All posts by Olwen W

December 2021 sightings

On 30th December 2021, Cambridge recorded a daytime temperature of 16oC – the highest December reading since records began. This unseasonable warmth has generated considerable insect flight, including a Bumblebee at breakfast on the last day of the year. Ionathan found a Peacock butterfly and Mo’s compost heap exposed a lot of flying and crawling insects (also a giant Rat!). Paul’s pond cleaning produced a Newt and Val reports 6 red Raspberries ripening in the garden.

In St Matthew’s St, Val found a dead squashed Hedgehog which should have been hibernating, while Dorothea’s hedgehog was more happily still visiting the feeding station in the mild spells. This has now become a foodbank for other creatures, including a Wren, which disappeared inside for several minutes.  Ionathan comments “I think the birds are confused – I have heard Blackbirds, Blue tits, and Robins singing their spring song. I have never heard them this early before.”  Bob reports a Pipistrelle bat flying near Victoria Bridge on 11th and an early? (or late?) singing Corn Bunting at Hobson’s Park on the 12th.  All very mixed up.

More traditionally for autumn and winter, Monica found some magnificent fungi, on a tree stump along Snakey Path.  I think they are Oyster Mushrooms, together with Turkey Tail (others may know better). Lottie’s Blue Roundhead, on a pile of woodchip and a Field Blewit in the Newnham College orchard were equally spectacular. Rhona found a purple jelly fungus which I think may be Tripe Fungus.  Waiting in the Newnham queue for the fish van, my eye fell on a curious double-headed Puffball Fungus, which turned out to have a substantial “rooting structure” buried in the pile of dead leaves – I am unable to identify it further. 

Liza asks, “Where are all the garden birds?  I have one Robin in residence.  Usually Blackbirds would be around pairing up and squabbling over territories. This is the worst winter yet.”  I would entirely agree with this. Rachel speculates that it is the lack of insects in the spring – no caterpillars means no fledglings.  Others are not so pessimistic: Pam, Dorothea, Val all comment on their garden birds and Lesley notes a pair of Coal Tits on the feeder. However, Finches, Blackbirds and Thrushes seem particularly rare and even Collared Doves and Woodpigeons are unusual, while I have not heard a Stock Dove for months.  House Sparrows have also gone from my area of Newnham, but Suki reports lots of noisy sparrows pairing up near the Grafton Centre.

Pied Wagtails were mentioned by several (Val, Mary, Suki). Bob noted 25 Siskins and some Chiffchaff at Milton CP, and Blackcaps throughout the month at Logan’s Meadow, where there was also a large (16+) flock of Greenfinches (Ionathan). Other birds seen in gardens were a pair of Jays visiting a bird feeder (Sam); at Jesus College a pair of Goldcrests; Starlings singing on 10th December; a Mistle Thrush; 4 Redwings and Blackbrds enjoying winter berries (Rhona).

Several Red Kite sightings (Rose, Jean, Ann, Suki) indicate that these birds are now becoming common. Less usual were a Merlin (first-winter male hunting over Grantchester Road fields, Jeff) and a Woodcock in the garden (Ionathan). However, the rarity of the month was a Yellow-Browed Warbler found by Jon Heath at Milton Country Park on 21st: it should have been wintering in India or south-east Asia!

Yellow-Browed Warbler Jon Heath

The Cormorant roost at Riverside has risen to 11 (Bob).  Kingfishers were seen along Brookside (Bob) and on Christmas Day at Cherry Hinton (Holly). There were up to 9 species of duck at Milton Country Park, including male Goldeneye and male Goosander (Bob). A Little Grebe was seen using the flooded Paradise pond (Jeff).  

December Moth Paul Rule

Paul has been looking out for the December Moth for the last 4 winters and finally had this nice female in the trap along with another winter moth, the Mottled Umber. Some Sepsis flies, a red Weevil and a 16-Spot Ladybird all turned up on a December walk across Grantchester Meadows (Paul). The Sepsis flies are ant-mimics, often associated with animal dung. Rhona found a Euopedes species of Hoverfly, also 7-Spots and Harlequins out in the warm weather. Suki’s Spider (Tegenaria gigantea) (below) had chosen to avoid the weather altogether.

Monica reports the first Violet flowers – probably a naturalised form of an early-flowering garden cultivar and a precocious Primrose at Barnwell East LNR. Richard found plenty of male catkins and female flowers on the Hazel at Magog Down.

November to February is prime time for Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and the Weds Naturalists group co-opted Chris Preston to lead us round the Botanic Garden. Cushions and crawlers (Acrocarps and Pleurocarps) divided the mosses.  Here are a few of Paul’s pix – we were surprised by the variety of forms when viewed with a handlens. (Chris’s final comment on our identification attempts is best summed up by, “The one labelled Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus is Calliergonella cuspidata.”) 

Happy New Year and many thanks to all my faithful contributors over the last 5 years. Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

November 2021 sightings

Up to storm Arwen (“worst storm in last 20 years”) at the end of the month, November 2021 was the driest November on record. The first frost was on 2nd  but the rest of the month was very warm.

A few invertebrates linger on. Several people reported Darters (both Common and Ruddy) (Mo, Jeff, Ben) and there were also butterflies – a Red Admiral at Trumpington Meadows (Rose) and several species at Jesus College (Rhona).

Monica had a bee land on her leg on 17th November when sitting in the conservatory. It was identified as a Drone Honey Bee, thought to have been evicted from the hive by the workers and unable to mate. Lesley asked what this spider might be – Spotted in Norfolk Street among dead autumn leaves.  It’s one of the few I can recognise instantly from the white cross on its back:- a Garden Spider, Araneus diadematusIt looks a rather healthier specimen than the one in my October blog (http://www.nathistcam.org.uk/october-2021-sightings/). 

I have seen hardly any birds around the house, except for the large flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws, and some Starlings. In Grange Rd, the only birds Jean had seen frequently this year were Jackdaws and Magpies, rarely a Robin and once a Blackbird.  There had been no Tits (Great, Coal, Blue, Long-tailed), Finches (Gold, Chaffinch, Green), Pigeons or Dunnocks. This seems a catastrophic decline in Newnham, no idea why.  I keep hoping that the warm weather has kept them in the countryside and that they will reappear. Cathy reports both a female and a male Blackcap on the Callicarpa berries in the garden and Bob found more off Huntingdon Rd on Honeysuckle berries and Mistletoe, with one in Mill Rd Cemetery.

