All posts by Olwen W

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

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?

March Sightings 2020

March draft

This spring has coincided with pandemic lockdown and I have had a huge number of responses this month (hence the lateness of this report).  Thanks to all contributors. We really do have time to stop and stare!

Quiz for this month – what is this? Read on…………

Amphibia

In Chesterton frogspawn appeared on Mar 1st and this was followed by a slew of other sightings. Jenny says, “We have been hoping for Frogs for the last 4 years since we put in a small wildlife pond.. we saw four extremely active large frogs busy doing what frogs do at this time of the year! (More reports from Peter, Heather, Paul, Pam, Jonathan.)  Smooth Newts also put in an appearance (Ben, Olwen, Jill) while Heather saw mating Toads at Clay Farm.

Plants

Butterbur flowers appeared in Paradise on Mar 2nd (and my first Asparagus spear on 17th).  At Jesus, Rhona found Yellow Figwort Scrophularia vernalis – Alan Leslie notes it as a weed of Cambridge College gardens, with a long, if discontinuous history in Cambridge.  First described 1830, he found it by Wesley House in 2013 and also in Jesus Lane.  Mo describes how she ordered some Creeping Comfrey Symphytum grandiflorum, having seen how attractive it was to bees.  With the plants still in their wrappers on the doorstep, a large bumblebee immediately headed for the flowers.

Jonathan reports spring annual plants – Cerastium semidecandrum Little Mouse-ear, Myosotis ramosissima Early Forget-me-not, Poa infima Early Meadow-grass, Saxifraga tridactylites Rue-leaved Saxifrage and Stellaria pallida Lesser Chickweed – on the gravel of the W. Cambridge car-parks, several new to this site. (I suspect we mostly ignore these as the LBJs of the plant world!) Also Luzula campestris Field Wood-rush in Cherry Hinton churchyard and Ranunculus auricomus Goldilocks Buttercup just starting to come into flower.

Vanessa describes Dog’s Mercury Mercuralis perennis in the woods near Byron’s Pool with clumps of Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa. In Coton, Lesley admired Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas in flower, with great drifts of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara.  Monica’s daily exercise is now a survey of street weeds within about a kilometre of home. White Ramping Fumitory Fumaria capreolata was just inside Coleridge Recreation Ground (previously recorded there by Alan Leslie in 2008).  Near Rustat Avenue were masses of Early Forget-me-not Myosotis ramosissima, with tiny deep blue flowers, hardly bigger than pinheads.

Mo queried one flower and learned it was a Campion hybrid. Apparently, Red Campion Silene dioica flowers during the day and its most important pollinators are butterflies, bees, and flies with long proboscises. Its close relative White Campion S. latifolia opens its flowers at night, so is pollinated by night flyers. Occasional shared pollinators allow cross-breeding.

Butterflies

My first Yellow Brimstone butterfly was Mar 17th but there were many more butterfly reports from Mar 11th onwards (Rhona, Pam, Judith, Bernie, Sue, Miles). Also Commas, Small Tortoiseshell, and a “Tiny Blue” (Judith).

Bees

Penny’s permitted daily walk along Grange road passes the Cherry trees outside Selwyn. At their flowering best, there was the most amazing ‘hum’ of Honey Bees visiting the flowers.

There are Buff-Tailed Bumblebees reports galore, but also a Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum seen in Jesus on 10th and a Mining bee Andrena bicolor male, a thin bee with a black face tuft, on 9th March (Rhona). Mo found a Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis  while Garret reported an Osmia cornuta by Jesus Lock: a first for Cambridgeshire. It has distinctive facial horns and black and red pattern.

Ladybirds

Rhona, 6th March, noted the first mating 7-spots Ladybirds of the season. Pine Ladybirds were spotted in St. Andrews church yard in Cherry Hinton by Paul, at least a dozen scurrying about  the trunk of an ash tree. Jonathan also found large number of these on trees in the West Cambridge site car-parks.

Eyed Ladybird Paul Rule

Sanctuary Reserve turned up an Eyed Ladybird. There are few records of our largest ladybird from Cambridge city, but they may be under-recorded, as they are mostly hidden away in conifers.

