Category Archives: Project Blog

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

The autumn passage September 2019

Whinchats and a Pied Flycatcher as autumn passage migrants arrived in our study area – see August Blog. A Pied Flycatcher on Coldham’s Common on 1st September (Rob Pople) is only the second I can remember in our study area. Two Whinchats at Hobson’s Park on 3rd September (Peter Bircham) (cbcwhatsaboutblogspot.com). A Wheatear was seen on the bare fields on farmland in the north west of our study area. A Nuthatch in St John’s College gardens (David Brown) is a welcome sighting of a bird that has bred widely in west Cambridge but seems to have disappeared.

There seems to have been an influx of Jays and many are moving through the City. This has coincided with groups seen together at Holme Bird Observatory on the North Norfolk coast with up to 40 present one day. Nine flew together over Chesterton on 29th September.

On the 10th September, a single Little Egret at Hobson’s Park and a flock of 16 Corn Buntings. There were lots of Chiffchaffs throughout the month: 3-4 in and around Logan’s Meadow, at least one ventured across the river to Tesco’s carpark off Newmarket Road. A tit flock in Logan’s had at least one Treecreeper. Towards the end of the month in the warm weather a Chiff could be heard singing regularly in Milton Country Park.

Fifty Golden Plovers over Trumpington (Doug Radford) signals the beginning of winter (cbcwhatsaboutblogspot.com).

Most winters a Woodcock will turn up in a Cambridge garden especially during freezing conditions. I was interested to read of a juvenile bird ringed at Holme Bird Observatory and found dead six years later at Tralee in southern Ireland. British tracked birds have also been recovered in central Asia. Where do our Cambridge birds come from? Redwings have been heard outside the city – it’s only a matter of time before we hear their night-time calls over the city (but, see the PS below!).

I’m never sure what to think of Greylag and Canada Geese in our study area; presumably all originally derived from feral birds. The flock of about 60 Grey-lags centred around Milton Country Park must have a considerable impact on vegetation on the lake margins. In Suffolk, it’s the breeding feral? Barnacle Geese that have multiplied over the last 10 years to flocks of several hundreds. I have seen small groups of Barnacle Geese in our study area in the past presumably from this feral population.

Dr Simon Gillings of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is setting up a number of devices across the City to record the night time migration of birds over the city. Is Cambridge and our study area a major migration highway/flyway? This is one of the most exciting current ornithological projects and is happening here in Cambridge.

PS a major flyover of Song Thrushes and Redwings on the night of Sunday 6th October ahead of the very heavy rain early that morning.

Bob Jarman 6st October 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

September Sightings 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

August Sightings 2019

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

Earth Ball

Scleroderma verrucosum

Olwen Williams

Gypsywort

Olwen Williams

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

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

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

Osprey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

Swifts, Painted Ladies and Emeralds – August 2019

Swifts were still around on 26th August despite the major departure from the City a month earlier on 28th/29th July. Fifty high over the City, 15 over the Senate House on 15th August and 10 over Histon Road on 17th August perhaps signalled another local departure. On 26th August two over Trumpington Street and one over the Market Square were probably feeding late broods.

A Wren was feeding young in Logan’s Meadow on 2nd August and Painted Ladies were the commonest butterflies on the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. The Painted Ladies looked in good condition, not ragged migrants, suggesting they had hatched locally. The invasion of Painted Ladies this year has been remarkable. In mid-July, I visited the Malin Head, the most northerly point in the Republic of Ireland, and there was a Painted Lady every 25m.

The Willow Emerald Damselfly (above) is a species new to our study area. I think Duncan McKay discovered it first. Nationally it is expanding its range and the one photographed by Trevor Kerridge at Milton Country Park – just within our NatHistCam study area – is a new location.

I haven’t seen a Spotted Flycatcher in the City for many years. They used to breed in Whitehouse Lane off Huntingdon Road but when the Elms went so did the flycatchers. There is an excellent article in the latest bulletin (covering June/July observations) of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club by Mike Holdsworth about a three-year study into the distribution of Spotted Flycatchers in the County which have declined dramatically. The College Gardens and the Botanic Gardens look ideal habitats but none have been found in the City.

