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Song Thrush and Blackbird (Mo, Pam, Lesley M-B, Jean).   There was even a flock of Goldcrests finding insects in ivy (Anita).

Individual birds of interest include a Little Egret on Sheep‘s Green (Mary G), Tawny Owls in Histon Road Cemetery – “very Hammer Horror!” – both twitting and twooing (male and female), (Lesley D), Jays and Tawny Owl calls at Pinehurst (Jill), a Buzzard over the garden which was seen off by rooks (Pam), regular visits to feeder from a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dorothea), another Gt Spotted in the garden and also Little Grebes and Heron on the river (Val).  Gerd reports a Tree Creeper on the birch in her garden.  Anita noted a Green Woodpecker and Herons in Paradise and has seen and heard migrating Redwings

Long Tailed Skua David Brown

Last of the notable birds, a juvenile Long Tailed Skua was found dead – a passage migrant to the UK, breeding in the high Arctic.  In transit down the east coast, it somehow ended up in central Cambridge.  I expect Bob will say more about this one.

Badgers are still active in Newnham, one trying to dig into a back garden under the gate. In Fulbrooke wood, a night camera picked up two Muntjac, some Pheasants and a Fox (Jill).  Dorothea’s Hedgehogs are still feeding every night, but while there has been the odd frost, we have had no really cold weather yet. Squirrels are on the increase in Newnham, stripping hazel and walnuts before ripening, now removing peony seeds from Jean’s pots.

It’s a great year for the female Ginkgo tree at Pinehurst, a problem to residents as the fruits smell foul and are slippery under foot. However, it is a joy to a Japanese lady who harvests the fruits. Apparently, the toxic and irritating flesh must be carefully removed, before she roasts the nuts. Reputedly, as well as being delicious, they enhance libido.

Ginkgo Fruit Jill Newcombe

And finally, Ben Greig says, “We have just set up a new group called On The Verge Cambridge (a sister group to the original On The Verge started in Stirling 10 years ago). Our aim is to sow and plant up for pollinators in and around Cambridge. Our first project is underway – we are reseeding the wildflower meadows in the council parks around the city. Your readers will probably have ideas about potential sites that could be planted up – we need project ideas!  Our details: www.onthevergecambridge.org.uk”. Please get in touch with him if you have ideas or would like to help.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

September Sightings 2019

At daybreak today, pleated clouds and the first frost. Autumn is when the Rooks and Jackdaws return to the tall trees by the river in Newnham and duly on Sept 8th the first of the rooks arrived – a fantastic noise.  Curiously, this is neither rookery nor overnight roost. The main roost is over at Madingley, but in autumn and winter, they gather here at dusk and again at dawn.  So far only about 30-40 rooks and 20-30 jackdaws, but at peak the mixed flock is several hundreds. Autumn has arrived!

David Brown, gardening at St John’s College, has kept a bird list since May 2016.  He sends a fantastic list of sightings: 17 species by the river, another 5 flying over including Red Kite and Cormorant and 30 in the Gardens and Wilderness area.  Most notable are the Nuthatch (which we thought we had lost from the City), Treecreeper, Red Legged Partridge (once in 2017) and a Tawny Owl.  Perhaps his sharp eyes will find more of the once common birds such as Little Owl or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. He also reports 2 Whinchat at Hobsons park (and a Great White Egret at Fen Drayton, sadly out of our study area).

A couple of reports of late Swifts – 3 in Chesterton on 12th (Nets) and 6 over Granta pond on 13th (Guy). No reports of incoming migrants yet, though. Lesley spotted Jays in Histon Road Cemetery and near Jesus College. Autumn is their time for collecting nuts and acorns for the winter. For a few days there was a Buzzard resting in the trees by the river in Chesterton (June). In Mowbray Road, a couple of Red Legged Partridges (Ann) and in the Botanic Garden, a Kingfisher against the autumn colouring of Acer cissifolium (Vicky) attracted attention. In Jesus, Rhona  heard some birds ‘kicking off’ and found a Tawny Owl in the woods.

For several weeks, Bronwyn’s garden was home to a Pigeon.  Probably feral, not apparently ringed, quite aggressive with pigeons and collared doves in a neighbouring garden. “It had a strange sort of bouncing motion when perched on the fence.” A lost racer, perhaps? Very distinctive but finally moved on (or became dinner for a peregrine?)

You can’t keep a good naturalist down, even when eating lunch.  Chris reports an Ant which emerged from a Cambridge-bought nectarine. It was identified (by Rhian Guillem) as a queen Crematogaster scutellaris, a Mediterranean species. A good example of how impossible it is to control the introduction of species in a globalised world (see below)!  I am looking forward to hearing what emerges from the next batch.  Meanwhile, Duncan reports an interesting coupling between two different species of Damselfly.  The male is an Emerald Damselfly with dark brown wing patches (pterostigma) and the female is a Willow Emerald with light coloured pterostigma. The Willow Emeralds are newcomers to the UK, but (he says) they should be used to the Common Emeralds, as they occur in France as well.   He asks, “Are they just confused, did the male make a big mistake, will we get some sort of hybrid, or is it just the French getting up to their old tricks again?”

Badgers continue to expand their range in the city.  In Harvey Goodwin Ave, Chesterton, Ben reports sightings on two consecutive nights in July of a badger harrying a Hedgehog (rescued). I gather male urine sprayed around is a good deterrent to badgers…..  The City has a good number of Local Nature Reserves: Guy reports a Fox at West Pit and a Weasel at Nine Wells.  We also had a visit to Nine Wells and found a wonderful orb-web Spider, Araneus quadratus busy parcelling up a crane fly.

Rhona’s Jesus Ditch has juvenile Water Voles (about half the size of an adult). Lesley notes the local north Cambridge Grey Squirrels have increasing numbers of black individuals.

