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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org