Category Archives: Project Blog

This blog will record the progress of the project as we go along.

This could be the last …or almost the last! November 2020

A Woodcock erupted from cover in Logan’s Meadow on 2nd November and was the second record for the site (the first was a past record over the river nearby (Rob Pople)). There was a second, and quite remarkable, Woodcock record on 8th November when one was disturbed from an enclosed terraced garden in Petworth Street. The habitat is unusual but this is the second record from exactly the same location – the first was on 1st November 2017 (Salim Algailani). Coincident location and +/- dates suggest a returning bird to the same spot. (A similar record from Bishop’s Stortford – a Woodcock in a small garden of a terrace house on a new estate).

Feathers left behind by the Woodcock in Petworth St (Salim Algailani)

Single Kingfishers have been recorded from Logan’s Meadow, East Chesterton, and the Mill Pond through the month and Sparrow-hawks were hunting over residential parts of the City: Charles Street, Longworth Avenue, St Kilda Avenue, Cherry Hinton Road, Logan’s Meadow, Fishers Walk – Cherry Hinton and Gilbert Road/Stretton Avenue.

Tawny Owls have sounded an occasional presence near the top of Castle Hill. It’s a regular site but whether they stay to breed is uncertain as there are periods during the breeding season when they remain silent. A Little Egret was in the Weeping Willows of Logan’s Meadow on 5th November overlooking the “Tesco’s Bridge” and one was seen regularly on Coe Fen during the month.

Little Egret – Logan’s Meadow

Two Yellow-legged Gulls were at Hobson’s Park on 6th November. Also on the 6th November one of two squabbling Grey Herons landed in the middle of the road at Riverside causing cyclists to swerve round it and enabled passers-by to photograph it close-up!

My garden hedgehog weighed in at 978 gms so it is hibernation ready – any hogs less that 400 gms apparently need feeding! On 7th November a pair of Stonechats were on stubble and crop trash on the NIAB’s Trials Ground just within our project area. I suspect they may over-winter there if the crop residues and arable weeds remain and numbers of insects on which they feed are maintained. Stonechats on open arable farmland are unusual but there is now a trend for minimum tillage to improve soil health by allowing leguminous weeds to establish, fix and return nitrogen to the soil, encourage mycorrhizal associations and reduce carbon loss. A Red Kite passed over and Red Listed farmland species were present nearby: Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits. Twenty-four Meadow Pipits were in a flock, next to the Histon Rd/Huntingdon Rd footpath on 30th November.

There is a regular evening flypast of Jackdaws going to roost over St Andrew’s recreation ground in Chesterton. They appear to be flying due north; my highest count is 326 and they are all coming from the south of the City – I suspect from Petersfield/Romsey Town (and beyond) where they nest in chimneys of the Victorian terraced houses. Jon Heath has counted c400 over Lovell Road which is due north from St Andrews Rec. and the feeling is they are heading to roost with the Rooks at the Cambridge Research Park off the A10 near Waterbeach.

At the same time as the Jackdaw passage 400+ (mainly) Black-headed Gulls pass over Chesterton going NNW (count on 16.11.20) probably heading to the roost at RSPB Fen Drayton.

On 9th November a Buzzard was sitting in a tree in Storey’s Way and Roger Horton tweeted that two Red Kites and a Buzzard were over his garden and Cherry Hinton Hall. A Buzzard over Fisher’s Walk, doctors’ surgery on 28th. Seventeen Fieldfares flew over Huntingdon Road on the 11th (my first in our study area this year) and a single Brambling flew over Nuttings Road on 14th (Iain Webb cbcwhats about.blogspot.com).

The daytime Cormorant roost on Riverside is active with up to eight individuals. Grey Wagtails are a recent addition to the Red List of birds. I’m surprised as I see or hear regular flyovers across the City often well away from the river. It has become much commoner in recent years and two were feeding on farmland on 7th near Darwin Green.