The bird of the month was the Great Grey Shrike which turned up at Comberton (out of our area) – to Gleb’s great excitement.   Two Mistle Thrushes were seen in trees over Chesterton Road gardens (Pat) and several people reported Jays (Val, Eve) while three fledged from Jesus College this year (Rhona). Jeff reports up to 35 Pied Wagtails in horse paddocks near Grantchester Church.

Stonechat Bob Jarman

We have an overlap of summer visitors, not yet departed (Chiffchaff up to 18th) (Jeff) and winter visitors, with a big influx of Winter Thrushes especially Redwings over the City on 5th (Bob).  Jeff also reports 11 Siskin perched above the Paradise pond – they love the Alder catkins in this reserve. A Green Sandpiper was seen at Eddington and a Woodcock noted over Huntingdon Rd on 17th. (Bob says to look out for these in gardens during cold weather). Stonechats were seen throughout the month at Hobson’s Park and a pair at Eddington. On 14th  Nov, there was a covey of 11 Grey Partridges near the Histon Rd/Huntingdon Rd footpath (Bob).

Lots of water birds are around. The Botanic Gardens hosts Little Grebes, very much at home and feeding successfully on what appear to be very small fish (Vicky). Grey Wagtails (Rhona), Kingfisher (Mo), Little Egrets (Holly), Heron (Rose) were reported from various parts of our area. In Paradise, Janet spotted a female Goosander on the pond and Bob confirms there have been several other sightings. Up to nine Cormorants collect at the Riverside daytime roost and are often seen flying over. A first winter male Goldeneye was seen at Milton Country Park.

Holly has been amused to witness a pair of Swans on the Brook near Cherry Hinton Hall, trying to get rid of their juvenile who is still hanging around. The pair breed on the chalk pit lakes and use the Brook to go up and down to the ponds in Cherry Hinton Hall.

Chesterton Nature Explorers did Barn Owl pellet dissection with Peter Pilbeam from the Cambridgeshire Mammal Society. Amongst the voles and mice bones he identified a mysterious ‘hand’…. that of a Mole! He’d never seen a mole in an owl pellet before. The photo shows the forearm, with the extra digit, looking like a big canine tooth (Ben).  Judging by the number of mole hills, they are very active just now.

There were lots of reports of foxes this month (Mary, Rhona, Gleb, Jean) and also Grey Squirrels (Jean, Monica). One very tame fox is now to be seen regularly at the Botanic Garden, appearing to be totally unconcerned about the proximity of people (Vicky).

Peeling Oysterling or Soft Slipper Toadstool Lottie Collis

Finally, a Peeling Oysterling or Soft Slipper Toadstool,  Crepidotus mollis on dead wood at Newnham College.  Nature Spot describes Crepidotus mollis as a fan-shaped fungus, with a cap cuticle (skin) that readily peels away from the flesh. The skin is rubbery and transparent and can be stretched to at least double its length before it tears. Thanks Lottie for that one – quite new to me.

Olwen Williams                                  olwenw@gmail.com

October 2021 Sightings

Ionathan reports a Heron trying to eat a large, adult Eel, on the bank of the Cam near the Boathouses.  Bob reminisces that in his young teens, the stream that ran through what is now the Science Park used to teem with Elvers. There were so many, they formed a dense thick rope making their way downstream into the Cam. He remembers catching a mass in a Kilner jar and surprising his mother with the squirming mass, whereupon she fled in horror!  Sadly this local eel reproduction no longer occurs.

Early in the month, Val noticed Bats flying in Edward St and Dorothea’s Hedgehogs are still up and about, happy in the mild weather it seems and eating well. Pat reports sightings of Water Vole in Jesus Ditch – they seem to be spreading well in the upper Cam now.  Ionathan saw some Ferrets with ‘masks’ over their eyes and asks if there are feral ferrets in Cambridge? Anyone else seen these?

While small birds are noticeable by their absence, there have been some spectacular mass gatherings. Newnham’s Corvid roost has built up to about 200 birds – a mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks. Val also comments on, “The most remarkable din from dozens of Rooks/Crows (with the odd Magpie interloper) all sitting on the roofline of the buildings on the south side of Burleigh St. The Seagulls looked completely discombobulated.” Jill reports immense Starling murmurations over the lake at Bolton’s Pit (off Barton Rd) – several thousand birds, settling on the island at dusk.  https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0?ui=2&ik=df44efff8d&attid=0.1&permmsgid=msg-f:1714978858259013058&th=17ccd42f6bd55dc2&view=att&disp=safe Video by Lynn Hieatt

Ionathan makes the case for more Oak trees!  He spotted a Nuthatch in Eddington (where there are many oaks) and another one in an old oak tree in Arbury. Bob comments that they are known to breed in Girton College where there are mature oaks. (If anyone can offer a home to an oak tree, please let me know, as I still have a few young trees.)  Jesus college turned up a Treecreeper (Rhona).

Lots of birds move about in the autumn and Val heard (and then saw) two Swans flying at a height going NW to SE, but nowhere near the river. Assuming they were Mute Swans, perhaps a young couple looking for an unoccupied site to breed next year?  Alec saw an unknown bird in Petersfield cemetery: his excellent written description “Bird. blackbird size +, white base of its tail. beige grey body, green flashes by wings near tail. Very fearless.” tracked it down to a Jay. Holly comments on a number of Jays caching nuts – this is the time of year to see them.

Cormorants Jenny Bastable

Kingfishers were noted by Burnside allotments (Holly, Monica) and a pair of Grey Wagtails on around the weir at Jesus Lock (Pat). Jenny was surprised to see Cormorants on Grantchester Meadows. These inland Cormorants are now well established in Cambridge – disliked by fishermen!

