Category Archives: Project Blog

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

November Sightings 2019

November has been mild, although generally rather wet and dreary.  Bats (probably Pipistrelles) were flying on Nov 2nd over the New Bit of Coe Fen and still on the wing in Paradise on Nov 25th (Paul). A Red Admiral Butterfly was seen on Viburnum in the sun on 10th (Olwen) and an Ivy Bee in early November (Pam). 

This month’s specials: read on!

Birds  It has been another exciting month for birds (see Bob’s blog for fuller details). A Peregrine was seen flying over Arbury November 3rd (Ben) and on Nov 14th in Gilbert Rd, May was alerted by the clatter of Magpies and then startled to see a Peregrine kill a woodpigeon in the garden. Ben spotted a Woodcock flying over Arbury. Guy had a lovely view of swimming Water Rail by St Bedes along Cherry Hinton Brook on 13th and on 18th, Alan saw another at Logan’s Meadow Nature Reserve in Chesterton. (I had always imagined they were summer visitors, but I gather that while northern and eastern populations are migratory, they are a permanent residents in the warmer parts of their breeding range and the UK may also have immigrants from Europe.)

Another Nuthatch sighting from the Backs, this time on a lime tree at Clare College, in the Fellows Garden – down the “Tunnel of Gloom” (Kate). Guy spotted a pair of Bullfinches by Byron’s Pool car park, along with a Kingfisher and Brown Rat doing its best impression of a water vole. (It must be hard being the City Ecologist!) Vicky reports a very fine Jay just outside her window in Highsett and Pam has a Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting feeders regularly with Gold Finches and Long Tailed Tits. Val’s small central back garden saw the first Starlings in ages, a male Blackcap and a glimpse of a Woodpecker. U3A naturalists spotted a Treecreeper in Cherry Hinton Hall, on a visit to follow the excellent tree trail there.

Holly’s regular update on Cherry Hinton Brook : Usual passerines along the brook (Tits, Blackbirds, Robins, Wren,) and waterbirds (Moorhen and Mallard), with Kingfisher and Little Egret,  but no Winter Thrushes, Brambling or Siskin yet. However, Penny reports a probable Redwing stripping the neighbour’s holly tree of its berries. In Tenison Road, Martin has male and female Blackcaps feeding on ripe grapes. In Fen Ditton, Trevor had a Jay visiting the nut feeder (but soon altered the mesh to exclude him).  He identified Coal Tits visiting for the first time.

The star attraction this month was the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, which turned up on Nov 21st in Paradise, in company of tits, Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff. These tiny, strongly migratory birds are about the size of a goldcrest and weigh only slightly more than a table tennis ball. Although they are an East Asian species (N. China, migrating to S. China and Indonesia in the winter) they are nevertheless found regularly in Europe and UK and this  may be an alternative migration route. This rare sighting then resulted in a secondary sighting: an invasion of Twitchers with Long Lenses and Large Binoculars, generally arrayed along the river path, sighing heavily.

Fungi  The CNHS fungus foray in the Botanic Garden turned up a good number of species. The highlight for me was the Bird’s Nest Fungus which has arrived with the wood chippings under the new raised ramp. Louise sent these pix, from the West Cambridge Site and as each contain a drop of water, you can see the reflection of sky and trees in the cup.

Orange Peel Fungus was found in the car park area at Cherry Hinton Hall.  Paul spotted Arrenhia rickenii growing in moss on the top of a concrete gate post. They are so tiny, they are probably mostly overlooked! Another tiny, on a twig in Beechwoods reserve, was one of the Crepidotus family (Paul), while bigger and bolder were the Wrinkled Peach fungus, Rhodotus palmatus and Oyster mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus, both found in Newnham on decaying wood.

Orange Peel Fungus Jonathan Shanklin

Mammals    Foxes become ever bolder – one was spotted Kingston Street at about 10pm (Jonathan) and another in broad daylight in the grounds of Churchill College (John).  A pair of Muntjac appear to be living in Histon Road Cemetery: this photo was taken from an upstairs window on Bermuda Row. Lesley comments on increasing numbers of Black Squirrels there and also one was reported from Fen Ditton (Trevor).