Mammals

Hedgehogs are beginning to stir:  Ben and Dorothea both have active hogs. Dorothea says, “The dish has been licked clean the last few nights and their poo trails criss-cross in all directions”. However, on 13th Jenny, found a sleeping hedgehog under a pile of leaves and covered it back up again quickly. Was it still hibernating or just taking a regular daytime nap? 

At Jesus, Rhona reports a Squirrel with a white tail. Anita says Water Voles are active in the mill ditch by Lammas land. Two Woodmice and a Stoat were spotted on the Coton reserve, just outside our area.

Birds

I had a huge number of bird reports, all valuable for our records but not possible to include them all. Thanks for sending them.  Notable findings were the first Chiffchaff song, arriving exactly on time (Mar 17th) and  I had a close encounter with Barn Owl near Skaters’ Meadows, in broad daylight about 4m away at eye level. A Red Legged Partridge joined Jane on her allotment  and Heather rather casually mentioned a couple Bearded Tits at Clay Farm – a most unusual bird within the City boundary and a credit to the new Reserve there. Bob suggests they may be breeding there.

An update from Mike Foley Count on the Paradise Heronry. This year, there seem to be only 5 occupied nests, in comparison with 12 last year. There was also a beautiful Cormorant in full breeding plumage there and two Buzzards over the wood (he thinks they breed elsewhere).

It is good to get sightings of finches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, recently in short supply (Holly, Pam) and 14 Yellowhammers at Coton Reserve (Lesley). She also mentions Stock Doves there – I hear these every day in Paradise, but never see them.  Little Egrets have returned to Newnham (Anita) but I still don’t know where they nest. Harlton (again out of our area) has acquired a Peacock: so far not calling or displaying.  Jill says there are many Skylarks above the fields in Newnham and Stella has a Nuthatch visiting  her Newnham garden. 

Fungi

Paul found this tiny Mollisia melaleuca fungus (1mm across) on rotten wood in the garden. It is less common than the similar Common Grey Disco (Mollisia cinerea) but that species has dark centres with pale edges and this is the other way round.

Other invertebrates

Lots of other insects are emerging just now.  Paul spotted Epistrophe eligans – an early hoverfly and points out the males are not to be trusted, as their eyes are too close together…. The Bee Fly Bombylius major was sighted by several people.  In Hobson Park, Vanessa reports signs of emerging caterpillars of the Brown-tailed Moth Euproctis chrysorrhoea from their overwintering strongholds. This white moth was originally coastal but seems to be spreading. The caterpillars live in white cocoons resembling strong opaque polythene. Beware! These caterpillars shed toxic hairs which can cause intense irritation and a rash. They infest various species of deciduous trees and can cause defoliation. Mo saw a Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum and Paul snapped tiny Owl Midges (aka owl flies or drain flies) flitting around the Marsh Marigold leaves.

Aquatic fauna

Mo’s pond turned up some 1 – 2mm translucent balls, looking somewhat like tiny clam shells. Jean suggested it was a fresh-water clam, one of the Sphaerium species and to keep them under observation in the house.  Mo’s last words were, “I am not holding out any hope of pasta alle vongole sourced from my pond”.

Finally, something to investigate: What is This?  It was 7mm long and under the lid of Paul’s dustbin.  (The first thing is to decide which end is which and go from there. ) With all the time in the world on your hands, have a go…. The first correct entry will be acknowledged in April.

Olwen Williams                   olwenw@gmail.com                 

February Sightings 2020

This month’s highlight: read on!

I am told the best month for Mosses and Liverworts is February.  So it was no surprise when Chris Preston spotted two plants of the liverwort Sphaerocarpos on trampled soil at Mitcham’s Corner. It’s a very distinctive plant because of its balloon-like perianths (but with a small hole in the top).  This is the first record from the NatHistCam area since it was reported at Barnwell Gravel Pit in 1802 and there are fewer than 400 UK records altogether. So here is a challenge!  Where else can we find it in the city?  Please let me or Chris (cdpr@ceh.ac.uk) know, including location and photo if possible.

In spite of the weather (gales, inexorable rain, some frost, on 27th large snowflakes at breakfast, sun by noon) signs of spring are everywhere. There was no shortage of Daffodils on St David’s Day!  Violets are out, Early Dog Violet as well as Sweet Violet, and Cowslips are coming into flower too. Coltsfoot along Snakey Path and in Hobson Park is flowering, Cherry Plum is covered in blossom (you can tell it is not hawthorn or blackthorn because the youngest shoots are green). At Cherry Hinton Hall, Marsh Marigold planted last year is in full flower (Monica).