Although Harlequins Ladybirds were slow to appear this year, there were several end of season reports. The tombstones in Haslingfield (out of our area) were dotted with them, in their various outfits, suggesting a mass hatch had taken place there. Monica found one indoors, looking to hibernate. 

Paul (exotic as ever) found the larval case of one of the Case-bearing Moths on a Birch tree, possibly the Pistol Case-bearer (Coleophora anatipennella) or Birch Case-bearer (C.  betulella). These ‘Pistol Case-bearers’ are so named from the resemblance of their larval cases to an old flintlock pistol.  Rhona (equally exotic) found a Luffia species of bagworm/case-bearing moth on a wooden seat. There seem to be lots of different species of these micro-moths. A Jesus student found about 30 hibernating butterflies in the top of the tower (Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells) – every species needs a strategy to survive the harsher weather.

Araneus diadematus, after laying eggs Rhona Watson

Rhona sent a picture of an exhausted looking spider! Pregnant female Garden Spiders Araneus diadematus are particularly noticeable because of their large body, swollen with eggs. However this one was thought to have laid her eggs and, job done, would soon die. Eventually the spiderlings will hatch in the following May. It is an unusual reddish colour, but there can be considerable variation in this genus. The related A. quatratus can actively change colour, taking about three days to take on colours that accurately match their resting surface.

A couple of interesting Beetles: Rhona reports a Pleasing Fungus Beetles (Erotylidae) in the Triplax genus. I was interested to know in what way it was “Pleasing”, but the nearest I came was the comment, “Most Pleasing Fungus Beetles are inoffensive animals of little significance to humans”.  Then Liza produced “The most stunning royal-blue beetle which turns out to be a Blue Mint Beetle (Chrysolina coerulans)”. It came to this country in 2011 and was found on Apple Mint, at Empty Common allotments.

A good selection of Fungi was found on the CNHS outings – see the CNHS web page for the Trumpington Meadows account. Notable were several species of Waxcap including Blackening Waxcap, also a good array of Shaggy Inkcaps (Mo). The Botanic Garden had the usual suspects, including Bird’s Nest Fungus under the new raised walkway, Birch Polypore on Birch logs, Magpie Mushroom and Plantpot Dapperling. Finds new to the garden were Parrot Waxcap and a Bolete growing under Oak, which therefore had to be Xerocomus cisalpinus (Jonathan).

As leaves fall from the trees, Rhona contributed these Oak Galls. What sort of a winter will we have, I wonder?

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

September 2021 Sightings

A Quiz!  Here are 4 caterpillars – whose are they?  (Here is one of many helpful Ids to caterpillars: https://www.naturespot.org.uk/gallery/moth-caterpillars).  Answers at the end.

Beginning with plants for a change, a visit to Mill Rd cemetery turned up some Ivy Broomrape – a parasitic plant which lacks its own chlorophyll.  We also found Wild Clary there. One notable botanical record :  Alan Leslie found a single plant of Chenopodium glaucum (Oak-leaved Goosefoot) on disturbed ground created by the construction of the new cycle path across Coldham’s Common.  This plant is rare in the county.  The forced absence of volunteers during the Covid pandemic has led to an unwelcome resurgence of Himalayan Balsam along the main drain at the north of the Common.

Ivy Broomrape Paul Rule

Bird news is very scanty this month. The last Swift was reported on 11th and Swallows not at all. Chiffchaffs have been widespread and singing across the City up to the middle of the month (Bob). Holly reports small birds in feeding flocks in Cherry Hinton: Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, Goldcrests, House Sparrows and Goldfinches. Rose spotted a Barn Owl flying over Trumpington Meadows and I have seen one over Skaters’ Meadows in Newnham, quartering the meadow in late afternoon sunshine.  Rooks and Jackdaws have returned to Paradise Island winter roost, but numbers are well down on a few years ago.

Richard reports a single Swan Goose on the lake in Hobson Park swimming along among the (numerous) Greylag Geese. According to Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_goose), this bird is native to the Far East, but escapes are not unusual amongst feral flocks of other geese and goose hybrids are also common.

Odds and ends: Simon reports a Pipistrelle Bat (around 50kHz) flitting back and forth at head height for several minutes by the house and managed to photograph it: a lovely “x-ray” against the night sky.  A Badger in Peterhouse might explain why the College’s Hedgehogs seem to have disappeared (Justin). Peter saw a Grass Snake swimming at Byron’s Pool – there have been an unusual number of sightings this year. John found a lovely specimen of Chicken of the Woods Fungus, growing on Hazel at Churchill College.

Ben sends pix of Heriades truncorum or Large-headed Resin bee, which was using holes drilled into an old post. It collects resin from pines to seal the cell partitions, combined with grit/bits for the final plug.

Several references to Ladybirds: Monica found a 22-Spot sitting on a water butt – apparently it is unusual in being a mildew-eater.  Val had a plague of Harlequins and was single-handedly trying to eliminate them from the UK by squashing each one. Our trip to Mill Rd Cemetery turned up a Harlequin and also a 10-Spot – both highly variable species.

Some late butterflies in Logan’s Meadow included Painted Lady and Speckled Wood (Bob). Mo found Common Blue, Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock butterflies at Trumpington meadows. There are still Dragonflies on the wing (Rhona) and Paul got excited about an Ornate Shieldbug, possibly a first record for Cambs. This is yet another species fairly new to the UK. It is expanding its range northwards and most records are from coastal areas.

Ionathan’s moth trap continues to turn up surprises.  A Dewick’s Plusia and a Clifden Nonpareil (Blue Underwing) were this month’s specials. The latter became extinct in UK in 1960s, but appears to be creeping back again. Its larvae feed on aspen and poplar.

Answers to the Quiz: 1  Grey Dagger Moth (Eve); 2  Knot Grass Moth (Mark); 3  Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar (Mo); 4  Pale Tussock Moth (Sam).   The Knot Grass moth caterpillar was on Spurge, apparently not affected by its toxins.

Olwen Williams    olwenw@gmail.com

August sightings 2021

Several friends have asked “Where have all the birds gone?”  Well, it is a quiet time of year generally, after the autumn moult.  There is plenty of food in the fields for seed and insect eaters, so they have abandoned our garden feeders.  Then the summer visitors have mostly departed and winter visitors not yet arrived. Paul spotted a juvenile Cuckoo hunting insects at Trumpington Meadows, stocking up for the journey ahead.