Invertebrates  Paul reports a couple of November Moths: Blair’s Shoulder Knot (on the wing from Oct to Nov) and Mottled Umber (males on the wing from Oct to Dec, females are flightless). This Harvestman, Dicranopalpus ramosis was basking on a wall at Jesus (Rhona).

Blair’s Shoulder Knot        Mottled Umber                      Harvestman
              Paul Rule                             Paul Rule                           Rhona Watson

Plants In the now wooded chalk pit at Limekiln Close, Sharon found a small patch of the beautiful Common Tamarisk-moss Thuidium tamariscinum. This is indeed a common woodland moss in the west of Britain, but has become increasingly rare in Cambridgeshire’s ancient woods.  Maybe is now starting to spread again, as it was found in 2017 in Barnwell East LNR and near Fen Ditton earlier this year.   

For a couple of years, Charles had admired the annual Claytonia perfoliata, Springbeauty, growing between house wall and pavement in Milford Street, only to find that, although very little grows in these rather barren streets, anything green had been sprayed with weedkiller. Happily, a few fresh seedlings of Claytonia have now reappeared.

Olwen Williams                                     olwenw@gmail.com

One of the best Novembers yet! November 2019

On 22nd November, a Pallas’s Warbler was found in Paradise Nature Reserve. It was a sensational find of this tiny rare migrant warbler inland and a fantastic discovery (Mike Crosby, cbcwhatsabout.com). It’s the second County record. Local naturalists say that it could have been there some days before it was identified. The first County record was a moribund bird found in Peterborough outside the Natural England offices in 1998; it had struck a window. Over the weekend of the 23rd/24th November it attracted about 100 birders. I caught up with it on 25th and 26th November but it was difficult to locate and it moved with speed through the foliage loosely associating with a Long-tailed Tit flock and Goldcrests. The most recent national annual total of this rarity is just 27 in 2017. Inland locations are very rare; overwintering birds are even rarer. This bird ought to be in south-east China by now!

Also seen in the nature reserve were two Chiffchaffs, a Nuthatch (a good find – this bird is rare in our project area), 1/2 Treecreepers, a well-watched Kingfisher fishing and a Woodcock.

The October monthly bulletin of the Cambridgeshire Bird Club has an item by Simon Gillings about his analysis of October night-time bird calls over his Chesterton home. His findings are remarkable and the practice of analysing overhead nocturnal bird calls adds a new dimension to ornithology – I nearly said bird watching – but it is not “watching”! If I’m reading his tabular summary correctly he has recorded the following October monthly totals (highlights only): Whooper Swan 4; Little Grebe 9 (I don’t think I have ever seen Little Grebe fly more than a foot above the water but migrate and colonise they must and they do!); Turnstone 4; Knot 4; Common Sandpiper 4; Ring Ousel 17 (I have never seen Ring Ousel in Cambs and as I live about ½ a mile from Simon they probably flew over my house!); Redwing 3417; Song Thrush 980; Tree Pipit 9. The numbers and species recorded are …… astonishing and add a new story to the intrigue of bird migration – remarkable! Less vocal species may also pass over such as Corncrakes on their way to the Hebrides and maybe it will unravel the secret westerly migration of Aquatic Warblers too.

During the month, a Common Gull on The Pond at Eddington had a white Darvic leg ring on its right tarsus plus an aluminium? ring on its left. From a number of photos, the ring identification was “JK81”. I contacted the Euroring internet site and received the following details: ringed at the Stavanger ringing centre, Ostfold, Norway on 21 May 2016 as an adult – possibly three years old; seen at Ostfold, Norway in August 2016 and then Eddington on 7th November 2019 – so it’s at least six years old.

A probable Rose-ringed Parakeet (Ring-necked) was seen in Jesus College on 4th November. This non-native escapee is an uncommon bird in Cambs. Bramblings have been present in the Beech Woods since the beginning of the month and Kingfishers can be seen in the small sector of Milton Country Park in our project area (Jon Heath saw 4 there on 6th November).