Our raptors seem to be doing well.  Guy spotted male and female Peregrine noisily mating on United Reform Church and Liza saw one over Alpha Rd. Jonathan enjoyed the sight of a Sparrowhawk eating its breakfast in the garden whilst he ate his and John also saw one kill a pigeon in King’s Hedges. On 23rd Feb, I had wonderful views of a Red Kite – my first sighting in Newnham.  Vicky spotted a large bird of prey, almost certainly a Buzzard, sitting on top of one of the new office buildings along Station Road, resisting the efforts of a couple of crows to move him on.  Jill reports regular Tawny Owl hooting at Pinehurst and a Barn Owl flying across the traffic on Barton Road, landing on the verge and staring at them (this was just outside the NHC target area however). Kestrels were seen in Hobson Park and Newnham.

Lots of water bird reports too: a pair of Tufted Duck on the lake at the Botanic Garden (Vicky) and more on the chalk pits at Cherry Hinton (Holly).  Little Egrets were seen in Coldham’s Brook by the Football Stadium (Guy) and fishing on Hobson’s Brook (Holly). Graylag Geese fly over between The Sanctuary and Bolton’s Pit Lakes honking at dawn and dusk (Jill). At Hobson’s Park, Richard has a bird’s eye view of the lake, where 100 Greylags are present. They nested last year on the floating rafts and Lesser Black Back Gulls have already gathered in anticipation of the coming goose egg bonanza. He also reports a single Great Crested Grebe (no Little Grebes), Mallard, Pochard, Shoveler, Tufted Ducks, Coots and Moorhens and a few Canada Geese. There have also been up to 20 Lapwings – wonderful group aerial displays but quite aggressive to each other on the ground. Kingfishers are frequently found along the Cherry Hinton brook and the Cam, always a delight to see.

Hobson’s Park also turned up a pair of Stonechats and flocks of Corn Buntings. Other less usual birds were this fluffy Coal Tit on a cold day at Jesus College (Rhona), Skylarks singing over the arable fields by Grantchester Rd and Little Grebes near Fen Ditton, on several occasions (Val). The Rooks and Jackdaws have mostly gone from Newnham (I am assuming the few remaining are youngsters who will not breed this year). Holly says they have arrived in Cherry Hinton, Jackdaws often on chimney pots along the far end of Mill Road and Rooks sunbathing on the treetops along Burnside, but no nesting activity yet.  Meanwhile the Heronry in Newnham is active with birds carrying sticks.

Loic reports the Blue Tits started nest building in the bird box on 3rd Feb and there is plenty of other chasing and bird song going on.  Along Burnside, Sparrows were claiming the Swift boxes (Holly) – this seems rather unfair!  Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Green Woodpeckers are vocal, with song from Greenfinches, Robins,  Dunnocks, Wrens, Song Thrushes, Great, Blue and Long Tailed Tits. However, Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Chaffinches are around but not singing yet. Several people have reported Jays, which seem now quite common in the City (Mary, Olwen).

Rhona reports a Fox enjoying the sunshine and a Bank Vole seen several times during daylight in Jesus Woods.  It had eaten all the Cow Parsley near its hole, was munching  its way through the Few-flowered Garlic, but (sensibly) had not touched the Nettles.  A Grey Squirrel, meanwhile, was enjoying the Crocus petals.  Holly noted the first sighting this year of a Water Vole  on Cherry Hinton Brook and Richard saw a pair of Brown Hares ‘boxing’ and chasing – behaviour usually associated with March.

Pam’s Frogs have been emerging from hibernation and swimming slowly in the pond. (She comments, “ This time last year it was 16C and I saw Brimstones!”). No frogs yet in Trumpington, however! (Mo). Paul’s Smooth Newts have already returned to the pond.