Juvenile Cuckoo Paul Rule

Through the month, there have been drifts of hirundines (Swallows and House Martins) going south. Many Swifts had departed by the beginning of August (Bob, Pam), up to 70 were seen over Grantchester Meadows on 13th, with late fledglings persisting up to 29th in Milton (Clarke). The Milton colony had a very successful year, all boxes occupied and competition between Swifts and Starlings for space.

This season, Eddington Lake has successfully reared young Swans, Little Grebes, Mallards, and Coots (David).  Dorothea reports a remarkable influx of Gulls over the Chesterton area this month, very noisy and arguing with crows. Vicky  sighted a Little Grebe in Botanic Garden’s Lake and Hugh spotted a Glossy Ibis flying over Cambridge. At the winter roost in Newnham, both Jackdaws and Rooks are beginning to appear.  I love these noisy birds!  In town, Val reports a birdfeeders succession of a ‘teenagerish’, slightly scruffy/skinny young Magpie, swiftly followed by an equivalent Jay and then multiple equivalent Jackdaws.  “A bit like the ‘wrong’ sort of street corner being frequented by Boys From The ‘Hood…”

Three mammalian excitements: Alec’s first sighting ever of a Grey Squirrel in his tiny garden had  an egg in its mouth, cream-coloured and about an inch long. I would guess this would be a Wood Pigeon, who seem to go in for continuous breeding! Then Kevin was excited to see a chocolate brown Water Vole on its own well-grazed grass patch on Coe Fen.   Finally, an Otter was spotted passing through Cherry Hinton (Holly) in broad daylight.

Jonathan reports finding Potamogeton friesii (Flat-stalked Pondweed) in the Cam at Ditton Meadows; the first record for the NHC area for a long time (possibly 120 years).   Hornet-mimic Hoverflies are in season (Paul, Kevin, Eve).  Lots of crickets are also around.

Dragonflies reported this month: Willow Emerald (Jeff), Common Darter (David), male Lesser Emperor (Guy), Migrant Hawker (Ionathan, Rhona). 

Butterflies are on the wane now, but at the Ascension Burial Ground, on 2 visits in August, Richard recorded 10 different butterfly species. 35 Meadow Brown, 31 Gatekeeper, 4 Large White, 6 Small White, 2 Peacock, 7 Red Admiral, 1 Holly Blue, 1 Painted Lady, 2 Speckled Wood and 2 Green Veined White. This site is a small suburban wildlife oasis – anyone interested in helping survey here please contact Alison Taylor.

Moth trappers seem to find new species with each season. Ionathan discovered a colony of Raspberry Clearwings in the Raspberry patch. It is a relatively new species to the UK, first found in 2007 on the Cambs / Herts border, but now seems well established.  Ben’s moth trap in Arbury turned up Palpita vitrealis (Olive Tree Pearl moth).  However, Moths are not always welcome! Lesley found her poor little Guelder Rose decimated by a huge Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar, while Jean has given up on box topiary, because of the devastation from the Box Moth. On shredding the bushes, there was just one caterpillar, dark green with black markings, a perfect camouflage.

Other invertebrate exotics – Glow worms at Cherry Hinton Chalk Pit and Roesel’s Bush Cricket at Jesus (Rhona). Dinocampus coccinellae, a parasitic wasp, was found recently emerged from its cocoon. This is held by a 7-spot ladybird,  inside which the wasp larva developed, while eating the ladybird’s non-essential parts. The ladybird remains alive but paralysed by a virus released by the wasp (thanks for that one, Ben).

It’s also spider season and the spectacular Wasp Spiders have re-emerged at Hobson’s Park (Guy, Ionathan). How about an unusual place for Honey Bees to set up home: inside a marble statue at Anglesey Abbey? (Toby). Certainly safe from badgers.

Shaggy Bracket Lottie Collis

Fungus season soon.  June reports large numbers of Puff Balls in her orchard at Chesterton, while pictures of the bracket fungus Inontus hispidus (Shaggy Bracket) on old Apple trees came from both Lottie and Rhona.

Finally, there has been some recent negative comment about Bird Feeders.  They can “Fuel the spread of avian diseases, alter migratory behaviour, help invasive species outcompete natives and give predators, including free-roaming neighbourhood cats, easy access to birds and their nestlings”. On the other hand, both the RSPB and BTO recommend year-round feeding, provided care is taken with hygiene and the type of food.  Out go those rancid fat balls and last year’s peanuts! The main avian declines are of farmland birds, e.g. Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows, which will be more influenced by farming methods than by garden feeders.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

July Sightings 2021

This month, I have a collection of weird objects. Take a guess – answers are at the end.

It has been a good month for moth trappers.  Adams Road Sanctuary July8/9th turned up Lime, Poplar and Elephant Hawkmoths (David). King’s College continues to monitor the new wildflower meadow invertebrates, with some wonderful moth catches. Observers were greeted each morning by Peregrines on the chapel (picture by Duncan Mackay).  The reed beds added to Logan’s Meadow a few years ago have worked their magic and moths found there included several fen specialists and rarities. As well as a thriving colony of Fen Wainscot, there were Garden Dart, once common but now rarely recorded and two rare micromoths: Willow Marble and Willow Knot-horn,  a relatively recent UK colonist, which is established in Kent but with very few Cambridge records (Ben). Ionathan’s trap turned up 2 Swallowtail Moths and a Scorched Carpet Moth.

Jesus college hosted some Buff-tip Moth caterpillars on oak (Rhona) and Lottie found Social Pear Sawfly larvae at Newnham. Though they are Hymenoptera and related to ants and bees, Sawflies are a less well-known group, partly because of their considerable diversity. They differ from the bees, wasps and ants in not having a ‘waist’ but may be mistaken for flies or other insects. Most female sawflies possess ‘saw-like’ genitalia with which they cut through plant tissue to lay their eggs. In Britain there are about 500 species (https://www.naturespot.org.uk/gallery/sawflies).