Not much news on the plant front, except for Floating Pennywort again, growing in a private pond at Regatta Court after escaping some time ago from the river. Mike says it is possibly spread by Moorhens and “This will be promptly removed!” In general, clearance has been very successful from the main river.

On Sept 5th, there were swarms small black Caddis Flies over the river. Paul found a Red Admiral sipping on over-ripe blackberries at Coldhams Common and also the Four-banded Bee-grabber Conops quadrifasciatus, a handsome but rather nasty fly if you happen to be a bumblebee, as they are parasitic, laying their eggs inside the bee.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/63075200@N07/collections/72157658279506405/

In his moth trap, Paul found a Twin-spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus. “Such an attractive fly to emerge from dung.” The two white spots make this an easily identifiable species.

In the systematic beds at the Botanic Garden, I found numerous ground nesting bees, identified as Ivy Bees, Colletes hederae. They are recent colonists, first seen in Cambridgeshire in 2016 but now widespread and often feasting on flowering ivy. Rhona reports Hummingbird Hawkmoths, usually on the Ceratostigma plants. 

Liza found a Box Tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis, the introduced destroyer of topiary.  So far her variegated box has no signs of infestation ….  However, Martin reports more from Grantchester, they have turned up in Paul’s moth trap and there is a plague in Trumpington where 259 turned up in a trap on one night.  Box has been used extensively on the new estates in this area, so this almost certainly is related to the big increase in numbers. Have they increased because of the abundance of new food sources, or because the newly planted Box plants were already infested?

Originating from south-east Asia, they were first recorded in Kent in 2007 and have been extending their UK range since then. The moths are iridescent white with a purplish brown border  and there is also a less common melanic variation, the wings being purplish brown with a white spot near the centre of the forewing.

Autumn is the season for fungi and Guy found a group of Shaggy Inkcap on a Shelford Rd Lawn. He also reports 4 Brown Trout, an Eel and Spined Loach during the final monitoring of the Rush.

And finally, Val was surprised to find a large Frog leaping frantically into the downstairs shower, desperate to escape the hoover.  “It must have snuck in through the open back door at some point. Reader, I caught the frog with my bare hands and returned it to the part of the garden where it had previously been observed to lurk meditatively.”

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

August Sightings 2019

Paradise (my local nature reserve) on a sunny afternoon – ripe Blackberries and Elderberries, Gypsywort in flower and a huge Willow has shed a large branch across the river.  Chicken of the Woods Fungus, previously on this tree, has now sprouted on the picnic logs. (I am always saddened by the litter here, but for every one person abusing this site, I hope 50 are enjoying it.) See https://paradisenaturereserve.wordpress.com/  An unusual fungus in the Cenacle (Sue) was an Earth Ball Scleroderma verrucosum.  Related to Puff Balls, they are more solid and tend to be partially underground.

Earth Ball

Scleroderma verrucosum

Olwen Williams

Gypsywort

Olwen Williams

Birds. Lots of reports of successful fledgings.  The Newnham Heronry is estimated to have 18 youngsters this year, from about a dozen nests (Mike).  Holly reports from Cherry Hinton : Great Tits, Blue Tits and Robins in the trees, Reed Warblers seen and heard in rushes by Backland allotments and young broods of Moorhen all along the brook. The last of Pam’s 8 Swift chicks fledged and flew on Aug 3rd but a few stragglers could still be seen flying south on 24th. In Pinehurst, there were crowds of very young Blue Tits in the trees and a Tawny Owl calling (Jill). I saw a Treecreeper on the riverbank in Newnham and another was spotted at Murray Edwards College (Jo).

Two exciting raptors!  On Aug 12th, Val was enjoying the relatively traffic-free calm of the Romsey side of Mill Road and a delicious Limoncello raspberry sorbet, when she spotted a bird of prey, clearly hunting. This was identified as a Sparrowhawk and the party had the distinctly eerie feeling that the bird was checking them out for snackability too! 

Then in Great Kneighton, Richard asks, “I wonder how likely I am to have seen an Osprey here today (26th)?   It circled the lake, occasionally splashing into and out of the water feet first. It had a large raptor’s hooked beak, distinct white cap to the head and pale underparts. The top of the wings in flight were dark with a slightly paler patch about two thirds of the way towards the tips.” An excellent description and the right time of year for a bird returning south, so seems extremely probable.

Osprey

Mammals. Hedgehogs are doing well in various parts of the city, reported this month from Leys Rd. This spring, I have released three in Newnham from the Shepreth Hedgehog Hospital, on the understanding that there were no Badgers in the immediate vicinity and our small back gardens would provide an ideal habitat.  Alas!  Diggings under the gate of one garden and a sighting in the road led me to set a night camera which caught both Badger and Fox in the snicket between the gardens.  Foxes remain as brazen as ever, lounging on the cricket pitch at Jesus College (Rhona) and 2m from the house in Holbrook Rd (Ann). Badgers are known to be in Millington Wood and Newnham College grounds, but are spreading like Muntjac! I encountered two of these little deer in Paradise reserve and was greeted with prolonged and loud barking.

Jill reports many young Hares south of Fulbrooke Road, on the fields. Holly noted several dark Water Voles on the brook near St Bede’s playing field. 

Invertebrates.  Dragonflies and Damselflies On Aug 5th, Duncan reports that, following on from the rediscovery of the White Legged Damselfly in Grantchester Meadows, another new Cambridge species has just appeared in Ditton Meadows – the Southern Migrant Hawker. That takes Cambridge’s total Odonata to 23, so it is starting to be a dragonfly hotspot.  Mo found the Willow Emerald damselfly in a typical pose, with wings held away from the body.  On 12th a Southern Hawker appeared in my garden.

Jill found a Southern Oak Bush Cricket in her third floor flat and wondered how this wingless insect came to be there. Described as carnivorous, arboreal and nocturnal, it is a predator of the Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner – splendid, we have lots of that and it is welcome. A recent British colonist, with well-documented expansion from southern Europe over the past few decades, it was first recorded from Surrey and Berkshire in 2001. Paul found this Asparagus Beetle on Empty Common.