The release of 50+ million non-native game birds, Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, for shoots has been questioned. I usually see native Grey Partridges on the chalky arable fields opposite the Beechwoods. Not on 18th November when I counted three coveys of Red-legs with a total of 22 birds. On the north side of the City I used to count two coveys of Greys but no longer – they too seem to have been replaced by Red-legs and the Greys are nowhere to be seen.

There was no mast in the Beechwoods so no feeding Bramblings or Chaffinches. Wintering Blackcaps have made their November arrival with a male in Lovell Road feeding on Cotoneaster berries, a female in Tenison Road feeding on Rowan berries and grapes and two males and a female in a garden near Histon Road feeding on Honeysuckle berries and Mahonia nectaries.

Peregrine(s?) have been seen in the City centre (no more sitting in Don Pasquale’s watching the Peregrine action from the Market Square as the café/restaurant has sadly closed for good) and one was round the Riverside chimney on 21st November. A Great White Egret was seen over the City on 22nd (James Littlewood, cbcwhatsabout.clogspot.com); on 23rd a Chiffchaff was in the All Saints Cemetery off Huntingdon Road.

Song Thrushes were singing in Chesterton at the end of the month. The next new record for our NatHistCam project area could be Glossy Ibis – birds have been seen at RSPB Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton in November.

Bob Jarman 30th November 2020

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

October 2020 Sightings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams                      olwenw@gmail.com

I told you so! – October 2020

Easterly winds from across in the first and second weeks of the month brought in an exceptional number of far-eastern vagrants to the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Many more must have filtered inland, a Radde’s Warbler was a brilliant find in north Cambs (see below) but many more probably passed unnoticed and some even through our project area.

The 3rd October was the wettest day in the country since records began in 1891 with an average of 1.24” or 31.7 mm nationwide. It was ideal rare bird migration weather with a low pressure over eastern England and a high pressure on the continent. Sure enough exceptional numbers of Radde’s Warblers arrived (I did catch up with the one in the overgrown corner of Southwold’s campsite) and Dusky Warblers followed. A first for the County, Radde’s was found at Peakirk on 4th October. Then – perhaps the most sought-after autumn rarity showed – Red-flanked Bluetails along coastal Norfolk and the remarkable occurrence of the Rufous Bush Chat (Robin) (eastern race syriaca) that was mob-twitched* at Stiffkey.

These arrivals followed a period of NE winds from central Europe. Perhaps just as remarkable was the influx of Goldcrests that arrived overnight on 14th/15th October: 400+ were at Holme Bird Observatory (HBO) and I saw 100+ around Southwold town. A further arrival was recorded at HBO on 26th October. They were not just in the conifers; every Sycamore – with or without leaves – was alive with Goldcrests feeding desperately. I rarely see them in my garden but hear them daily in the Leylandii just 50 m away where they stay put; even isolated conifers in the city – Coldham’s Lane, Roseford Road, St Andrew’s cemetery in Chesterton – have their own “endemic” Goldcrests. At Southwold they were feeding almost exclusively in the Sycamores and occasionally on the ground for insects after their North Sea migration flight. They will filter inland. How this tiny bird – weighing just five to six grams – makes this migration over the North Sea and at night is quite remarkable.

Migration is not without fatalities. I saw a Starling pitch into the sea just 75 m from land and was swallowed whole, alive and flapping by a Great Black-backed Gull. An exhausted Fieldfare landed on the beach to be instantly chased as prey by a mob of gulls; it made it to safety.

There is an excellent article on the latest Bird Guides web site by Simon Gillings of the BTO about “noc-mig” – the night time recording of overflying migrants and the identification of species by their calls. Simon cites the Tree Pipit which is a county rarity but he has recorded it 29 times over Chesterton in the last three years. On 23rd October Simon recorded Hawfinch, Brambling and Lesser Redpoll over his Chesterton home (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). (There is a very good web site – Xeno-Canto – with recording of bird calls and songs).

On 5th October Simon Gillings had a Gannet over Newmarket Road heading towards the City centre! and 12 Crossbills over Chesterton (cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). On 7th October a late Swallow was over Huntingdon Road and on 10th October Jon Heath photographed a fine male Hen Harrier over his house in north Cambridge.