Justin reported a couple of under-recorded insects: Hollyhock Weevil and Fig Psyllid Bug. The fig bugs vanished as quickly as they appeared and were gone in a week. It makes one wonder what they eat the rest of the year. The Red Longhorn beetle Stictoleptura rubra and a Pellucid Hoverfly turned up at Jesus (Rhona) and lots of people sent butterfly records (Suki, Mo, Jeff). Jeff’s Essex Skipper and Ringlet were less usual finds.

Passion flower being visited by a Buff-Tailed Bumble Bee (Sue) and a Volucella zonaria hoverfly (Duncan) provided lovely pictures.

Hedghogs still seem to be more abundant in the city than the suburbs. However, besides a large guy spotted at Matthews Piece (Sandra), Pam reported a youngster in Newnham – but sadly run over by a car. 2-3 years ago, I stopped re-homing hedgehogs here, because of the invasion of Badgers, so it is slight encouragement that this young one was found. Meanwhile, badgers have gone on to invade the nearby Newnham Croft School grounds for the first time (Veronica). It is possible that King’s building work done in Barton Rd, cutting down a large number of trees in Millington Wood, has disturbed that colony, causing it to disperse locally. In Trumpington, Mo had regular visits from badgers, but no recent sightings of hedgehog. 

Pam found a dead Brown Long-Eared Bat  – a second one for Owlstone Rd. Water Voles had disappeared at Logan’s Meadow, but recently were seen again (Bob). An update on Jesus foxes suggests 7 fox cubs this year.

Swifts are last to arrive and the first to go – there was a major exodus at the end of July.  Pam’s Newnham colony reached a record 20, while Jeff recorded about 60 over Grantchester Meadows, also about 100 House Martins.  Darwin Green (Eddington) has about 40 pairs of breeding Skylarks, 20 pairs of Reed Buntings and 3 pairs of Grey Partridges (Ionathan). 

Holly’s birding highlight was a very loud Reed Warbler along Snakey Path at Cherry Hinton. Bob records a Reed Warbler singing Logan’s Meadow, a Greenshank at Eddington, a Corn Bunting singing north of the City (unusual) and a single Garden Warbler singing at Logan’s Meadow.  June had a Sparrow Hawk’s nest in a tree in the  orchard in Chesterton, while Jonathan’s small central garden was the scene of a Sparrow Hawk kill.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker Bob Jarman

Val’s most recent back garden drama: “Two Frogs dislodged when we started shifting a heap of rubble and a ’temporary’ wooden shed (erected 20 years ago). The latter was essentially dissolving and collapsing in on itself, the roof having plainly been held up principally by the compacted strata of miscellaneous boxes inside. Prompted by the horror of our totally outraged grand-daughter – aghast at our slum-clearance project – we kept some of the rubble and constructed what we hope will become an adequate Froggery in the opposite corner of the garden, having first ensured the displaced amphibians were over on that side during the Removals.”  Thanks, Val – I seem to remember a previous frog found its way into your house?

Mystery Objects

Number 1 is the rust Gymnomitrium confusum found in the Botanic Garden on the fruits of the Hawthorn Crataegus pentagyna (Sam Buckton and Chris Preston).  Paul Rule had found it on the leaves of common Hawthorn earlier in the month, the first confirmed record for the county.  Number 2 is Pseudoinonotus dryadeus fungus on an oak tree (Rhona). When mature, the oak bracket is broad, thick and lumpy with an orangey-brown colour.  When young, an amber-coloured liquid oozes from the surface, as in this picture. It is generally bad news for the tree.  Number 3 is a ‘new to UK’ plant gall Aceria brachytarsus in Downing College, on  walnut leaves (Sam).

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

June 2021 sightings

One sad sighting this month was a council employee with a backpack of poison, spraying Herbicide on to the base of the fences and the gutters through Newnham. I imagine the rest of the city had similar treatment. Among other plants, he sprayed a Feverfew plant by my gatepost which was hosting a Pine Ladybird. I have written to my councillors urging them to stop this practice. If you agree with this, can you write to your councillors too and copy it to Joel.Carre@cambridge.gov.uk? He is head of environmental services but still needs to be convinced that this is unnecessary and undesirable!  In Newnham, we have persuaded them to stop the practice of spraying herbicide around the base of park trees and to leave a 2m margin at the edge of Lammas Land unmown.

I recommend “Rebirding” – a recent book by Ben Macdonald – which describes the stark state of our countryside (especially the national parks) and makes suggestions for recovery.  He condemns “Excessive Tidiness Disorder” – a good description of this waste of our money.

Ionathan is concerned for the area around Eddington, where there were masses of Brown Arguses in Storey’s Field – however this brownfield site is due to be concreted over in a few years time.  In Newnham, re-wilding of the Skaters’ Meadow area produced the first Small Copper Butterfly seen there and several sightings of Weasels. However, the saplings and newly sown wildflower verges have been trashed by motorists determined to park their cars. All these battles are time-consuming, but worthwhile and we fight on.

We have learned over the last 3 years how rich Cambridge is for invertebrates. In the Scented Garden of the Botanic Garden, Paul found a Wool Carder Bee.  Several people reported Scarlet Tiger Moths (Callimorpha dominula) (Lottie, Jonathan, Jeff): black with white or yellow spots and bright red underwing. Rhona found a scarce Horehound Long-Horn Moth Nemophora fasciella at Jesus.

At Trumpington Meadows, Becky reports Marbled White Butterflies in good numbers and also Large Skippers. Small Blue Butterflies were present again on the Meadows the other side of the M11 (Paul, Rhona). Then at the lake area, a White Legged Damselfly was found on a CNHS field trip (David, Jonathan).  In Grantchester Meadows, Paul spotted a web of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars (which several of us had passed without noticing!). Once a common species, they have severely declined through loss of habitat (hedgerows) and have not been reported within the city limits before.