Keep an eye open for Common Cranes in flight over the City – Jon Heath has seen them. This time of year they gather in numbers and move around the countryside. The Fenland population in 2018 was 53 individuals and is now the largest in the Country and exceeds the North Norfolk population and the reintroduced population in Somerset. I recently visited The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Welney and saw a group of 26 – disappointingly they were all adults with no young birds from the current breeding season.

A recent article in British Birds magazine by Mark Avery describes how forty-three million non-native young Pheasants are released for shoots annually. He questions the impact this might have on local wild bird populations (British Birds, July 2019). Only about 13 million of these are actually shot! This may account for the increase in Buzzards which must be our commonest countryside raptor and probably breeds in our study area. There have even been calls from the shooters to cull Buzzards that are taking some of these released birds or scaring the released game birds onto non shooting land. Most pheasant shooting is carried out with lead shot so there is a knock-on pollution problem. In Denmark lead shot is banned and replaced by steel shot.

A Willow Warbler (above) was in the Buddleia at Cambridge North Station on 19th August. I used to think I could tell Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff apart on their calls. Willow Warblers have a disyllabic “hoo …weet”, Chiffs a monosyllabic “hooeet”. I’m not so sure now! At least two Chiffs in Milton Country Park on 15th August, two Chiffs in Logan’s Meadow on 23rd August were typical tail and wing flicking Chiffchaffs; one heard calling in a private garden in Huntingdon Road on 29th August (identified by call!).

There have been several county records of Pied Flycatchers in the last two weeks of August and lots along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts but none revealed themselves in our study area.

There have also been county reports of Whinchats and Redstarts. Whinchats used to be regular autumn migrants on a farm in the north of our study when I worked there.

An Osprey was seen at Great Kneighton/Hobson’s Park on 26th August – a typical date for this migrant. One of the adult Peregrines was seen near its City centre nest site on 29th August.

Bob Jarman 29th August 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

Cambridgeshire’s Mosses and Liverworts

Cambridgeshire’s Mosses and Liverworts: a dynamic flora

Christopher D. Preston and Mark O. Hill

NatureBureau 2019

326pp colour illustrated

ISBN 9781874357896 £25 (paperback)

This new flora by two of our friends and colleagues has attracted an excellent review in British Wildlife, August 2019: “….is beautifully written and nicely illustrated. ……. Chris Preston and Mark Hill are both highly respected bryologists with a deep knowledge of Cambridgeshire, its habitats and its species. Their enthusiasm shines through in this flora which deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious student of mosses and liverworts, whether they live in Cambridgeshire or not.”

Bob Jarman 25th August 2019

July 2019 night timers and new to Cambridgeshire

I recently received an email from Jon Heath and records from his garden in north Chesterton, Cambridge. The bird list covers those recorded as night time flyovers then identified by recorded calls on night time passage/migration (“noc-mig”). The July bulletin of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club has a more complete list. These discoveries are fascinating and open up new dimensions in the study of bird movements; Quail and Turnstone are county rarities.

Are these birds moving on a broad front or are they following the NW/SE trajectories of the Nene/Ouse/Cam river valleys as suggested by Graham Easy in the 1980’s from his observations of Skuas in autumn over Milton and Cambridge flying south west? Are they just night-time movements or do day-time movements occur also but too high to see and background noise make them too difficult to record? Or, are they night-time migrants attracted to the city lights?

Whimbrel passage is particularly interesting. The only place they breed in the UK is Fetlar in Shetland. They are breeding waders of the northern tundras. I have just returned from Donegal; Whimbrels on their southward passage were the commonest shore bird especially around rocky coves. Guy Belcher’s record of 43 over Little Shelford in September 2018, Jon’s records from Cambridge and recent sightings of Whimbrels from Norfolk and Suffolk show that they migrate on a very broad front. I suspect the birds in Ireland continue a westerly transit and winter on the Canary Islands.

Jon writes: “Here is the list of waders (and notable others) for July over my garden. I recorded 18 out of 31 nights and the numbers indicate the minimum number of birds which were calling whilst flying over.”