I told you so! I expected that Great (White) Egret would be the next new bird (tick!) in our project area (blog September 2020) – sure enough Jon Heath recorded one flying over his north Cambridge garden on 15th October. Little Egrets** were seen at Hobson’s Park and Coe Fen during the month and one flew over Elizabeth Way on 29th heading towards the city centre.

Great White Egret

On 7th October the first few overwintering Black-headed Gulls were around Jesus Lock and by 22nd October numbers has increased to about 55; on the same day there were 100+ at Hobson’s Park. These appeared to have had a poor breeding season with only 2-3% first-year birds but the Black-headed Gulls at Milton Country Park numbered 55 with 9 first calendar year birds.

During the month Nuthatches were seen/heard in the Botanic Gardens, along “The Backs” and in Chaucer Road.

Water Voles were seen regularly at Logan’s Meadow and a Hedgehog is now regular into my small garden after I cut a gap in the base of my garden gate (for the cat!). The City Council have a project “Hedgehog Highway” that offers to cut access points for hedgehogs in enclosed gardens. On 23rd October about 20 Siskins were feeding in the Alders on Newnham Recreation Ground.

Coal Tits, like the Goldcrests stick to the nearby Leylandii and rarely make it into my garden; when they do its always single birds, a quick snatch of a sunflower seed then up and away back to the cover of the Leylandii. Two Red Kites were on the northern edge of our project area near Histon on 25th October and a Grey Heron was standing on the chimney pot of a three stores house on Mitcham’s Corner on 26th October! Two to three Buzzards were seen at Eddington throughout the month, one to two over the Milton/A14 roundabout and the Cormorants’ roost in Logan’s Meadow is active.

A red-head Goosander was at Milton Country Park on 28th October (Jon Heath).

*Twitching/to twitch/a twitch – travelling distance to see a new/rare bird – was a late 1960’s humorous turn-of-phrase. It originated in Norfolk from a birder called Dave? who exhibited a tweak/twitch in his cheek when told of a rare bird he had not seen! **In those days Little Egrets were twitched as exceptional rarities! Two London birders travelled to South Wales overnight from Cley, Norfolk on a Lambretta 175 scooter to “twitch” a Little Egret.

Grey Herons are becoming very confiding along the river.
(picture from a punt by Seun Oratokhai)

Bob Jarman 31st October 2020
bobjarman99@btinternet.com

Big migration time – September 2020

I never seem to get enough spare days to visit the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts during the autumn migration. This year is the same. On special days with northerly winds sweeping down the North Sea the skua migrations peak – I’ve missed the Long-tailed Skuas, (again!) caught the fringes of the Arctic and Great Skua (Bonxie) movements and may still catch the Pomarine Skua passage in October.

Big numbers of Arctic and Bonxies were seen heading south-west inland over Lynn Point/King’s Lynn on 25th September probably following the River Cam/Ouse valleys over the south of England at great height to eventually exit in the Bristol Channel. It’s a short cut route on their southerly autumn migration. In spring they have been seen flying north-east overland through the Great Glen short-cutting between the Atlantic and the North Sea on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Autumn skuas on the North Norfolk coast always seem to be flying west into the Wash not east to round East Anglia.

The dead Long-tailed Skua found last year along “The Backs” (probably brought down by a night-time Peregrine strike) is an example of this unseen overland sea-bird passage.

For me the second highlight are the autumn warblers especially seeing/finding Yellow-browed Warblers. They have become so frequent that they were unclassified as scarce migrants in 2017. With the Yellow-broweds will come other northern vagrants. Yellow-broweds have now become regular inland finds – two have been recorded in Cambrideshire already this autumn and one/two have been seen in our project area in autumn in the last few years. They seem to like sycamores and can be picked out by their penetrating distinctive call, a drawn-out “sooeeet“.