I noted a Hornet’s nest in a willow tree on Grantchester Meadows and a Vapourer Moth caterpillar was chomping Meg’s basil plants in Fen Road. Liza found a pretty Cranefly Nephrotoma flavipalpis in the bedroom, which managed to get caught in a cobweb, even though the windows were wide open all night. Sue’s house was invaded by a Speckled Wood butterfly: I discovered that individuals in the north are dark brown with white spots, whilst those in more southerly locations are dark brown with orange spots.

A Canary-Shouldered Thorn Moth Ennomos alniaria appeared at Jesus on 8th Aug and on 22nd, a Southern Green Shieldbug Nezara viridula nymph (Rhona). There seem to be very few East Anglian records of the latter, as this species was first recorded in the UK in 2003 and is slowly spreading out from London. 

Spiders. A couple of fantastic spiders. The Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi, was found beside the lake on Trumpington Meadows. Yet another continental European immigrant, they arrived in Britain in 20thC.  The female has a very striking appearance, with a body up to 18mm in length, characterized by bold yellow and black horizontal bands on its abdomen.  In contrast, the male is tiny, with a pale brown body only about 5mm in length. The web has a characteristic area of zigzag weaving.  Then this male Giant House Spider was wandering Mo’s house. With a leg span around 7cm, they are an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare.  They are particularly prevalent in the autumn when seeking females and stay with them for some weeks, mating numerous times until eventually they die, at which point they are eaten by their female.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

July Sightings 2019

Snakes

Grass Snakes have been very abundant this month – Duncan reports six at Barnwell pit, others at Empty Common, in East Barnwell nature reserve and swimming across Cherry Hinton lakes. One was also seen in Fulbrooke Road.  Then great excitement in the press when a nine foot Python climbed out of an upstairs window and was awol for 5 days, before recapture.

Python on the loose!

Birds

It is a quiet time for birds, but the Newnham Swifts have done well, with 8 fledged altogether, the last on 31st. The (now empty) LMB building at Addenbrooke’s has at least 50 House Martin nests (Richard). Guy spotted 3 juvenile Green Woodpeckers feeding together on an ant hill at Sheep’s Green. In Newnham, 3 tawny owl chicks have fledged. Peter reports small groups of Long-tailed Tits seen quite often in the apple trees, while at Pinehurst, Jill had good views of a Jay. There were lots of Gulls (mainly Black Headed) and Corvids (Rooks and Jackdaws) on the playing fields of St Bedes (Holly). Rhona had excellent views of a female Sparrowhawk in Jesus Woods, which had just caught a young Moorhen. Kingfishers are always a joy to see and Steve reports one seen in Queens’ ditch.

Butterflies

Butterflies are having a fantastic year.  The Histon Rd cemetery count totals 22 species, including a Marbled White, not previously seen there. There was another in Trumpington, on some Cardoon flowers (Mo). Liza reports the small form of the female Small Blue butterfly Cupido minimus, with total wing span just 16mm, on Trumpington Meadows. There have been huge numbers of Painted Ladies (Mo, Mary, Martin).  A  White-letter Hairstreak was seen on 8th July near Bourn Brook (Jeff S) and Purple Emperor female on Buddleia at roadside 200m N of Cambridge North station on 16th July (Chris H). Interesting to speculate where this came from, as they are found “High in the tree-tops of well-wooded landscapes in central-southern England” – hardly a description of N Cambridge!

Other invertebrates

Dragon and Damselflies are also doing very well. Duncan found a White-Legged Damselfly on Grantchester Meadows – a first for the NatHistCam study area and generally rare in Cambridgeshire, but apparently expanding their range north and east. Then, just outside our area on the Cam at Horningsea, were two more displaying males and a tandem pair of White-legged Damselflies, seen on 16th July (Jeff).  Rhona reports from Jesus College a Southern Hawker, a Migrant Hawker and her first Black-tailed Skimmer.

Lots of other Invertebrate records this month. On cedar tree stump at Cherry Hinton Hall, Rob found a Giant Horntail Urocerus gigas (a sawfly) being predated by a Steatoda spider. Liza found many tiny black bees (5mm) Chelostoma campanularum, which specialise on Campanula plants.  Kevin was delighted to find 2 Hornet Mimic Hoverflies on buddleia and also in Histon Rd was a 6-spot Burnet Moth (Sue Woodsford). Meanwhile, down the road in Chesterton, Bronwyn was invaded by a Hornet Robberfly Asilus crabroniformis….. “It came into the house, there were tiny children all around and everyone too scared to even take a picture of it!!” These fearsome-looking flies are top predators of dung flies and this was less than 1k from the grazing on Stourbridge Common.

Equally scary to arachnophobes, Jill reported a Harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosus on her bedroom ceiling in Pinehurst. The extra long second pair of legs act as feelers.  Paul noted a soldier fly, Banded General Stratiomys potamida on Coldhams Common. This guy looks rather like a very flat wasp – it was regarded as a rarity in the 19th century, but has increased its distribution in recent years. A second Cambridge record this month was seen in Shaftsbury Rd. Paul also noted a Pale Prominent Moth and an Eyed Ladybird. Rhoda found Social Pear Tree Sawfly larvae Neurotoma saltuum on the Medlar tree in Jesus.  Penny was blessed with visits from Hummingbird Hawk-moths.

Mammals

There were several reports of Water Voles; along Robinson Crusoe island ditch (Guy), at Jesus College (Rhona), in Paradise (Jeff) and Cherry Hinton (Holly), so they are plainly doing well.  The Hares noted in the spring are now all over the fields behind Fulbrooke Road. I continue to release Hedgehogs in Newham, well away from the known Badger hotspots.