Coot x 1Redshank x 5
QUAIL x 1Black-tailed Godwit x 2
Common Sandpiper x 5Dunlin x 3
Little Grebe x 1Ringed Plover x 1
Whimbrel x 3TURNSTONE x 1
Little Ringed Plover x 3 Oystercatcher x 1

In addition, Jon has the following exceptional records of two micro moth species: “The micros moths which I caught are (I believe) both firsts for the county: Vitula biviella on July 24th and Acompsia schmidtiellus on July 29th. Also, a spectacular Scarlet Tiger was caught on June 29th which is also quite rare in Cambridgeshire”.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com Thanks to Jon Heath for his exceptional records.

July Sightings 2019

Snakes

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

Python on the loose!

Birds

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

Butterflies

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

Other invertebrates

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

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

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

Mammals

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

Plants

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

Broad-Leaved Helleborine

Hawkers, Emperors, Darters and Swifts – July 2019

I’ve been affected by Duncan MacKay’s enthusiasm for the Odonata. I went on a Damselfly and Dragonfly identification course at Wicken Fen some years ago but never really followed it up. This year is different. Hip surgery means I’ve been confined to home, the daytime skies above and nearby Logan’s Meadow. I struggle with the small blue damselflies but am sure I have recorded Variable; Blue-tailed Damselfly has been present all summer; similarly Banded Demoiselles (the iridescent body colour of the males must be one of the most striking colours in nature!), the females are completely different; Common Darters appeared briefly; Brown Hawkers appeared for three-weeks; Anax imperator (Emperor – I prefer its Latin name!) cruised the meadow and a Migrant Hawker visited my small garden. Banded Demoiselles are often blown into the City centre and I have seen them fluttering over the Market Square and Petty Cury.

Male Banded Demoiselle (left) Brown Hawker – egg laying (centre) Common Darter (right)

In the poplar trees above the river near Logan’s Meadow are two juvenile Sparrowhawks (they breed here most years) that erupt out and fly in a panic then land in the densest part of the tree top canopy. Their principle seems to be if we cannot see you then you cannot see us. It doesn’t work! Reed Bunting in Logan’s Meadow on 26th July – probably been there for years but I have only just noticed! Two Buzzards over Logan’s and a Kestrel sitting on the goal posts on 1st August.

Variable Damselfly – I think!

At the beginning of July, the Council strimmed all St Andrew’s Cemetery just as butterflies were emerging. As a result, the butterfly list for the cemetery is limited to about 11 species compared to Histon Road Cemetery, which has active wildlife management with a butterfly list of 22 species this year including Essex Skipper, Ringlet and Marbled White. (per Martin Brett, Lesley Dodd).

I’ve been watching the Swifts! A cursory impression is that they have had a good breeding season with fine weather and plenty of flying insects.

I think there was a major departure on 24th of July, just before the hottest temperature every recorded in the UK at the Botanic Gardens on 25th – 38.7C; local birds moved out ahead of the weather front on 27th July and returned in numbers on 28th. There was another major departure on the 29th. A few still over the City on 1st August but the majority of local birds have now left.

On 9th July, a dead Nuthatch was found outside the Attenborough Building in Downing Street. Unusual! – over the last two years no breeding Nuthatches have been located in the Botanic Gardens or west Cambridge despite the wooded college gardens appearing to be ideal habitat.

Not so unusual! – just round-the-corner in Tennis Court Road is Pembroke College with its magnificent avenue of London Plane trees (possibly the tallest trees in the City). Nuthatches probably breed at Girton College and 2-3 pairs in Madingley Wood just a mile away. These two localities have mature oaks. I think they are absent from west Cambridge because of the loss/absence of mature oak trees. On 13th July: a Common Tern over Downing Street and six over the Histon Road/Huntingdon Road Junction on 16th July; 51 apparently active House Martin nests at Addenbroke’s Hospital on 22nd July. Juvenile Tawny Owl heard near the Huntingdon Road/Histon Road junction.