The third autumn passage highlight is new! It’s the overhead passage recorded on tape by Simon Gillings and Jon Heath in our project area of overflying night calls that are then identified to species and numbers of birds. Species recorded in August that are only rarely seen in our project area “on the ground” include Whimbrel and Grey Plover, Tree Pipit, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers.

The next night-time call we should all be hearing soon is the arrival of Redwings (the first in the County were recorded on the 27th).

Two groups of six plus eleven Common Buzzards were flying high in the thermals over the City on 6th Sept, on the same day at least two Chiffchaffs were in the Long-tailed Tit flock in Logan’s Meadow and two Water Voles were seen nearby. On 8th September at Hobson’s Park a Sedge Warbler was seen plus a singing Chiff and a Water Rail was heard and another seen. Chiffs were widespread across the City throughout the month. On 15th September a Whinchat was seen at Hobson’s (Ali Cooper, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). Another singing Chiff was heard near Fen Ditton on 17th September and four House Martins were high over Eddington on 17th plus two confiding Buzzards.

Eddington is the best local site to see Buzzards, remarkable, considering they first returned to breed in Cambridgeshire in 1999 and are now common residents – probably our commonest raptor (good article by Brett Westwood on Buzzards in the August 2020 edition of British Wildlife magazine).

Water Voles at Logan’s Meadow (above)

The Bioblitz at the Botanic Garden on 19th produced 25 species of birds including a Nuthatch, two Grey Wagtails – one on the lily pond, the other a flyover – two Chiffs, a Sparrowhawk and a Jay peeling an apple! plus a late Swift on 17th during the bat search (Rhona Watson). Late September Swifts are rare. No Song Thrushes were recorded, where have they gone?

A Peregrine flew over Victoria Road Bridge on 25th and one was also seen over Castle Hill/Histon Road junction on the 26th. A Tawny Owl was hooting in trees near the doctors’ surgery at no1 Huntingdon Road throughout the month.

Two Crossbills flew over Trumpington Meadows on 22nd (Iain Webb, cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com) and a Greenfinch was in my bird bath on 27th. Where have the Greenfinches and Song Thrushes gone? They were widespread in spring, located by singing territorial males but since then I have seen or heard very few of either species. I think it is predation of nests – eggs and chicks – by Grey Squirrels.

In contrast Long-tailed Tits are common and generate interesting multi-species bird activity in their roving feeding flocks. In Logan’s Meadow during the month I have seen Chiffs, (a Willow Warbler in August), Treecreeper, Great, Coal and Blue Tits, the occasional Goldcrest and even a Great-spotted Woodpecker swept along in the frenzy of the flock. It’s always worth looking through a flock of Long-tailed Tits. Last year at Paradise there was a Pallas’s Warbler in such a flock. Long-tailed Tits seem to have become commoner this year probably assisted by a mild winter and spring which helped over-winter survival.

At least 12 Meadow Pipits were at Hobson’s Park on 30th September and two Snipe were disturbed by the overhead air ambulance helicopter. Meadow Pipits have become Red Listed; they used to breed regularly on the NIAB’s Trials Ground, part of which is in our project area, but did not do so in 2019 and 2020.

There have been many reports across East Anglia this autumn of Great (White) Egrets in 1’s,2’s, 3’s and 4’s. It’s a bird of big open marshes and reedbeds and as big as a Grey Heron with a whopping long, often kinked, neck! Ten years ago, it was a rarity with occasional breeding in the Somerset Levels. It might show up soon at one of our open water sites: Trumpington Meadows/Hobson’s Park/Eddington/Cherry Hinton pits. Grey Herons along the City’s river banks have become very confiding. One catches fish at the end of a moored “Lets-go-Punting” punt by Jesus Green.

Bob Jarman 30th September 2020

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

September Sightings 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams     olwenw@gmail.com

Mostly birds – August 2020

I’m late with this blog. August is the peak of the wader migration and I have been waiting for the Cambridge Bird Club’s monthly report for August to see what has been recorded from nocturnal migration (“nocmig”) over the City in August. I’ll summarise records next month.