Plants

One interesting find was Broad-leaved Helleborine on the CNHS visit to Cherry Hinton Lakes.  The last time it had been reported in the Cherry Hinton area was around 1770 (Jonathan).  This does show the value of the NatHistCam project in getting permission to visit sites in the City that are not usually visited. And finally, the line of Oak Trees along the Baulk track in Newnham, planted and replanted over the past four years, are finally burgeoning (Jill).

Broad-Leaved Helleborine

June Sightings 2019

Birds.  It has been an excellent year for warblers!  Duncan’s request for Dawn Chorus recordings from mobile phones provided 24 contributions and the outstanding result was that 11 had Blackcaps singing in them. Blackbirds were found on 17 and Wrens on 16. One had a Garden Warbler – fairly unusual, but another one, heard in Paradise, made it onto Radio 4 with Tony Jupiter praising the green spaces of Cambridge. A Willow Warbler was around between 3-7th June on the edge of Trumpington Park & Ride car park (Hugo) and Chiffchaffs are also abundant.

In spite of problems with the male, a city Peregrine was seen carrying feral pigeon prey over Market square (Guy). The out-of-town pair have also done well: by 18th, all 3 chicks were fledged and had left the nest.  They will probably be around for the next few weeks before being driven off by the parents (Norman).  A Barn Owl was seen hunting over Grantchester Meadows on Friday 29 June (Hugo). Also, a Cuckoo was noisily making his presence known on 10th to the South of Trumpington Meadows (Mo).

Grey Wagtail Norman De’Ath

Earlier in the year, a pair of French Partridges turned up in Newnham and recently reappeared with 3 young in tow. At Byron’s Pool was great to see a male Grey Wagtail on the lily pads.

Val’s early morning rowing turned up lots of new arrivals on the river: Herons of various vintages, Swans with Cygnets (3 different clutches of 1, 2 and 5 near Stourbridge Common), Moorhen with 2 teeny babies near The Plough in Fen Ditton, a set of Ducklings (6, newly hatched, 5 brown and 1 yellow) and House Martins hunting over the water. For further entertainment, there was a Bullock in the river, being patiently retrieved by Council workers. She comments that there were far fewer Swifts than before and it does seem to be a bad year for them, though the Owlstone Rd pair are feeding 2 chicks (Pam). 

Mammals On 11th, a nocturnal trip through Paradise produced recordings of 6 species of Bat (Paul). These were Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle (lots), Daubenton’s, Brown Long-eared, Noctule, Serotine.  Other mammal records were the 2 Hedgehogs which returned to Maggie after a 10 month absence and the Muntjac which leapt over Ron’s deer fence yet again!

June N asks, “Does the sighting of a Grass Snake among some ivy near a pond in Chesterton deserve a mention (about the diameter of a good sized thumb)?”  It certainly does – I reckon to see one every 10 years if I am lucky. I did recently disturb a black Toad under the dustbins, though.

Wool Carder Bee Rhona Watson

Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funesta Rhona Watson

Invertebrates.  Rhona sent a picture of a Wool Carder bee on Lamb’s Ear  – more evidence of Jesus College’s rich diversity. Then a new record for Cambridge, the Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funestaa small chafer probably imported to Jesus College on a rootball. They are common on Continental Europe, but with few UK records (Rhona). A Hummingbird Hawk-moth appeared on my honeysuckle for a few minutes.

Lesser Stag Beetle Annette Shelford

Urophora cardui, a thistle gall fly

Simon Mentha

A Lesser Stag Beetle arrived in a moth trap in Chesterton (Nets) and a fly was snapped in Cheney Way (Simon).  This was identified as Urophora cardui, a thistle gall fly. The female lays her eggs in thistle flower heads, usually Creeping Thistle, causing damage to the seeds. They are sometimes used in thistle weed control.

Dragonflies. In early June, Bill had Broad-bodied Chasers mating over the garden pond. Scarce Chasers were found at Fen Ditton and a colony of Variable Damselfly on Ditton meadows. Eddington lake has now got a good population of Damselflies and Dragonflies while Byrons pool has masses of Banded Demoiselles.

Emperor Dragonfly Duncan Mackay

Butterflies   Trumpington Meadows is a huge success story. The wildflower meadows are superb and besides the recent appearance of Small Blue butterflies, Mo sent the following list:   Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Painted Lady, Common BlueMarbled White butterflies were reported from Coldham’s Common.

Marbled White Paul Rule

Large Skipper Mo Sibbons

Moths  Some recent finds illustrated below (Paul).

Spectacle moth Abrostola tripartita Paul Rule

Glyphotaelius pellucidus Paul Rule

Cherry bark Tortrix Limnephilus lunatus Paul Rule

Fungus From sublime to ridiculous in Paradise?  The mildew Podosphaera filipendulae on Meadowsweet (Chris) and the gigantic Chicken of the Woods on a Willow tree were both observed on the riverside path in May Week, as punters enjoyed the post-exam sunshine.

Chicken of the Woods

David Williams

Podosphaera filipendulae Chris Preston

And finally, a really nice bee orchid on Trumpington Meadows (Norman) and others reported at Nuttings Road (Guy).

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

May Sightings 2019

What better sound to welcome the spring than the Cuckoo! Heard in Newnham Riverbank Club on 10th, by the river at Byron’s Pool on 12th, then finally over Trumpington Meadows on 27th. Thanks to John, Jean and Mo, but alas not heard by me – I had to travel to Suffolk for mine.

By May 9th, the Swifts were back in Eden Street (Suki). On 12thDorothea said, “Swifts have just done a fly past over my house – they really lift my spirits!”  By 14th Pam reported swifts in the nest box on camera and a little later, a dramatic 2 hour fight between 2 males: “Male intruder swift fights with resident male. Female on nest variously joins in, yawns, preens, flies off for a while, then goes altogether.  Two hours later, the defeated intruder exits still just alive and the victor rests in the nest for hours. (It is often a fight to the death.)”  Later the female returned and they were both peaceful on the nest.  Eggs were laid on 28thand 29th. Apparently females are faithful to the nest site, but not necessarily to the male, so a victorious male intruder may be accepted by her.