Eddington is the best place to see Common Buzzards in our project area and nearby in the grounds of Girton College on 10th November one, possibly two Nuthatches and two Tree Creepers amongst the roving tit flock. On 11th November, a Peregrine was over the Market Square and on 15th November, the female and male Peregrines were “jousting” in flight together over the Market Square. I have never seen male and female birds together as well before. The female is larger, bulkier and deeper chested than the male and after aerial spats they often sat together on the corner spires of King’s College. Take a seat for coffee at Don Pasquale’s and wait for the action!

Also seen on the 11th November, at Hobson’s Park, a Water Rail, four Common Snipe and a female Stonechat and on 14th November at Hobson’s 12 Common Snipe (in a wet sector of the area set aside for allotments) and a flyover Peregrine; on 24th November, there was a pair of Stonechats at Hobson’s Park and a Little Egret.

On 16th of November I watched angler Alan Stebbings (he works at Ridgeon’s) land a 10 lb pike near the Mill Pond whilst a nearby Grey Heron waited for him to throw it the disgorged fish bait. Panic amongst pigeons in the Market Square on 22nd November was not caused by a Peregrine but a flyover Kestrel!

A Mistle Thrush was singing in Chesterton on 13th November, another was heard near Storeys Way on 19th and Paradise Nature Reserve on 26th; one was defending a Mistletoe clump with berries in Chesterton on 26th November. On 16th November, a male Blackcap was in my Chesterton garden – mid-November is a typical arrival date for overwintering Blackcaps from central Europe. This matches ringing records from Holme Bird Observatory on the Norfolk coast. A female Blackcap, a “browncap”, was seen in a garden in Benson Street on 23- 26rd November feeding on Mahonia nectaries and a male in Tenison Road feeding on the shrivelled remains of grapes on a vine.

A nocturnal Peregrine strike is suspected of killing the Long-tailed Skua that was found in October; perhaps the Skua was too bulky to carry off or the falcon failed to “get-a grip”! Records of Red Kite over Mill Road cemetery in May, June and September this year (Andrew Dobson). This is in the very centre of our NatHistCam project area.

Bob Jarman 30th November 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

The remarkable remarkable! – the autumn passage 2019 continues

On 16th October Shaun Mayes of the St John’s college staff found the fresh corpse of a bird outside Merton House at the junction of Queens Road and Madingley Road. Shaun and his birdwatching colleague David Brown contacted David’s brother-in-law Jonathan Bustard (a good name for a birder)! and the identification was confirmed as a juvenile Long-tailed Skua.

This is a remarkable inland record for this rare migratory sea bird. I think it is the first for our project area and possibly only the 12th record for the County. Previous records have come from Foul Anchor in the north of Cambridgeshire, beyond Wisbech, on the banks of the River Nene five miles south of The Wash. It adds further evidence to the idea that migratory sea birds travel overland to short-cut migration routes. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Graham Easy saw flocks of skuas (Arctic and Great Skuas) passing south west overhead, at great height, in autumn over Milton. He speculated that there were major overland migration routes for skuas and Kittiwakes following the north east/south west trajectories of the Ouse/Cam, Nene and Welland river valleys exiting in the Bristol Channel. Remarkably, these seabirds appear to take an overland short cut on their way to wintering grounds off the coast of Senegal.


The Long-tailed Skua found dead in Cambridge on 16th October
The Long-tailed Skua found dead in Cambridge on 16th October

We know that some skuas on their northerly spring passage fly through the Great Glen from the North Atlantic to exit in the Moray Firth and the North Sea on their way to their breeding grounds in the northern Isles and the sub-Arctic tundras. Watching Skua movements on the North Norfolk coast this time of year and all the skuas appear to be flying west i.e. into the Wash not east which, as you would expect, would take them around the East Anglian coast and then south eventually into the English Channel.

This is a brilliant record – thanks to Shaun and David.