The weather front on Saturday 27th July caused a spectacular fall of waders migrating south along the east coast. My first Wood Sandpipers were at Cambridge Sewage Farm decades ago and I’ve never forgotten their distinctive “chiff, chiff” call. To find one Wood Sandpiper is a good day, to find two is a memorable day but 110 were at Cley, Norfolk on 28th July with Curlew Sandpipers , Little Stints and Whimbrels. On Sunday night 28th Jon Heath’s night recording had a Common Sandpiper, a Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and a flock of Curlew but no Wood Sands over the City although several night time recorders in Norfolk had Wood Sandpipers.

Bob Jarman 1st August 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

June bird reports 2019

On Dawn Chorus day (7th May) Duncan McKay cycled across the City and recorded dawn bird song from 17 locations; he also asked other Nat Hist Soc members to record the dawn chorus from their bedroom windows – on their mobile phones – and received replies from 7 other locations. He had the following results from the total of 24 locations:
Blackbird 18/24; Robin 17/24; Wren 16/26; Woodpigeon 13/14; Blackcap 11/24; Carrion Crow 7/24; Chiffchaff 6/24.

In addition, he recorded single Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers along Cherry Hinton Brook. The big surprise that Duncan has confirmed is the widespread presence of Blackcaps and Chiffchaff across the city this year. He emphasises a 7th May dawn chorus is a single time-point in a much bigger time-frame. From late February until mid-April gardens are ringing with singing Great Tits especially on sunny mornings. By the beginning of May, they are feeding broods and feature less in early morning throng. Blue Tits are odd songsters. They have a variety of calls but their song is a strange scratchy effort that is only delivered during a short period in April – and that’s it! Thanks, Duncan – brilliant! Blackcaps are still singing widely until the beginning of July.

An article in the current British Birds Journal summarises work by the BTO looking at garden bird feeding. As a nation, we spend between £200m and 300m on bird feeding products annually (I’m at least £50 of that!) and this has contributed to significant changes since the 1970’s – Goldfinches and Woodpigeons in particular have become much more common. I’m not convinced about Goldfinches; I remember often coming across “charms” of Goldfinches in north Cambridge with my friends as schoolboy birders in the early 1970’s. Woodpigeons, yes! Modern farm rotations have included winter Oilseed Rape since the late 1970’s and this has produced a benign environment for Woodpigeons in the countryside – it’s becoming full up with Woodpigeons so they have moved into urban areas!. They raid my fat balls and often browse the grass and weeds in my small lawn and on the nearby park.

Broomrapes – Chesterton
Goldfinch – Chesterton

I have had my differences with Cambridge City Council over their use of Community Payback teams clearing vegetation. I came across a team who were using sticks to thrash the vegetation to shreds to clear the pathway along Hobson’s Brook. The thrashing of path-side vegetation seemed completely indiscriminate and included a thicket where I had seen a pair of Chiffchaffs building a nest in May close to the path…I did not see or hear the Chiffchaffs again. I also questioned the Council commitment to conservation after all the nettle clumps on Midsummer Common were strimmed – nettles being an important larval food plant for several of our declining butterfly species.

Lastly an Osprey over Trumpington Meadows on Friday 21st June (Iain Webb – www.cbcwhatsabout.blogspot.com). This blog may go quiet in the next month as I recover from hip surgery.

bobjarman99@btinternet.com – 2nd July 2019

June Sightings 2019

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

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

Grey Wagtail Norman De’Ath

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

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

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

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

Wool Carder Bee Rhona Watson

Mediterranean Spotted Chafer Oxythyrea funesta Rhona Watson

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

Lesser Stag Beetle Annette Shelford

Urophora cardui, a thistle gall fly

Simon Mentha

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

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

Emperor Dragonfly Duncan Mackay

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

Marbled White Paul Rule

Large Skipper Mo Sibbons

Moths  Some recent finds illustrated below (Paul).

Spectacle moth Abrostola tripartita Paul Rule

Glyphotaelius pellucidus Paul Rule

Cherry bark Tortrix Limnephilus lunatus Paul Rule

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

Chicken of the Woods

David Williams

Podosphaera filipendulae Chris Preston

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

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com