Consolation for the Victor   Pam Gatrell

Guy reports two Swallow nests high up under the Addenbrooke’s Access Rd bridge on Hobson’s Park, but Martin comments how very few swallows there are this season. Mo noted that the House Martins were back nesting on the old MRC building at Addenbrooke’s.

Great Spotted Woodpecker    Duncan Mackay

Nesting Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen on Grantchester Meadow (Jeff) and with young in a hole at Cherry Hinton Hall (Duncan). I also had an unconfirmed report of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Paradise in early May – exciting news if so.  Tawny Owls, with 2 chicks, are nesting in a garden in Newnham and a Red Kite was sighted over Newnham mill pond.

Ann sent a picture of a Mallard’s nest beside a friend’s garage in Luard Rd. It was totally camouflaged, but a few days later, 6 ducklings appeared.

Hidden Mallard’s nest   Ann Laskey

Holly reports from Cherry Hinton brook: Little Egret, perhaps breeding on the lakes, lots of warblers: Blackcap,Chiffchaff, Cetti’s and Reed Warbler, but no recent Willow Warbler.  Lots of Whitethroat around this year. There have been several broods of Moorhen and one of 7 Mallard ducklings on the Brook, doing well in spite of the Sparrow Hawk!

It has been a good month for invertebrate records. Sam noted a bright lemon yellow Ladybird  with no spots and wondered if it was newly hatched. After emergence from the pupa, 7-Spot Ladybirds are indeed yellow and spotless, the colours changing over the next 3-4 hours.  

Newly emerged 7-Spot Ladybird

7-Spot Ladybird, after 3 hours 

Jean found a 3mm 14-Spot Ladybird in Trumpington Meadows. Another 1 showed up in my garden and there are Mayflies about on the river: this one is Ephemera vulgata.

Mayfly    Paul Rule
Salticus scenicus    Chris Preston

Arachnophobes look away now! This tiny jumping spider, Salticus scenicus, loves warm walls and may well jump onto your hand or even come indoors – thanks Chris. Those eyes always remind me of aviator goggles.


Cinnamon Bug  Paul Rule

Paul lists his haul from a short visit to Byrons Pool / Trumpington Meadows: Cinnamon bugs, Corizus hyoscyami, and Black-and-Red Froghoppers, Cercopis vulnerata, the Soldier Beetles Cantharis decipiens and C. Pellucida, Phyllobius pomaceus (Green Nettle Weevil) and Byturus ochraceus (Pollen Beetle),  with large numbers on buttercup flowers.

Black and Red Froghopper  Ceropsis vulnerata     Paul Rule
Cantharis decipiens   Paul Rule

Hobson Park has had a series of infestations of Brown-tail Moth caterpillars affecting young specimens of willow, hawthorn and other deciduous species, which are being defoliated. Vanessa found the ‘tents’ (which looked as if made of a tough white polythene) on various young shrubs last autumn and Richard rather unwisely opened one with his bare hands to reveal many ‘hibernating’  caterpillars. (Fortunately he did not develop the nasty persistent rash which can occur with this species.)

Green Silver-lines Moth    Paul Rule

Paul’s moth trap caught 75moths, (22 species, including 5 new garden records) in one night, of which the most spectacular was a Green Silver-lines. Ben’s moth trap turned up an intruder – a red Ichneumon Wasp, most probably a Netelia species. These are parasitic, laying their eggs inside a caterpillar.

Ichneumon Wasp   Ben Greig
Mating Azure Damselflies    Duncan Mackay

In response to warmer temperatures and night time temperatures in double figures in mid May, there has been a huge hatch of Dragonflies all over Cambridge. Duncan found Hairy Dragonfly, Broad Bodied Chaser, 4-Spot Chaser, Variable Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, and Red Eyed Damselfly. More recently, Banded Demoiselle have also appeared (Jeff, Paul, Mo).


4-Spot Chaser   Duncan Mackay

Painted Lady Butterfly    Paul Rule

Butterflies have also appeared in good numbers,including a Small Blue Butterfly inTrumpington Meadows, Sunday 26th May.  This species has been ‘extinct’ in Cambridgeshire for 15 years and is now breeding in Trumpington Meadows. Thanks Mo for that one! Paul reports the first migrant butterfly: a lone Painted Lady on the Coldhams Common survey on May 30th.

Tree Bumblebees Bombus hypnorum are again appearing in numbers – variously looking to make their home in a nest box on a tree and in an old watering can which was stuffed with straw in the hope of attracting robins.

On 15thMay, a Newnham Bat walk in Paradise found both Common and Soprano Pipestrelles, also Daubentons Bats flying low over the river. (We were surprised by a fly-by of a couple of Herons at 10pm, calling loudly in the dark.) I get regular updates on visiting Hedgehogs, including a new sighting in Trumpington. Foxes continue to do well, especially at Jesus college, also one with 3 small cubs at the back of St. Phillip’s Primary School, off Vinery Road and one in the Botanic Gardens, where Mary also saw a Muntjac.


Fox with young rat in Jesus College     Rhona Watson

At the Stapleford Pit (a nature reserve just under Magog Down) we found large numbers of Roman Snails, in a very active state! They were introduced here about 80 years ago and continue to flourish. (This site is marginally outside our study area, but too good to miss.)

 Roman Snails   Menage a trois     Norman De’Ath

Finally, Jeff spotted a Grass Snake in the Paradise pond – what luck!  Perhaps it will find the masses of tadpoles flourishing this year – this batch was at East Barnwell Reserve.