Paul’s garden continues to produce new species (see his post). He spent 15 mins watching a Ruby-Tailed Wasp ovipositing on aphids. Based on that behaviour, he speculated that the species was probably Pseudomalus auratus, which parasitises Crabronid wasps. It depends on those species feeding on the aphids which contain its eggs.  Jeff’s survey of the lake in Paradise produced Banded Demoiselle,  Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies, Hairy and Emperor Dragonflies, and Four-spotted Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Darter and Ruddy Darter.  This is a very good haul for a large pond which was only created a few years ago.

A pair of observations from the NHC committee. Duncan’s Banded Demoiselle is consuming a Mayfly and both are in danger from the lurking Enoplognatha Spider below. Paul’s orb web spider is often found near water.

It has been a really special year for Orchids.  Gleb reports an absolute swarm of Bee Orchids on the roadside verge at Addenbrooke’s (also noted elsewhere by Monica, Becky, Jonathan, David, Ben) and a large colony of flowering Common Spotted Orchids at Barnwell East.  Pyramidal Orchids were in abundance at Coldham’s Common.  Monica spotted a fine crop of Broomrape among the Ivy at Ravensworth Gardens.

Christine comments on the fact that the Frogs in her Wordsworth Grove pond had mysteriously disappeared and then found she had a resident Grass Snake. Not one, but three! A second much smaller snake (about 8 inches long) was lying on top of the big ‘mother’ snake, with its tail curled around it! When ‘she’ slid off, the little snake stayed riding on her back with its little tail curled about her. They were then joined by another small snake, about 12 inches long. Asking our resident expert (Steve Allain), I gathered that both of the smaller snakes were likely to be young from last year (or the year before) which had overwintered and only just managed to have their first meal this spring/summer. It was far too early to be seeing young from this year. Grass snakes lay their eggs and leave them to their own devices, but do tend to bask communally.

Pam’s Newnham Swifts are doing well – a new young pair have found themselves an empty box and may breed next year. One of her established pairs had 3 chicks this year.  Helen put up a box in 2018, overlooking Mill Rd cemetery and was thrilled to have her first occupants this year. Jeff reports young swift pairs prospecting in Gwydir St, Queen’s and Newnham Mill Pond, so it seems as if they are now well established and spreading.

A male Hobby was spotted flying past the Addenbrooke’s House Martin colony (Jeff), while David noted a Kestrel nest with two chicks in box on the West Cambridge site. Grey Wagtails, possibly nesting, were seen in the 3rd floor courtyard of the David Attenborough Building (outside Monica’s  office). At the end of June, 2 Cuckoos were hanging around feeding in Trumpington Meadows (Becky) and Russ saw a family of Whitethroats there.  

There is a newly reported Badger Sett in the wild area of Chesterton school. The City does host a surprising number of badgers.  Dorothea has a regular Hedgehog population and was surprised by the sight of a Magpie harassing a Hedgehog in the garden. When approached, they rushed off in opposite directions and nightly visits by the hedgehog have fortunately continued. 

Finally (and not quite in June) Sarah met an Otter on the river bank at the Newnham swimming club at 11am on 1st July – another known resident which is rarely seen and most unexpected in the middle of the morning. But there are lots of Fish in the Cam. Time to head off there for my evening swim.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

May Sightings 2021

Much of this month’s bird news is about Swifts, which started arriving around 3rd (Pam, Clarke, Becky) and by the end of the month, were sitting on eggs. Rosemary was delighted by a big flock of Swallows at Trumpington Meadows.  A Cuckoo stayed in Paradise for a few days (Guy) and a Whinchat visited the reserve at Trumpington Meadows – the first record there (Becky).

Watching the Swifts Pam Gatrell

Meanwhile Grey Wagtails are nesting at Byron’s Pool (Mo, Paul) and a Ring-necked Parakeet was spotted at Wandlebury (Ionathan): out of our area but this is the second local report.  At Eddington, a pair of Little-Ringed Plovers were seen and a first summer male Black Redstart at Hobson’s Park (Bob). Jeff reports the rare sight of a Goshawk on 24th – a sub-adult male displaying over St Cat’s playing field, which then gained height before diving into cover on Grantchester Meadows.

Curiosities of the month were Jill’s Semi-Free Morel FungusMitrophora semilibera in Grange Road, on rough bare ground where spruce had been removed : damp, with a thick surface layer of fallen spruce foliage. Then at Bolton’s Pit Lake, Melissa and Ed found a tube of Eggs on a drifting twig: but whose were they?? (Answer at the end.) Meanwhile in the Botanic Garden lake, Rhona saw a Great Diving Beetle with 2 juvenile Freshwater Limpets attached to its wingcase.

It has been a good year for Woundword Shieldbug with large hatches and mating pairs (Paul). In the Sanctuary reserve, was a Cream-Streaked Ladybird – one of our more unusual ladybirds: Ionathan also reported one.

Here also an Iris Sawfly was resting on sedge, but next door to its food plant (Yellow Flag). One recent addition to the fauna of Cambridge is the Elm Zig-zag Sawfly (Aproceros leucopoda). This species arrived in Europe from Asia in 2003 and reached Britain in 2017. It is now fairly widespread in south-east England and East Anglia and is considered a significant threat to our native elm trees. The larvae make a distinctive zig-zag feeding pattern on Elm leaves (Rhona).

Dragonflies and Damselflies are beginning to emerge and Lottie snapped a female Broad-bodied Chaser at Newnham College.  Mayflies are also appearing – I watched one rising from the surface of the Cam, only to be immediately snatched by a Mallard

The City Council manage the nature reserves in Newnham and organised Electrofishing of Vicar’s Brook: a small stream connecting Hobson’s Conduit to the Cam. It is a chalk stream and the plan is to improve it for Fish, so this was a base-line survey. Ten species were found: Minnow, Stickleback, Gudgeon, Dace, Roach, Stoneloach, Pike Trout, Chubb and Bullhead. They were mainly juveniles, so it is a nursery area in spring. However, 2 small mature Brown Trout and a Jack Pike (small pike) were also found (Guy).

For me, it has been an excellent month – Paradise turned up my first Grass Snake sightings for many a year.  An metre-long adult spent about 20 minutes hiding in the bank to avoid the attentions of a Moorhen and 2 half-grown chicks. When it finally slipped out, it was pursued by them, the parent bird actively pecking until it disappeared downstream. The next day, another smaller grass snake was sunbathing on a willow trunk.