It’s been a good year …..for Swifts! I think it’s been a successful breeding season which means a good food supply for adults and young and access to nest sites. It was probably the many hot summer days that supported high flying insects, especially disbursing spiders. The 13th August was the sixth consecutive day with local temperatures over 34C. Perhaps it was me opening my green bin regularly and wafting the myriads of fruit flies skywards! Drosophila melanogaster – I remember those tortuous days at school mating various phenotypes of fruit flies and examining the progeny to build a genetic map of dominant and recessive traits. Thank goodness genetics can now be analysed by extracting DNA!

I think there were two main departure dates of Swifts from the City: the first on 27/28th July and a second on 4/5th August. But several remained over East and West Chesterton until the end of the month. The latest date was two over Victoria Avenue on 28th. In typical years August Swifts are uncommon. I suspect there was a late arrival of first year Swifts at the end of June; 17,500 were counted over the harbour at Southwold, Suffolk on 29th June. I think some of these birds returned to their natal site, ousting established incubating pairs and successfully rearing late broods that fledged in August.

A first year Marsh Harrier was over Oxford/Windsor Roads on 8th August. And a Barn Owl was roosting in a newly erected raptor nest box on the NIAB’s trials ground in our project area. A Little Egret was around Coe Fen throughout the month.

On 15th August there was a widespread arrival of Pied Flycatchers along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts with 152 reported in Suffolk including 30 in the Southwold area. Few were recorded inland and the only local record was one at the Cambridge Research Park near Landbeach (Jon and David Heath) on 28th August outside our project area.

On August 24th a Chiffchaff was singing in a large garden in Huntingdon Road and in Logan’s Meadow on 24th August 3-4 Blackcaps were eating elder berries and a tit flock had 2-3 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Treecreeper; nearby 2 Whitethroats and a Reed Warbler were in bushes around the stream. A tit flock hit my garden on 27th with at least one Chiff and a female Blackcap was eating my Honeysuckle berries on 28th. Chiffs were widespread across the City. It’s always worth looking through a Long-tailed Tit flock for other species carried along in the hullabaloo! A second? brood of Blackbirds were feeding on Rose hips and a flock of adult and juvenile Starlings were stripping a blackberry bush in Logan’s Meadow in late August.

On several late afternoons I’ve seen Water Voles along the edges of the pools in Logan’s Meadow. Each time they seem to become more confiding. Early one evening an adult Fox ducked back into the long grass – I was surprised to see a fox here during the day because of the number of off–the-lead dogs being walked. A young fox ran down Longworth Avenue into St Andrews Road in the (very!) early hours on 31st as a Tawny Owl was calling near the riverside boat houses.

The 1851 census (year of the Great Exhibition) was the first census to record that urban populations outnumbered rural populations. Towns and cities have become vital in our conservation of wildlife as draft papers to our project are demonstrating and our NatHistCam story will tell.

Bob Jarman 9th September 2020

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

August sightings 2020

This month’s specials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

July Sightings 2020

This Month’s Specials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

Mainly birds – July 2020

Many birders reported a poor arrival of Swallows this year. I have seen very few in our project area – an early bird over my house on 10th April, the pair that regularly breeds under the A14 bridge near Horningsea arrived, a family group were feeding over Hobson’s Park on 21st July, and about 20 birds including young were seen over the horse paddocks at the Vet School off Madingley Road on 29th July; hopefully they bred in the stables.

Until last year I made an annual July visit to Athy, a small agricultural town in Eire and there all three species of hirundines were abundant. The theory is they have moved north and west away from intensive agriculture in southern England where our insect bio-fauna is much diminished by agrochemicals.

Lesser-black backed Gulls are regular flyovers to roost at the Cambridge Research Park off the A10, I suspect. They are regular over the riverside commons – they have either finished breeding and are on a return migration or non-breeding adults looking for easy pickings! An early returning Common Gull was over the A14 on 4th July.