On 6th October, there was a big night time passage of Song Thrushes and Redwings and daylight passage of Redwings over the City. I haven’t seen a Fieldfare yet! On 10th October, there was a Yellow-legged Gull at Hobson’s Park and two there on 15th October. Also at Hobson’s Park on 15th October were 60+ Redwings (over), a Water Rail, 2 Snipe, 4+ Corn Buntings and outside Trumpington a huge flock of 500+ Golden Plovers. The influx of Jays into the country – apparently due to a failure of the acorn crop in Europe – seems to have stopped but they have filtered inland and are common throughout our project area.

The common wagtail in our project area seems to be Grey Wagtails not Pied Wagtails. I see or hear them most days. There is a regular pair on or over the Radio Cambridgeshire building, a male was singing in Regents Street on 16th October and they are often flying over the Market Square and where I live in Chesterton. Also on 16th October was a late Swallow over Mill Road Cemetery.

I discovered a new habitat! Behind the West Cambridge university building there is a balancing pond – a large lake of at least one hectare; it is hidden from view behind the hedges along the Coton/west Cambridge footpath. According to a local angler it’s been there for about 5 years and is full of huge Common Carp – ideal for a passing Osprey.

On 18th October, a Chiffchaff was calling in a large garden in Huntingdon Road and there were three Buzzards over Thornton Way. On 19th October, there were eight Common Buzzards over the rough land at Eddington, 12 Linnets and 12 Meadow Pipits. Buzzards are now, probably, our commonest raptor. Twenty years ago, in 1999, they nested for the first time, in great secrecy, in west Cambridgeshire. It is a remarkable turn-round and is likely due to legal protection (thanks to EU law!) and the subsequent lack of persecution.

On 29th October one of the Peregrines was roosting at its regular site in the city centre and on 30th October Gadwell were the commonest duck on the slice of Milton Country Park in our project area; the regular wintering Widgeon had also returned.

Dr Simon Gillings of the BTO has collected the night-time recording device from my garden. It recorded night time calls of birds passing over head from 6pm to 6am and he had placed a number of them across the City. Martin Walters has written a very good “Nature Notes” in the Cambridge Independent (23rd October 2019) about Simon’s project. Simon now plans to download the recordings to survey nocturnal migration (“noc-mig”) over Cambridge.

Bob Jarman 31st October 2019

bobjarman99@btinternet.com

October sightings 2019

The David Attenborough Building’s “Green Roofs” were planted with Sedum and other species and in order to increase habitat, there are wood piles and sandy areas.  Recently two species of Fungi were found there – not part of the original planting scheme (Monica)! From photos, they have been provisionally identified by Helene Davies as Melanoleuca melaleuca and Clitocybe dealbata or C. rivulosa.

Checking on M. melaleuca, I found, “It is difficult to distinguish from other related species firstly because it is variable, secondly because the taxonomic criteria are often based on characteristics which have later been found to be variable and thirdly because there is much disagreement between authorities as to exactly how the species should be defined.” This seems to sum up fungus identification very neatly.

However, it has been an excellent year for them. In East Pit, were Meadow Coral, an Earthtongue, Parrot Waxcap, Blackening Waxcap and Lawyers Wig (Jonathan). David spotted Inkcaps and some others in Coe Fen. Jean reports two large clumps of Stropharia aeruginosa, a vivid blue-green on the wood chipping path. Check out any rotting wood, compost piles and other slimy places!

While clearing up the remains of Woodpigeon wings, Ann was puzzled to see many sprouting Bean Seeds on the same patch of lawn. This is a regular fox run and presumably the beans must have come out of a pigeon’s crop. Wiki says a woodpigeon’s crop can hold “As many as 200 beans, 1,000 wheat grains and 15 acorns”. (I’m not sure if this is all at once??) 