Several people have mentioned Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed Bumblebee), but Honeybees are also up and about.  Rhona found 7 Pine Ladybirds on 6th Feb (along with some 7-spots) all on the same Sarcococca bush. But the most remarkable February sighting was the Violet Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa violacea) near Girton College.  Stephen Tomkins writes: “It was first seen locally nearly two years ago and I have now seen a male on a hot sunny February day.” Yet another species which is moving north and overwintering, breeding in the wood of old rotten fruit trees. First UK record was 2007 (I have only ever seen it in Sicily).

Finally, Paul captured a Rayed Earthstar Geastrum quadrifidum, which he found under lime trees in the Botanic Garden. A good specimen for the next wildlife quiz.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

January Sightings 2020

As I cycled through Grantchester Meadows after dark on 8th Jan, I was accompanied by Bats, which were chasing the Moths circling in my bike light.  Everywhere, everything is early. There were several reports of Buff-tailed Bumble Bees before 29th Jan (they are always the earliest to emerge) (Pam, Olwen, Paul, Rhona). Rhona also sent pix of an Angle Shades Moth caterpillar, which pupated on 20th Jan.

An Episyrphus balteatus Marmalade Hoverfly on Winter Aconite, a Common Green Sheildbug in its winter ‘brown’ colour and an Irish Yellow Slug (aka Green Cellar Slug) complete Rhona’s invertebrate haul.  She recommends the slug survey and identification guide https://www.rhs.org.uk/slugssurvey.

A very mild January has seen a return of Grey Herons to the heronry in Paradise Island, the first visitor on 8th.  By the end of the month, there were several sightings each day of birds returning with sticks to patch up the nests, a month earlier than 2019. The Rooks and Jackdaws are still around, but in smaller numbers and soon they will return to their nesting sites. Bird song has ramped up through the month: Green Woodpecker, Dunnock, Stock Dove, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldfinch, a solitary Greenfinch, a rather tentative Blackbird, Robin, Collared Dove and numerous Song Thrushes locally in Newnham. Add into this the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was March!

Treecreepers were seen in Jesus College (Rhona) and also a pair along the Grantchester Meadows path (Penelope).  At the Newnham Riverbank Club, Ted and John saw 3 Snipe and a Woodcock rise on the opposite bank during a pheasant shoot. This land has become a wetland and Lapwing are seen there in the spring.  In the field above the Meadows on Jan 29th, 4 Skylarks were seen, one singing and two others having an aerial scrap.  Cormorants are seen frequently on this stretch of the river.

Val reports Long Tailed Tits at the feeder, a Jay and also a large Brown Rat which had somehow squeezed its enormous bulk inside the domed cage over the seeds. In CB1, Sandra had a couple of Jays feeding on mealworms and in Highsett more Long Tailed Tits were reported by Mary.  There was a Mistle Thrush in Jesus and another in Newnham in December (Ted) – they are not common, so it is nice to get these reports. Jesus College also hosted a flock of about 20 Redwings recently.  Rhona found a Coral Fungus (Ramaria species) and at Murray Edwards College, an Earth Star caused excitement (Jo).

Sarah send this picture of a Muntjac strolling along the King’s Backs on Jan 14th , while Rachel’s newly planted plants were systematically demolished by one in a Grange Road garden.  These guys are a real menace, both to gardeners and particularly to woodland.  They are so immune to danger that they no longer bother to be nocturnal. Breeding is currently unchecked by colder winters, they can breed year round and numbers have rocketed in the last decade. Venison, anyone?

On Jan 11th at 4pm, I listened to a Song Thrush singing in an ash tree above a field of cabbages by Grantchester Meadows for at least 20-30 minutes, into almost darkness.  I was reminded of Hardy’s Poem, written at the end of the 19th century and I echo its final hope for 2020.  Perhaps we can turn those cabbages into woodland for him.

The Darkling Thrush By Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate when Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate the weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be the Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy, the wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among the bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, in blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through his happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew and I was unaware.

Olwen Williams                               olwenw@gmail.com

December Sightings 2019

Jonathan Shanklin, who has been the botanical recorder locally since 2004, says, “I can report 2326 records of Vascular Plants, Liverworts and Ladybirds logged on my database during 2019 for the NatHistCam area.  (This is roughly the median number, ranging from 7022 in 2005 to 1157 in 2004.) Overall there were reports of 746 different species/subspecies/variants.”  The most exciting were Potentilla argentea (Hoary Cinquefoil) that Jonathan found at the Observatories and Cuscuta epithymum (Dodder) found by Alan Leslie at Hobson’s Park.