Fulbourn Fen is always a hot-spot for Orchids. Early Marsh Orchids were just starting to flower (Gleb, Paul) as well as Common Twayblades and Southern Marsh Orchid. June should be a good month for a visit.  White Helleborines were also in flower at Beechwood Reserve and Nightingale Recreation Ground, while in a verge near Addenbrookes were Bee Orchid rosettes (Gleb). Jonathan reports Marsh Thistle and Common Valerian on the Accordia site during the Cambridgeshire Flora Group visit: possibly escapes from the Botanic Garden.

Chesterton Community College, Gilbert Rd have a Nature Explorers club held in an area of the school grounds called ‘The Dip’ – an inaccessible wild area beyond the tennis courts (Ben). A new pond has been created in the sunny area. The trail cam has shown that a Badger, two Foxes and a Hedgehog are among the Dip’s mammalian visitors. Common Frog and Smooth Newt have been seen and it’s rumoured that Slowworms may be around, so a pile of woodchips has been made to encourage them. If confirmed, this would be exciting news, as they have not been reported from any other sites in the City.

Many thanks for all other sighting and pictures. Ed and Melissa’s eggs belonged to the Great Pond Snail.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

April Sightings 2021

April has been colder than normal and very dry – almost no rain for about six weeks.  The last reported winter visitors were 3 Fieldfare seen on 4th (Jeff), while the first Swift arrived extremely early on 24th (Dick, Clarke, Jeff).  Other notable arrivals were a Willow Warbler in Paradise on 25th (Olwen), several reports of calling Cuckoos from 23rd (Becky, Jenny), 4 Swallows on 6th, 2 Terns at Fulbrook allotments (Jill), a Lesser Whitethroat at Eddington 28th April and a Cetti’s Warbler at Fen Ditton 29th (Bob). There have been an abundance of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (Lesley, Becky, Jo, Rhona). 

A second-hand report of a  Ring-necked Parakeet in Grantchester St has not been confirmed. However, I gather they have reached Northhampton and also are around St Ives/Hemingfords, so are getting nearer.  I am not sure how welcome they are, as they are noisy and occupy other species’ nest holes. Other less usual sightings included a pair of Mistle Thrushes in Newnham, a pair of Mandarin Duck at Grantchester Meadows, a Wheatear  and a Ring Ouzel (Jeff), a Green Sandpiper, a Black-tailed Godwit and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers at Eddington (Bob). The Science Park turned up a Firecrest (Pat) and there was a Goldcrest in Paradise. 

A Nuthatch was singing at Girton College and a displaying male Yellow Wagtail at the farm site in north Cambridge (Bob). Fifteen Golden Plover were seen near the M11 (Jeff) and a Lapwing at Eddington (David). Ionathan spotted two Common Cranes flying over about 10.30 at night – these too are getting nearer.   

Nine Heron’s nests are ‘occupied’ at Paradise Island : Mike reports lots of “clacking” of hungry juveniles on 29th.  In Ionathan’s garden, out of 3 eggs laid, two “extremely cute” juvenile Robins have fledged.  His mealworm feeders are very popular with Starlings who queue up, each bird spending up to 30 seconds on the feeder before moving to the back of the queue. Eve says a male Wren checked out a nest site in the shed but went off again. I think they commonly make 2-3 nests and invite the female to choose! And they still find time to sing constantly.

Butterflies have been slow to appear, but towards the end of the month, Speckled Woods (Lesley, Jeff, Rhona),  Green-Veined Whites and Orange-Tips have all been reported (Becky, Jeff).  Rhona was particularly pleased to find Orange-Tips laying orange eggs.

Rhona saw the first Large Red Damselfly of the season on 23rd April in the Botanic Garden. She also reported various bees: Ashy Mining Bee, Grey-patched Mining Bee, Mourning Bee and Paul added Gooden’s Nomad Bee (a nest parasite of other bees), Buffish Mining Bee and Lathbury’s Nomad Bee. The last is uncommon here, being more associated with gorse-clad hillsides, sandy heathland paths and vertical faces of sandpits – it turned up in the Trumpington Community Orchard. From a Churchill College student came a query of an unknown insect, which was identified as yet another bee, a member of the Coelioxzys Sharp-Tailed Bees.

Rhona found masses of Hairy Shieldbugs and also 5 Crucifer Shieldbugs, 1 red form and 4 white form – uncommon in Cambridge. Paul sent a picture of my favourite fly, the Yellow Dung Fly –the male golden yellow and the female greenish.  Any decent fresh dung pat will host up to 100 males, waiting in hope of the female arriving to lay her eggs. However, Paul’s April special were 2 nymphs of the Planthopper Issus coleoptratus in some ivy.   Like all planthopper nymphs, they have a small, gear-like structure on the base of each of their hind legs. These have teeth which intermesh, keeping the legs synchronized when the insect jumps, thus preventing it from spiralling. The insects shed this gear before moulting into adults.  He comments, “It also has strange fibres projecting out of its bottom which are a waxy excretion, but no one seems to know what function they serve.”  I would suggest that like all gears, some lubrication is required and wax might do very nicely.

Purple Toothwort is a non-native parasitic plant which grows on the roots of various other plants and has spread from the Botanic Garden along Hobson’s Conduit in both directions. This patch was growing at head height on a willow branch (or perhaps on the roots of the ivy there) on Coe Fen  (Ben, Paul). 

Magog Down  has been a wonderful place to visit this spring. Richard and Vanessa found a coppiced Willow which had a large number of Crown Galls on its many branches. The bacterium which causes these galls is Agrobacterium tumefaciens.  It apparently has an important role in genetic modification of certain crops, in order to improve resistance to diseases or improve yields – especially useful and important in countries in Africa.

The interconnected Newnham Nature Reserves (Paradise, Sheep’s Green and Coe Fen) have become home to Water Voles, working their way up from Snob’s Brook and along the main River Cam.  Water voles are a priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework, and one of the key reasons for their decline was the non-native North American Mink. In East Anglia, a mink eradication programme which started on the Bourn Brook in the winter of 2010/11 has largely cleared the Cam catchment area, so the remnant population had chance to breed safely in the absence of the predator. Since then, there have been eight breeding seasons when the brook has been free of mink, and being prodigious breeders like most rodents, they have rapidly spread along the entire length of the brook and are now colonising elsewhere.