Beans from Woodpigeon Crop Ann Laskey

Thanks to everyone who sent in invertebrate sightings. Ben saw a large Hawker Dragonfly (?Migrant Hawker) at Adams Rd bird Sanctuary on Oct 5th and Karsten spotted a Devil’s Coach-horse Beetle (Ocypus olens) in Queen Edith’s. She says, “Looking like a mixture of a giant ant, short-legged locust and black beetle, it’s one of the most awesome looking beetles, especially when it turns its head around and looks up at you”.  Steve sent a picture of a large Wasp (Queen German wasp Vespula germanica?) which had just eaten another wasp, leaving only the head. Queen wasps do have a varied diet including insects, but it’s an interesting observation of wasp eating wasp.

Ocypus olens
Wasp eating wasp!
Steve Elstub

Buff-tailed Bumble Bees continued foraging on Pam’s purple salvias every day, even in light rain. Justin’s Peterhouse biodiversity survey turned up a Pseudoscorpion Roncus lubricus (the Reddish Two-eyed Pseudoscorpion). These tiny arachnids are inconspicuous, favouring dry leaf litter and moss in woodland. This species is restricted to the southern half of England, parts of Wales and Northern Ireland. A contributor (who preferred to remain anonymous) found 2mm Cigarette Beetles Lasioderma serricorne infesting food in his cupboard.

Two interesting moth caterpillars were reported : a Pale Tussock Moth Calliteara pudibunda at Churchill College and a Double Striped Pug Gymnoscelis rufifasciata at Jesus College.

The Newnham winter flock of Rooks and Jackdaws has now grown to about 400. For a while, they were separate flocks, the jackdaws arriving and departing earlier than the rooks, but now there is one big mixed bunch at 6.30am and 4.30pm, dispersing to feed in the day and collecting up to return to Madingley in the evening. The murmuration of Starlings over Bolton’s Pit also has precise timing, the  birds settling to roost on the island 12 minutes before sunset. Then several people reported feeding flocks of small birds, tits and others including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Song Thrush and Blackbird (Mo, Pam, Lesley M-B, Jean).   There was even a flock of Goldcrests finding insects in ivy (Anita).

Individual birds of interest include a Little Egret on Sheep‘s Green (Mary G), Tawny Owls in Histon Road Cemetery – “very Hammer Horror!” – both twitting and twooing (male and female), (Lesley D), Jays and Tawny Owl calls at Pinehurst (Jill), a Buzzard over the garden which was seen off by rooks (Pam), regular visits to feeder from a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dorothea), another Gt Spotted in the garden and also Little Grebes and Heron on the river (Val).  Gerd reports a Tree Creeper on the birch in her garden.  Anita noted a Green Woodpecker and Herons in Paradise and has seen and heard migrating Redwings

Long Tailed Skua David Brown

Last of the notable birds, a juvenile Long Tailed Skua was found dead – a passage migrant to the UK, breeding in the high Arctic.  In transit down the east coast, it somehow ended up in central Cambridge.  I expect Bob will say more about this one.

Badgers are still active in Newnham, one trying to dig into a back garden under the gate. In Fulbrooke wood, a night camera picked up two Muntjac, some Pheasants and a Fox (Jill).  Dorothea’s Hedgehogs are still feeding every night, but while there has been the odd frost, we have had no really cold weather yet. Squirrels are on the increase in Newnham, stripping hazel and walnuts before ripening, now removing peony seeds from Jean’s pots.

It’s a great year for the female Ginkgo tree at Pinehurst, a problem to residents as the fruits smell foul and are slippery under foot. However, it is a joy to a Japanese lady who harvests the fruits. Apparently, the toxic and irritating flesh must be carefully removed, before she roasts the nuts. Reputedly, as well as being delicious, they enhance libido.

Ginkgo Fruit Jill Newcombe

And finally, Ben Greig says, “We have just set up a new group called On The Verge Cambridge (a sister group to the original On The Verge started in Stirling 10 years ago). Our aim is to sow and plant up for pollinators in and around Cambridge. Our first project is underway – we are reseeding the wildflower meadows in the council parks around the city. Your readers will probably have ideas about potential sites that could be planted up – we need project ideas!  Our details: www.onthevergecambridge.org.uk”. Please get in touch with him if you have ideas or would like to help.

Olwen Williams olwenw@gmail.com

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 Greylags 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.