Dodder is a very strange plant, consisting of multiple stems, almost leafless and without roots. It is parasitic on other plants, over which it forms a mat.  C. Epithymum has no chlorophyll and is pinkish in colour. Related to the Convolvulus family, it is parasitic mainly on legumes (gorse, clover) and also on heather. Other names include Hellweed and Strangle-tare! It likes rocky, stony and grassy habitats, favouring limestone. There have been no previous NBN records for Cambridge.

December so far has not been too cold and mammals are still being reported.  Fiona spotted a Hare on Grantchester Meadows on Dec 1stFox sightings seem to have increased in the Gilbert Road area: two sightings in Bill’s garden, both close to the house. One  was a rather lean looking dog fox, which chased two Grey Squirrels across the lawn but when they sought refuge up a larch tree, he then attempted to eat the fat ball on the bird table!  Even though it was not in our study area, I can’t resist adding in the Mermaid seen on the Ouse by Mike Foley. Not long before the sea reaches us here?

Jo was excited to see an Egret at Sainsburys.  (She doesn’t say what it was shopping for, however.)  Holly has heard Song Thrush and Robin both singing, with occasional drumming from Great Spotted Woodpecker. She also reports a flotilla of Tufted Duck on the Cherry Hinton chalk pits. Sandie snapped a Heron on the bank in Newnham, so motionless she mistook it for a tree stump at first.  Blackcaps were reported from Chesterton (Pat) and Petersfield (Val). Pam’s sharp-eyed granddaughter spotted Pied Wagtails in Chedworth St, a Grey Wagtail near the Mill Pool and a Grey Heron on Coe Fen. On Boxing Day, Pam took her four grandchildren at dusk with torches through Paradise, good floods to paddle in, blackbirds chinking, a rook flyover overhead.  

Mentioning Paradise, the Pallas’s Warbler sighted in November was still there on December 2nd, but not seen since. The congregation of Twitchers also flushed a Woodcock there, which apparently was poor compensation for not seeing the warbler. At St. Johns college, Nuthatches were seen again and also a Little Egret near the Bin Brook (David).

On 4th December, U3A naturalists had an excursion to the Botanic Garden, mainly to look at Bryophytes. We were delighted to find the “Lower Plant” glasshouse behind the main ones, as it has been greatly improved. There are many more “Lower Plants” than I had dreamed of. As a bonus Paul stumbled across a couple of (rather battered) Earthstars on the  way out.  At Byron’s Pool, another group came on some Stump Puffball at the foot of an Oak tree and in Paradise, Oyster Mushrooms were growing on dead Willow (thanks Bernie).

Paul sent a few more bug records: “Synophropsis lauri” is a Leaf Hopper and another species that has recently established itself on these shores (first UK record 2007). Females are believed to over-winter as adults. Sitona lineatus (Pea Leaf Weevil) was found hibernating in the seed pod of Love-in-the-Mist. Finally a very unseasonable moth record from 19th December: a Silver-Y Moth. These are common migrants, normally seen in large numbers from late summer into autumn.

Lesley reports a Bee in Highsett on 27th, also an Earthworm on the pavement and was delighted to assist it by putting it on grass. Winter proper has yet to come, evidently.

Finally, I copy you Alec’s commentary on his garden birdbath verbatim: ”I have the usual population of blackbirds and sparrows flitting about amongst the bare branches of my Forsythia. Yesterday, 31st December 2019, a sparrow was happily enjoying a lively bath in my birdbath (a pottery basin) on the ground when a blackbird suddenly jumped in and trumpeted, “You! Out!”. The sparrow reluctantly stepped out, but hopped around the bath watching the splashing blackbird indignantly. Then it hopped right back into the bath and exclaimed indignantly, “No! You, out!” and flapped around in the water as belligerently as it could. “Blimey!” quoth the blackbird. “All right, all right!” thinking, these little squirts can certainly lose their tempers, can’t they? And it got out and decided to wait its turn. Which shows how important a cold bath is to birds in midwinter… doesn’t it?”

Happy New Year and thanks to all contributors

Olwen Williams                                              olwenw@gmail.com

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