Susanne witnessed a Heron which had just caught a Water Vole at Logan’s Meadow. David reported a Swan and a Coot incubating eggs on the Lake at Eddington, watched closely by a nearby Heron.  I was happily watching a vole, when my eye was caught by movement on the opposite bank: a Stoat and a Moorhen were in fierce argument over the contents of the Moorhen’s nest by the bank. The stoat even swam in the river briefly and eventually departed with dinner.  Nature, red in tooth and claw maybe, but predators must provide for their youngsters too.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

March Sighting s 2021

As we begin to emerge from a year in lockdown due to the Covid19 pandemic and creep slowly into spring, March 2nd seems to have been a significant turning point. On that day, Ralph reports, “A tiny but indubitable Cowslip, out, in Trumpington Meadows”; Paul says, “Despite the drop in temperatures, the first Frogspawn was laid in the pond”; Ben saw his first Hairy-footed Flower Bee of the year in Arbury; Jeff heard a Blackcap in sub-song in Paradise and I heard a Chiffchaff on Grantchester Meadows.

With the gradual exodus of Fieldfare (last reported on 5th Jeff) and Redwing (reported 13th Sheila and last seen 22nd Rhona) come the summer exchanges: abundant Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (Clarke, Eve, Holly), Wheatear (a passage migrant) (Bob, Jeff), the first Hobby  and three Sand Martins at Washpit Lake in Eddington (Bob). Martin noted 2/3 Cetti’s Warblers singing at Wilbraham Fen.

Redwing Rhona Watson

LARGE BIRDS

Mary reported a Red Kite quartering Parker’s Piece and Anna saw two Buzzards mobbing another in Chesterton, so, as predicted, they are becoming a common sight in the city.  Larger and more spectacular were a pair of circling Cranes on 17th (Martin). The Peregrines are continuing their City residency (Jeff, Gleb). Tawny owls were reported from Cherry Hinton (Ralph) and Logan’s Meadow (Gleb). A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noisily displaying in Mill Rd (Jeff) while David had a Jay outside the study window – an added attraction of working from home, he says! Martin noted 2 Marsh Harriers. Holly reports a brief visit from two Common Scoters at Cherry Hinton as well as the Egyptian Geese there.

LESS USUAL SMALLER BIRDS

There seems to be an abundance of Skylarks this year (Ben, Jenny, Jeff). Grey Wagtails are also doing well (Vicky, Paul).  Ionathan reports that the Black Redstart has found a mate and is now courting her. Ralph comments on the now unusual sound of a singing Chaffinch in Cherry Hinton. At the beginning of the month, Jill saw a pair of Serin on alder trees in Paradise. A singing Mistle Thrush near Paradise pond, about 20 Linnets gleaning in a fallow field (Jeff) and Siskin reported from Paradise (Jeff, Bob) confirm Newnham as a splendid bird watching area. To my delight, Greenfinches and Goldfinches have returned here too. However, Jean warns of the dangers of Trichomonas gallinae, which is fatal for so many birds in the UK, and the need to disinfect bird feeders regularly. (If you were to plot the amount of bird food bought for wild birds in the UK against the numbers of native birds, you could be forgiven for wondering whether bird food was actually responsible for the decline…)

But for pure enjoyment, birds are hard to beat. Kingfishers along the Cam between the Elizabeth and Green Dragon Bridges (June), Red-legged Partridge and a Hen Pheasant in a Blinco garden (Jane), five happy young Sparrows having a whale of a time splashing and bathing together (Alec) and 8 Peacocks flying round Jesus College (Rhona). (But did she actually mean butterflies?)

INVERTEBRATES

A couple of nice fat caterpillars were reported: a bright green one overwintering in a greenhouse belonged to an Angle Shade Moth (DavidR) and Tom found another very large one under old bark in Paradise – a Leopard Moth.

Rhona’s Ladybird tally was increased by a Cream-spot and two 10-spot ladybirds.  She also found a variety of bees: Andrena bicolor (Gwynne’s mining bee), Mellecta albifrons (Common Mourning bee) Osmia bicornis and a Bombus lapidarius queen.  Brimstone and Peacock Butterflies are now abundant (Suki, Jeff) and also the first Small Tortoiseshells were seen (Jeff).

Bill Mansfield (County Moth Recorder) found two of the micromoth Pamme giganteana in Jesus on oak. This is a moth formally considered scarce, but now that a pheromone lure has been released, it is evidently not so uncommon.  

Ionathan garden bioblitz turned up a Damsel bug in the garden. See https://www.britishbugs.org.uk/heteroptera/Nabidae/himacerus_mirmicoides.html a Polydesmid millipede and also a tiny Ladybird: the Four-spotted Nephus, Nephus quadrimaculatus. 

HERPTILES

Eve’s Frogs have been and gone (fewer than last year) leaving several floating batches of spawn. She was then visited by a heron who had a frog-fest. Tanya writes, “ Here’s a grass snake enjoying a warm day at the Botanic Gardens on 31 March 2021”.

Grass snake Tanya Procyshyn

PLANTS

Ionathan cleared a small patch of ground in the summer to see what would colonise it. Along with the Dead Nettles, Violets, Daisies and Dandelions, he found a small Pansy – possibly a cultivar, possibly wild.  Jo reports “Violets!  Viola odora  everywhere in everyone’s lawn and on banks and under trees everywhere in all colours.”

Both Butterbur and its cousin, Coltsfoot are in flower this month (Paul).

MAMMALS

Lesley comments on the Black Squirrel population in north Cambridge. A good number of Brown Hares are active between Newnham and Grantchester (Jeff, Jill). Rhona noted a Bank Vole in February and Water Voles are also becoming active, with sightings in Snob’s Brook (Lammas Land) (Paul), Botanic Garden (Stuart) and in the Cam below the city (Anna). All good news: hibernation is over for them (and us?) this year.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com