Tadpoles in Barnwell Reserve  Duncan Mackay

Olwen Williams                  olwenw@gmail.com



April Sightings 2019

Spring– the best I can remember – has given us a long period of fluctuating warm and cold spells, with enough rain to keep things moving.  This has prolonged the emergence of leaves and spring flowers.  Duncan reports fish are migrating into small streams to spawn and sends a picture of two large Chub in the ditch around Jesus college.

Chub     Duncan Mackay

Mammals

Colin was sitting on a bench by Baits Bite Lock (April 1st) when approached by a weasel which came right up to the toe of his boot: very small with body under six inches long and no black tip to tail. Larger mammals in the city are also reported: the Jesus College Foxes have made it on to national media (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=443236599757826) and Nets saw a Roe Deer in her Chesterton back garden. Jill caught a hare in Fulbrooke Wood on a night camera.

Roe Deer  Annette Shelford
Midnight Hare   Jill Newcombe

Bats have emerged in the last couple of weeks (one dead Pipistrelle on my mat, sadly) and lots over the new lake at Hobson’s Park. Alec noted a brown Rat in the shed, which then declined and a day later was found dead. However, Duncan was witness to the birth of a Muntjac fawn and managed to film the mother as she cleaned it up.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U3tC2koL9Q)
 

Birds

 Lots of reports of the arrival of spring migrants: Swallows on 2nd (Bob) and 14th (Holly), Cetti’s Warbler singing in scrub by lakes across from St Bedes crescent, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing all along the brook (Holly), Blackcaps in Jesus College (Rhona) and on feeders in Newnham (Jean), Willow Warbler (17th Holly, mid-April Martin Tenison Ave, 27th Olwen Grantchester Meadows).

Blackcap    Rhona Watson

Jays seem to be doing well: Duncan reports the beech woods are full of them and I saw 5 flying together over the playing fields. Judith noted a part-albino Blackbird on 4th, at Christ’s Pieces and the first baby Moorhen brood was seen on 17th April. A Tawny Owl chick was spotted at Girton College.

Jay    Duncan Mackay
Juvenile Tawny Owl, Girton College    Duncan Mackay

Sue notes. “Our lawn has been dive bombed by Starlings over the past week – up to around two dozen. We haven’t seen a starling for about five years, so I am not sure what has attracted them”.

Mike reports that the Paradise Heronry has 12 “Apparently occupied nests” to date and that numbers are still stable despite some favoured trees blown down in recent years.  This was in contrast with the other large colony in the area (Stapleford), which was down from 10-15 pairs to only one in 2017, then totally abandoned in 2018. He believes that a gang of super aggressive Rooks,that were displaced from their usual site, harassed the herons so much in the early spring of 2017 that they departed.  (In Paradise, the Rooks gather in the winter, but depart as the herons arrive leaving only some Jackdaws from the big winter flock.)

 A couple of unusual sightings: on 18th Nets was unpacking the moth traps at the Botanic Garden at 08.20am when an Oystercatcher flew over calling loudly. She presumed it had been grounded by the fog. Then on 19th, I saw a pair of Mandarin Ducks on Pembroke playing fields. But where are all the Nuthatches? They seem to have vanished from all their former city sites, including the Beechwoods reserve. Have you seen any?

Richard reports drama on Hobson’s lake at Great Kneighton. He witnessed a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls systematically removing and eating Greylag Goose eggs on the islands in the lake, while Black Headed Gulls mobbed the larger gulls.  Then on 9th April, four Common Terns visited, disappeared and then reappeared on 24th April and have stayed since then, catching insects and feeding on fish robbed from the Great Crested Grebes! Their technique is to hover and then swoop on the grebe, forcing it to dive again and abandon the fish. A juvenile Black-Headed Gull appeared to be watching this and when the Grebe emerged from another dive with a fish, it used the same tactics.  However, the grebes seem to be flourishing in spite of all this and at least one pair has, on several occasions, started (but not completed) their wonderfully elaborate courtship display.  Finally, a pair of Canada Geese were seen shepherding six goslings around the perimeter of the lake – the first hatchlings of the year. Evidently more successful than the Greglags in keeping off the predators!

Plants

The ongoing battle against Floating Pennywort continues, this picture showing more in the Cam at Fen Ditton this month. If you see any, please hoick it out!  On 6th,we spotted a plant which turned out to be Annual Mercury, Mercurialis annua  in Mill Rd Cemetery – a new one for me, but apparently fairly common.  Many flowers now coming out -particularly noticeable is the Bulbous Buttercup, with its turned down sepals, which is turning meadows yellow.

Floating Pennywort   Duncan Mackay


Jean reports the first small plums appearing on the many Cherry Plum trees (Prunus cerasifera) around Cambridge, a legacy of the Edwardian’s use of this species for hedging.  Last year a wide-spread infection by Taphrina pruni affected all these trees, destroying their fruit.  This fungal plant pathogen of Blackthorn(Prunus spinosa) causes the Pocket or Bladder Plum gall, a chemically induced distortion of the fruit,which becomes swollen on one side, resulting in a deformed and flattened fruit gall without a stone. The twigs on infected plants may also be deformed with small strap-shaped leaves. This year, the infection is still present on these trees and signs of the fruit deformation already visible.


Taphrina pruni infection   Rosser  Wiki

Invertebrates

Small Tortoiseshell
Paul Ru
le


Holly Blue        Paul Rule

Everything is waking up fast, the first Peacock butterfly of the year on 1st April (Pam, Olwen) Holly Blues in good numbers from 1st April (Duncan, Paul, Rhona), Orange Tips (Duncan, Pam), Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone (Pam) and Comma (Paul).

Comma Paul Rule
Female Orange Tip         Rhona Watson

There are also lots of 7-spot Ladybirds, and Jonathan spotted the rather uncommon Eyed Ladybird in Robinson College.  Sightings of others welcome!