The river has been remarkably clear and free of the mud/silt brought up by punting? – punting recommenced on 4th July. A Common Buzzard regularly watches the traffic from the street lamps at the A14 roundabout near Milton, Nuthatches were reported from King’s Fellows Garden on 7th July and there have been widespread reports of flyover Siskins and Crossbills from the beginning of the month across the county including two Crossbills and a Siskin over north Chesterton on 18th July (Jon Heath www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). A Whimbrel was over Chesterton on 8th July (Simon Gillings www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com), Jays have been seen commonly all month and likewise Peregrines, which can often be seen on King’s College chapel spires. I’m sorry Don Pasquale’s on the Market Square has closed as it was an ideal coffee stop and Peregrine watch point. An adult Peregrine with accompanying juvenile were over Castle Hill/Histon Road on 26th.

I noticed a hay field near the Schlumberger building on the 12th July, which had been cut – I don’t recall a hay field in our project area before! Silver-washed Fritillaries were in a garden in Chesterton Road on 12th July and a pair of Muntjac were feeding on windfall apples in a large garden in Huntingdon Road on the 13th.

St Regis House in Chesterton Road which was demolished in 2018/2019 and had a significant colony of nesting Swifts has been rebuilt, the Swift nest holes have been reinstated and a splendid motif of Swifts decorates the front of the building – well played Clare College!

Common Terns have been were seen irregularly from Riverside to Magdalene Bridge during the month. At least two Reed Warblers were still singing at Eddington on 15th July (what are the contractors doing to the lake at Eddington?); two male Blackcaps seemed to be feeding the same brood on 21st July at Paradise Nature Reserve and across the river one of the fledged Kestrels appeared to fall out of the nest but managed to scramble onto a perch! On the same day an adult Little Egret, in full breeding plumage, was feeding on Coe Fen.

The City Council and Countryside Properties have enhanced the nature reserve at Hobson’s Park with two excellent display boards describing the wildlife that can be seen at the site. Breeding Corn Buntings have been disappointing at Hobson’s Park this year; I suspect dogs have disturbed this ground nesting species.

Three to four Blackcaps and a Chiff have been singing in Logan’s Meadow and copse all month and on 21st June a Spotted Flycatcher was reported along Hobson’s Brook just beyond the Empty Common allotments. On 21st June the Black-headed Gull colony at Hobson’s Park had almost gone with about 20 adults and still some downy chicks remaining; a Little Egret was also present; ditto on 23rd July. On the evenings of the 22nd to 25th July there were spectacular displays of screaming flocks of Swifts over the city. I think half the City’s population left on 26th to 27th and I think there was another major departure on the 31st July but good numbers remained into August.

I’m intrigued by the Bracken that grows in the corner of St Andrew’s Church cemetery in Chesterton. It’s the only plot of Bracken I know in our project area but there is a small front garden in Montague Road about 400m away that is full of Bracken. Is there a sub-terranean seam of acidic soil that breaks the surface at these two points?

In my June blog I mentioned the abundance of Woodpigeons in the City. Stock Doves (Stock Pigeons) are also an under recognised and appreciated species in the bird landscape of cities. All of our large church cemeteries and heavily wooded gardens have nesting pairs. They are a hole nesting species. It too has benefited from Winter Oilseed Rape as an autumn and early winter food source. They are mostly seen in pairs or small groups but I have seen a flock of 100+ on farmland in the north of our project area and 40+ at Hobson’s Park.

A Water Vole was seen at Logan’s Meadow on 30th and two on 31st. Duncan McKay reports a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly for the second year running at Ditton Meadows. This species is expanding its range since its discovery in Essex in the early 2000’s. On 31st July the UK recorded its third highest recorded temperatures of 37ºC on the day when the Met Office confirmed 2019 as the hottest year on record and that climate change is driving these record temperatures.

Bob Jarman 31st July 2020. bobjarman99@btinternet.com

June Sightings 2020

This month’s special

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

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

Tawny Owl Chick Rhona Watson

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

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

Signal Crayfish Becky Green
Bullhead Fish Becky Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to others for invertebrate photos:

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