Eyed Ladybird 

Penny reports “An insect with a very long proboscis on a patch of Aubretia. It was the size of a large bumble-bee with caramel coloured wings, a grey head and black and white back end. The long proboscis went into each individual aubretia flower while the wings were flapping so fast that it reminded me of a hummingbird”. This was confirmed as a Humming-bird Hawk-moth, now probably resident in UK.

The earliest damselflies appeared April 23rd. Jeff saw 2 female Large Red Damselflies in Newnham and then a male on 26th April. More were seen over the Easter weekend: Banded Damoiselle on the Cam near Baits Bite Lock and a Large Red Damselfly in the pond at Cherry Hinton hall (Duncan). Hoverflies are also appearing –this Nursery Web Spider has just caught one and if you hold your hands up in a sunny glade in a wood it is quite likely you can get a hoverfly to land on your fingertips…

Hoverfly  Duncan Mackay
Nursery Web Spider with Hoverfly          
Duncan Mackay


Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

PS I have had the Newnham Riverbank Club sightings for 2018: they include Kingfisher, Heron, Snipe, Common Tern, Red Kite, Little Egret, Green Plover (Lapwing) and Otter footprints.

River Temperatures ranged from 0.5C on Mar 2nd– 23.0C on June 25th.T



February Sightings 2019

An unusually hot month has meant an early season for many things – even reports of Swallows and House Martins arriving along the SW coast, a good month earlier than usual.  Here in Cambridge, Frogspawn was seen in Newnham on Feb 17th (Pam has a tiny pond with between 30 and 40 frogs, including four mating pairs) and towards the end of the month at Mayfield School. 

HAVE YOU SEEN ANY?  Please let us know where and when. You can email me or submit a sighting via the website.

Another query, this time from Chris Preston, who is undertaking a survey of Smuts and Rusts. There is a smut fungus, Antherospora hortensis,  which infects the anthers of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), so you have to look into the flowers to see masses of brown spores, rather than normal pale yellow pollen grains spilling out of the anthers. Although it is widespread in W. Wales and in Richmond (Surrey), he failed to find it in Cambridge last year,so needs help!  A similar smut occurs on Scilla species. This one (Antherospora scillae) on Scilla forbesii was an exciting find in St Giles churchyard.  Please let him (cdpr@ceh.ac.uk) or me know if you see any more.

Antherospora scillae
Chris Preston
Antherospora hortensis
Arthur Chater



Mammal reports – a dead Badger on Barton Rd was spotted by several people.  In the fields by Grantchester Rd, seven Hares were seen crouched against the grass. The first Water Vole of the year appeared at lunchtime on 14th, in Jesus Ditch. Rhona reckoned it still looked rather groggy, as if it needed a strong coffee after over-wintering underground. Still at Jesus College, a Fox has been sauntering around and seems to have taken up residence.

Water vole   Rhona Watson
Jesus’ Fox       Rhona Watson

At Mayfield School, Amy reports one Rat, one Mouse and a Vixen with 4 cubs.  I have been intrigued by the Moles at Pembroke sports ground. Molehills abound all around the playing fields, but never encroach.  I wonder if this is because there are no worms or grubs to be found there?  There  are no worm casts either.

On this theme, Duncan comments: “One interesting thing that is causing the College head gardeners a lot of pain at the moment is the Crows attacking their lawns and eating Cockchafer grubs. This also happens on Parker’s Piece. I counted on Parker’s piece – there were 60 Carrion Crows and 20 Herring Gulls and  I think  both species were after the cockchafers.” He speculates how they locate the grubs, which are generally feeding on grass roots below the ground and wonders if they make ultrasound noises as they eat and the birds are able to hear in this frequency. He intends to take a bat detector to investigate!

Birds

Susanne reports Redwing in Chesterton at the beginning of the month and while winter migrants have not yet departed, the weather has encouraged lots of birds to start singing.  On 9th, I was delighted to hear Greenfinch and on 19th Goldfinch. After last summer, they had both disappeared altogether.  On 11th I heard a Song Thrush in full song and also a still- subdued Blackbird. In Paradise, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Robin are all competing for air space. The large winter flock of Rooks and Jackdaws has now dispersed, with just a few of each remaining. Meanwhile, the Herons have moved back in and are noisily restoring their nests.

Walking back from Grantchester along the headland path parallel to Grantchester Rd, we saw a male Yellowhammer on the hedge, then 2 Grey Partridges.  

Yellowhammer Paul Rule
Little Grebes   Paul Rule

These are a red list species, so nice to see in Cambridge. There were also Skylarks singing over the fields. On the river, 3 Little Grebes were diving but (not yet) displaying.  On 17th, Duncan noted a Blackcap singing along Cherry Hinton Brook, also a Little Egret and fighting Moorhens. Then a Water Rail was spotted in the brook, adjacent to the reed beds at the end of the lakes – not a common sight in the city. These allotments have two branches of the brook beside them. One goes underground at Birdwood Rd and the other passes beside the lakes and on past Sainsbury’s. Charles Turner has pointed out that this area used to be Cherry Hinton Moor and once had a very acidic plant community growing on it. So this very curious split drainage system may have been the way of draining it, to allow all the houses to be built.

On 17th, Pam heard Tawny Owls are calling in Newnham.  On 22nd Mistle Thrushes were noted on the top of a plane tree in Jesus College.  Liza spotted a Peregrine flying over Alpha Road. She also has male Blackcap feeding regularly, along with a beautiful pair of Song Thrushes which love grapes and pears! Then the lucky children at Mayfield School were able to see a Heron eating a frog and to film a Sparrowhawk catching and demolishing a Wood Pigeon.

Sparrowhawk with pigeon    Amy Ellis

Insects

My first Brimstone butterfly was in Newnham on Feb 17th. Lots of Bees have been reported: Mahonia blossom seems to be a good nectar source.

Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee  
Paul Rule

Early Honey Bees  (Amy, Paul), Buff-Tailed Bumblebee (Paul, Guy on 6th Feb, Duncan on 17th), and on 26th Feb, Rhona reports Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee (Bombus barbutellus)a social parasite of the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortensis). She says, “It is locally widespread, but ‘There are indications of a significant decline in many areas’ (Falk & Lewington,2015). Females don’t usually emerge until late April! Nice to see a NFS bumblebee in Jesus.”

https://mothsjc.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/barbets.jpg?w=600&h=450
Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee   Rhona Watson
Epissyphus balteatus     Paul Rule

She also spotted several Hairy-Footed Flower Bees since 21st Feb.  Occasional Queen Wasps have been seen and also a couple of common hoverflies, Eristalis tenax (drone fly) and Epissyphus balteatus. Both are rather dark specimens, possibly due to the time of year they have emerged.

Drone Fly       Paul Rule

Adult moths can be found throughout the winter months, but the warm spell at the end of the month has seen an unusually high number attracted to light traps at various locations across the city. Over 10 species seen in all, with Common Quakers appearing in the largest numbers. Good numbers of Hebrew Characters, March Moths and Clouded Drabs have also been captured. Star moth of the month has to be the Oak Beauty captured in Annette’s Girton garden.

Oak Beauty       Annette Shelford

Finally, an oddity.  A collection of fluffy twigs on a large Willow appear to be the remnants of last year’s Mossy Willow Catkin Gall.  “This gall is actually an abnormally distorted catkin, and is probably caused by a virus or phytomplasma, but the precise causer has not yet been identified.”
https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/mossy-willow-catkin-gall


Mossy Willow Catkin Gall    Paul Rule

Olwen Williams     olwenw@gmail.com


January 2019 Sightings

I returned from a tropical holiday, thinking that there would not be many observations for a cold January, but was wrong!  Anita tells me that Paradise pond froze over for the first time this winter (having dried out completely in the summer) and looked lovely. She comments on the beautiful Turkey Tail fungus on some of the cut bits of tree in Paradise.  

Several people have noted Dab Chicks (Little Grebe),which seem to be flourishing in Fen Ditton (Trevor), Newnham (Anita) and Byron’s Pool (Ann L). More exotic was Holly’s sighting on 21st January of a Water Rail on the brook up by Blacklands allotments – a brief glimpse as it skulked in the margins. First sighting for several years here. 

 Winter thrushes are still about, with Fieldfares in Grantchester meadows (Jill)and lots of reports of Redwings, about 30-40 in Jesus woods (Rhona) and flocks near Lime Kiln Hill, also the Beechwoods and in Cherry Hinton Hall (Duncan).                                                  

Redwing        Duncan McKay

At Clay Farm lake (Hobson’s Park) a number of ‘Birders’ with telescopes were sighted!  Assuming that this meant something interesting had flown in, Richard went out and was shown a Jack Snipe along with about 40 Common Snipe.  (A useful guide to the difference can be seen here: https://www.bto.org/about-birds/bird-id/bto-bird-id-common-and-jack-snipe).  Little Egrets seem to be expanding their range generally and a pair was noted at Clay Farm (Vanessa) as well as on Sheep’s  Green in Newnham (Anita), who also saw Kingfisher,  and commented on the young incompetent Heron, begging fish from the fishermen! A Pied Wagtail plied the pavement outside the Co-op on Perne Road (Monica).

Guy noted the Peregrine, regularly seen perched on the United Reform Church, was feeding on feral pigeon on 21st Jan.  Tawny Owls have been calling in Newnham.  Both Green Woodpeckers (Ann G in Arbury) and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been around, the latter starting to drum, though only occasionally (Pam, Sandra, June).

There are lots of reports of smaller birds, in particular flocks of Long Tailed Tits, mixed with Blue and Great Tits,Goldcrest, Coal Tits. Reports too of Blackcaps at feeders and the return of some finches, which have been very scarce recently.  June reports Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch, Val had a Greenfinch on the feeders and Ann G saw a Chaffinch after none for some time. Then, in the Beechwood Reserve, lots of Bramblings were seen (Duncan, Paul).                  


Female blackcap on Crab Apples     Pam Gatrell

Jonathan led the New Year’s Day Plant Hunt and found 58 species in flower. Several unusual/overlooked ones were noted, including Butcher’s Broom and Persian Ironwood. The former shrub has tiny flowers in the middle of what look like leaves. These develop into red berries.  The Persian Ironwood (a tree) has small red flowers that appear like shrivelled berries.

After the drought of last summer and the mild winter, the autumn-germinating annuals are doing very well on Cambridge’s roadside verges, and in places there are dense swards of Geranium molle and G. pusillum. These support at least three species of parasitic fungi and fungoids including Ramularia geranii, shown as white colonies on the leaves which are discoloured and upturned at the edges. Another fungus which is currently very conspicuous on Cambridge’s roadside verges is the mildew Blumeria graminis, which parasitises grasses, photographed here on New Year’s Day by Chris.

Blumeria graminis             Chris Preston
Ramularia geranii           Chris Preston

Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) was flowering on the road verge in Cherry Hinton Road towards the end of the month and the Snowdrops and Aconites are earlier than ever. This is a good time of year to look for Bee Orchid rosettes- there are quite a few city centre monads without sightings, but the plants are quite likely to be there. Please let us know if they are in your lawn and avoid mowing them down! We still have no sightings of Mistletoe in Cherry Hinton or Grantchester.

Muntjac Deer are abundant in Newnham, both by the river and in many larger gardens (Jill, Anita). A Fox was seen in Brooklands Avenue (Ann L) and a couple of Hares in the Fulbrooke Rd allotments (Jill).  Val comments on a grateful Grey Squirrel who loves the bird food.

Finally, Paul found an abundance of 7-spot Ladybirds adorning the buds of trees and even the barbed wire fencing in Beechwoods. Good to see we have not been taken over entirely by Harlequins!  

7-Spot Ladybirds            Paul Rule

Olwen Williams                 olwenw@gmail.com